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Lords of Waterdeep

Lords of Waterdeep is a typical Eurogame designed by Wizards of the Coast. Gee, who knew? I actually find it quite remarkable that the creators of the Dungeons & Dragons RPG would actually deign to lend this theme to such a creatively bankrupt style of game, but none of that matters as long as the product is fun and playable. To this end, I find that WotC have succeeded fairly well, leading to an enjoyable, if derivative, game. This review will be broken down into a very basic rules section, my opinions on specific strengths and weaknesses, and my overall opinion and recommendation for the game. Feel free to skip the next section if you are already aware of how to play the game.

Rules

Lords of Waterdeep is an immediately accessible and simple game from a mechanics standpoint. You have a pool of Agents, which are people you will send out on errands to recruit Adventurers and acquire gold in order for you to be able to complete quests. On your turn, you will place an Agent on any available building space on the board, then take the action associated with that space, which is usually to simply take Adventurers of a certain type or gold from the supply. After placing an Agent in a turn, a player then has the opportunity to complete a quest. Doing so usually involves discarding Adventurers and/or gold to the supply to score victory points and other assorted rewards. The aim of the game is to be the player with the most victory points at the end. I could probably explain a lot more than this, but the beauty of the game is that I don't really have to. Just this simple explantion will arm people with enough knowledge to tackle the game at a basic level, leading directly into my next point.

Pros

Ease of access - One of the best things about this game is its immediate accessibility, even for nongamers. On a basic level, the above rules are really all you need to explain to people before you begin gameplay, if you are so inclined. Any other questions can be answered during the game. I have introduced this game to several groups of people, some who had never played a game of this type before, and all of them were at least able to grasp the gist of the rules within the first game. Yes, there are lots of nuances and tricky situations to discover, but the core gameplay is simple enough that anyone from the age of 8 to 80 could pick the game up (I know because I played the game with people who were at the upper and lower bounds of this range). Gamers will obviously perform better and I wouldn't exactly recommend this as a gateway game, but it's not a bad idea in this regard, either. At the very least, it's not so complex that it scared off anyone I introduced it to, which is a huge plus in my book.

Production quality - One thing you can say about this game is that the components are excellent. WotC tends to produce higher quality bits than one would expect for their board game series, and it really shows here. The boxart is laughably bad, but the rest of the game looks pretty darn good in comparison. The cards are finished with linen and are highly flexible, which is an absolute boon. Although they bend easily, they can also be bent back into shape just as easily, and even after 11 plays unsleeved they show no signs of wear and tear. The wooden bits included are thick, even if they are mostly cubes (yes, yes, I know). The cardboard tokens used for victory points and gold are of just the right thickness and even have a yuan-stylized feel to them with a hole in the center, which is really a nice touch.

Perhaps the greatest thing about the components, though, is the included storage tray. Everything, and I do mean everything, fits perfectly in its particular compartment in the tray, and WotC even went the extra step and made all the card wells angled, so all you have to do is push down at one end and the cards pop out perfectly at the other end to be picked up. This makes storage a breeze and setup much less of a hassle than it would otherwise be. Please watch Tom Vasel's video review to get an idea; it really is an excellent storage solution. The only gripe I have is that it can be kind of annoying to get the gold and victory points back into their slots without them sliding around and falling over, but this is the most minor of quibbles.


Play time - Lords of Waterdeep can be completed in about an hour to an hour and a half. I find this great for two reasons: first, it is short enough that it could be played several times in one evening and yet deep enough that it doesn't feel like a filler. Second, the limited number of game rounds ensures players are always working hard to maximize their returns. You really don't have the time or capability to set up an economically efficient engine in this game, making tactical play highly important.

Strategic depth of gameplay - I know I said in the title of this review that the water was shallow, so I will clarify that later on. At first glance, though, this game offers enough options to keep it interesting for a good amount of time. While the core gameplay itself is very simple, there are enough choices available that you will not discover one perfect strategy from the very get-go.

