Designers: Peter Lee & Rodney Thompson | Players: 2-5 | Playtime: 60-120 minutes
In Lords of Waterdeep you are a Lord…in Waterdeep…sending out agents to recruit cubes, I mean adventurers, to complete quests so that you can win favor and spread influence across the city. That’s what the back of the box tells me at least.
Okay, well the theme isn’t really strong in this game. There’s basically just a lot of cube pushing under the guise of being in the Dungeons and Dragons universe. However, that doesn’t necessarily make it a bad game does it?
Like I said already, the theme is very thin in this game. Sure, there’s some interesting flavor text and you get to play a faction from “the most fantastic metropolis of the Forgotten Realms” but what you are actually doing and how the back of the box describes it seem to have a bit of a disconnect.
So maybe the theme isn’t so bad. Being in the Dungeons & Dragons universe gives access to some amazing artists. Wizards of the Coast delivers in typical fashion with beautiful artwork. While I may not read all of the flavor texts I do enjoy finding new details in the art.
“Wizards of the Coast delivers in typical fashion with beautiful artwork.”
I’m sure having 20+ years under their belt designing Magic the Gathering proved to be a great resource for the designers because graphically every card, building, and board space is easily discernable. The symbology is straightforward. Each item that is either taken or given looks extremely close to the physical components it’s referring to.
Another thing I like about the graphic design is that it is just images and not cluttered with a bunch of text. It makes it so easy to look at and immediately know what it is saying. The rulebook goes a step further and explains each building in detail if you absolutely require the text. I like it better without, myself.
The board layout is done pretty well. I think the inclusion of watermarked spaces for the extra buildings and quests was a really good design decision. They also give the feeling of expanding the city being on the outside. The starting building spots within the city are almost lost in the busy street networks but the solid white on the darker background brings them out enough that it’s not ever a problem.
The color choices on the cubes should be distinguishable be all peoples. According to Etre’s color blind simulator white, orange, black, and purple can be seen by all three of the major conditions. The color choices themselves make sense too for that matter. If you’re not into cubes, however, there are some pretty awesome upgrades you can purchase at places like Meeple Source or the Broken Token. These are simply aesthetic upgrades but most people I know who have this game have these. They’re so cool looking.
Speaking of, you can get some really heavy duty coins for it too! About the coins though (the chipboard ones), I don’t know what it is about having unique coin designs but I want to play this game just so I can use them. I love ‘em.
The cards are excellent quality cards with linen finish and the agents are good solid wood. Standard meeple quality really. I probably would’ve used a different shape, myself, but they get the job done. The tokens are also quality chipboard.
Last thing talk about components-wise is the box itself. The linen finish is really nice and the custom insert is top notch! However, whoever thought it was a neat idea to make it look like a D&D book did not think that one through. In order to achieve this look the lid is only about an inch deep or so. It doesn’t really fit snug and is rather flimsy. I tore the corner of mine the first day I had it. Honestly, the high quality game board inside holds the pieces in the box better than the lid does. Maybe that was the point? Regardless, I’m not a fan of the box design.
Waterdeep is a pretty cut and dry Worker Placement game. There’s nothing overly complicated about it. Go to a spot, do a thing, block someone else from doing it.
What sets this game apart from others in the genre are the player purchased buildings. Similarly to Agricola, this gradually adds new spaces that players can go to which is great. However, what I like most about them are that they benefit both the owner and the player who uses that spot. This is great. Finally, there are some important decisions to be made that affect more than your own point total. The interaction this provides between players is a necessary component to this game.
Also, if you’re looking for a little bit of theme in the mechanisms the buildings probably are your best bet. Having other Lords’ agents come to your nightclub to negotiate adventurer trades for a few coins is thematic, right? Seriously though, it actually makes some sense in terms of constructing buildings in the city that others can use. Black Market negotiations ftw! Except the bank pays the owner instead of the person using it because, well reasons.
I find that Set Collection tends to go hand in hand with Worker Placement. More often than not you go to a spot on the board, collect something, then cash it in for points of some kind. Waterdeep is no different in this aspect. You hire some adventurers (collect colors) then send them off to their doom–or whatever it is they do to complete quests–for points (turn in sets).
