Waterdeep, the City of Splendors… the most resplendent jewel in the Forgotten Realms, and a den of political intrigue and shady back-alley dealings. In this game, the players are powerful lords vying for control of this great city. Its treasures and resources are ripe for the taking, and that which cannot be gained through trickery and negotiation must be taken by force.
I’m going to begin this review by telling you that it is one of the best games I’ve played in a long, long time.
Lords of Waterdeep showed up completely unexpectedly last week from Wizards of the Coast, with a nice little letter from Mark Nolan (in Public Relations) asking me to write up a review.
I’ve been looking at this game with interest since seeing the tweets coming in from DDXP, and was really not expecting to have it in front of me. First thing to do: Pop it open.
The contents within are gorgeous. The board depicts a stunning map of the city of Waterdeep, set along the Sword Coast on the Sea of Swords. Surrounding the city are blank places to place buildings you build, along with different establishments throughout the city. There are three decks of cards, two of which will be used throughout the game.
The cards themselves are absolutely stunning. You can see some of the art on the cards to the right. The coins used would be perfect for incorporating into your D&D game, especially since they have a front and back side.
So the game is beautiful, but how does it actually play?
The game is actually surprisingly simple, and, with two players, lasts about an hour. Now, when I say simple, I don’t mean that there isn’t a wealth of opportunity for strategy and plotting. The game actively encourages underhanded and back-stabby playing. Simple means that I was able to sit down with two others who hadn’t played, on my first game, and from setup to completion, we had all become quite good at it. I look forward to playing again and seeing how well we all improve.
I’m getting far ahead of myself, though.
You play the Lords of Waterdeep, mysterious figures who control the organizations within the city from behind the scenes. You begin the game with a number of agents (based on the number of players) and begin placing them throughout the city at the different buildings. If an agent is at that location, you cannot place another agent there, except in the case of the Waterdeep Harbor and the Cliffwatch Inn, which have multiple spots.
You attempt to gather heroes (represented by colored cubes) into your personal tavern to send them on quests for you, which you gather from the board’s Cliffwatch Inn. Quest range from bolstering the city guard to stamping out cults. You gather these heroes from specific locations on the board.
This is where the strategy kicks in: You are able to see other players’ taverns, as well as the heroes they’ve gathered so far. As such, you can send your agents to locations you know the other player needs to gather adventurers from.
There are Intrigue cards you are able to collect as well, which you can use against the other players, or in your own efforts. These can add to your heroes, remove other player’s heroes, force other players to perform mandatory quests, and lots of other nasty little surprises.
In addition, you can build buildings of your own at Builder’s Hall. These give you new buildings with interesting new mechanics, and which give the owner a little something when another player places an agent there. There are some quests which give you Victory Points for building buildings, and one of the Lords of Waterdeep grants you VP for this as well.
And that’s what it comes down to: Victory Points. As the game progresses, you’ll gain Victory Points for completing quests, building buildings, and a few other things. However, no one really knows who’s going to win until the very, very end, as the Lords of Waterdeep are revealed. Each player took a Lord at the beginning of the game, and kept them hidden from the other players. When they’re revealed, they have a brief rule on the bottom of their card, granting VP at the end of the game for completing specific types of quests. While you may have been completing quests throughout the game, more than any other player, if you weren’t doing the quests your particular Lord of Waterdeep granted VP for, the person with fewer completed quests than you may very well surge ahead and win it.
This game is incredibly simple to play right off the bat, but has a ton of options in-game, allowing players to play to their liking. In my first game, one player spent most of their time sending Agents to the Harbor, playing Intrigue cards, while another built a massive army of Fighters and completed Warfare after Warfare quest. Most of my tavern was full of Rogues as I completed lots of Skullduggery quests.
It’s a fantastic game, and I can’t wait to play with a full complement of five players.