Each player will be dealt a Lord card at the beginning of the game which will either list two types of quests that Lord earns extra victory points for or will award the player points for each building s/he builds. While your specific Lord will give you a general idea of which quests to focus on during the game, the craft is not quite so simple. Do you build a building that gives you the owner's benefit of a rogue every time someone uses it if your Lord focuses on Skullduggery quests, or do you hope somebody else builds said building so you have a greater chance of using it yourself to get more rogues? Do you even build buildings at all, or simply utilize the benefits conferred on you by other players doing so? Perhaps you decide to focus on drawing lots of Intrigue cards and playing them as often as possible; although it means you will often not get your first choice of the available buildings, playing the right card can negate this need and the extra action it affords can make the move all the more worthwhile. Often, you will have to value whether or not it might be worth completing a quest which does not give you points for your Lord because the benefit it confers is just so useful. For your first few games, Lords of Waterdeep will appear to be much deeper than you would initially think from reading the rules, and no singular clear path to victory will emerge. There are enough varied things you can do with your Agents on any given turn to keep the game interesting.

Cons

Shallow, shallow... Give it to me... - Buuuut... that feeling doesn't last forever. Yes, there are plenty of things to do in the game, from building new buildings to playing Intrigue cards to just using plain Jane spaces on the board itself. The problem, though, is that after a while and enough familiarity with the system, the calculus to determine the best thing to do at any time becomes quite simple. Someone on these forums has already posted a conversion method for figuring out the potential VP worth of any particular Adventurer/value of gold/card play, and while it is not perfectly accurate, it is close enough. The game almost becomes a mechanical mathematical exercise after a while. If you have a choice between 2 rogues or 2 rogues and a cleric, you will always pick the latter; even if you have no need for the cleric because you don't take Piety quests, it's worth a victory point at the end of the game, so not taking said action would be a waste of one potential VP.

Yes, the Intrigue cards do help stave off complete mathematical drudgery by keeping the game somewhat random, and the buildings you can put into play will affect every game so they all feel unique. It still doesn't change the fact that the game begins to feel like a spreadsheet after a while, though, a criticism which is heavily leveled at most Eurogames and fits well here. This is especially true in the last round of the game, where players have often completed all the quests they want to complete and are literally searching for the buildings on the board that will give them the most VPs (be that from Adventurers or gold).

Another big problem I have found is that building buildings doesn't seem to be a particularly viable strategy unless you have the Lord who gives you points for them. Often, it is better to let someone else build the building for you and then reap the benefits of it before they can get a chance to use it themselves. The owner's reward just doesn't always seem to justify the cost of putting some buildings into play, especially if they're not useful because they don't provide resources players need for that game (i.e. a building that provides 2 rogues and a cleric when none of the players get extra points for Skullduggery/Piety quests). This problem seems to be mitigated by larger play groups, since it is more likely that players will have diverse questing needs if there are more people playing the game, but it can be a real crapshoot with 2 or 3 players.

In short, I fear that the game does not have long-term viability, but with 11 plays already under my belt and my eagerness to play again not fully tempered, I could very well be wrong.

Scalability - It's a small con, but this ties directly into what I said above. With 2 or 3 players, you're going to see a lot less buildings built than with 4 or 5, simply because of the fact that there is a good chance a particular building won't be useful to players in a 2 or 3 player game. Contrast this with a 4 or 5 player game where you are almost assured to have somebody use your building during a given round and they become a much more viable source of points. This means 2 and 3 player games are more constrained because less options for placement will be available to the players. I personally do not see this as a con because I think it makes those games more interesting as I tend to like tactically maximizing my benefits from a small, mediocre set of actions. Some gamers don't like this, though, so I thought it would be prudent of me to list this as a potential negative trait.

