This review is based on a retail copy of both the core game and the expansion that Iain bought with his own hard earned cash.
Ah welcome my Lord, I trust you have had a pleasant vacation. Many items require your attention now you are with us once more. Many of the other leaders of the city have manoeuvred themselves into positions of power and are ready to unleash their plans. The city is bustling with adventurers itching to carry out whatever quests we happen to lay at their feet and with each task completed comes rewards for us and them. I have also identified several new plots where we can build. Where would you like to begin?
Ain’t no water deep enough
Lords of Waterdeep is an interesting beast. Released at the height of 4th edition D&D, no one saw it coming: a worker placement game with a Dungeons and Dragons theme? It was a very odd mish mash of theme and mechanic. I had tried to get a worker placement game to stick in my collection for some years, but nothing ever really stuck with me and my group, we just aren’t that big a fan of the mechanic. However the Dungeons and Dragons sheen on top led me to think it might find its place and so I dove in when it came out.
Opening up Lords of Waterdeep you quickly realise how friendly they have tried to make it to those not familiar with this particular kind of game. The rulebook is great, I don’t think I’ve ever had to look anything up outside of it, and the insert is absolutely superb making sure you have a space for everything. You get what you might expect from a worker placement game; use Agents, workers, to claim various spots on the board to gather resources to get points. That there are no surprises is not a weakness, but a feature, as the game slowly reveals itself over the course of play and doesn’t frontload you with extraneous information.
Every player gets a secret Lord card, giving them points for particular flavours of quests, some starting Quests and some Intrigue cards, that can have all sorts of effects on the game, but certainly dial up the interactivity from your typical worker placement game. The quests are your main source of points; you gather them from various spaces on the board, fulfil them with resources at which point they become points, abilities or even supply you with more resources like some kind of cube machine.
The quests are the core of the game and there is a lot of fun and flavour to be found here as you send people off to ” Domesticate the Owl Bears” or “Defeat the Living Statue”. You can chain quests together, letting one help you complete the next and you must always watch for what your fellow lords are up to, you can’t let them get too many of the quests they want. Some quests when completed will hang around and give you bonus abilities, one of many ways you can change up how you approach the game.
The game has a good pace to it with not too much downtime at all and a ramp up as you approach the end of the game. Early on the number of spaces to choose from is pretty limited and they all do very basic things. From the 5th round out of 8, you get an extra Agent to add to your pool, which is excellent timing because by then there should be a good few new buildings to keep an eye on around the city.
Build on Good Foundations
Although the board might start out with a sparse number of choices for your Agents, it generally doesn’t stay that way for long. As a Lord of Waterdeep you can also add buildings to the city; new spaces that Agents can occupy. As you construct buildings you start to occupy the spaces on the outside of the board, populating Waterdeep with the buildings you think will be the most advantageous. In a neat little twist the owner of the building gets something every time it is used, so you don’t necessarily want to construct something for yourself.
Will you become a building magnate, profiting off the choices of others or will you just use whatever others choose to build or you could meet somewhere in the middle. The ever changing nature of the buildings can lead to a very different feel to each game: maybe this time there are wizard homes everywhere and you can’t walk down the street without getting poked in the eye by a wand, maybe gold is in abundance and everyone is rich with bling, or maybe there are just some really weird buildings about where you have no doubt the strange and wonderful are hanging out.
Expand your mind
The core game supports 5 players, which was one of the factors in me buying it. I have a group of 5 – 6 to accommodate on a regular basis, so having the larger player count is really important to me. Tantalisingly the board also had a space for a 6th agent. It didn’t take long for an expansion to emerge: The Scoundrels of Skullport.
This expansion came with all the bits required for player 6 and two expansions within: The Undermountain and Skullport. You can add them individually to the core game, or combine them, and they bring with them their own little twists.
Undermountain is the most straightforward providing more of the core game with bigger quests and monumental rewards. This can see bold plays with people leaping ahead in a single bound, but can also exacerbate runaway leader problems which the core game can suffer from.
Skullport provides a new resource called corruption. This counts as negative points at the end of the game, but the rewards for being just the right amount of corrupt can be great. I really like this expansion as it adds a little more complication to a simple game, giving it just the right amount of extra crunch.
Light the Way
Lords of Waterdeep is a perfect light worker placement game although it is not without its flaws. The random lords can prove a big deciding factor in the endgame, and for new players that might be frustrating. The buildings can be a massive boon or mediocre depending on what turns up, and the gotcha element of the intrigue cards can be annoying at times. Despite these flaws I really like Lords of Waterdeep. It is about as much Worker Placement as I, and my group, can handle and plays quickly. It has a good pace, doesn’t outstay it’s welcome and provides plenty of opportunity to strategise.
It gets criticised for being too light for a worker placement but I honestly don’t care. I think it’s lightness is a good thing and I can’t think of a better introduction to the idea of worker placement than this game. If you are looking to add a game of this type to your collection, and the usual dry themes of trading in the Mediterranean or medieval subsistence farming don’t appeal, don you best lordly hat and see if you can’t run the city of Waterdeep. After all, it won’t run itself.