Tuesday, 25 November 2014

Tuesday ReviewsDay: Lords of Waterdeep

Players: 2-5 (I found it best with 3)
Playtime on the box: 60minutes
Actual playtime: 90minutes +

Lords of Waterdeep was released by Wizards of the Coast in 2012. It is based in the Dungeons and Dragons universe but you won't need any background knowledge to enjoy the game.

Reading the rulebook makes Lords of Waterdeep seem like an overcomplicated nightmare but after the first round of game play it feels ridiculously simple. After playing four games I find myself daydreaming and plotting how I can win the game next time. It's an "hours to learn, lifetime to master" kind of game and the number of people you're playing against alters game play dramatically.

You play as a Lord (or Lady) of Waterdeep, a fictional town in the Dungeons and Dragons universe. In order to score points, you need to collect money, hire minions and send them on quests for you. You place your game tokens (Agents) on a building to perform actions such as collecting new quests, hiring minions, playing Intrigue Cards or purchasing new buildings. Gameplay is split over 8 rounds and each building can only be used once per round, with the exception of Cliffwatch Inn, where you collect quests and Waterdeep Harbour, where you play Intrigue Cards.

It seems simple on the surface, because you have a quest that needs 2 warriors and a priest. So you plan to spend your first turn collecting the warriors, and your second collecting the priest. But there is only one way to get priest, and everyone else needs them too. If one of your friends goes to The Plinth and hires a priest, you need to wait till the next round to get in there. And so begins the scheming.
For a game with so many tiny pieces gameplay is really simple
Photo credit: deskovehry.com
Lords of Waterdeep is a heavy strategy game. I found myself constantly staring at the board, knowing I wanted to do five things and would only ever get to do two, maybe three if I was lucky. The game adds a few extra elements to change up the play.

At the start of the game each player is dealt a face-down 'Lord' card. This card names you as a certain Lord of Waterdeep - for example Mirt the Moneylender. Mirt scores 4 bonus points at the end of the game for every Piety and Commerce quest he completes.

Quests come in five types. Piety, Commerce, Skullduggery, Arcana and Warfare. Each quest needs a mix of minions to complete, but Warfare quests focus largely on warriors, and Arcana quests need wizards, rogues for Skullduggery, clerics for Piety, and of course, money for Commerce. They also give different rewards, for example I healed some soldiers, which wasn't worth many points, but instantly added six warriors to my collection of minions.

Certain quests have ongoing effects if you complete them. I sold some bootlegged goods and every time I hired rogues I got paid 2 gold. A different quest gives you bonus points for finishing quests of the same type, while others will tell you to pick up an intrigue card with every wizard and so on.

Intrigue cards are played at Waterdeep Harbour and have two levels of strategy. You have to spend a turn playing the intrigue card, and therefore not gathering resources. Many of the cards will give you resources, or hinder your opponents. At the end of the round, any game tokens on Waterdeep Harbour are replayed. While you get to take an extra turn, you are hampered by the fact that most buildings will be taken at this point.

Interestingly, one of the Lords of Waterdeep is a builder. Rather than focusing on quest types, the builder gets 6 bonus points at the end of the game for each building he or she has in their control. Building is expensive, and can only be done once per turn. However when a player is in control of a building, they receive kickers if the other players visit their building. For example, if I go to the Heroes' Garden, I can take a quest from Cliffwatch Inn and if I complete it immediately, I get four bonus points but the owner receives two point just because I went there. Owning buildings can be immensely powerful, but it does take one of your precious few actions to build.
Photo credit: The Good, The Bad and The Gamer
Honestly, when I first sat down to this game I thought I would hate it. Or tolerate it. I never expected to enjoy it as much as I did. I didn't expect to play 4 games in 4 days, if I had the time I probably would have played more.

Two person game

This was the first game I played. My boyfriend and I wanted to have a run through before Games Day. I said it was so we could figure out the rules. Clearly it was so we could have a strategic advantage against everyone else. It took a couple of rounds for us to play through confidently but by mid-game everything was running smoothly. Normal people wouldn't have needed to re-read the rules book, but we got into an argument over the wording of the cards that meant I needed to google the correct interpretation.

I found that with a two person game, it's hard to trip each other up. Towards the end of the game scores were looking tight and I was trying to figure out how to finish my quests and block him at the same time. Because I had built a couple of buildings there were just too many options on the board. I was lucky enough to draw a 'Mandatory Quest' intrigue card. You assign a mandatory quest to an opponent and they must finish that quest before any others. Mandatory quests are normally fiddly and annoying to complete, and only give you a couple of points as a reward.

Thanks to playing 2 mandatory quests in a row against my boyfriend, I won the game by 30ish points.

Three person game

I've played two games with three people, and they turned out extremely different. In the first game we had a Builder, in the second we didn't.
When you play with three people, you only get three agents each round, as opposed to a two person game, where you have four agents. The game is carefully balanced so you always have options, but not too many options. In the fifth round of the game, each player gets an extra agent. In the game without a Builder, we had only built one extra building by the fifth round, and I suddenly found I had no good options because all the spaces were full.

The game we played with the Builder had too many options. It was impossible to block someone from picking up the minions they wanted because there were so many available buildings. I couldn't figure out what strategy to go with, because I needed money to complete my quests, but every round the Builder was buying up more real estate for bonus points. I was thoroughly trounced, but surprisingly the Builder didn't win, despite all the bonuses he received from people using his buildings.

Four person game

It is possible to play this game with five people. By which I mean Wizards of the Coast supplies you with enough game pieces to play with five. I wouldn't. Playing with four was a migraine inducing nightmare. You only get 2 agents per round. Most quests take at least three actions to complete. Playing with three other people means that three spaces are filled between your turns. When everyone wants the same thing, getting anything feels impossible.

Lords of Waterdeep has a mechanic that lets you 'steal' first player. This isn't necessary playing with two or three, but when you play with four people, if you are at the end of the queue you can't get anything done. I enjoyed the game, but I like to be able to plan ahead and I may have had a little tantie or two about having all my options taken.


Buy it. I expected this game to scrape through as "okay but overly complicated". While the potential for strategy is really deep, you could also play and enjoy it by simply chasing your own quests and ignoring the players around you. There is a small amount of luck in the game, depending on which quest cards are in play and intrigue cards dealt to you but you won't be yelling at the game or the dice for not giving you what you need, it all comes down to how you and the people around you play.

Play it with people new to strategy. Play it with rules nerds who argue over wording. Play it with D&D veterans. Play it with noobs. If you like strategy board games, you'll like Lords of Waterdeep.


1 comment:

  1. I think I need to do get me a copy. I reckon I could talk the parents into playing this one.


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