Theme, or rather the lack thereof - Lords of Waterdeep barely has a theme. Sure, every card has a bit of flavor text and on the whole the game makes sense in the logic of its own world, but it is truly a soulless application of the theme at best. My yardstick for measuring good theme is the ease with which someone could replace the main components of the game's theme and still largely keep gameplay the same. The easier this can be done, the poorer the theme is.

Lords of Waterdeep could be about the Lords picking different crops in orange, white, black, and purple varieties and selling them to different buyers in order to collect the most VPs and nothing would be lost. The theme for the game is not a bad choice, but when applied to these mechanics it barely matters. Now, I am the kind of person to not really give one whit about theme if the mechanics are solid and interesting, but there are many gamers who don't just want a soulless mathematical exercise (read as: Power Grid). Because Dungeons & Dragons usually attracts a certain kind of gamer, generally someone who really loves to immerse himself in the theme of the game, I feel like I must list this as a con because this game doesn't really have any. The flavor text is dry and the entire theme of the game could be replaced without losing a thing. If you are looking for the next great fantasy dungeon crawler, this is certainly not the game for you.

Been there, done that - Lords of Waterdeep is not some innovative new kid on the block with his blue suede shoes and $20 iPhone app that spews static at you. It really is just a simple, generic worker placement game and little more than that. Sure, the Intrigue cards add some much desired variety, but at its core, the game is just, "Place a guy here, take some stuff. Place a guy here, take some stuff. Place a guy here, play a card, complete a quest." If you read that and got bored, I'm not surprised. Although any game can sound boring when distilled down to its mechanics, this is especially true of Lords of Waterdeep. I have heard through the grapevine that it's really just a simpler, less interesting version of Caylus. I have not played Caylus myself, so I will not render an opinion here, but I thought I would mention that for people who have in case that provides them some relevant knowledge.

So just what the hell do you think?

I really enjoy Lords of Waterdeep. I find it to be highly engaging, mechanically interesting game that plays quickly and leaves most players with the urge to immediately give it another play. I typically am discouraged by worker placement games because I don't always find the mechanic very interesting, but it works in this regard because I can connect with the theme and am able to understand the basic strategy necessary to win. Games are usually pretty tight if players play well, with some literally being decided by one or two points, and the quests seem well-balanced in that it might be better to complete a bunch of quests with small rewards rather than one big one because of the bonus points said quests are worth at the end. I have played the game 11 times in the month or so since I bought it and still look forward to my next play of the game, even with the caveat that I might quickly grow bored of it if I figure out too much of the strategy. I could be very wrong on that point, however, in which case the game could have enough in it to last me dozens of plays into the future.

Who should buy it?

First, I'd like to start with who shouldn't buy it. If you are the kind of person who hates to optimize mathematically distinct choices in game, stay away from this one. The game literally boils down to just this, especially in the latter rounds where you really are just min/maxing your VP acquisitions. I also would not recommend this to fans of the Dungeons & Dragons RPG, ironically, because the game doesn't seem to be built for them. The theme is just there to provide the barest minimum of logic to the mechanics, the flavor text is extremely dull and uninteresting, and there's no real combat or sense of storyline to speak of. RPG players would likely grow bored with this game. Finally, if you have played more complex worker placement games before, I would caution you to try this one before buying. It might just be too simple for your tastes.

If you do not fit into the description of any of the groups listed above, then I heartily recommend that you give this game a shot at some point. The game will be remarkably interesting in its first few plays as you discover the different nuances and paths to victory. The game is just long enough to remain interesting for those who hate fillers, but short enough that it could be played more than once in a typical evening. It really hits a sweet spot for length. The quality of bits you get in the box and the included storage solution are all excellent considering the price of the game, which seems fair. Out of all the Dungeons & Dragons board games, this is the one I have enjoyed and played the most as well as the one that has given me the most bang for my buck. Don't delay, buy today!




(Okay, maybe not, but at least try it. You may be pleasantly surprised.)

