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Subject: Suprisingly refreshing gameplay with a good helping of luck. rss

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Mike Watkins
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So Lords of Waterdeep is basically a worker placement game. It reminds me the most of Caylus since you place workers one at a time to get resources and build buildings which expand the options for future worker placement. The key differences are that buildings are purchased only with money not resources (and done so immediately with one worker) and VPs are gained not through an equal set of functions such as building sections of a castle but by unique groupings of resources via quest cards gained by the player. Also the effects of placement are instant instead of resolving at the end of the turn.

Each turn you place workers to either get resources (i.e. adventurers), get intrigue cards, play intrigue cards, get money, get quests, build a building or some combo of the above. After each placement you can turn in resources and possibly gold a to complete quests and score VPs and possibly money and even ongoing bonus effects. That' s basically it in a nutshell. Most VPs win.

So to win it's key to know how to get VPs. Basically there are 4 ways to get them during game-play:

1) Complete Quests - Most quests give anywhere from 0-25 VPs depending on how many resources needed to complete them. Some also give ongoing effects. This will be the primary means of gaining VPS.

2) Construct Buildings -Every round unbuilt buildings get a VP placed on them until built at which point the builder get those VPs.

3) Have someone use one of your buildings - Certain buildings provide VPs to their owner when used by other players.

4) Use a building - 1 building provides 3+ VP to the player who uses it (it adds 3 VP per turn until used)

Finally, end-of game scoring gives you 1 VP for each leftover resources and every 2 gold pieces as well as your hidden Lord Card bonuses. Basically there are 5 different quests types in the game and each Lord Card gives you 4 VP for each quest completed for 2 different types. One other Lord Card gives you 6 VP per building completed. It's not uncommon to gain 20-30+% of your total VPs during end of game scoring. Lord cards can be game swinging.

What I Liked:

Ease of Learning and Playing
So the first plus in my book is that it is an incredible easy game to teach, learn and play through. There are no "fiddley" rules or intense set-up times and no exceptions or inconsistencies and except for the addition of an extra worker on turn 5 every round's game-play is exactly the same. A five minute step-by-step breakdown is all that's needed to introduce new players and having them playing correctly if not yet competitively - thus making it a great gateway game. Oh yeah and the fact that it really does play in under 2 hours (even with new players) adds to its appeal.

Decision Making
You will be making decisions every round. As with most worker placement games, timing and planing are key. There will generally always be more things you need or want to do than workers available so it's all about worker efficiency. You can also work blocking into your strategy as almost every item you get can be useful at some point. Even with multiple play-throughs there are enough variables at work to keep it from becoming a situation of "the game is playing me". Rarely is there an absolute best play at any point and only occasionally do you find yourself not even slightly debating where to go..

Interaction
A good player will keep an eye on his opponents available quests (more on this later) and try to slow down their rivals by grabbing key resources before their opponents can get them. Again since you will eventually need or be able to use almost any resource - timing becomes critical. With only 8 rounds delaying someone even 1 round can be huge.

Another area that can break up the routine and predictability of play are the intrigue cards. When used effectively they can delay opponents and speed up your own strategies. They are basically cards that give you an advantage or an opponent a disadvantage or some combo thereof. One of the more direct disadvantage cards are mandatory quest cards which your opponent must complete prior to any other quests. A well timed one could slow your opponent down for a few placements. A unique feature of Intrigue cards is that the worker placed to allow you to use an Intrigue card is reassigned to an unused space at the end of worker placement. (It's like the Caylus Gate space only useful ). So in essence playing an intrigue card doesn't cost a placement action but instead requires you give up placement order that turn for said worker. Knowing when to make this trade is one of the keys to good play.

Replayability
The wide range of quest cards, building and intrigue cards as well as the VP enhancing Lord cards lend a strong degree of replayability to the game as they will always be different. For example there are 24 different building and on any given game you will likely only build 7-10. Every game you will be getting different combos of quests and trying to plan a strategy to have you completing as many as possible as quickly as possible and hopefully completing those quests which grant additional VPs from your Lord Card's bonuses. This unique feature results in all players needing at least some of each resource but more-than-likely going after larger amounts of other resources. For example; if your Lord Card grants bonuses to Piety and Skullduggery Quests you will likely be trying for large amounts of Rogues and Clerics. Conversly if an opponent is going for Arcana and Warfare they will be trying for more Fighters and Wizards. This can make for unique interaction and blocking strategies.

The down side is that all these different elements also add a degree of randomness that can greatly increase the role of luck which leads me to...

