Lords of Waterdeep Review


Released 2012
Designer Peter Lee
Rodney Thompson
Publisher Wizards of the Coast (Website)
Players 2 – 5
Playing Time About 25-40 minutes per player (depends on play style)
Category Worker Placement
Hidden Information
Card Drafting
Set Collection
BoardGameGeek View on BGG

Why be the one questing, when you can be the one benefiting from the questors?

Seven years is a long time in gaming. Changes in gaming over the last seven years have been phenomenal. Especially when you consider that it is now gamers everywhere that have benefited.

Video gamers have been seeing some pretty rapid improvements with console generations, but Tabletop gaming has only just really seeing this now. There is a reason Monopoly was king for so long – look at what it had as mainstream competition.

Take, for example, today’s game – Lords of Waterdeep. I have referred to it as an old favourite for years, and it’s not even that old!

That is the catch with today’s gaming boom. So many games are being released year on year, that a board game has a single run and then it’s gone, unless it makes it big. Lords of Waterdeep however is still going strong.

Released in 2012, I thought this was such a great gateway game for many types of players, even if there were preconceived notions on what ‘Dungeons & Dragons’ is. Many people agreed, and it became one of the early board game resurgence hits.

Original Box Components. **Image from BGG user vardamir

Today, Lords of Waterdeep is cheered or put down depending on your tastes. One thing I hear it put down for is the theme or lack thereof. I will talk about that in a little while.

I know a few players that have heard bad reviews on the game and won’t give it a second thought. The thing is though, for some reason, people look at Lords of Waterdeep as a deep strategy worker placement game. I often hear “It’s too simple. Game X or Y is so much better” as a justification why not to try it.

Yes, there are ‘better’ games available today, that is the benefit of so many new games coming out. Some forget these new games are building upon the lessons of great games that have come before.

Everyone is different, but if you sit a new gamer down with a lot of heavier games, they would be thoroughly confused and potentially put off playing again. Sometimes, the people teaching forgot they only have the experience that they do by starting with lighter games.

You can't get a player up to speed in one round of Twilight Imperium

Lords of Waterdeep for me is an excellent example of a gateway game. It has simple worker placement, light hidden role mechanics coupled with a theme that most people know that helps guide their learning experiences. There are a few moving pieces, but not enough to overwhelm players or those that enjoy lighter games.

It’s still a bit niche, sure. I wouldn’t call it a must-have item for every gamers shelf. But in today’s environment of Cult of the New, it’s still in print. And that should tell you something.

This is not what you get in the box. Lords of Waterdeep is my most customised game by far.

So what is Lords of Waterdeep?

Lords of Waterdeep has Dungeons & Dragons branding, but there is a bit of an argument on if its a Dungeons & Dragons game. I say that part doesn’t matter, and here’s why.

Most fantasy adventures start with your character and group in a pub, meeting with a stranger about a job. The stranger could be a noble in disguise, a merchant in need, or an agent of another. The setup is so standard that most going on a fantasy adventure are usually surprised by any real twist on the idea.

In Lords of Waterdeep, instead of being the adventurer risking life and limb for coin and fame, you are the noble ‘other’ that is set to benefit from the adventurers’ recklessness bravery.

Even without knowing the game, I bet you have a pretty good idea of what is happening here

And this is where I find most of the arguments come from – its “Not Dungeons & Dragons” if you aren’t the one adventuring.

To that, all I can say is “Fair enough.” If that is what Dungeons & Dragons is to you, then I can see why you would be disappointed in a game like Lords of Waterdeep.

But in your player position overlooking the resources of the city, to me, this theme is a great choice. It doesn’t hurt that the idea is also generic enough that you don’t need Dungeons & Dragons experience at all to get right into the game.

Waterdeep for me holds a special place as an old school role player, but so do places like Greyhawk. If you don’t know what I am talking about, you have probably already guessed they are cities or areas and nodding along with the conversation.

Lords of Waterdeep is my most 'blinged' game, hands down.

And this is a large part of why I love Lords of Waterdeep so much – everyone already has a fair idea thematically of what is happening. You don’t need to understand what an Owlbear is to know you get points for taming one. You do it and get your points, end of story.

OK, but how do you play?

There are two types of resources in the game – gold, and adventurers. During the game, you send agents to different locations to recruit adventurers and collect gold, then cash them to complete your quests. Most of these will give you points. Some special Plot Quests may also give you ongoing benefits rather than a score boost, so choose wisely.

That is the game in a nutshell, but there are a few other elements bought into play.

Waterdeep has several Lords, each with their strengths and goals. At the start of the game, each player is dealt a Lord face down. The Lord gives the player a bonus for certain things completed at the end of the game.

The Lords introduce the hidden role and secret objective mechanics to the game, without players having to learn asymmetrical rules. Each player still does what they were doing before, but some may go for Skullduggery quests over Warfare for end game points.

Each Lord is slightly different, and you randomly get one each game

Intrigue cards also add a small amount of ‘Take That!’ mechanics to the game. Each intrigue card is relatively straightforward on its own, so players don’t have to show what they have to everyone to ask questions.

