Lords of Waterdeep Review: Intrigue, Betrayal, and Powerplays

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Ahh…Waterdeep, the City of Splendors, the Crown of the North.

Have you ever wondered what it would be like to be an Éminence Grise (that’s grey eminence for all you commoners out there) in a world where majestic dragons, shadowy assassins, noble knights, restless undead, and powerful magic all exist? In Lords of Waterdeep, you and your friends take on the roles of some of the most powerful and influential people in one of Faerun’s biggest and most majestic cities, all the while competing for its control. 

Intrigued? Of course, you are. In this Lords of Waterdeep review, you’ll find out all about this classic fantasy worker placement game from Wizards of the Coast and what makes it so enjoyable.

Rating:7
Playing time:60 to 120 minutes
Number of players:2 to 5
Age:12+
Complexity:Easy
Genre:City Building, Hidden Roles, Worker Placement
Release date:2012
Publisher:Wizards of the Coast

Pros

  • Gorgeous art style
  • Easy to learn – no previous DnD knowledge required
  • Quick Turns
  • Great for newcomers

Cons

  • Missing depth
  • The lords are not diverse enough
  • Not a DnD game

Lords of Waterdeep: Overview

Although most of you have probably heard of or played D&D before, the Lords of Waterdeep board game has little in common with the Dungeons & Dragons fantasy roleplaying game, which has recently been getting mainstream popularity thanks to Stranger Things. There is no dice rolling or monster fighting involved, at least not on the players’ part. Lords of Waterdeep offers a unique perspective on D&D as a whole, allowing you to take on a more proactive role.

Lords of Waterdeep game setup
An ongoing game of plotting and scheming.

What Is Lords of Waterdeep Really About?

Set in the Forgotten Realms campaign setting for Dungeons & Dragons from TSR, Inc., and Wizards of the Coast, Lords of Waterdeep is a classic worker placement game that takes place in the city of Waterdeep. The game puts you in the position of one of Waterdeep’s powerful, shadowy masked lords, fighting for control of the city by spreading your influence through your agents, hiring mercenaries, completing quests, and controlling buildings. It’s highly thematic and gives the player the feeling of indirectly controlling the fate of the city and its people.

Presenting the Lords of Waterdeep

There are a total of eleven masked lords, most of whom gain endgame points benefit from completing specific quests that fit their modus operandi, except for Larissa Neathal, who specializes in building buildings (more on that later). It was nice to see some familiar faces from my D&D adventuring years, such as Durnan, who runs the Yawning Portal Inn, and, of course, Khelben Arunsun, “the Blackstaff,” a legendary mage and one of the staples of this fictional universe.  

Lords of Waterdeep meeples
Here are the meeples performing your lordly tasks.

However, I found that every masked lord in my Lords of the Waterdeep playthrough seemed shallow and lacked depth when it came to rules, so in the end, you couldn’t even internally roleplay your lord to much effect. This felt counter-intuitive, especially for a game associated with the Dungeons & Dragons brand. 

Why Wizards? Why would you do such a thing? And there are eleven of them too. It would have been better if the designers had focused on making each lord unique and having more unique gameplay compared to the others, even if it meant having a smaller number of playable characters. I found that another game Discworld: Ankh-Morpork does this so much better, but that’s a story for another time. *cries in anguish*  

So where was I? Ah… yes, Let the scheming begin! 

How To Play Lords of the Waterdeep

Like many board games, Lords of the Waterdeep starts with setting up the game board. Then players choose their factions, or rather, their colors since the faction names are only there for thematic purposes. Again I think is a missed opportunity, which is a bit of a pattern with this game.

Give each player one of the lord cards, which indicates the extra victory points they can earn by completing their lord’s preferred quests. Additionally, they are dealt two intrigue cards and two quest cards and receive four gold plus one gold more for each player further in line than the first, compensating for their later start in the game. The first player will be the person who has most recently visited a new city. 

Plotting and Scheming 101

The game turns are simple enough. At the start of each turn, you receive four agents (five in the fifth round) that you can place on the board. Depending on which tile you send your agent to, you can recruit adventurers, draw quest cards, construct buildings, or play intrigue cards. Once everyone has placed their agents, and their actions are resolved, you may complete a quest card (provided you meet the requirements for it and it is your turn). Usually, only one agent can occupy any given space unless noted otherwise.

You can recruit adventurers by visiting various in-game locations shown on the game board. These adventurers are used to complete quests and come in four types, representing classic DnD classes such as rogues, fighters, wizards, and clerics. Each type is represented by a different colored cube, which is common practice in worker placement games. 

Lords of waterdeep player resoources
Two fighters, a rogue, a wizard, and a cleric walk into a tavern…

However, I feel it all could have been better designed by using the Hit Dice of each class to represent them. For example, using a d10 for fighters and a d4 for mages would make the game more immersive, while also paying a slight nod to the source material. One thing I really like is the way they are all piled up on the board, representing the pool of mercenaries currently available in the city.

Pick Your Poison, Pick Your Quests

Quests are one of the main ways of scoring the points you need to win the game. The quest cards in the Lord of the Waterdeep board game are divided into five categories: arcana, commerce, piety, skullduggery, and warfare. You cannot complete more than one Quest on your turn, so remember to plan ahead.

The rewards for completing a quest usually include victory points and may also include other things such as adventurers, gold, or cards. Some quests are the so-called Plot Quests, and while they are generally worth fewer points, they give you some type of bonus throughout the rest of the game. You can draw additional quest cards by assigning your agent to the Cliffwatch Inn. After all, where else can you pick up on the local gossip than in a dark corner of a seedy pub, over a mug of brew?