What I disliked:

Luck
Luck is most definitely a factor. Good game play can help mitigate luck but all players being equal my game group all agreed that luck will play a key role in most wins. There are some very powerful combos that, when obtained, can allow a player to pull ahead. Also the Lord cards tend to increase the role of luck in the game. Generally if someone gets more of the right buildings with more of the right quests and the right Lord Card they will have an advantage. Here's some examples:

1) One of our players had the Lord Card that gave 6 bonus VP for each building build. He was dealt a quest card that gave 4 additional VPs for each building built and a few turns into the game completed another quest that allowed him to place a worker on an already occupied spot thus removing the ability to block him from placing his workers on the build space. So, as long as he was able to acquire 3-4 gold a turn he could generate 11+ VP each round with just 1 or two workers. On top of that he completed another quest that let him build a building a free. None of us could keep up and he won with a 20+ point margin.

2) Another game I had the Lord card that provided a 4 VP bonus to completed Arcana and Commerce Quests. The other 2 players also had Lord Cards with Commerce and 1 other type. So we were all competing for Commerce and thus were more likely to complete other quest types. The problem was my other type, Arcana, required Wizard resources and you can only get 1 per round unless buildings are built to provide another means. This game no buildings came out until round 6 offering any other means of getting a wizard resource. In addition the other players both played an intrigue card sending a player's wizard back to the supply. Needless to say I didn't complete many Arcana or Commerce quests and hence went without much bonus for my Lord card. The others players each received at least 16 points more than me from final Lord Card scoring.

Now both cases are a bit more on the extreme end and in neither case was victory or defeat dead certain but the luck of the random draws did lean heavily in favor of some players.

In a future game we plan on trying the game without Lord Cards just to see how if affects game play. I think having all players equally trying for all quest types might make for less luck but only playing it will tell.

Quest Card Layout
This is a small and nitpicky item but one that really bothered me. While others have commented on the great art on the cards (and I agree) the down side is that the art reduced the area on which game info is actually printed. As I stated earlier, good players will want to have a good idea of what quests their opponents are working on and what they need to complete them. The problem is that the cubes are printed very small on the quest cards (a pencil eraser could cover two cubes) and when the cards are spread out across the board they can be very hard to see. Throw in the fact that the black and purple cubes are easy to confuse (especially if lighting is not optimal or, like me, you are on the wrong side of 40) and you find yourself asking your opponents to see all their cards quite often. I often wonder why game designers don't pick colors that are less likely to be confused - I mean come on guys, yellow or green would have been a much more obvious choice.

But again a minor complaint.

What I was indifferent about:

Value
For me the value of a game is not in it's price or components but in how much time I will spend playing it and how long it will hold up under said gameplay. I'd rather pay $50 for a acceptably produced game I'll play a few times a month versus a well-produced game for $30 that I'll only ever play once or twice. I think I already covered the replayability of the game but since some might be affected by price and components I will say that the components are very well designed, the cards while not top notch are acceptable and we always seemed to have more than enough of each component. The box is well designed and I didn't need any baggies or other storage containers as everything fits perfectly and snugly into the box mold. With an MSRP of only $50 this game comes in $20 under similar type games like Agricola and Le Havre and is even $5 less than Caylus which probably has even less or about the same amount of components. In short you can't say it's an over-priced game or that the production value is in any way lacking.

Theme
Again theme is nice and can marginally add to a game's enjoyment but for me not really important if the game play is good. Arkham Horror has awesome theme but for me it grows repetitive and shallow rather quickly while Hansa Teutonica has almost no theme but I never get tired of the versatile and deep game play. For me the theme in LoW, while not exactly tacked on, is pretty much transparent to game play. The adventurer cubes could easily be standard resources and the quests could be construction projects or work orders instead of quests. -- 3 wood, 2 steel and an iron to build this ship, etc. If nothing else it's a different approach to the standard resource selection and might even be a great way to bring pen-and-paper Role-Players to board games if not there already.

Conclusion
Lords of Waterdeep, while at heart a worker placement game, brings enough unique factors such as Lord Cards, Quest Cards and Intrigue Cards to the table to make it a surprisingly unique and refreshing experience. Although easy to learn it does offer enough tactical decisions to keep the game from becoming rote or boring and if you're able to endure a good bit or random luck will find a game with enough replay value and accessibility to make it to the table quite often.
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Kevin Outlaw
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Delgaddo wrote:

Lords of Waterdeep, while at heart a worker placement game, brings enough unique factors such as Lord Cards, Quest Cards and Intrigue Cards to the table to make it a surprisingly unique and refreshing experience.


This is another good review for this game. There really is only a very small amount of negativity around this game - it seems to be hitting the mark with lots of people. It is securely on my list, but there are a few games I want first, and budget is tight (as always).