A common one is a little compulsory quest another player must complete before any of their other pursuits. They are quick to do, and even score the player a few points. Some let you woo adventurers from rivals player boards, stealing their resources. But on their next turn, they will have what you took back again. Intrigues tend to delay rather than destroy.

Some sample Intrigue Cards

Even if you are being picked on by every other player, it is rare you can’t accomplish something during your game. An early mistake will not cost you the entire game, at least not until everyone knows the game inside out.

So what’s wrong with Lords of Waterdeep?

The biggest problem with Lords of Waterdeep is easily game length, especially with new players. Analysis Paralysis players also add to this. I try to tell people it will take about 30 minutes per player, but even this isn’t a great guide.

Partially this is because people that wait until their turn to begin to evaluate the game state will drag out the game. That isn’t unique to Lords of Waterdeep though. Unlike a few other games though, Lords of Waterdeep with it’s fixed choices can start to help players learn how to plan their play on other players turns.

Another thing that can add to the game time is how social you can be during the game. Because it’s a light game and a quick look at the board tells you the game state quickly, I have had plenty of games where I socialised more than I played.

Add more buildings during the game, and people start getting analysis paralysis

Another ‘issue’ some have with Lords of Waterdeep is its age, and that’s not a real negative for me. The comment that there are newer games that do some things better is accurate, but there aren’t many games that do the whole package as well.

Discworld: Ankh Morpork and it’s new version Nanty Narking (can’t wait for it that to arrive!) are almost advanced versions of Lords of Waterdeep. Yedo from Pandasaurus is also an advanced version, and it came out in 2012. But this is an unfair comparison in a lot of ways. Many people love Ticket to Ride, but the fact there are more advanced versions out there doesn’t make the original any less fun to play. Most people that I hear write off Lords of Waterdeep as ‘simple’ seem to forget this.

As a guide, if you own any of the ‘advanced’ games mentioned, Lords of Waterdeep probably isn’t your first choice to buy. It just won’t have the same amount of challenge for you, as it is a lighter experience. But to have it as an introduction in getting more people playing the other games? Yes, that is where it works well.

And this is where Lords of Waterdeep sits for me. It’s a fun light to medium weight game, but if you want something meatier to sink your teeth into then yes it’s not for you.

Wait – you said you wouldn’t play it without the expansions? Why should I?

No, now I wouldn’t play ‘vanilla’ Waterdeep, but I have played it a lot. Everything I have been talking about is all about the base game. The expansions also do just that – add more to the base, not ‘fix’ it.

The Scoundrels of Skullport includes two separate expansions that can be mixed or played separately. It has the bonus of adding a sixth player if you have a larger playgroup. That would be the only reason I would suggest grabbing it immediately. Other than that, standard expansion items really – new quests, lords, buildings and intrigues. They also have new area boards to place your workers.

Another thing I love about the expansions is that they can be played immediately. At its core, the expansion mechanics are almost identical to the base rules so you can jump in almost immediately.

It looks intimidating, but it's just more cards for the pile really

For new people, I remove a couple of the Lords and locations/quests that allow extra workers – the Ambassador and the Lieutenant. The rules these workers aren’t hard and can be thrown in on the second game easily.

As with any game, it is always best if you get the chance to play it with someone that knows it before jumping in and buying it yourself. Unless there is a sale or bundle going, play Lords of Waterdeep before worrying about anything buying Scoundrels of Skullport.

Oh, and did you know there is a digital version?

Interested, but don’t know anyone with the game? Lords of Waterdeep was the first ‘good’ board game conversions I ever played, and one of the reasons I still have an iPad.

You can get it on iOS and Android for AUD$11 – pricey, I fully admit. The app has a reasonable tutorial and multiple levels of AI, and mechanically it nails the game.

Lords Of Waterdeep Tablet
This is the Digital Tablet version, but it shows some of the choices on HALF the board

Until next time,

JohnHQLD
Lords of Waterdeep
  • Game Score - 9/10
    9/10

Final Thoughts

I love Lords of Waterdeep. Hands down it is my most ‘blinged’ game ever, that should give an idea of how much I enjoy it.

That said, I would never say it’s my favourite game ever. It is high on my favourite games to teach, and it’s great to play with a variety of players.

I finally got this back to the table a couple of weeks ago, and of the six of us playing (expansions adds more players!) only 3 of us had played before, and one of those only on the app.

We had a great night, playing for about four and a half hours, including dinner and dessert. The new players had the mechanics and timing down pat by the end of the second round, and everyone wants to play it again.

What better recommendation can you have than that?

Overall
9/10
9/10

Pros

  •  Light mechanics make for great introduction to many different games
  •  Different roles make for replayability
  •  High quality card quality and artwork

Cons

  •  Can take a long time to play, especially with ‘Analysis Paralysis’ players
  •  Can outgrow quickly as a deep strategy game
  •  Blinging out your game can get expensive :p