Base Game Review
Play Time (Box): 60 minutes
Play Time (Goof): 30 – 60 minutes
Producer: Wizards of the Coast
Designer/s: Peter Lee and Rodney Thompson
If you’ve ever wondered how I spend my weekends, this review will be quite an eye opener for you. I spend a lot of them dressed like this:
No, I’m not part of a cult. At least not in my latest campaign. I’m a Dungeons and Dragons’ roleplayer. And my preferred role is to play as a Dungeon Master. I write stories and craft challenges to put my group to the test. Sometimes we’re picking fights at a local tavern, dealing with tricky gnomes or escaping from the nine hells of Baator. Occasionally we face down a dragon or a deity so powerful it rocks the very foundations of the planet. And in my latest campaign, we’re trying to topple a tyrannical government of wizards in a futuristic fantasy dystopian city.
I LOVE DUNGEONS AND DRAGONS.
But this review isn’t about the Dungeons and Dragons roleplaying game, which may come as a surprise to some of you given my entire introduction thus far. This review is about a game based in the Dungeons and Dragons campaign setting ‘Forgotten Realms’ in the city of Waterdeep. It’s a Euro style, resource management game where you play as one of the masked lords of Waterdeep. And if you have absolutely no interest in Dungeons and Dragons, don’t go anywhere just yet. Because this game may still be for you.
For those of you that think I’ve been talking another language so far, don’t fret. The rest of the review will be in English.
This game strikes that interesting balance between being fun for new and experienced gamers. The rules are fairly simple, and I’ve used it to introduce a few friends to the tabletop gaming hobby. It’s not too intimidating for new players and yet there is enough going on that experienced players will enjoy a game or two. During my University days, one of my housemates and I would wake up and belt out a game or two of Lords of Waterdeep over the course of an hour before getting ready to get on with the rest of our hard day of procrastination.
Each round moves quickly as each person plays a single agent before passing the turn. I’ve rarely felt like I’ve had to wait a painstakingly long time before my next turn. I do have several friends who take forever to make decisions, but I don’t feel like that’s the game’s fault. Much the same as I don’t blame McDonalds for how long it takes those friends to order. You know who you are.
Balance in this game is done very well: you get a very similar experience with two people as you do with five. The only difference is more agents which lets you accomplish more things, and arguably a small variation in starting gold. I found that because the rules change very little depending on the amount of players, people don’t get confused or frustrated when playing with different numbers. A word of caution however: going from a two player game to a five player game is frustrating as hell. In a two player game you’re completing two or three quests a turn where as in a five player game you’re more likely completing one every turn or two.
Interestingly, when you’re dealt a secret lord and you know you have to keep it to yourself for the rest of the game it feels like that has a lot of impact. But the more you play the more you realise the only impact it has is that you don’t directly tell your opponents which quests you’re after so they can take them to block you. I’ve played this game with many different groups with different numbers and types of players and I’ll tell you something, they really don’t care which lord you are.
Each of the lords in the base game are very basic. All but one of the lords give you bonus points for completing quests of two different types. Such as skullduggery and warfare for Caladorn Cassalanter. The only exception is Larissa Nethal (also known as ‘builder’ or ‘builder chick’ in most gaming circles) who gets bonus points for purchasing buildings. To point out how obvious it is when you get the builder, we mocked a friend of mine during our very first game of this, telling him it wasn’t Monopoly. He…he may have flogged us that game. While the basic lords do keep things nice and balanced, unfortunately they really lack variety. Ten out of eleven characters do essentially the same thing. While there are variations on certain quest types, such as more ‘Intrigue’ cards for Arcana, I’d argue that they don’t really have a significant impact on the game.
There’s not many direct actions you can take against other players. ‘Intrigue’ cards are supposed to be a way you can do this, but I find their impact really rather lacking. Except for Mandatory quests. There is not a more annoying card you can play on your opponent than a resource-sucking mandatory quest. With the other ‘Intrigue’ cards, when played at the right time, you can slow your opponents while getting that last piece to complete a quest you’ve been working towards. The best thing about intrigue cards is that your agent can move again at the end of the round. I use this to my advantage often while playing with less players as it gives you a slight boost each round.