There’s really not a lot of take-that! in this game. I mention it because I just really like this mechanism and because there is a bit of it on some of the intrigue cards. Forcing someone to complete a bogus mission for little to know points is always fun.
There’s also blocking a player from a spot they want that is innate to all Worker Placement games. Makes me laugh every time.
“Waterdeep is a pretty cut and dry Worker Placement…Go to a spot, do a thing, block someone else from doing it.”
Try this game if you like:
- Asking for Trobils
- Le Havre
- Pillars of the Earth
- Stone Age
- …anything Gary owns
Carcassonne may have started my collection but Lords of Waterdeep really threw it into gear. Sure, I had played Catan before Waterdeep came out but I really wasn’t enamored with it. The only games I had added to my collection since Carcassonne were Ticket to Ride and Dixit. When I discovered Waterdeep, I remember being so excited about it that I got a group of my friends together as soon as it came in the mail. Many of them weren’t even board gamers. It was that night that not only solidified my interest in modern board gaming but also resulted in the formation of Pub Meeple.
So, like Carcassonne, there’s a bit of nostalgia with this game for me but it’s more than just that. Lords of Waterdeep is a simple, medium weight game. Probably even light compared to most euro games. My wife has played this with me on several occasions and enjoyed it, which is saying a lot because she doesn’t typically like this type of game. She prefers Ticket to Ride over most of my games, actually.
Waterdeep is a great intro into our hobby for new gamers. It gives them a taste of something other than roll and move that is satisfying and easy to grasp. Getting to pick where you go is groundbreaking for some. I’m being facetious of course but if you haven’t noticed by now I tend to prefer these medium weight games. That’s probably because they get the most play since they’re easier to teach. I also prefer my brain to not be mush after every game I play. It’s so much easier to laugh when you’re not number crunching.
Anyway, should you buy Lords of Waterdeep? I say yes. It may not be as deep or number crunchy as Agricola but I would bet you could get more people to play it. And if you’re going to own a single game with a particular mechanic, I would always suggest the one you’ll play more often over the “better” game.
THOUGHTS FROM THE PUB
There are a lot of great worker placement / action drafting games out there. And after Shuck opened his golden box of Waterdeep to us in the earliest days of the Pub, I knew I had to get my hands on the best of them. I’m rating this so high and at the “buy it” as a result of my buying struggles. As someone else in our group already owned the game, I felt I had the latitude to get something else for our group to experience, so I hit the reviews, play throughs, and rule books. It all came down to this. On its own, there were worker placement games with better replay values and deeper game play (back then, Yedo kept calling my name). But add in the Scoundrels of Skullport expansion and suddenly Waterdeep shot straight to the top in terms of re-playability and depth of play. What’s great about this combo is you could now have the base, gateway game and a couple of modules to mix-and-match.
Now, action drafting games are all over the place. But Lords of Waterdeep is such a landmark game and I believe it’s still extremely relevant. It is one of the 3 games I use when introducing someone new to the hobby simply because I know it won’t disappoint. Sure there are similar games that I think may be better in terms of theme, strategy, and marriage of mechanics (i.e. Viticulture or Champions of Midgard), but I’ve seen those hit-or-miss with a crowd where Waterdeep has empirically remained a stalwart choice. And, hey, it was good enough to convert Gary into a eurogamer (I was there).
I can’t start my thoughts on this game without including the fact that this is the game that got me into board gaming. That night Shuck referenced in his review, the one where he got his friends to meet up to play this game as soon as it had arrived, is the night I played my first modern board game. I had no idea what I was getting into or what I was doing the first few rounds of the game, yet by the end of the game I knew that I wanted to play again and had a good idea of how I should try to play the game the next time I had a chance. Waterdeep is one of my favorites to this day, and like Shuck and Bryan, one I have used to introduced several people to gaming. The basic mechanisms are simple, set collection and worker placement, but the options for strategy are deeper and more complex than are immediately apparent. Adding the Scoundrels of Skullport expansion pushes the game towards medium-weight euro territory, with the addition of another resource to manage and more choices to make regarding buildings and quests because of this. It’s not a must-own expansion, as the base game is very good on it’s own, but it is highly recommended. I have not doubt that it will remain on my gaming shelf and remain one of my favorite games to share with people for years to come.