One thing - the things you list as unique all seem to have appeared in other games, so I'm not sure they can really be called unique in the true sense of the word. However, their combination at the same time within a lightwight euro does seem to be unique (from my point of view, having not yet played), and of course, there is nothing to stop familiar mechanics being combined in a unique way.

Nice one.
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Mike Watkins
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Carbon, you are of course correct - there really is little unique mechanic-wise in this or any new game for that matter. As you stressed the uniqueness is in how they combined the Quest cards, Intrigue cards and Lord card with the standard worker placement & resources gathering mechanics. Thanks for the clarification.
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Dan Dedeaux
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Delgaddo wrote:
2) Another game I had the Lord card that provided a 4 VP bonus to completed Arcana and Commerce Quests. The other 2 players also had Lord Cards with Commerce and 1 other type. So we were all competing for Commerce and thus were more likely to complete other quest types. The problem was my other type, Arcana, required Wizard resources and you can only get 1 per round unless buildings are built to provide another means. This game no buildings came out until round 6 offering any other means of getting a wizard resource. In addition the other players both played an intrigue card sending a player's wizard back to the supply. Needless to say I didn't complete many Arcana or Commerce quests and hence went without much bonus for my Lord card. The others players each received at least 16 points more than me from final Lord Card scoring.


I actually think the Lords are the weakest part of the game. They tried to make them hidden, but they really aren't. In every game I've played (only 3 so far), both players knew which Lords the others had well before the end of the game. So, scoring wasn't really any surprise...I kind of like hidden scoring mechanics, though. Just wish this one was a little more difficult to "figure out."

I wonder if would be better if each Lord gave differing points for up to 3 types of quests. For example: Lord X gives 4 points for each Warfare, 3 points for each Piety, and 2 points for each Commerce. Probably not the best example, but it's just an example
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Kevin Outlaw
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swgod98 wrote:
Delgaddo wrote:
2) Another game I had the Lord card that provided a 4 VP bonus to completed Arcana and Commerce Quests. The other 2 players also had Lord Cards with Commerce and 1 other type. So we were all competing for Commerce and thus were more likely to complete other quest types. The problem was my other type, Arcana, required Wizard resources and you can only get 1 per round unless buildings are built to provide another means. This game no buildings came out until round 6 offering any other means of getting a wizard resource. In addition the other players both played an intrigue card sending a player's wizard back to the supply. Needless to say I didn't complete many Arcana or Commerce quests and hence went without much bonus for my Lord card. The others players each received at least 16 points more than me from final Lord Card scoring.


I actually think the Lords are the weakest part of the game. They tried to make them hidden, but they really aren't. In every game I've played (only 3 so far), both players knew which Lords the others had well before the end of the game. So, scoring wasn't really any surprise...I kind of like hidden scoring mechanics, though. Just wish this one was a little more difficult to "figure out."

I wonder if would be better if each Lord gave differing points for up to 3 types of quests. For example: Lord X gives 4 points for each Warfare, 3 points for each Piety, and 2 points for each Commerce. Probably not the best example, but it's just an example


Do you think the obviousness of the Lords might just be because you are all relatively new to the game? Is it likely to become easier to bluff once you are more confident of what you know you can do within the given turn count (so you can throw in a few curveball moves to make people think you are up to something else without actually playing sub-optimally)?
 
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Mike Forrey
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Good review but your example of the player with the lord for buildings and everything else they obtained in the game is highly irregular game. In over 100+ games i have never seen a player get that luck on a draw. In reality the building lord is the weakest of all the lords and our group actually removed her from the game as a choice.

Luck definetly plays a role in some aspects but it isn't enough to let one player run away with the game, excluding your "perfect Storm" example above. It's going to have luck elements in the game though as it's a hybrid of Euro and Ameritrash game styles.
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Pater Absurdus
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bearn wrote:
It's going to have luck elements in the game though as it's a hybrid of Euro and Ameritrash game styles.


Luck will occasionally have a major role but I thought it sat squarely in the Euro category (IMHO).

The theme is light, there is no direct conflict, and the luck element isn't more than any other euro in which cards drawn effect ones goals/resources.

Happy Gaming,
Redward
 
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Christopher Boat
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A Lord is really only as powerful as the other players let it be. I find the Lord who scores bonus points for buildings to be very powerful, but there are games where players will completely shut me out of the building action.

Although, as a counter example, another time I pulled the build Lord- first turn I was able to grab a quest that let me place an agent on a space that already had an agent on it, meaning I could take the building action every round. I also finished a quest that let me build a building for free. We had to consult the rules to make sure we were allowed to build more buildings than spaces allowed on the board (it's allowed, by the way). Almost needless to say, I wiped the floor with my opponents that game.
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