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Lords of Waterdeep earns broad appeal and is hailed as a hybrid game with both European and American design styles. But does it live up to the hype? Waterdeep is a worker placement game that can accommodate 2-5 players and take about 90 minutes.

Image courtesy of Boardgamegeek user mikehulsebus

The biggest attraction of Waterdeep is that the flow of play is very streamlined. Not just simple, but decidedly well polished. There are no jagged edges. To get started you don’t have to explain complicated exceptions or irregular departures.

Here’s the rules:
1. Place a dude on an unoccupied spot.
2. Collect the stuff from the spot you landed on.
3. You may optionally cash in the stuff you’ve collected over the course of the game.
That’s mostly it. It’s admittedly an oversimplification, but that covers most of what you need to know. The action spots on which you place your workers will gain you different variations of cubes, money, or quest cards.

You can also dabble in the intrigue cards (referred elsewhere in this article as Thwacking cards). Some action spots let you draw them, and you have to assign a worker in order to play them. These have a nice mix of screwage to thwack your opponent and self-enrichment.

They often have decisions around selecting the victim of thwacking. And the non-thwacking cards often give decisions on who will join you in the enrichment. To make this choice, it’s never immediately clear who the front runner is. The current high score at any given moment is a misleading indicator.

So you’ve collected 4 white cubes, 2 orange cubes, and 8 dollars. What you going to do with all that junk? Well, you have quests to fulfill. Luckily for you, fulfilling a quest does not involve depositing jewelry into an active volcano, instead you simply discard some of your cubes. Each quest card will specify its prerequisites. For example, a quest may require 4 white cubes, an orange cube, and five dollars. You’ll complete many quests each game. Most quests give you points. Many will also payout cubes or money. Some may also grant an ongoing special ability.

Waterdeep gives you good control on quest selection. To even have a quest available in your to do list, you have to do the whole dude-on-a-spot thing to obtain a quest card. There are always 4 quests available to choose from when you take this action. And if those four choices don’t suit you, you can take the action spot to flush the 4 available quests and flip out 4 new ones. You’re bound to find something that takes you in the general direction you want to go.

Each player also has a secret lord card. This lord serves as a player’s hidden agenda. The lord will tell you a couple of keywords that you’re supposed to care about for some reason. Each quest is linked to one of these keywords, such as Piety, Skullduggery, Warfare, etc. The lords will give you bonus points at the end of the game for each completed matching quest. For example, you might get 4 points for each commerce quest and each arcana quest.

The positive feature of lords is that it results in a mixture of open points and hidden points. At the completion of every quest the player usually scores points. Then at the end of the game they get the bonus points based on their lord. These bonus points may comprise somewhere in the ballpark of 15-25% of your total score. So while there may be a front runner on the scoring track now, you may never really be sure who is truly in the lead.

In addition to the pre-printed action spaces on the board, there are buildings that players can purchase. A purchased building goes on the board and is available for all players to place their dudes upon. These add new spots to collect stuff. These are often more powerful than the pre-printed spaces. However, every time an opponent takes advantage of a building, the original building constructer will earn a kickback. The buildings add an interesting twist in that each game will have a unique combination of possible action spots.

Now, dear reader, I must issue a warning regarding the content that follows. Fanboys be warned, the remainder of the review will contain criticisms, point out flaws, and may even be derisive of the game. If you cannot emotionally withstand being exposed to an opinion that does not validate your own, then I suggest you play it safe and read only comments from folks who gave Waterdeep a rating of 10.

The failings of Waterdeep largely boils down to one overriding issue:

The game just isn’t tense for me.

A big reason for the lack of tension is because of the lack of challenging decisions. The primary decision most often faced is which action spot to select.
So which action spot do I take?
Well, you should probably pick the action spots that produce the cubes mandated by your quest cards.
So which quests do I add to my to-do list?
Well, you should probably pick ones that match the keyword on your lord card so you can get an enormous amount of points at the end.

So a randomly assigned card during setup all but pre-programs my quest selection, which then all but pre-programs my action selection.
So in what order should I do my quests?
Well, this is a little more interesting, but not much. Let’s say one quest, if I complete it, pays out a bunch of orange cubes. This other quest, requires me to spend some orange cubes. Well, you should probably do the one that yields orange cubes first.