Lords of waterdeep quests
“Your quest is to fetch me 10 boar hides!”

The fluff texts for the quests are enjoyable, each having some D&D-themed adventure you need to complete, and the game designers made a good decision by requiring logical thinking when completing a quest based on its category. (Warfare quests typically require fighters, while arcana quests usually require mages, and so forth). Also, don’t forget to take a look at your lord cards’ bonus points quests. They can have a huge impact at the end of the game, so you’ll want to do at least some of them by the end of the game.

You Are a Builder, Not a Fighter

The game mechanic for constructing buildings in Lords of Waterdeep is straightforward. First, you need to place your agent on the Builder’s Hall tile. Then, you can purchase a new building and add it to the board, earning you victory points and providing building-related bonuses. (for the player who was granted the favor of Tymora by playing Larissa Neathal, this can be a game-winning play style). Additionally, whenever another player places an agent in one of your buildings, you can gain further benefits. It’s simple. 

lords of waterdeep and player buildings
Waterdeep could use another tavern. Am I right?

The Lords of Intrigue

Now, we get to the fun part of the game: playing intrigue cards. Intrigue cards add a bit of the good old “take that” moment to the game. They also allow you to add resources to your pool, make other players lose resources, or assign a mandatory quest card to another player. Intrigue cards are played at the Waterdeep Harbor tile and can accommodate up to three agents. 

After every player has assigned all of their agents, the agents in the Harbor can be reassigned to any free space available, allowing players to use them twice in a single round. This can be quite risky, but for an experienced Lord, it can also be quite profitable as well. 

A mandatory quest, as the name suggests, is a special quest-type intrigue card that must be resolved before any other quest can be completed. While mandatory quests do provide some victory points, their resource requirements can make them quite frustrating to complete. Now, I’ve seen many people criticize mandatory quests, asking why they are in the game, and claiming they are a terrible gameplay mechanic. Others go so far as to say they are ruining the game. I wouldn’t go as far as that since they are one of the few mechanics that allow players to interact with one another. 

We don’t take kindly to mandatory quests at Harper’s Tavern.

End Game

Lords of Waterdeep games last eight rounds, after which the players reveal their Lord cards and collect bonus victory points. The game then ends and the player with the highest number of victory points is declared the winner.

It would have been cool to see a specific story behind the decision to end the game after eight rounds, as the time often feels too short, and the game seems to end just when things are heating up. What do those eight rounds represent? Did something happen in the city? Was there some kind of race against time?  We’ll never know. 

Lords of Waterdeep Board Game Expansion

One year after Wizards of the Coast released Lords of Waterdeep, an expansion called Scoundrels of Skullport came along. The expansion was well-received and won the Dice Tower Award for Best Board Game Expansion in 2013. Scoundrels of Skullport gives us pretty much what you could expect from a worker placement game expansion. It includes additional cards, buildings, locations for placing agents, and two new modules – Undermountain and Skullport. 

The modules are optional and each one contains three new buildings that you can send your agents to. They went a little overboard and ramped up the buildings and additional quests, with each new building providing more resources and each quest card giving more victory points than in the base game. To counterbalance this, the expansion introduces a new game mechanic called “corruption,” which comes with its own little track. Players gain corruption while using Skullport buildings. 

At the end of the game, the highest point of empty corruption space earns negative points for the players, so it’s up to you to decide if it’s worth it. “It is, Rivvil. It is!” Shut up, Drow; nobody asked you!

Scoundrels of Skullport
Scoundrels of Skullport is a must-have for fans of the game.

Final Thoughts on the Lords of Waterdeep

Even though I was sad with how little it has to do with old-school D&D, I must admit that the Lords of Waterdeep board game is one of the fastest-playing, visually stunning, and easiest-to-play games I’ve ever tried. It offers a good variety and replay value that appeals to everyone. For those familiar with the setting, it might be fun to see and visit some well-known characters and locations in the game. However, even if you haven’t played D&D before or don’t know any lore about the setting, don’t worry, you can still have a fun Lords of Waterdeep experience. 

This D&D-themed worker placement eurogame is very welcoming to newcomers, making it perfect for anyone looking to try it for the first time.  So, trust me, next time your not-so-gaming-experienced friend wants to try a new game, play Lords of Waterdeep – I guarantee you’ll have a great time.

Lords of waterdeep box
Great for board gamers that love DnD and worker placement games.

FAQ

  1. Is Lords of Waterdeep a good game?

    Yes, absolutely – Lords of Waterdeep is a great game if you know what to expect. If you are looking for an easy-to-learn, fun, relatively fast, thematic eurogame with beautiful artwork, then the Lords of Waterdeep board game is just the game for you. It is very welcoming to board game newcomers and experienced players alike.

  2. How long is a game of Lords of Waterdeep?

    The game lasts roughly about 60 min per session. This, of course, depends on the number of players and how familiar they all are with all the mechanics.

  3. Is Lords of Waterdeep complicated?

    No, Lords of Waterdeep is not a complicated game. Lords of Waterdeep rules are easy to learn, the turns go fast, and the game mechanics are fun. Even though its theme is set in the D&D universe, no previous D&D knowledge is required. As any Lords of Waterdeep review will tell you, it’s perfect for someone looking to try a worker placement game for the first time.