June 6, 2012 by brennon
Dungeons & Dragons is almost a Board Game in of itself, but Wizards of the Coast have of course launched a few Adventure Games including Castle Ravenloft, Wrath of Ashardalon and Legend of Drizzt, not to mention Conquest of Nerath. It seems therefore that it was time for something different and it comes in the form of Lords of Waterdeep. Warfare, Skulduggery, Piety and Commerce are all on the cards when questing in this city…
The first thing to note with Lords of Waterdeep is that it’s a Euro Game. In the Board Gaming world this classifies it as a game with little focus on luck and a strong emphasis on strategic play where the concept could be applied to any theme. While that’s certainly the case, the flavour of Dungeons & Dragons flows through this game as you plot and quest your way to victory. So let’s dive into the game shall we? First up are the components…
Lords of Waterdeep comes with a rather exquisite box. The design is reminiscent of a board game of old yet comes with utterly astounding box control inside. While most games have the box become a simple means of transporting the materials, Lords of Waterdeep makes the box part of the game.
Included inside are a plethora of different gaming pieces. Each player (up to a limit of five) has a set of wooden Agent pieces corresponding to a faction which will be rooting around the city under the direction of your Lord. Next to them are a selection of tokens for showing ownership of buildings and a counter to show your current Victory Points.
Beneath the player materials are what could be considered your resources. A massive pool of Fighters, Wizards, Clerics and Rogues are represented by coloured cubes. As well as that are some exquisite looking coins which are designed in the currency of the city. Of course there are a bunch of gems in the game too (it wouldn’t be D&D without gems!) which act as additional Victory Point markers when placed on buildings.
The Buildings are a series of puzzle like pieces which add to the bustling city of Waterdeep. Over time the board will fill up with more agents so new spaces are always needed. When placing a building you simply pay the cost and add it to the track around the board. Now anyone can use it. If you’re the owner however you can ask them for some tasty profits which could be gold, adventurers, or even some victory points.
The main part of this game though is its wealth of cards. The first set you will find is for the Lords of Waterdeep themselves. These are secret personalities which you play as throughout the game trying to complete their objectives while stopping the others. This could be as simple as gaining victory points for each building you own to gathering the most Piety and Commerce quests. That doesn’t mean you can’t do other quests of course but the ones your Lord specialises in are what draws in the extra points.
Talking of Quests we now have the deck itself. This is a rather hefty deck of Quests from different areas of specialisation. As a prospective Lord of Waterdeep you are hiring adventurers to show how influential your reach is and how much protection you can give the people of the city. By completing these quests you instil this confidence. Each card has a name, some flavour text, a requirement and also of course a reward!
The other card deck is the Intrigue deck. This is one of the most powerful decks since it is used to not only bolster your own faction but hurt others. Intrigue cards are played while down in the Harbour of Waterdeep and can range from simple cards giving you extra mercenaries to Mandatory Quests. These Mandatory Quests force your opponent to complete these first before any of their others. This might seem counter intuitive but they usually come with very basic reward and when played right can halt someone’s progress towards a big score.
Now let’s get to the gameplay!
A game of Lords of Waterdeep takes place over eight rounds where each player, secretly controlling one of the many Lords of the city, must complete quests, gain resources, adventurers and plot against their competitors in order to control the city and stake their claim. The start of the game is simple with the Quest Deck, Intrigue Deck and Buildings being arranged on their spaces. Each player then chooses a faction which is simply for flavour reasons. With that a pair of Quests is dealt to each player and a pair of Intrigue Cards too. These form your starting objectives which hopefully match your Lord focus. With that a starting player is decided and gold is dished out in initiative order to balance things out. You’re ready to go.
A typical turn of Lords of Waterdeep consists of going round the board placing one of your agents onto a free space and gaining the reward. This could be picking up a Mage at Blackstaff Tower, or going to the docks to play an Intrigue Card against your opponents or in your favour. Once a space is taken, that’s it for the round. This is where the intrigue and secrets come in as you try and bluff your opponents into taking a spot you don’t need in order to free up one you do. Many times I have had to try and lie about what particular mercenary I need in order to grab that last Cleric to complete a quest.
Talking of completing quests, after you have placed an Agent you are eligible to send your adventurers out and win you fame and glory. Here’s a quick example. A quest requires you to have two Fighters, two Clerics and a Rogue. On my turn I look to my board and see that all I need to do is get one more Rogue and I can claim my reward. So, I take an Agent and place it in the Grinning Lion tavern. This nets me two Rogues! With that I declare I am completing a quest and spend my adventurers. I then place it in my pile of completed quests and grin with malice as I realise I am closer to controlling Waterdeep!
Another point on Quests is that there are spaces at the top of the board where you can claim new quests or indeed discard all of them to draw a new set. This way you can cycle through quests you don’t particularly like!
Some of you may have noticed by this point that with the way a space becomes closed off it could be impossible for you to claim things before other places. Well, here is where one of the other mechanics comes into play.
Heading down to Castle Waterdeep yields a reasonable reward but with greater long term potential. Not only does it allow you to grab another Intrigue card but take initiative from the lead player. Suddenly you have the first chance to grab a space on the next round. As well as taking initiative you can add more Buildings (Spaces) to the board by visiting the Builders Hall. Here you pay the cost and add a new dwelling to the board. As I pointed out in the components section this can net you some tidy rewards but also means more space on the board if someone else stole initiative.
The game continues in this fashion for eight rounds with one round introducing another agent to your pool. You power through quests completing them and revealing more while contending with the other factions/players trying to stop your plans. It’s a great game mirroring the political intrigue of a city in the throes of a power vacuum. At the end of it all you reveal your secret identity and count up your victory points. The player with the most is then the winner!
This game, despite being a Euro Game is really a great Dungeons & Dragons experience. It’s so different from anything else that Wizards of the Coast has done before; it doesn’t even include a d20! (Sacrilege I hear you cry!). It scales incredibly well from two all the way up to five players with varying amounts of agents and different Lords giving a new flavour to each game.
You really have to pay attention to what’s going on throughout the game as each player completes quests. Allowing one Lord to gain too many of his or her favoured quests could spell doom for all. One Lord has been rather lambasted across the internet in that she gains victory points from each building she owns. If she retains initiative and has enough gold she can own the board very quickly. Despite this though I don’t think this game should cause many arguments, only some small heated debates over what space to take next.
On the downside of things there is the element of ‘ganging up’ on a player throughout the games. If you get a small streak ahead of everyone else then all the attention can be focused on you very quickly meaning that you might find yourself almost pushed out of the game. There are measures to prevent this like stealing initiative and the like but if there is a group of determined players, it can be hard to press on. Also if you’re looking for Dungeons & Dragons as it appears in the Players Handbook then this isn’t for you.
Lords of Waterdeep is a fantastic game that allows for gaming with a nice range of people. It has a beautiful art style which Wizards are always good at and really does make you feel like a Lord trying to gain control of the city. I think anyone who picks this up will have a lot of fun, and once you know what you’re doing games can take as little as thirty to forty minutes. This means you can shuffle it all up and get a new Lord quickly to start again!
Game Length: 40min (Experienced Players) 1hour to 1hour & 30mins (Beginner Players)
Lords of Waterdeep Art by Ralph Horsley
Have you played Lords of Waterdeep and if so what do you think of the game?