Articles Reviews Lords of Waterdeep - Boardgame Review

Lords of Waterdeep - Boardgame Review InfinityMax Hot
Written by InfinityMax     April 19, 2012    
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If you were to tell me that Wizards of the Coast was going to make a D&D game about ruling the city of Waterdeep, I would not have been surprised. But if you told me that game was going to be a worker-placement Euro-style game, I would have laughed at you and told you that you were insane. A dry Euro game can't be a D&D game! Euros are only supposed to be about farming and making recipes and delivering the mail! The granddaddy of dungeon crawl games is not supposed to spawn Euros. It's supposed to spawn violent games with too many rules, and with the right crowd, sexual innuendo and half-naked women with gigantic metal weapons.

Obviously, the guys at Wizards did not ask me for my opinion. Which is good, because otherwise they would never have made Lords of Waterdeep, and I could not have played it, and I would not have discovered how much fun it is. On the other hand, I would not have been forced to admit that I don't know everything. Of course, that's easier to do at 41 than it was at 19, when I would rather put my hand into a wheat thresher than admit that I was not actually smarter than my parents.

I'll get this out of the way, right off the bat - Lords of Waterdeep is definitely a Euro-style game, and it's definitely dry. Sure, you can recruit a band of warriors to purge tentacled horrors from the sewers of the city, but mechanically, you may as well be preparing a recipe for chili pie.

The theory is that you're in charge of some ruling group in the city of Waterdeep, and stuff comes up and you have to protect the city. You send out your agents to recruit adventurers and build taverns and find worthy quests, but you never actually get your hands dirty and kill something. You sit back in your ivory tower, drinking mimosas and dabbing at your guyliner while you send your minions into the city to do your bidding.

Happily, the minion-sending part of the game is actually very compelling. You've got all these things you can do, and places you can go, but you're in constant competition with your opponents. If you need a cleric, for instance, but the Harpers get there first, you'll have to send an agent to go pull some dirty tricks that let you steal guys from other people, because otherwise you're going to have to wait until the enemy agent goes out back to take a leak.

This results in the first layer of semi-artificial interaction - blocking your opponents. This is the most passive-aggressive game idea ever invented, and for some reason, Euro people don't mind that. I suspect they also learn how to let out heavy sighs and specialize in making you feel guilty when you ask them if they could pay for their own coffee this week. If this was the only interaction in Lords of Waterdeep, I would hate this game an awful lot.

There is, however, a second layer of interaction that is a great deal less artificial - the intrigue cards. Using these cards, you can directly screw with your friends. You can swipe their adventurers and steal their gold. You can sneak in behind them when they think they've blocked the builder's hall. You can assign them jobs that they have to complete before they do anything else, which ends up costing them resources and time. In a game where you never have enough resources or time, that's pretty damned mean-spirited. So I loved that.

The combination of blocking your opponents and directly hosing them makes for a game that has just the right amount of interaction without being so nasty that your wife won't play it with you. If the D&D folks are going to make a Euro, at least they made one that isn't some boring, solo circle-jerk. Where many games of this nature have you pretty much ignoring what everyone else is doing, the key to enjoying Lords of Waterdeep is in carefully scrutinizing the other players. Is the City Guard building an army for a massive warfare quest? Quick, give them a mandatory job that will kill off half their fighters! Is the sneaky mage chick running magic jobs like they were going out of style, revealing that she is almost certainly hiding a bonus for arcana gigs? Better run up there and reset those quests before she can snag another one!

I'm not going to pretend that your average blood-and-guts fan is going to love Lords of Waterdeep. The interaction is there, and it's exciting, but there's no disemboweling warfare. There's subtle intrigue and careful maneuvering, combined with reading your opponents and guessing their moves before they can pull them off. You'll have to plan ahead and build contingency plans for when those nasty Red Sash assholes steal your high-dollar mage's tower or hire all the thieves. You must be prepared to counter the underhanded attacks on your own grand designs, and keep an eye on every other player, all the time. And don't count the money until the game is over - in one game, right as the game ended, one player revealed a hidden bonus and shot from last place to a huge winning margin. She snowed us all, kept her head down and avoided looking like a good target, and snuck past us to make us all look like drooling chumps.

I really enjoyed Lords of Waterdeep, and can see myself playing it a lot more. It has some problems, like the fact that it could just as easily be about filling orders for potted plants, but in terms of providing the kinds of things I like to see in a game, the game delivered. Heck, it may give Flash Point some competition for family game night favorite. So what if it's a D&D Euro - it's a fun game.


2-5 players

Requires good planning and clever execution
A sweet spot of interaction that's not too nice, and not too mean
A Euro game that actually requires you to read your opponents, not just stare at their cards
Perfect for family game nights or weekend gaming clubs

A theme as rich as D&D should never, ever feel pasted on

Matt Drake is a regular contributer to Fortress: Ameritrash and the author of the Drake's Flames blog, where you can read more of his crassly opinionated reviews.

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Comments (22)
  • avatarMattLoter

    It's a Euro for families that don't like Euros. It plays fast, is a lot more interactive and interesting than most "family" cube pushers, but it's also pretty simple to the point of not being all that interesting in the wider gaming world. Theme is fun but utterly pasted on almost to the point of being insulting.

    I'm finding I don't have much interest in this level of game anymore; it's not fast and/or dumb enough to be a wild drunken shit talker but it's also got nothing of interest when compared to a more substantial game if I wanted to play something a little more serious in the design department. A game has to be damn near perfect for me to want to play it if it's in the middle of the road.

    It was one of the things I could have taken at PAX East, but I took more D&D minis instead. Meh.

