Reviewed by Herb Levy

LORDS OF WATERDEEP (Wizards of the Coast, 2 to 5 players, ages 12 and up, 60 minutes; $49.99)


For decades, Dungeons & Dragons has been synonymous with fantasy roleplaying. So it is all the more interesting when the RPG world of D&D enters the genre of Euro style strategy – and it does in Lords of Waterdeep by the design team of Rodney Thompson and Peter Lee.

In this magical fantasy world, Waterdeep: The City of Splendors is one of the great cities and each player is a Lord of Waterdeep, one of the secret rulers of this city. While all of the Lords have the best interests of the city at heart, they each have their own view as to what those interests are. It is their goal to meet those interests by completing quests (and using any means necessary) to become the greatest Lord of Waterdeep.

Players begin with a player mat (used to hold the various items accumulated throughout the game), a set of agents and building control markers, all in their chosen color (the number available depending upon the number of players), some money (the first player, randomly chosen, gets 4 gold with each subsequent player getting 1 gold more than the previous player) and is dealt two Quests and two Intrigue cards. They are also given a Lord of Waterdeep card (their secret identity as it were) which will bestow added Victory Points at game’s end for success in meeting their hidden agenda.lordswaterdeepbox

The game is played in 8 rounds and each player places one of his agents on the Round 5 space of the rounds track. (At the start of the fifth round, that agent joins his fellow agents so all players receive one more agent to use. This addition of another agent at the game’s midway point intensifies play as it gives players another action to do. By that point, an assortment of buildings, offering new opportunities for placement, have been built so these extra agents come in very handy.)

During the game, “adventurers” (represented by cubes in four colors: orange = fighters, white = clerics, black = rogues and purple = wizards) will be recruited. In the meantime, they form a stock off the board. The stack of Building Tiles as well as the Quest and Intrigue card decks, are shuffled and placed in their corresponding board spaces. Three Building tiles are drawn and placed, face up, in the three spaces of the Builder’s Hall. 3 VP tokens are placed on each space of the rounds track.

At the start of each round, the 3 VP tokens on the rounds track corresponding to that round are placed on the Building Tiles at Builder’s Hall. (Some Buildings cause effects at the start of a round as well. Once these effects are taken care off, the round begins.)

In turn order, a player places ONE of his agents on any available building space on the board. At the start of play, there are NINE such spaces. Several of them award you adventurers (2 black or 2 orange, a single white or purple), one gives you 4 gold. One space allows you to claim first in turn order for the next round AND draw an Intrigue card. The Builder’s Hall allows you to buy one of the three buildings on display and immediately place it in play. Buildings offer benefits for players who place an agent on them (and give a reward to the player who built that particular building when someone uses it). In these areas, only one agent may be placed but there are two areas that allow for multiple agent placement: Cliffwatch Inn and Waterdeep Harbor.lordsofwaterdeep2

Cliffwatch Inn is where you can pick up another Quest. Four Quests are on display there and there are three available spaces. Each space offers something a little different. One space allows you to pick a quest AND get 2 gold. Another allows you to pick a Quest and draw an Intrigue card. Don’t like the Quests on display? The third space allows you to flush the four Quests on display, replace them with four new ones from the top of the draw deck and choose one of the new ones.

Waterdeep Harbor also has room for 3 agents and this area has a dual ability. By placing there, you may play an Intrigue card and resolve its effects. In addition, after ALL other actions by agents have been resolved, players with agents here must, in placement order, reassign their agents to any still unoccupied space on the board (and reap those benefits too)! Once these final actions are resolved, the next round begins.

After placing an agent, a player may complete a Quest. This requires turning into the stock the required cubes and/or money. Quests award Victory Points and/or more cubes and/or money. All Quests are valuable but the ones awarding larger amounts of VPs demand more resources. Since the entire game only lasts 8 rounds, a savvy player should maximize his time by completing Quests that include in their rewards cubes needed for the larger VP Quest so as to generate more needed resources in less time. Completed Quests are placed, face down, on that player’s mat. Some Quests, however, are also “plot twists” which, in addition to VPs or money or cubes, also award bonuses for various actions a player may take on subsequent turns. (Fortunately, you don’t have to commit these bonuses to memory. These Quests stay face up in the player’s area.)

As play continues, VPs earned are tracked on the board’s perimeter scoring track. At the end of the 8th round, final scores are calculated. To the running VP total, players add 1 VP for each cube still on their mat, 1/2 VP for money held (rounded down) and check out additional VPs earned for meeting the requirements of their hidden Lord of Waterdeep card. There are five types of Quests: Arcana, Piety, Skullduggery, Warfare and Commerce. Lords of Waterdeep cards award extra VPs for a combination of any TWO of these types. For example, the player holding Khelben Arunsun, The Blackstaff will get 4 VPs for each completed Arcana and Warfare quest. One Lord card awards 6 VPs for each Building that player has constructed. (Some have criticized the Building VP card as being unbalanced and that can sometimes be the case. Our solution is simple: either reduce the value of constructed buildings to 4 VPs each or simply remove that card from play!) The player with the most VPs is victorious!

As the game progresses and more buildings come into play, options for agents grow. At the same time, decisions – always meaningful – become even more so. Interaction occurs throughout the game in both obvious and subtle ways. Obvious in your competing to occupy (and activate) the buildings you need before positions are claimed and in certain Intrigue cards which allow you to draft an additional quest or award yourself two of an adventurer while giving an opponent one or saddle an opponent with a “mandatory quest” – a quest that MUST be completed before that player can complete a more valuable quest in his sights. (But the designers were obviously aware of the detrimental effect that cards like these could cause if they were brutal and unforgiving. The Intrigue cards are long on interaction but short on harshness. They don’t break the game; they enhance the play. An excellent touch.) And subtle in that players may be vying to complete the same types of quests forcing them to compete to acquire the same types of cubes. At the same time, players must be alert as to what other players are completing so you can stunt those potentially overwhelming extra VP Quest bonuses at game’s end.

Lords of Waterdeep is a departure – but a welcome departure – from the kind of games typically associated with Wizards of the Coast. It’s not that it does something so totally different (many of the mechanisms of play will be familiar to experienced gamers), it’s that it does it so well. The game is of first quality on many levels. The beautiful components (with fantasy artwork enhancing rather than overwhelming gameplay) coupled with solid game design makes for a game that offers meaningful decisions throughout with value for both serious and casual gamers. Recommended. – – – Herb Levy


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