Avery Abernethy, 22 May 2019
D&D Lords of Waterdeep was launched in 2012 as a tabletop boardgame. It is a worker allocation game in the fantasy Dungeon and Dragons City of Waterdeep. The game was very well-received, winning the 2013 Origins Best Board Game Award. Lords of Waterdeep has been a very popular board game. A whopping 47,000+ people claim to own it on BoardGameGeek making it one of the more popular board games among aficionados.
In Lords of Waterdeep you take the role of a “secret Lord of Waterdeep.” You get agents every round who can be used to recruit minions of four specialties (fighter, thief, priest and wizard) to solve quests. There are five quest types: warfare, skullduggery, commerce, piety, and arcana. Your agents recruit minions who are (often) combined with gold to solve quests. You send agents to get the quests, minions, and gold to complete missions. As you would expect, the quests themselves yield rewards which can be used to solve more quests.
There are other aspects of play. You can buy buildings which both yield rewards to the owner as well as providing benefits to players sending their agent during a turn to control the building. There are intrigue cards which can yield resources, take resources from your opponents, and do other things to either benefit the player, mess with opponents, or a combination of the two.
My review is for the PC version of the game released in 2017 and played on Steam. I also own the board game and could find no significant differences between the two in terms of rules or game play.
The PC version has a couple of advantages compared to the board game. The game handles setup, resets the board after every round, keeps score, shuffles the cards and does all of the other mundane tasks. You can play Lords of Waterdeep much, much faster on the PC because the setup and the mechanical tasks are handled by the program. Lords of Waterdeep would stink as a solo boardgame making the PC the best for solo play.
The PC version allows online play with your buddies or strangers. You don’t have to gather around a table. You can play a game against human opponents most any time.
Lords of Waterdeep has strategy along with a moderate amount of luck. You randomly get a Lord to play at game start. Some Lords have better combinations of quest bonuses (like Warfare and Skullduggery; Commerce and Skullduggery) than others. The quests that come available, especially early in the game can set someone on the path of victory while making a win difficult for the unlucky player.
The best analogy of the relative influence of strategy and luck that I can give for Lords is poker. A player who understands Lords will win far more games than a player with a weak understanding of the game and poor strategy. Still, with the right lord, strong starting cards and a favorable draw of quests and buildings a bad but lucky player will beat a strong player. Compared to poker, Lords rewards the dumb but lucky player less often than in a night of poker where the cards are running towards the sheep instead of the wolves.
Lords is not complex for experienced gamers. I could play this game just about as well after a couple of scotches as I could cold sober. There are three difficulty levels. After I mastered the basic strategy I could beat the computer on average difficulty about 90% of the time. At hard the computer players use their optional decisions to hammer the human opponent while helping the other computer opponent.
The game does not “cheat” in the sense of altering the draw of cards, giving he computer player extra moves or gold, or anything else. But the game provides lots of opportunity to either hand rewards or punishments to other players. On “easy” the human player gets every break possible on options. On “average” the human player gets standard breaks and on hard the computer players gang up against the human player.
Until I mastered the basic strategy of Lords I could only win 10% of games on easy. After I mastered the basic strategy my win on average was 80%+. And the basic strategy is not that hard. There are 8 rounds. Each player has a base of three or four agents (think moves) in a round. Then the final score is toted up.
In the early game complete as many “plot quests” relevant to your Lord’s quest bonuses as you can. Plot quests provide fewer victory points but provide play bonuses for the rest of the game. The later you are in the game, the lower the value in completing plot quests. Instead your focus shifts to completing quests providing big victory points.
The second strategy element is buying buildings providing minions central to the two quest types which give your lord bonuses. For example, if my lord gets a bonus score for completing warfare quests, I want as many buildings which put fighters into play as possible. If more of your key minions are available, the competition for those key minions between players is lower making it more likely you can complete quests providing your Lord bonus victory points. Like plot quests, putting buildings which put more key minions into play is more valuable in the early game than in the end game.
Situational play based on the choices available on the board compared to the resources in hand plus what I mention about plot quests and buildings pretty much sums up the strategy to win Lords. Any serious grog with a lot of gaming under their belt should quickly master this strategy enabling them to steamroller the computer unless the game is set up for the computer opponents to intentionally gang up on the player.
This is a fun little game. It is well balanced. A better beer and pretzels game than most. A good introduction to strategy gaming for a bright friend interested in trying one out. A good game for buddies wanting something more serious than Munchkin with a limited amount of game time. A good game to play with serious gamers if a lot of drinking is involved. A great buy if you have a set of board gamers separated by distance who want to play online. A great way to learn the game before playing others around the tabletop.
But solely as a solitaire game against the computer it is probably not worth the normal asking price of $14.99. Serious grogs will get bored. I got it on sale for $7 and got that much enjoyment out of it. This is a good, light-medium quick strategy game for tabletop play. But tabletop has a big social element to improve the fun. The computer game lacks that social element although it handles all game mechanics extremely well. But I’m taking it off of my hard drive in favor of playing a few hands of computer bridge or spades as a strategy relaxer at the end of the day.
Avery Abernethy started playing Avalon Hill tabletop wargames in elementary school before electricity was widely available. You can find his reviews, after action reports, battlefield tourism reports and other things at his blog: https://averysgameblog.wordpress.com/