  • avatarflim_flam

    Nice review, Drake. Sums up the essence of what this game is all about.

    I feel similar to Mr. Loter. There is nothing particularly wrong with this game, but at the same point there is nothing all that compelling about it either. Why should I care about this game at all? It is vanilla to the point of irrelevance. Maybe if I was new to the hobby, but otherwise it's pretty pointless.

  • avatarubarose  - re:
    flim_flam wrote:
    Why should I care about this game at all?

    You will care about games like this when your kids are around 10 years old. It's a polished family game.

  • avatarmikecl

    I agree with Uba. It's good with family and can accommodate all age groups without me being bored to death. I think Drake's review sums it perfectly including its flaws. The theme is pasted on but it's still there.

    I won't play this with regular gamers. It's too simple. But it's already got about eight plays between family and my non gaming friends...and they all had fun playing it.

  • avatarSuperflyTNT

    It's fun with "regular gamers" too. It's just lighter than some games, that's all.

  • avatarEgg Shen

    Excellent review. The response to this game has been mostly good that I've been tempted to actually buy it. However, I know this would never be a regular fixture at the game table. The girlfriend likes stuff that is more cutthroat than this. A few of my gaming buddies that hate direct conflict would like it, but I don't think I would play it enough to justify purchasing it. I'm done catering to their pussified needs. I'll let them buy it!

    A few years ago I would have bought this without hesitation. It would just sit in my collection until I needed a game that fit certain friends' tastes. Now if I know something is just going to sit on the shelf more than it gets played, I pass on it. The girlfriend will ask me to play stuff like Runebound, Dungeon Quest or Wiz War...she would only play LoWD if I asked/begged her. If I want a good family style game that I know will get played then I'll wait until Stronghold reprints Survive: Escape from Atlantis - 30 Year Anniversary Edition!

  • avatarflim_flam  - re: re:
    ubarose wrote:

    You will care about games like this when your kids are around 10 years old. It's a polished family game.

    I dunno, I think my kid should be pretty ace at Cosmic Encounter and War of the Ring by then...

    Seriously though, point taken. This simply isn't a game meant for me at this point of my a)life or b)gaming interests. I don't think it is a bad game by any means, just not all that fun for me to play.

  • avatarscissors

    I dunno, I think this a fine game even for gamers like Pete said. I played a lot worse shit over the last two years that got the same or more buzz ie. Quarriors!, Mansions of Madness...

  • avatarubarose


    Actually, Cosmic Encounter is a great family/older kids game. I think The Spawn declared it the best game ever when she was 11, but now she will only play it with her friends because adults are too boring to play it "right."

  • avatarSaMoKo

    I had no idea this game plays well with kids and will give a closer look at this. Samarkand: Routes to Riches is my go-to for this age group right now. It's a fairly simple Euro with enough depth to keep adults interested. They also like the camels :3

  • avatarSuperflyTNT

    Thanks, Scissors. I was just feeling better and you had to mention Quarrioooooooooughhhhers.

    (wiping chin)

  • avatarShellhead

    This mismatch of theme is almost impressive. They managed to make a Dungeons & Dragons boardgame that doesn't have dungeons or dragons.

    Someday, I hope that somebody finally does the dungeon crawl boardgame that I want:

    *multi-player, for 2-6 players
    *each player controls a party of adventurers, representing various D&D stereotypes
    *these parties explore a dungeon consisting of a bunch of room tiles with random monsters, traps, and treasures
    *combat is simple, but contains just enough depth to distinguish between character classes a bit, and also encourage at least basic tactics
    *wandering monsters
    *allows for PvP combat between parties of adventurers

    In another words, I'm looking for a game that combines the best aspects of Dungeon, Tomb, Dungeon Twister and Mertwig's Maze.

  • avatarSuperflyTNT

    Dude, Shellhead, you just described to a tee the game I used to play every weekend. It's called Mage Knight: Dungeon/Pyramid, and it's actually really cool. I gave SOMEONE all of my stuff a while back, but it really was a great game.

    You can pick it up really cheap, too, especially the dungeon builders kits which are bit-whores' dreams.

  • avatarscissors

    Pete, you're looking at it the wrong way: you should feel better every time someone trashes Quarriors! It means maybe one less person out there will be suckered into buying that poor excuse of a game.

    As for Lords of waterdeep not having dungeons or dragons, it's true shellhead, but their four previous games in a row did. That they perhaps didn't meet the higher criteria, the best aspects you mention, is another thing.

  • avatarubarose  - re:
    Shellhead wrote:
    They managed to make a Dungeons & Dragons boardgame that doesn't have dungeons or dragons.

    I think that this game is aimed at fans of the books rather than D&D players. I'm waiting to see if it pops up in Barnes and Noble.

  • avatarSpace Ghost

    I am sure it will. Our Barnes and Noble has both Ravenloft and Drizzt, maybe even Ashardalon.

  • avatarBearn

    WTH is wrong with Quarriors? My 5 year old LOVES that game. :)

  • avatarShellhead

    I loved Sesame Street when I was 5 years old. I'm not 5 anymore.

  • Helljin

    If they had used small meeples instead of cubes to fill your tavern it would have kick the theme up enough for me. I felt like a cube collector instead of a hero recruiter to fulfill the quests.

  • avatarubarose


    Very true. We keep calling the orange cubes pumpkins.

  • avatarSuperflyTNT

    Not all pumpkins are created equal....

  • Ocracoke  - Custom meeples

    Well for $20 for unpainted or $30 stained you can get these They fit back in the box. Great game and even better with these.

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