Lords of Waterdeep’s box proudly proclaims that name, the words ‘Board Game’, and then Dungeons and Dragons. That’s not unusual considering it’s a board game set in the Forgotten Realms part of D&D, but I’ve seen it put people off, people who consider D&D either a lesser pursuit or not for them.
That’s a shame, as the side panel text is perhaps more important: A Competitive Board Game of Fantasy Intrigue. Why? When you start playing Lords of Waterdeep you find it’s only tangentially connected to role-playing or even fantasy, and is instead a classic introductory worker placement game.
How It Plays
Every player Lords of Waterdeep chooses a faction from the Forgotten Realms world, such as the Harpers, which also tells you what colour you are. Then every player is assigned a random Lord or Lady of Waterdeep, the mysterious manipulator who you play.
This does affect the game as every character awards bonus points at game end for certain quests and building outcomes. E.g. a lord who rewards you points for every completed Arcana quest. Quests? Yes, because the game is about choosing and completing quests, but don’t think there’s any fighting.
You start with a group of meeples who you take turns placing on the buildings on the board, on which you can either take quests, collect resource tokens, build buildings (which everyone can place on) or play special Intrigue cards.
Quests are completed by gathering enough of the right coloured resources, then cashed in for points. There are different types of quests (e.g. Arcana and Commerce), which require subtly different resources and everything has fantastical names so you know you’re sending aid to the Harpers among others. Intrigue cards can block opponents or allow changes to the resource acquisition rules.
The player with the most victory points after eight rounds of full meeple placement and addition of secret goals wins.
Am I sounding a bit vague? There’s a reason for that. In theory the coloured resources represent people, be they fighters or magicians, who you are sending off on quests. So, you collect a quest from the inn, hire enough fighters etc, send them off and profit off the result like a true Lord of Waterdeep. Except, unless you have pimped your game with special coloured meeples, there is a big disconnect. You never feel like a devious lord hiring classes. You feel like someone placing meeples to gather purple and white cubes (etc.) But is this a problem?
As a devious Lord of Waterdeep, perhaps you would just regard people as pawns, and the sensation fits the game. As a human in 2018, you can still have plenty of fun in a perfectly constructed and very well balanced worker placement game that doesn’t drag you into the fantasy tropes people get put off by when they see the cover. Yes, all the quests have themed name, there is good artwork, they tried. It’s just not immersive in the Forgotten Realms sense, just the gaming sense.
Components are nicely done, and an attempt has been made to create an insert which will hold your tokens. Now, I’ve already hinted above how, despite my own satisfaction with the pieces, there’s a demand for shaped meeples to represent mages and their fellows, so your mileage may vary.
Lords of Waterdeep Conclusion
D&D nuts are not going to find Lords of Waterdeep as lyrically rewarding as a full RPG campaign. People unfamiliar with D&D are not going to be phased by not knowing what a Harper is. Lords occupies a perfect middle ground between the two, allowing people wanting a light game, an introductory game, to really enjoy it. But if you like hardcore worker placement you can still enjoy a snack here.
Lords of Waterdeep is, to me, the perfect example of light worker placement and one that gets unfairly missed.