Pros: +Good for new and experienced players, +Rounds move quickly, +Well balanced, +Works for varying numbers
Cons: -Actions have little impact, -secret lords are bland
I love the Forgotten Realms. I’ve spent so many hours reading ‘The Legend of Drizzt’ novels I’m sure I should have a bachelor degree of Dungeons and Dragons. For a short period of time, I was the “Best at Dungeons and Dragons in Australia” on QuizUp. A title I held with some sad level of pride.
The theme in Lords of Waterdeep is certainly present, but if you don’t pay any attention to it the game doesn’t change at all. Take that as a good thing or a bad thing depending on your taste. I’ve played many games where I don’t even look at the quest I’m completing, just the resources needed and how many points I get. But there are plenty of nods to the land of Faerûn. Each quest has a title (who doesn’t want to domesticate Owlbears?) and flavour text. Each lord has a small amount of backstory on their card.
My absolute favourite thematic element is that the colour cubes needed to complete quests are labelled Fighter, Rogue, Wizard and Cleric. The four main archetypes of D&D. And while people often say orange, black, purple and white, using the labels interchangeably doesn’t necessarily feel wrong.
In regards to factions, I often play as the ‘Red Sashes’ in the game. And quietly refer to myself as ‘The One’. The factions simply represent your colour in the game (which seems like a bit of a missed opportunity to add some cool faction powers), but I’m glad the rulebook explains the backgrounds of each.
Pros: +Quests are thematic, +Ties into Forgotten Realms, +Backgrounds and backstories, +Adventurers are awesome
I don’t feel like cards in a game are a difficult component to produce well. So many games get it wrong, but credit where credit is due: this game gets it right. They feel nice to hold. And unlike other games I won’t mention (because I intend to have a good cry about it during their reviews) they’re a good size. The linen finish was a great touch.
The mandatory quest cards are really strange though. Their rotation really doesn’t feel like it needs to be landscape. And the first few times you play this game you tend to rotate the card so you can read it properly.
The board looks like a map straight out of Dungeons and Dragons. A really key aspect as to why this game is so easy to learn is that every space has what it gives you on it. All games should either come with a reference card or have a system like this. It streamlines gameplay and makes the experience overall more enjoyable.
I have used the money that comes with Lords of Waterdeep in actual Dungeons and Dragons roleplaying games. It looks artistic and interesting. The size of the money and cubes work really well as they fit on the cards, spaces and in a player’s tavern without taking up too much room but not being overly small as to make it hard to play.
Box inserts are something I honestly never thought about until I bought this game. THE INSERT IS AMAZING. It makes it so much easier to set up and to play! We usually just leave half the components in there and play with them as we need them and it doesn’t detract from the game in any way. I could kiss the feet of the person who came up with this insert. You, sir/madam, are amazing.
Production doesn’t get much better than this game.
Pros: +Great cards, +Excellent board, ++INSERT IS AMAZING, ++Well designed components
Cons: -Mandatory quests rotation
The more I write this review, the more I’m realising something: the game is very much about subtle influences and very rarely are there any big moves in the game. A well timed ‘mandatory quest’ given to your opponent or blocking a resource for a round are about as big as it gets. The game is more about subtle influence and slowly turning the tide to your side. This is both good and bad. It fits with the theme. I enjoy this game, the people I play with enjoy this game. The problem I have is it never feels very cutthroat. I’m not left clinging to the edge of my seat in the hopes that I can exploit an enemy’s weakness before they notice the hole in their defences.
If you’re looking for a game on a Sunday afternoon that gets your brain moving but keeps your blood from rushing, I’d recommend Lords of Waterdeep. This game is fun. The enjoyment factor is very high. It’s highly requested among my gaming circle.
I give Lords of Waterdeep:
This game is worth getting. Go buy it.