Bored? Game! – Lords of Waterdeep

500x100xboredgame.jpg.pagespeed.ic.Y6dutLMyXWLords of Waterdeep is quite a puzzle. It’s a licensed game – usually a bad sign in itself – that mixes the Ameritrash friendly theme of the Dungeons and Dragons universe with the resource management of a highbrow Euro game. As such, gamers on both sides of the strategy/theme division met the game with a mixture of confusion, derision and curiosity. In the end curiosity won the day and the many people who sat down around the game last year discovered that it was by no means a shallow spin off of a successful franchise or a dry exercise in cube pushing. The bold experiment had paid off and Lords of Waterdeep found a place on many game of the year lists.

The Cover art by Ralph Horsley
The Cover art by Ralph Horsley

In Lords of Waterdeep each player is a shadowy political figure in the eponymous city in the Forgotten Realms campaign setting (also the setting of the Baldur’s Gate games), who is recruiting heroes and sending them out on quests. Each quest requires a specific combination of warriors, mages, thieves and clerics to undertake, and these are the ‘resources’ that you gather from various parts of the board and squirrel away in your personal tavern. Completing the quest is simply a case of discarding the relevant number of adventurers and claiming the reward, but this is where the theme makes the game sightly more interesting than many in the genre. You could merely say “here’s an orange cube, a black cube and a purple cube and I get four victory points and two purple cubes” or you can get into the spirit of the thing and announce “I’m sending a brave warrior, a thief and a mage to safeguard an Eltorchul Mage and in return, two of their number join my cause”. It makes a nice change from the typical hoarding of wood and stone, even though there isn’t a huge amount of difference fundamentally. Lords of Waterdeep has been accused of having a pasted on theme, but this seems an unfair criticism seeing as the vast majority of Euro games sport themes so wafer thin that they barely cover the modesty of the complex mechanics whirring beneath the surface. In the end the theme is what you make it; it requires the right crowd and some imagination, which makes it the perfect gateway board game for those interested in tabletop or videogame RPGs.

If there were nothing more to Lords of Waterdeep that would be a problem, but fortunately for all its lightness it has some strategic depth. It has after all learnt from the best, taking the best bits from the worker placement genre (a mechanic I described in my review of Tzolk’in, a much heavier entry into the genre) and streamlining them into an elegantly simple game that takes little more than an hour to play. One of its big influences is the rather underrated Caylus, an early example of the worker placement mechanic (some might argue the originator), which saw

Yes, you get to be that annoying NPC at the start of any RPG who wants you to clear rats out of his basement before you go about your lordly business of saving the world!

players constructing buildings that gave an increasing range of improved actions. The twist was that a player using an opponent’s building gave that opponent a reward also, meaning that if you were shrewd (building things that people wanted) you could earn resources even on other players turns. Waterdeep borrows this idea wholesale and it fits perfectly here. If you were cynical, you could say this is copying, but games (like entries in almost every other human endeavour) have always adopted, repurposed and refined successful elements from previous efforts. This is how progress is made. The celebrated game designer Friedemann Friese recently proved this point by releasing Copy Cat, which borrowed elements from many of the most genre defining games of the last two decades.

For a little extra expense you can exchange the cubes for these DnDeeples
For a little extra expense you can exchange the cubes for these DnDeeples

One of the more original things that Waterdeep adds is its pile of intrigue cards. These can be collected in various ways and played at Waterdeep Harbour and generally do something good for you or bad for someone else. There are even mandatory quests that you can play on someone to slow their romp to victory, forcing them to waste valuable men to quell a peasant uprising before they can clear that 25 point quest they’ve been holding onto. Yes, you get to be that annoying NPC at the start of any RPG who wants you to clear rats out of his basement before you go about your lordly business of saving the world!

Lords of Waterdeep features none of the painted miniatures, deep storytelling and character creation that DnD enthusiasts would be familiar with, nor is it an incredibly complex brain burner of a strategy game that lasts two hours or more. Instead it sits between these two different extremes and acts as the perfect gateway into hobby board games; luring you in with a familiar and engaging theme and rewarding continued play with a decent amount of depth. So next time you want to try and get some of your gamer friends to go analogue, why not give this a whirl? There’s even an expansion to look forward to this summer called Scoundrels of Skullport.

lords-of-waterdeep-setupDesigner: Peter Lee, Rodney Thompson
Mechanic: Worker Placement
Number of Players: 2-5 (Best with 5)
Length of Game: 60-90mins
Complexity: Light/Medium
Buy it here






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