Final Score: 8/10
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Paul DeStefano
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SparkingConduit wrote:
With 2 or 3 players, you're going to see a lot less buildings built than with 4 or 5, simply because of the fact that there is a good chance a particular building won't be useful to players in a 2 or 3 player game.


After a few dozen games with different sized groups, I would say that this isn't so/ Choice of buildings/Lords/Quests can sway the number of buildings greatly, but player count does not seem to.
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Waterdeep is has become a favorite in my house. Its simplicity works in its favor and it is quite fun thematically and I enjoyed your review. That said, I disagree with two points that consistently come up on BGG reviews for this game.

-The theme is not bland. You may not like it, and it barely influences gameplay, that is true, so it may be tacked on, but it is a very solid theme utilizing high quality art and components and it is used consistently and well enough.

-The game shares some mechanics from other games... so? This is frankly becoming a more and more pointless of a complaint, and LoW reviewers focus on this way too much. Every single worker placement game shares the same mechanics. It is a non-complaint. More importantly, you and other reviewers really diminish the importance of the Intrigue cards. Not only do they make the game stand out, but they give the game a very different feel from the games LoW is supposedly copying. They are frankly a very big part of the game to overlook.

The game isn't for everyone, for sure. Big Caylus fans in particular are going to look down on Waterdeep, but I don't feel the above complaints matter.
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Ted Magdzinski
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I find that I shouldn't enjoy this game very much...but I do. I agree with much of your review in that regard. Parts of it are shallow that have the ability to get stale, but its such a quick and simple game to play that I have no trouble bringing it out with my game group.
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Darian Tucker
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Geosphere wrote:
SparkingConduit wrote:
With 2 or 3 players, you're going to see a lot less buildings built than with 4 or 5, simply because of the fact that there is a good chance a particular building won't be useful to players in a 2 or 3 player game.


After a few dozen games with different sized groups, I would say that this isn't so/ Choice of buildings/Lords/Quests can sway the number of buildings greatly, but player count does not seem to.


I've only played 11 games. I'm willing to be wrong on this point.

It's a small sample size, admittedly, but 7 of my games have been 3 player and this is just the case. We only have an average of 4 buildings in a 3 player game versus 6 or 7 in a 4-5 player game.

Regardless, not all groups play the same way. Can you think of any other points in my review that should be picked apart? (Please note this is a serious request. I love constructive criticism! This is only my first review here and I'd like to write more, so some advice would be good. )
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ScubaSteveKzoo wrote:
I find that I shouldn't enjoy this game very much...but I do. I agree with much of your review in that regard. Parts of it are shallow that have the ability to get stale, but its such a quick and simple game to play that I have no trouble bringing it out with my game group.


The way I like to describe it is I'm always worried when I sit down that the game might be boring, but by the time I get up from the table I always have had at least some fun, often a great amount. That's the watermark of a great game to me: every time you fear something might go awry and spoil your fun, the game still ends up being interesting and proving you wrong.
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badlogik wrote:
Waterdeep is has become a favorite in my house. Its simplicity works in its favor and it is quite fun thematically and I enjoyed your review. That said, I disagree with two points that consistently come up on BGG reviews for this game.

-The theme is not bland. You may not like it, and it barely influences gameplay, that is true, so it may be tacked on, but it is a very solid theme utilizing high quality art and components and it is used consistently and well enough.


I respectfully disagree. However, I am always willing to engage in a good argument, so allow me to respond to this criticism. I do feel that the theme in the game is quite bland. Yes, the world and lore of Dungeons & Dragons itself is vast, extrapolated upon by hundreds of authors, artists, and game designers trying to develop a living, breathing fantasy world. To this point, I will agree that the theme is quite excellent and should be used in high quality games.

