Waterdeep, city of splendours, in which intrigue is afoot. As a (randomly selected) lord of Waterdeep, you will lead one of the two to five competing factions seeking to exert their influence over the city, in 8 rounds of play. You will send your agents to various locations around Waterdeep to recruit adventurers, complete quests, and engage in intrigue to thwart your rivals.
A word on the theme: Waterdeep is a beloved setting in the Dungeons and Dragons universe, and while it does provide the inspiration for this game, the reality is that the theme is very thin and this game has nothing to do with D&D. With some light reskinning, “Lords of Waterdeep” would be equally effective as “Lords of Ancient Rome”, “Lords of Modern New York”, or “Lords of Future Mars”. All that is to say, if you if you have a problem with D&D, don’t let that stop you from checking out this excellent game.
Objectives and Overview
The goal is to gain the most victory points, which represents your influence in the city. You will be randomly assigned a Lord card which you will keep secret until the end of the game. Each Lord card has a unique goal that will gain you extra victory points if you complete it. This guides your strategy, but it’s not necessarily a game breaker if you fail. You’ll also be assigned a certain number of agents, represented by meeples, that you’ll place on different locations on the board to complete individual assignments.
The board shows numerous locations in the city of Waterdeep where players will take it in turns each round to place their agents. Most of the sites can only have one agent at a time, so you have to plan your move carefully, and it’s not uncommon for someone to get in ahead of you, but the first player changes each round, so you can eventually get dibs on a location. Different locations have different effects, like recruiting adventurers, earning gold, collecting or playing quest cards, building a building, or collecting or playing intrigue cards.
Adventurers are represented by different coloured cubes for different classes (fighter, rogue, cleric and wizard), and you use them to complete quests and gain victory points. Gold is needed to build buildings which, in turn, grant different benefits. Intrigue cards can give you a benefit or hinder a rival. Adventurers and gold will also contribute to your victory points at the end of the game.
How Easy is it to Learn?
Lords of Waterdeep is a pretty easy game to learn, with similar complexity to Catan and maybe ever-so-slightly greater complexity (but nowhere near as tedious) to Risk. As with any good game, the challenge comes with seeking the blessing of lady luck and playing a winning strategy, rather than having to negotiate complex rules.
The rules book is full colour and very clear. At 24 pages it can, at first blush, seem a bit overwhelming, but half of that is flavour text, and it includes lots of generously sized illustrations and a handy quick reference on the back cover. It’s very manageable and well written. The simplicity of play certainly helps with learning – you can generally only do one thing on your turn.
How Easy is it to Play?
Gameplay is, very, very simple. Depending on how many players around the table, you’ll have up to four agents and gain one extra in round five. Each round, players take it in turns to place one agent and resolve the action they have selected. Boom. Done. Actions are guided by the quest cards you have chosen (from a pool), or that other players force on you with intrigue cards (the scoundrels).
Set up is straightforward and the box insert is one of the better I’ve seen, with a place for (almost) everything and everything in its place. But you won’t be storing this box vertically if that’s your jam. The pieces are either made of wood or thick card and easy to handle, and the cards have a nice linen finish.
How Easy is it to Win?
In-house we have two hard-core gamers and a bunch of ‘casual’ gamers. We’ve only played Lords of Waterdeep a couple of times, but neither of the hard-core gamers has won, yet. (That doesn’t mean much, I love gaming, but am pretty naff at it.)
The game is driven by strategy more than luck, but there is still a random element. There are no dice, but intrigue cards are drawn ‘blind’, while quest cards are chosen from a constantly replenishing pool. You can see other people’s quest cards, but not their Lord card (which has special victory point bonuses), and you never know when someone is going to do something to upset your plans or, indeed, if you’re going to inadvertently upset there’s. This is largely because most locations can only have one agent, so once a player has occupied the space, it’s gone until the start of the next round.
Is it Fun to Play?
Lords of Waterdeep is a favorite game on Board Game Geek, and I rank it as a 9/10. Gameplay is simple, and it’s quick so that you’re not twiddling your thumbs waiting for other players. At the same time, there are meaningful choices, and an element of suspense in that you’re never sure if someone will get that prime location you need, or if you’ll be dealt an intrigue card to upset your plans. You’re not necessarily out to get other players (although you can), but you will inevitably affect each other’s game. After all, you’re trying to be the kingpin in the city.
Who Will Enjoy It?
Out of tens of thousands of games on Game Board Geek, Lords of Waterdeep is in the top 60. That’s pretty good. The box says it’s for ages 12 plus, and that seems about right – teens and adults will enjoy it, but it’s probably a little too complicated and maybe a tad dry for children. Concerning introducing casual gamers, I wouldn’t make this to someone’s very first game, but such people are rare.
Lords of Waterdeep is primarily a worker placement game with a ‘take that’ element. Compared to other popular games? It’s nothing like Monopoly (a role and move game), but I feel like this would be a good next step up from there. Monopoly players get the idea of controlling certain properties and drawing cards that will affect the game. The difference is, Lord’s of Waterdeep is infinitely better – it’s much less random, and you get to make choices. If you enjoy Catan (an area control and resource management game), you’ll understand the need for collecting resources, having a long-term strategy, but also being flexible as the environment changes.