Lords of Waterdeep Review

I would like to thank Chris C. for continuing to share insightful reviews (such as this one).

Lords of Waterdeep game in play

Lords of Waterdeep is one of 2012’s breakout hits.  It has impressed hobby gamers and newcomers alike with its combination of simple worker-placement mechanics and a Dungeons and Dragons theme.

Waterdeep is a major city in the Forgotten Realms universe, and in this game each player is a member of the secret group of lords that run the city from the shadows.  Each lord controls several agents that they will send out each turn to buildings around the city to recruit adventurers and gather money.   These resources can be used to complete quests which earn players victory points, more resources, and occasionally special abilities that last for the remainder of the game.

The game adds player interaction via “Intrigue Cards” which can be played by sending an agent to a particular building.  These have a variety of purposes - some provide resources or allow players to steal from each other.  The most interesting Intrigue Cards are “mandatory quests”, low-value quests that players can give to each other and which must be completed before any other quests.

Lords of Waterdeep cards
The various lords of Waterdeep
Buildings come in two varieties.  There are nine “basic” buildings printed on the game board that will be available in every game.  There is also a stack of building cards which is shuffled at the beginning of the game.  Three of these cards are available at the “Builder’s Hall” at any time.  Players may send an agent there and pay a building’s cost to put it into play, providing a new action space for everyone.  They get a bonus for this: any time any other player uses the building to receive resources, they receive a smaller number of similar resources.  Since different buildings are available each game, this adds variation and replayability.

Players keep track of how many points they have earned from completing quests on a score track around the outside of the board.  The game ends after 8 rounds, and players receive additional points for remaining resources.  Additionally, each player reveals which lord card they are holding - most lords receive bonus points for completed quests of certain types.  The quests come in five varieties (Arcana, Skullduggery, Commerce, Warfare and Piety) which tend to require different types of resources to complete.  One lord receives bonus points for constructed buildings instead.

So does Lords of Waterdeep live up the hype?  For me, not really.  There’s nothing wrong with this game - everything about it is competently executed and works well.  I rarely turn down a game because it is fun and moves quickly (about 60 minutes with groups who know the rules).  But the game doesn’t offer anything unique or interesting.  Mechanically, it adds nothing new to the worker
placement genre - it’s a stripped down version of games like Agricola.  It doesn’t leave a lot of room for strategic maneuvering.  Your choices are fairly limited, often nearly dictated by the available
quests.  Players are at an advantage if they start with quests of the types that their lord gets bonus points for or if those quests are more frequently available.  And players with quest types that require rarer resources are at the mercy of the building stack.

game player setup for Lords of Waterdeep
A typical player setup
More, the game is thematically disappointing.  The “adventurers” recruited by your agents come in four types, Clerics, Warriors, Rogues and Wizards.  But these are represented just by different colors of cubes.  Quests require cubes of certain colors.  Every group I’ve played with has begun asking for “orange cubes” instead of “warriors” within the first round or two.  Even when I’ve tried to get people excited about reading the flavor text on their quests, it rarely lasts more than a turn.  The theme feels entirely “pasted on”; it could be totally different and you wouldn’t notice because it boils down so directly into getting cubes of certain colors to meet the requirements on quest cards.

I don’t want to be too harsh.  The game is executed well and has no glaring mechanical flaws.  The rulebook is clear and the production is fine (though I still wish for more exciting pieces).  It actually makes an excellent introduction to worker placement games, since it’s mechanically so simple.  I do bring it out with groups that aren’t ready for Agricola or don’t have time for a longer game.  There are a few other games in this space - Stone Age is my go-to for simple worker placement mechanics, but I could definitely see picking Waterdeep instead if the group liked the theme better.

Overall, this game is fun.  But it doesn’t bring anything new to the table, doesn’t seem to have a lot of strategic depth, and the theme fails to engage the groups I’ve played it with.  While Lords of Waterdeep doesn’t live up the hype surrounding it, it’s a fine game that would be worth picking up to fill the “simple worker placement” hole in your collection.

If Lords of Waterdeep looks interesting, you might also check out Kingdom of Solomon, Le Havre, and Discworld: Ankh Morpork. Or, for a second opinion, check out Play Board Games' Lords of Waterdeep Review.

I would like to thank Wizards of the Coast for providing a review copy of Lords of Waterdeep.

1 comment:

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