This post is a part of the Game Night Blog Carnival, dedicated to games you can play when your full RPG group isn’t available.
I’m a D&D junkie, which should not be a surprise to my readers. I love the game, loove the brand, and am probably too willing to pick up anything, be it a book, video game, or even a movie, if it has Dungeons & Dragons on it. Sometimes, this tendency bites me in the butt, like the recent Xbox Live release Daggerdale, or the Dragonlance animated DVD. Other times, the D&D label is attached to something great, like the old Capcom video games, or the subject of this month’s Game Night entry, Lords of Waterdeep.
Historically, board games released with the D&D label have been very thematic in nature. Many of them have been little more than stripped down versions of the RPG. Even in the past two years, D&D branded games have been heavy on theme. Castle Ravenloft and the other Adventure System Games are dungeon crawling cooperative experiences, and Conquest of Nerath is a large scale clash of fantasy armies. In board game terms, these would fall under the unfortunately named genre of “Ameritrash”, which typically features randomization, thematic mechanics, and direct conflict.
Lords of Waterdeep, on the other hand, is more of a “Euro” style game. In these games, the mechanics come first, and the theme is merely secondary. Random elements like rolling dice are emphasized less. Eurogames are usually lighter on player interaction, and more abstract in nature. Lords of Waterdeep includes worker placement and resource management mechanics, other hallmarks of Euro type board games. It’s quite unusual when compared to its D&D board game peers in this respect.
As the game begins, each player chooses a color, which thematically represents a faction within Waterdeep but doesn’t have a game effect. Secretly, each player draws a Lord of Waterdeep card, which dictates what varieties of quests will score extra points for them at the end of the game. You get two quests to begin the game, and these require the services of a set number of adventurers and/or gold. For example, a quest might need 3 fighters, 2 rogues, and 4 gold. Quests are the primary way to score victory points, which determine the winner at the end of the game. Each player receives an equal number of agent meeples, used to select actions each round, and the game begins.
On the board, several different buildings are presented. Each building is associated with a particular action. Placing an agent on the Blackstaff Tower gives you one purple cube, representing a wizard. There are similar buildings for the other character classes. An agent at Aurora’s Realms Shop gives you four gold. Other buildings allow you to play intrigue cards, collect new quests, or build new buildings. These new buildings, when selected, give resources to both the Lord that places an agent on them, and also to the builder. While the different options available can be confusing at first, after a round or two, it all falls into place.
While the interaction between players isn’t quite as obvious as it is in say, Conquest of Nerath, there are plenty of ways to mess with your opponents. You might be able to steal adventurers from other players, or force them to perform a low-reward mandatory quest, by using an Intrigue card. The selection of actions is also important; if you see an opponent using the build action every round, you might decide to build a few yourself, denying them their possible bonus points. Predicting what your opponents might do is a large part of the fun, in my opinion.
The presentation of the game is incredible. The board shows a map of Waterdeep, with a scoring track around the outside edge. The art on the Intrigue and Quest cards is top notch, and in full color, with flavor text. All of the bits and pieces are sturdy and colorful. It is one of the more visually appealing games in my collection. Of course, for fans of Forgotten Realms lore, many of the factions, Lords, and buildings will be very familiar. The currency is distinctive, giving even more of the flavor of the reknowned city.
It may sound silly, but I am absolutely in love with the box insert for Lords of Waterdeep. Many board games have a cheap cardboard insert that requires baggies or just allows all the pieces to mix together in a mess. Not so with the thoughtful plastic insert here. There is a place for every piece, and everything packs together just so, with little room to scatter around. I particularly like the angled slot for cards, that lets you press down on one end of the stack, popping up the other, for easy removal. There’s even a section in the rule book dedicated to how the bits and such should be stored. The attention to detail is something many other game companies should emulate.
Lords of Waterdeep is a fantastic game. It is easy enough to teach in a few minutes, but deep enough to challenge even experienced gamers. The mechanics are, if you’ll pardon the pun, intriguing, and the pace never slows so much that you are bored. Game length is about an hour, in my experience, so you can get a few plays in in an evening if you like. While it is very different from the other D&D board games, it’s an incredible game and I expect it will be very popular with many different types of gamers.
Check out the rest of this month’s Game Night Blog Carnival entries here.