Wizards of the Coast’s board game department has a pretty solid batting average, and Lords of Waterdeep is another home run (but not quite a grand slam). As one of the masked lords, you’ll work through your agents to hire adventurers, complete quests and secure your political power within the City of Splendors.
Lords has been talked up as a Eurogame — it even says so on the box — and it lives up to that in many ways. I don’t know how to precisely define a Eurogame (I know one when I play one?), but they value resource management over direct conflict, tend to have a fair amount of fiddly bits, and have that “easy to learn, difficult to master” quality. Lords of Waterdeep hits all those marks. The face-up quests and scoring track are reminiscent of Ticket to Ride (actually, Lords borrows a lot from Ticket to Ride), and the agent tokens are wooden meeples, brightly colored wooden figures that are closely identified with Eurogaming.
Enough about the game’s pedigree — how does it play? Each player is one of the titular lords, and controls a certain number of agents (depending on how many people are playing). Each turn, players take turn placing their agents at locations in the city of Waterdeep. Each location triggers an action of some kind. Typically, this will give that player some adventurers or coins. Adventurers are represented by colored wooden squares: black (rogues), purple (wizards), orange (fighters), and white (clerics). Coins and adventurers hang out in your tavern until you need them.Other locations trigger different actions, like choosing a new quest card, playing one of your intrigue cards, or building a new location in the city.
What can you do with your resources? Complete quests. Each quest will require a certain number of adventurers of various types, and possibly some coins. You “spend” your adventurers to complete a quest and gain that quest’s reward. The reward is usually victory points, but some special quests give you ongoing benefits as well. The specific lord you represent will shape your quest selection, as each lord provides additional victory points at game’s end for two types of quests. There are warfare, piety, skullduggery, arcana and commerce quests to choose from.
Interaction between players takes two main forms. The most obvious method is to use intrigue cards. These are cards that let you force opponents to lose adventurers and other drawbacks. You can even make them take on mandatory quests that interrupt their efforts to complete their real quests. Hey, someone has to muck the stables. Competition for locations in the city provides another manner of interaction — once someone has placed an agent in a location, that location is usually closed to other players’ agents. If you see your opponent is working toward a big quests that needs a lot of fighters, you can block them from the locations that provide fighters if you’re canny enough.
This interaction is somewhat diminished in the two-player game. It’s still a very successful game for two players, and it’s by no means a “fishbowl” game with each players taking turns doing their own thing. But vying for crucial locations is a bigger deal with more players sitting around the board. There are ways to manipulate turn orders and agent numbers, as well. Pay a visit to Castle Waterdeep and you get to go first next turn. Complete the “Recruit the Lieutenant” quest and Harvey Keitel himself will act as one of your agents for the rest of the game (ok, not really).
If I had to pick a flaw, I do think the game could stand a little more complexity. It plays out in about an hour, which is great. However, I feel like the bonuses granted by the lords could be more interesting. As it is, they are restricted to two quest types, excepting one lord who grants a bonus for buildings owned. It would be cool if these “secret quests” you’re working on throughout the game had more meat to them, like the hidden agendas in Twilight Imperium. Maybe you’d have to collect as many clerics as possible, or try to get a full set of each kind of quest. It would add some unpredictability to the game. I should note that the design of the game board explicitly leaves room for future expansions, so who knows what we’ll see down the road.
This is a very different game from Conquest of Nerath, but one I’m equally excited about playing with my gaming group. The game’s mechanics fit the theme flawlessly, the board and pieces are very nice to look at, and while the game seems complicated, you’ll fully grasp the rules after a single turn. The many different quests and intrigues give each game twists and turns, and there’s plenty of strategic depth. Also, the box and component tray are designed with a perfect space for every last card and piece. That’s not a minor thing.The rules booklet explains things very clearly, and the appendices offer detailed rules and background information on every card, faction and character in the game. This helps flesh out the theme and answers any questions you might have about how a certain quest or building functions.
So far, my wife and I have played Lords of Waterdeep every night since it arrived. That’s the best praise I can think of for any game.