Not only are the decisions not challenging, but the decisions aren’t accompanied by an exciting payoff. The actions spots don’t have a significant differentiation in what they allow you to do. So you can go here, and get orange cubes. Or you can go there, and get black cubes. Or maybe I can go to this spot, and get white cubes. And to make things really interesting, I could possibly also place yonder, and get purple cubes.

Worker placement games by their nature tend to have tension built in by the fear of getting blocked out of an action. Let’s say there’s 3 actions I want. I have to decide hard which to select, since the other 2 will probably be snatched by someone else. With each choice you make, you risk being denied the opportunity to go in another spot you need.

Buildings increase variety, but at the expense of decreasing tension. Overall, the availability of possible action spots become more and more plentiful as the game progresses. Generally, there will be one new building per round. As more buildings come out, the ratio of workers to actions spots results in more elbow room for dude placement. Since there are more and more possible action spots you can usually find a spot that fits your needs.

The game mitigates this somewhat by releasing more workers to all players at midgame. This causes a sudden tightening in the worker to spot ratio. However, the overall trend in the game is that there’s more and more sports to place on, meaning there are more options. This means if the space you really wanted gets taken, there’s usually a decent backup spot. This sucks all of the tension out of what is normally naturally present a worker placement game.

So this game is often hailed as a marriage between the euro worker placement world and
the thematic American style. But where’s the meaningful theme? Yes, it’s in an ameritrashy setting, but as the game unfolds, it does not lend itself to effortlessly create a story. And it doesn’t have anything to do with the abstraction of collecting cubes representing recruiting specialists for a quest. It doesn’t matter if you’re collecting black cubes or little plastic ninjas, you’re making a series set collections and cashing them in for points.

When I finish a session, there was negligible story that unfolded in the game. Without narrative, I find a game to be less engaging, and I’m less likely to get emotionally invested in the outcome.

And then there’s mandatory quests. These are Thwacking cards that you can slap on any opponent. They cannot complete any quests until the mandatory one is done. This is a huge downer. And it’s not because I’m thin skinned and cringe when other players don’t play nice. Generally, I think Thwacking cards is an attractive feature. I like it when a game equips me to bash the leader. That’s why there are leaders: to bash them. The problem with mandatory quests isn’t that they’re too powerful or too nasty. It’s because in a game with a low density of interesting decisions, when these cards get out, the receiving player has now virtually no decisions. It’s a mandatory quest. You have no choice but to complete it. Forcing fewer decisions while thwacking a player is adding insult to injury.

I must say that the Scoundrels of Skullport expansion greatly mitigates my criticisms. Once we started playing with the expansion, I actually found myself with a few interesting decisions to make. I won’t go into great detail, since the intended scope of this article is for the base game. But it’s fair to point out that the Waterdeep experience is much improved while maintaining its simplicity.

Despite finding more to criticize than to hail, I still find myself often willing to play Waterdeep. It’s easy and fast paced. And even if it isn’t a perfect fit for my tastes, I can sincerely endorse it to those with different preferences: if you don’t like heavy games, if you don’t like brain burners, if you are averse to complexity, or if you are a hospital patient recovering from surgery.

Originally posted on menwithdice.com
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Pablo Grande
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I'm not sure if there is a word to describe the feeling of "reading exactly what you thought but you were unable to write", but I will use it in this situation.

I completely agree with your criticism about this game. I first liked it a lot, but then I realized the decisions were too easy, the hidden lords were more a problem than a solution and oh, mandatory quests, I hate you.

I thought I could play a variant game without hidden lords or mandatory quests, but I don't usually want to play LoW anymore and my gaming group prefer to play with them. Although you say expansions assess most of this problems, I won't probably buy them.
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Jo Bartok
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For me the theme-disconnect killed it, but id play it once on a while as it is not as bad as village for instance.
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Snowball
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Spot on review. And I agree with the need to play with the extension to make it more interesting.

The problem with the base game is that it is not anymore simple than better worker placement games; in other words, the ratio interesting decision/ rules complexity is not good. The only things that goes in its favour arethe theme that sounds less boring than in most worker placement games, and the intrigue cards: these make it original.
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Andrew Shegda
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It's exceptionally boring after 3-4 plays even with both expansions. It just gives more of the same quests to do and same old spots to land on for different resources.
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Phil Triest
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I agree. A very unremarkable game that is way over rated.
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Hi all,

I largely disagree with this review. I will say though that my group and I are relatively new to gaming, and picked this up as lots of people suggest it as a gateway to worker placement. We play with the expansion also.

