Review: Lords of Waterdeep

Lately I’ve been on a kick with worker placement games, especially with my reviews. I finally managed to snag a copy of Lords of Waterdeep and have gotten enough games under my belt to do a write up on it.

Lords of Waterdeep has 2-5 players acting as leaders of the many factions within this Forgotten Realms D&D city. Each player is seeking to gain influence and prominence within the city while undercutting their competitors. The goal is simple, gain the most victory points at the end of eight rounds.

Players gain victory points primarily through completing quests. Throughout a round they are constantly trying to gain different quests, and obtain the adventurers and gold needed to complete them. This is done by taking an agent from your pool and placing them at a key location within the city.

There are a variety of locations, and more buildings can be constructed to open up more areas in the city. Each location however can typically house only one agent. So players are constantly jockeying for the most ideal spot to gain gold and the right type of adventurers for completing quests.

A nice wrinkle to this are the constructed buildings. Each building constructed by a player is under their ownership. If another player assigns an agent to a building you own, you also get a small bonus. This sometimes makes for a difficult choice. Do they select to influence a building under control of another player? While they get the resources needed for a quest, they also are giving their opponent some reward too.

So far what I’ve explained is your typical worker placement game, where you try to squeeze out as many resources as possible and implement area denial for your opponent’s agents. A nice twist is the intrigue cards. These are cards that allow you to gain extra resources, or potentially force your opponent to complete a minor quest. This effectively bleeds off heroes recruited to tackle more profitable quests, messing with their plans. It’s a nice addition that introduces more direct player interaction.

There is one last change up to the game play. Each player at the beginning of the game secretly selects a lord they represent. These lords get bonus victory points for particular quests that are completed. At the end of the game, it’s quite possible for a player to get a huge bonus by completing a pile of specific quests. It can be a challenge to figure out what type of heroes are continually being sought, the types of quests slowly being accumulated, and deduce what lord your opponents are secretly playing.

The Good – It’s a very fun worker placement game. It’s just the right length, forcing players to try and get as much done as soon as possible. There is a fair amount of player interaction also using the intrigue cards. The artwork is well done and enough flavor text to give a bit of immersion to the game. It has great components with a nice linen finish on the cards, plenty of wooden pieces, and thick cardstock for building tiles and coins.

The Bad – While the secret lords are an interesting facet, for the most part it adds a ‘gotcha’ aspect of the game. It can allow for a truly huge endgame surge to a player’s victory point total. The assignment of the lords are secret and random with bonuses applied to two different quest types. Completed quests are stacked up in a pile (effectively being hidden), and can all make it more a guessing game to figure out what types of quests your opponents are working toward.

The theme is different and has that fantasy touch, but in reality you are collecting different colored cubes to complete work orders for points. The artwork and fluff text could be given a sci-fi theme and you’d have the same play experience. It just doesn’t capture that feeling of recruiting adventurers and undergoing heroic quests. It really could easily be some generic abstract economy worker placement game.

I’ll also quibble about the box. At first I thought the box insert was well designed, but after some use I drastically changed my mind. It’s just too finicky to put the pieces back in, needing to be ‘just so’ and worse of all, the box has to remain flat. If the box is propped up on it’s side, expect parts to fall out of the insert and shuffle around inside. I quickly threw my insert out and put everything into baggies.

The Verdict – Lords of Waterdeep is a great game. It’s the right game length and complexity to make it very approachable to a variety of gamers. There are a lot of subtle working parts to the game, especially acquiring and using the different buildings and their powers. It also has that interaction from intrigue cards that goes beyond your typical ‘grab a space before your opponent’ seen in most worker placement games. Like Kingsburg it has that depth of different building strategies and a little twist in game play to make it stand out.

To be honest, I shied away from LoW when I first heard about it. I just don’t get into WotC board games much. But the buzz around this was humming and I took the plunge to buy it. I was pleasantly surprised. I’ll also add you don’t need to have any knowledge of Dungeons and Dragons to enjoy this game, anyone can easily jump in and have a grand time. It’s a great, fun game and likely one of the better worker placement games out there.

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