However, it is still bland because I feel it has been misapplied in this instance. The actual game itself doesn't seem to have much to do with Dungeons & Dragons. There are no dungeons and there are no dragons. To avoid being too flippant, however, a typical session of the D&D RPG usually involves a party meeting some person who gives them a quest, delving into a dungeon to fight some monsters and collect treasure, then returning to their employer for their reward. Almost any D&D player will tell you the meat of the experience comes from the dungeon delving. The bookends, where you get and complete the quests, are just there to provide flavor and purpose to your actions in-game.

By choosing to focus on this mechanic for Lords of Waterdeep, it seems like WotC is missing the point. Their target audience is generally RPG players; this game doesn't seem to be for them. The real problem is that the theme is sort of silly in this game. You're trying to tell me that all a Lord has to do is walk to a certain part of town and he'll get one or two Adventurers to just randomly sign up for his services? And that they'll go on quests with a 100% chance of succeeding, after which they just vanish into the ether, often without pay? There are just too many disconnects between the theme and the mechanics of the game.

If they wanted to expand their market and make it inclusive of other players, fine. That's a great argument. But why not just choose a different theme altogether instead of slapping D&D on a game that doesn't feel anything like D&D? Why not set the game in its own unique universe? I fear that they were basically using the D&D name just to try and sell this game, and that just doesn't work for me. If I didn't know beforehand that I was just buying a typical Eurogame, I probably would have been disappointed with what I got when I opened the box. Luckily, I did know, so I wasn't.

badlogik wrote:
-The game shares some mechanics from other games... so? This is frankly becoming a more and more pointless of a complaint, and LoW reviewers focus on this way too much. Every single worker placement game shares the same mechanics. It is a non-complaint. More importantly, you and other reviewers really diminish the importance of the Intrigue cards. Not only do they make the game stand out, but they give the game a very different feel from the games LoW is supposedly copying. They are frankly a very big part of the game to overlook.

The game isn't for everyone, for sure. Big Caylus fans in particular are going to look down on Waterdeep, but I don't feel the above complaints matter.


I will disagree here as well. What is important is not that a game uses the same mechanics as other games in its genre, but HOW it uses them. A game can be a derivative of some other, older game in its genre, but if it is unique and interesting enough, this does not become a point of contention. If it's not, though, then this is certainly worthy of criticism.

As an example, first person shooters all follow the same basic mechanics. There is some variation in how shooters handle health (i.e. regenerating, health packs, etc.) and other little oddities, but all are functionally going to be pointing a reticule/gun at baddies and pressing fire. What sets the better shooters apart is their presentation, the strength of their gameplay, and the potency of their mechanics. How tight are the controls, how balanced are the weapons, etc.? If a game in this genre does not meet or exceed certain standards as defined by the best games, then yes, it is entirely worthy of criticism just based on the fact that it is derivative. These standards will be somewhat subject, but will always be grounded in some form of objectivity, otherwise criticism would be worthless at best and impossible at worst.

I just don't feel like Lords of Waterdeep is different enough from other worker placement games to recommend it over them, and especially not for players who have tried and like more complex ones. You're right in that the Intrigue cards do set it apart, but I don't feel like they add enough oomph to make the game far and away more interesting than others all on their own. Other than that, the game is not functionally different enough from other worker placement games to set it apart, and I mention this simply to let people know that it's not going to wow them. It's still good, but a little more innovation could have made it excellent.
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Dale Moore
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what I find funny in all the reviews and posts that complains about a pasted on theme. You are talking about just about all worker placements. The difference is you like the game or theme better in the ones you don't complain about.

Stone age could be anything and so could Agricola. As a matter of fact Agricola even uses discs and cubes. One of the main complaints about Lords of Waterdeep's theme. Why should I call it a sheep when it's just a white cube. My family is a Hockey Puck. Stone age did better by giving us shapes but it could have been any shape.

People who played a lot of D&D or read the books thinks the theme is fine.

In D&D you play a fighter, Thief, Magic user, or Cleric. And the rest of the party (your friends) are the other roles. Between quests you went to guilds and Taverns looking for more adventures to go on. A lord or King would give you a quest to go on and let you know what they wanted in return. They pay you and you keep the other found loot.