However, I think you're review is great, you've not gone on an all out rage against a game you personally don't like, you've given a fair and reasonable review.

As someone who likes this game, it was an intersting read. I've read a few reveiws from people who don't like a particular game and the review they give is not constructive at all and gives me no real understanding of why they don't like the game.

And who knows, once my group becomes a bit more hardened, we won't like this game so much either!
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Eric Matthews
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The review isn't wrong, and written better than most, but there seems to be some assumption that there are fanboys out there hyping the game as some kind of deep euro, no? Where is this hype? A lot of criticism of LOW reads to me like someone dumping on ticket to ride because it doesn't have more deep decisions or complicated rules.

It's a gateway game. Of course it's simple and easy to learn, and of course the decisions are limited. The simplicity is a feature. That's why it's so popular.

E
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Paul DeStefano
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The game is in my top 20.

One of the reason my group loves it is the feeling of tension that you apparently do not feel.

When you need rogues, someone takes your spot and you try to hide your disappointment so they don't realize you needed it. When you hold the mandatory to play on someone because you think they're hoarding for a 40 pointer. When you deduce someone's lord and start playing for denial.

I'm guessing different groups play differently and it results in different tensions.

There is never a preprogrammed feel for us.

Love it.
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secoAce -
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The stated "negatives" are WHY this makes a great gateway game, not only for a worker placement game, but for casual non-gamers--the minimal player conflict, simple decision-making, and streamlined rules.

I too thought the theme was just pasted on initially until I tried a couple other worker placement games. The theme in LoW suddenly came upfront and obvious in comparison, but then I make people call the cubes by their actual character types and have people read out all the flavor text. That really helps make the game more than just playing a mechanic.
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Duncan Idaho
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secoAce wrote:
The theme in LoW suddenly came upfront and obvious in comparison, but then I make people call the cubes by their actual character types and have people read out all the flavor text. That really helps make the game more than just playing a mechanic.


If the theme only comes out when you say those things, then that is, to me, the definition of "pasted on".

Not to say I agree with the OP's overall point - I think this is a great gateway game. But I don't think the theme is deep in any way.
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Matt Highfill
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Ganybyte wrote:
The review isn't wrong, and written better than most, but there seems to be some assumption that there are fanboys out there hyping the game as some kind of deep euro, no? Where is this hype? A lot of criticism of LOW reads to me like someone dumping on ticket to ride because it doesn't have more deep decisions or complicated rules.

It's a gateway game. Of course it's simple and easy to learn, and of course the decisions are limited. The simplicity is a feature. That's why it's so popular.

E


Well said. Ironically, it seems that this game is being criticized because it's "too streamlined," if there is such a thing. The OP mentions, in several different ways, that decisions are too obvious. In effect, that chain of reasoning is undermining LOW's greatest strength. IMO, a game typically plays out better if the decisions are more straightforward. Otherwise, doesn't that give incentive for designers to make games more convoluted, so that the winner has to see through the foggy design in order to make optimal decisions? Streamlined=Elegant. If you want something deeper or more complex, play LOW's big brother--Caylus.
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Eric Matthews
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I do think the criticism of intrigue cards is totally valid. This can be a mean game, and that element is not gateway friendly. I also think randomness in the game of intrigue card draws makes for an often terrible 2 player luck/ attack fest. I know of 2 player variants in which people just remove the attacks.

The theme is pasted on, but they do a pretty damn good job of pasting it. The art, the flavor text and the use of adventurers as resources is actually pretty great. The cubes suck, but that's par for the course on worker placement games.

And as a side note a printing of the expansion quest cards is off color and upside down, which is fine and playable, but very noticeable and will be annoying to the OCD among us.
(See people can defend a game without being a total fanboy)
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I love this game, and after a solid two years of pure board gaming obsession, I still love this game. Sure I'm still quite new to the whole board gaming world, but for some reason this game just continues to impress me. Win or lose.

I admit that the expansions and expertly designed iOS implementation have helped to solidify this game as one of my favorites, but I also feel I've played enough other games of this type to feel confident about my overall feelings with this game. It's easily one of the most played (and most enjoyed) games in my collection too, and that always means a lot to me.

