Lords of Waterdeep is an interesting experiment by Wizards of the Coast. Rather than a genuine attempt to capture Dungeons & Dragons in a board game format (which it has already achieved admirably with games like Dungeon Command), Lords of Waterdeep is a crack at a Euro-style game.
Aside from the name, it’s actually closer to Puerto Rico than anything Dungeons & Dragons. On the one hand this is somewhat disappointing as I’m always up for a good Dungeons & Dragons game. On the other hand this is a good Euro game and I’m very glad it was made.
The basic gameplay is easy to learn, as with any good Euro game. In Lords of Waterdeep, warriors, rogues, wizards and priests have been boiled down to basic resources that are used by the lords of Waterdeep as tools of intrigue to claim dominance over the city. Each turn players claim these “resources” by claiming buildings. Only one player can claim any given building each turn, so being strategic with the resource gathering is one of the critical components to success.
Those resources are then put to use with accomplishing missions, which in turn earn victory points for the player. The player with the most victory points at the end of the game wins. So in many ways this game does indeed feel like a sequel or interpretation of Puerto Rico. Considering how brilliant Puerto Rico is, Wizards were smart to pick that game as the muse for its own game.
A really nice touch is that at the start of each game players are given a “Lord” card. As the name suggests this is the most important card. Each card has requirements that, when fulfilled, earn the player substantially more victory points. The trick is that each card has different requirements, so right from the outset each player needs to go about their own game rather than worry too much about what the other players are doing.
Of course there’s a few quirks to the game that help to bring in a bit of Dungeons & Dragons flavour. It’s possible to use some interference cards to make life more difficult for your rivals, for instance, introducing a directly competitive mechanic that’s reasonably uncommon in Eurogames (which are more passively competitive usually). I’m a fan of this mechanic as it introduces an extra strategic complexity to the game; players need to be more aware of what their opponents are up to than simply focus on their own game.
The offshoot is that this is slightly less accessible to less experienced board gamers, though I suspect the license was going to put off that group from the outset. For the most part Lords of Waterdeep strikes a nice balance between the kind of complexity that people that buy Wizards board games expect, and a more casual experience for people who just want to crack out a few beers on a Friday night.
A more significant problem is the production value of the game itself. Coming from the highs of the Legend of Drizzt, it’s a bit disappointing to see the cards are made of a cheapish stock and the artwork doesn’t quite stack up. It’s still good, but it’s not comparable to a Fantasy Flight game.
Like a good Eurogame Lords of Waterdeep is easy to learn, and difficult to master. An experienced player is likely to win the lion’s share of games, but like most modern board game the entertainment value is in the process of playing the game, rather than winning or losing.
I wonder whether this is the start of a new direction for Wizards of the Coast. I hope so, because it’s nice to see the Dungeons & Dragons license being put to use for a broader range of experiences than the hardcore pen-and-paper RPG.