Gee. That sounds like the other side of Lords of Waterdeep to me. the only thing missing is little minis instead of cubes. Something that I am taking care of and Supporting another BGG member

http://www.kickstarter.com/projects/1133945043/laser-cut-gam...
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It's good to hear that some D&D players won't mind it, then. I showed it my uncle, who was a big D&D player back in the day, and he did enjoy it. He's partial to Eurogames anyway, though, so I didn't really count that.

EDIT: Those tokens do look pretty cool. Fortunately, I couldn't care less if a game uses cubes, chits, or tokens that look like the actual thing they're trying to represent or not. Only if my players were confused would I bother, but that doesn't happen with this game as the color choices make sense.
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Lords of Waterdeep does fill a niche for the D&D crowd: ex-D&D players who now have families/jobs and turned to playing shorter euro games with other time constrained friends. Then it's golden! And as for the unlikelihood of D&D parties getting hired at a tavern, having a 100% chance of success and then getting no pay; that sounds like classic D&D economics! Especially if you had someone playing lawful stupid (errr...good) in your party. Then again I like to imagine that I'm sending all of those poor cube adventurers to their deaths-- there are always more suckers to be found at the tavern...devil
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SparkingConduit wrote:
Production quality - One thing you can say about this game is that the components are excellent. WotC tends to produce higher quality bits than one would expect for their board game series, and it really shows here.


You can honestly say that after taking a look at the completely boring tiles in all three of the "D&D Adventures" releases, and their playing cards, which have no artwork on them whatsoever and are just plain jane grey?

Yes, they make nice minis, but they only included generic unpainted versions of their nicer pre-painted minis. They didn't even make a special set of pre-painted hero minis available.

 
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I said higher quality than one would expect.

Castle Ravenloft and co. are so-so, but Nerath and Lords are excellent. However, all of them exceed the quality I would expect, Nerath and Lords just much more so.
 
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Not that accessible
Mostly agree with everything except:

SparkingConduit wrote:
Ease of access - One of the best things about this game is its immediate accessibility, even for nongamers.


This isn't Twilight Imperium, but I wouldn't call it light-weight or accessible to non-gamers. I tried to get my non-gamer family to play Castle Ravenloft and even that was too complicated for some of them. They did like Bang! and Ticket to Ride though. LoW is certainly more complex than either of those.
 
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Fippy_Darkpaw wrote:
This isn't Twilight Imperium, but I wouldn't call it light-weight or accessible to non-gamers. I tried to get my non-gamer family to play Castle Ravenloft and even that was too complicated for some of them. They did like Bang! and Ticket to Ride though. LoW is certainly more complex than either of those.


LoW is a bit more complex that Ticket to Ride, but it's not a huge step up...and certainly much closer to TTR than to Ravenloft as far as complexity goes. If you can explain the basic worker placement mechanic: play a guy, do what the space says, reset once all guys are placed, you're 80-90% of the way there.
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fizzmore wrote:
Fippy_Darkpaw wrote:
This isn't Twilight Imperium, but I wouldn't call it light-weight or accessible to non-gamers. I tried to get my non-gamer family to play Castle Ravenloft and even that was too complicated for some of them. They did like Bang! and Ticket to Ride though. LoW is certainly more complex than either of those.


LoW is a bit more complex that Ticket to Ride, but it's not a huge step up...and certainly much closer to TTR than to Ravenloft as far as complexity goes. If you can explain the basic worker placement mechanic: play a guy, do what the space says, reset once all guys are placed, you're 80-90% of the way there.


Indeed. That was the crux of my point. It's not a gateway game in the strongest sense, but it could substitute for one and will likely work in most cases unless you have a COMPLETE non-gamer. I'm talking like someone who hasn't even played Monopoly as a child. LoW has some of the simplest mechanics in a game; hell, I'd go as far as to say that even Monopoly is more complex.
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