Sure it has it's short-comings, but what game out there doesn't??!
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Ganybyte wrote:
I do think the criticism of intrigue cards is totally valid. This can be a mean game, and that element is not gateway friendly. I also think randomness in the game of intrigue card draws makes for an often terrible 2 player luck/ attack fest. I know of 2 player variants in which people just remove the attacks.


I've actually found that most people who are new to games prefer "take that!" mechanisms to more non-confrontational games. I chalk this up to almost all mainstream games having strong "take that!" elements.

That said, if you play with people who don't like those elements, then the Mandatory Quests/some Intrigue cards are a negative.

Quote:

The theme is pasted on, but they do a pretty damn good job of pasting it. The art, the flavor text and the use of adventurers as resources is actually pretty great. The cubes suck, but that's par for the course on worker placement games.


This always comes down to how people define pasted on/well implemented/etc...

The theme is well fleshed out - there's a lot of it on the pieces. The art is solid (if you enjoy the style), and they put a bit of theme on all the bits.

But they're not really related in any way to the game. You could have designed this game without a theme, then come up with the LoW theme, and it wouldn't have changed any of the design decisions.

This is coming from someone who has the DnDeeples, by the way.
 
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Josh Chen
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Whether a game is too light or too heavy to one person is purely subjective.

I can see where these people who thinks this game is too light is coming from. They want more stimulants in a game and this game doesn't provide it. I game with my parents a lot and this game is too heavy for them! Needless to say my mom complained about this game being too complicated.

I think this game serves its purpose of being a very gateway-ish worker placement game. If they make it completely language independent then maybe my parents can play this game, but by doing that they drive away game veterans even more.
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Paul DeStefano
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Ganybyte wrote:
This can be a mean game,


It is if you play it right.
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Waterdeep will never convert the grouchy king Caylus purists.

Nor will it amaze the gamers used to 10 different classes of space zombies each with unique thematic abilities.

It's a solid light/medium euro with just a dash of D&D flavor and take that mechanics to spice it up.

What it does, it does well.

Anyone looking for something else will be disappointed.

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André Heines
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A game does not need to be complex to be good. LoW isn't a game I'd play 10 times in a row, but I really like it. The rules are simple, and thus you can explain them in a few minutes and start playing. It's a perfect casual game, a filler. If I want to play a game with depth, where strategy really counts, I'd definately choose another one, like Madeira or [fill in your fav]. For it's purpose it's definately a good game.
 
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LoWD > agricola
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Aaron
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Ganybyte wrote:

It's a gateway game. Of course it's simple and easy to learn, and of course the decisions are limited. The simplicity is a feature. That's why it's so popular.



Agree completely. Most of the people I game with do not want an overly complex game with very difficult decisions. They want to sit around a table with friends, drink some beers, and have a good time with a game. And LOW works great for purpose.
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Enon Sci
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I felt the same way, but found Skullport (the expansion) added that extra little bit of game-play consideration.

The base game is bland for anybody familiar with other titles, like Caylus.
kaziam wrote:
Waterdeep will never convert the grouchy king Caylus purists.







Interestingly enough, it did in my case (with Skullport in play). Caylus is my #1, and has been since it released. That said, even with the expansion Waterdeep is a lighter title. But the decision space gets that added bit of depth necessary to elevate it past a purely gateway experience.
 
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Geosphere wrote:

When you need rogues, someone takes your spot and you try to hide your disappointment so they don't realize you needed it. When you hold the mandatory to play on someone because you think they're hoarding for a 40 pointer. When you deduce someone's lord and start playing for denial.

How can you hide it? Everyones' quest are exposed for all to see.


I'll agree: I had a very pre-programmed feeling playing it. Even the end game condition is 100% known: exactly 8 turns. Furthermore, if you pay attention, you can figure out what Lord a person has, so a secret is no secret.

It's not a bad game, it's just boring _for me_. Plus, I don't care for the theme that's thinly painted on top.
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Gary Boyd
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Everyone gets a trophy, yay! Everyone gets a placement, yay!

I liked the game for what it was. I do feel the board is too open and I also feel the Intrigue cards (especially the MQs) will teach new players bad strategies that will translate even worse into other games.
 
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Agreed with all above. This game plays it self and more imporantly is not fun. Especially the downtime waiting for other players to make uninteresting decisions so I can make my uninteresting decision. Will never play this again.
 
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