Lords of Waterdeep – Review

Type: Worker Placement / Euro

Time to play: <60 minutes (Teaching: 10 minutes)

Best played with: 2-5 players (Best with 4)

How do you take Dungeons and Dragons and make an iconic Euro game that created many of the regular features of games since? Well – take a look at Lords of Waterdeep to see how you do it!

I got this game back out the cupboard this week and dusted it down for a few more plays. Even without touching the expansions (which are good value for money and additive to the game), there is a lot to love about this classic Euro. Above all, it’s set in that classic world of the Dungeon and Dragon universe – the archetype of board gaming and geek culture!

So what’s great about it? Well firstly it is actually well balanced at any player count. The change of the number of meeples each person gets based on player count is a very smart way to manage a tight euro game across each player count and to deliver a compelling game for each group. The points scored will be lower for higher numbers and the chain effect of different quests is less, but the experience is great nonetheless.

Worried that you won’t know what to do in your first turn? Well that’s okay, you start with two quests to complete (which need some resource gathering) and you start with a Lord from the town that gives you an endgame bonus. Start with just those three pointers and you will have an idea of what to do in your first turn.

However, this game hasn’t got too much to do – the choices for each meeple that you place are relatively simple and you can plan reasonably quickly. The board state will change by your turn, but not so much that planning is pointless. Also, the board offers multiple ways to achieve goals; meaning it’s tight but it’s manageable.

That doesn’t mean there isn’t complexity embedded here though. You can be the builder; scoring points for the buildings and getting bonuses when other players use them. Or you can use the Harbour to play intrigue cards that provide bonuses or block opponents – plus this action allows that meeple to get a second move at the end of the round. This mechanic is really clever, because by playing the intrigue card you get a small bonus and a free action, but as with any worker placement game the board will be quite full at the end of the round. Therefore, when you take that final free action you may not have a lot of choice about where you go. Still a free move is a free move!

You also have to balance the game between completing the quests you have and getting new quests. You need to complete the quests to get the points, and incomplete quests at the end were turns wasted during the game. However, with resources being scarce simply gathering up the quests early can leave you with a lot to fulfill at the end and with few places to get the last pieces you need.

Buildings added during the course of the game also add complexity, with new pieces becoming available and buildings that impact other buildings! There’s even one that allows you to take an action that has already been taken!

Low on admin and with only eight turns, this means you get a compact game that plays well and creates tough choices. In fact the only admin between turns is dropping extra point tokens on the buildings that haven’t been built and re-stocking the buildings which produce new goods each turn. The game end is also quick – you have been counting quests through the game, and now you just divide your money by two, add your leftover resources (or adventurers!) and work out your bonus. This will give you a total for victory.

All that in a game box that is perfectly designed to not have a single bag. That’s right the plastic inlay holds everything in place while you transport it. Plus the expansions offer new gameplay and a sixth player slot. For all of the above this game will be in my top games for some time to come.

However, it can’t all be perfect. Whilst there are enough buildings to vary the game each time, there are a few core mechanics that are always important. Building is always important. Not ending up with the same bonus as another player, tough with higher counts, is always important! Getting those quests is always important. These key mechanics can leave you playing the game the same way each time and with a fairly well defined path from start to finish. That will keep the game short, but the theme won’t ring out once you start to do this.

Also, for me there is the right balance of player interaction, but that is to say that this is not a multiplayer solo but you aren’t attacking each other. If you like that feeling of regular attacks or an ability for the group to drag back the leader, then this game has not got those mechanics. The leader can be blocked, but it’s not direct – it’s by stealing what they need and with enough options that will be hard!

Last notes:

  • If you like a fast paced euro with great art, a great box and a short play time – I could not recommend this more
  • If you want a theme driven or intense brain burning game; then perhaps skip this one for a Uwe Rosenberg game or Eric Lang game.
  • If you win at this game, then swap the lords (and the turn order!) and try again!

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