Wizards Of The Coast has made great in-roads, by transferring its popular D&D brand to board games in recent years. This latest addition is the bravest yet though, and sees the publisher well outside its comfort zone, with a worker placement title which is a world away from the excellent dungeon crawlers it has been delivering recently.
Waterdeep, for those that don’t know, is a huge city based in the fictional Forgotten Realms settings, a D&D universe I used to love playing in a good decade or so ago when I still had a weekly Dungeons & Dragons group that I could attend. It’s a place of splendour, mystery and intrigue and is ripe for a board game adaptation, mainly because there’s so much going on in the city itself.
No doubt inspired by the treachery and intrigue found in A Game Of Thrones, Wizards Lords Of Waterdeep replicates this intrigue to a point, by placing you as one of the shadowly 11 lords that rule the city (many of them rule in private, with most city dwellers having no idea who they are). Each Lord has access to a number of agents (four in a two-player gamer, to just two in a four and five player game). The lords themselves are the gamebreakers, as they each have specific win conditions (similar to Anky Morpork, but better in my opinion, because every single one is different). Larissa Neathal earns you 6 victory points for every building you own, Nymara Scheiron scores you 4 points for every commerce and skullduggery quest you complete and so on.
Lords Of Waterdeep is set over eight rounds of play and each round sees players taking it in turns to assign their agents to key parts of the city in order to recruit thieves, fighters, clerics and mages. Only one agent can inhabit one area though, so you’ll really need to plan and bluff in order to always hits the areas you want to.
Players can also earn additional resources, by again visiting key areas. Head to Aurora’s Realm Shop for example and you’ll net yourself 4 coins, move to Castle Warterdeep and you’ll not only earn the opportunity to start first (and go to that much needed city space before anyone else) but also earn an intrigue card. Then there is the important Cliffwatch Inn which allows you to accept quests. These are especially important as they are the main resource for victory points, but can also grant additional in-game bonuses that range from recruiting additional adventurers when certain bonuses are met, to scoring additional points when you complete certain types of quests (the quests themselves are Arcada, Piety, Skullduggery, Warfare and Commerce). Up to three agents can visit the inn, and there’s a handy option to reset the entire quest board if you don’t see anything you like. You can only complete one quest per round and you’ll need a specific number of adventurers before you can successfully complete them.
Intrigue cards are another important addition, as they allow you to subtly manipulate the game whenever you visit Waterdeep Harbor. An intrigue card might allow you to recruit new adventurers, steal resources from another player, or give your opponents mandatory quests, which they must complete before anything else. Another nice touch is that once all agents have been assigned, the agents of Waterdeep Harbor are reassigned as well, meaning that it’s not a wasted turn to go there.
While there are many buildings that players can visit on the main board, it’s also possible to build more by visiting the Builder’s Hall. Whoever lands on this area gets to take one of the face-up buildings on display and add it to one of the nine available areas around the city. This property grants stronger bonuses than those found on the main board, including an ambassador who lets you immediately play first before anyone else makes their move to The Three Pearls, which allows you to trade in two random adventuers for three adventurers that will be more useful to you. Players also receive a token bonus (from money and gold to adventurers) whenever their building is used, meaning they can become a very valuable resource early on in the game if particularly high-yielding cards show up. There are more advanced buildings than spaces on the board (twneth three in fact) meaning no two games will ever be the same.
At the end of the eighth round the lords are revealed quests points are totted up and players get additional victory points for every two gold pieces they own and for every adventurer they still control.
Lords Of Waterdeep is easily the best new game I’ve played this year, even if it is very heavily-based on Caylus. It’s very fast-paced (games take around 40 minutes) is extremely easy to learn and has truly glorious componants. It scales equally well regardless of how many players are taking part and its theme is loose enough that it won’t alienate players who have never played a D&D game before.
Lords Of Waterdeep is available to buy now from Board Game Guru and is for 2-5 players.