This review comes with a little aside, because this is not so much a review but a love letter to this fantastic board game. Having said that, I am not oblivious to some of the criticisms that this game has received, which I, of course, will be sure to mention. However, these imperfections have no effect on my love for the game and they have not subtracted from my enjoyment of playing it.
I am yet to write a review of a worker placement board game without mentioning Lords of Waterdeep as the exemplar that those games should aspire to. To me, this game has everything I am looking for in a board game: exciting game-play, hidden agendas, resource management, strategy and player interactions. It is also set in the universe that I can enjoy, although I, to my shame, have limited knowledge of.
• Designer: Peter Lee, Rodney Thompson
• Publisher: Wizards of the Coast
• Number of Players: 2-5
• Playing Time: 60-120 min
Set in the Dungeons and Dragons universe, players take on a role of Lords vying for control of Waterdeep, a jewel city of the Forgotten Realms. Players will have to scheme, make some very shady deals, as well as recruit adventures to do their bidding for them. If you ever have gone on a quest in Dungeons and Dragons campaign as a rogue, wizard or a cleric, well, you just got a promotion. No more prowling of the dark streets and doing all the dirty work. As Lords of Waterdeep you can lounge in your splendid apartments with a beautiful view to the Waterdeep harbour, while your agents will go on doing your bidding.
At the beginning of the game each player is randomly dealt a Lord, to not be revealed until the end of the game. The player will then send their meeples (agents) around the map, who would perform various tasks like collecting resources and money, picking up quests, constructing buildings or scheming in Waterdeep harbour. Completing quests is ultimately the objective of the game, as this action provides the most amount of points as well as additional abilities through plot quests. Also your Lord will be more predisposed to two certain types of quests, for example, Commerce and Piety, which at the end of the game will earn the player additional 4 points for each quest completed in that category. There is also a builder Lord, who gets points for each buildings under their control. The player with the most points at the end of the game wins.
In order to complete quests, the player has to satisfy the resource and money requirement outlined on the card, and each quest typically comes with its own rewards other than straight up points, like resources and additional cards. The only wrinkle when collecting resources, is that the supply points can be occupied only by one player at a time, unless special abilities are in place. Which means that if one player went to a space that allows them to recruit two rogues, on that turn, no one else can get any more rogues from that spot until the next round.
Despite fairy simple and straightforward game-play, Lords of Waterdeep is a very flexible game. At first there seems to be a limited number of places on the board, however as soon as players begin to construct buildings, their choices expand significantly. Someone has already occupied the rogues supply? There is a building that gives two rogues and a cleric. The large pool of buildings and they random reveal during the game just keeps the tension going. Another bonus, is that the owner of that building also gets a resource for someone else visiting their establishment. The game is full of similar opportunities, allowing for objectives to be achieved in multiple ways.
Player interaction is also very important for the game. Lords of Waterdeep is not a game, where after your turn, you could walk away from the gaming table and return back only when your it is your turn again, without loosing out. Players will want to convince others to come to their buildings, as the owner benefits from the visit. Players will also need to be very mindful what quests their opponents pick up, what resources they have or need, and what objectives they are about to complete. Finally, there are also pesky mandatory quests, that need rare resources to complete and provide very little points. Other quests cannot be completed before the requirements of mandatory quest are satisfied. Therefore, giving someone this quest could not only waste carefully acquired resources but also stop them cashing in a point heavy quest and getting ahead. To be good at Lords of Waterdeep, players have to pay attention to all those details and more. The identity of the secret Lords can be figured out quite quickly, making ‘secret’ part of it less important to the game. That is unless you are the builder Lord, which can be easily stopped from building and therefore has to hide their identity quite well.
Lords of Waterdeep comes with many different pieces: from meeples, to resource tokens, to moon shaped coins and ruby tokens. There are a lot of moving parts. There is something really satisfying about having a variety of different resource tokens on your card and then cashing them in for points. That physical exchange feels like an integral part of the game for me. Having said that, this comes with its downsides. For example, one player will have to act as a bank to give out resources and money and help the game run smoother. Packing up and setting up takes a bit of time, not enough to make it an ordeal but just enough for it be noticeable. Luckily, Lords of Waterdeep has a wonderful game box where every single piece in the game has its own place. And considering, just how many different pieces there are in the game, I really appreciate the thought and design has went into the box rather than just dumping everything in an assortment of plastic bags in the middle of the box (I’m looking at you there, Fantasy Flight Games!). Even so, it seems that for some pieces there is never enough space. I always have trouble fitting the coins and rubies to their allocated slots, and these pieces especially are always fiddly to pack and to unpack.
Another criticism of the game that I have heard is that the game is too bland, too vanilla, with a theme lacking in character. I don’t particularly agree with this criticism. There are games where I get excited by the theme, but there are also classics, that are in that category for the reason. I am a believer that the best Ticket to Ride game is the first American map version, without any later additions of train station and others. Carcassone might be basic, yet it is one of the best worker placement games to begin with. Resistance Avalon is a more complex version of The Resistance, with arguable more character, yet The Resistance is still great. The same argument can be applied to Lords of Waterdeep: it uses the universe that is easy to understand, even for non-D&D players, and its mechanics are simple and approachable for players of any level, yet it is exciting every single time and there is enough variety between games to keep me returning. There is a definitely a space for more complex worker placement games out there, but their existence doesn’t make Lords of Waterdeep any less great.
Lords of Waterdeep also has two separate expansions, that I think are very worth their cost, especially for spicing up the game-play. There is a digital version of the game available for Apple devices, that I wrote about before, and I recommend it also.
Finally, I would like to mention one very little thing about Lords of Waterdeep that I also really appreciate. When the game refers to the player, whether without space limitations in the rule book or on small playing cards, it always says ‘he or she’. This might be small, but having games refer to me (a female) as a he for so long, I appreciate the gesture. If Lords of Waterdeep, can fit ‘he or she’ on their tiny cards, so can you, pretty much the majority of other games.
Lords of Waterdeep is an absolutely cracking worker placement board game and has been firmly positioned in my ‘Top 3 Favourite Board Games’ list for a very long time. I cannot recommend you this game enough.