(2012 – Wizards of the Coast)
Wizards of the Coast is well known for their production of minature-style Dungeon & Dragon titles, such as Wrath of Ashardalon, Castle Ravenloft, Conquest of Nerath, the Legend of Drizzt, as well as the recent Dungeon Command series. So it came to somewhat of a surprise that when their next title, Lords of Waterdeep, announced in early 2012, stretched far from their normal dungeon crawl miniatures style gameplay and focused on mechanics found in the recent worker placement genre.
Caylus is noted by many to be the game that fully introduced the worker placement mechanic upon its release in 2005. Being such a huge hit among the community, worker placement has been a rising mechanic in the last 8+ years, prevalent in games such as Dominant Species, Alien Frontiers, Manhattan Project, Stone Age, Agricola, Keyflower, the list goes on and on. As the board game hobby continues to expand and new people discover our favorite pastime in droves, it’s not uncommon for multiple games to come along and reintroduce mechanics and themes throughout the years. While Caylus and Lords of Waterdeep are anything but similar to one another in many regards, they’ve both achieved the same feat of introducing the worker placement mechanic to a new group of gamers in the hobby.
In Lords of Waterdeep (designed by Peter Lee & Rodney Thompson), each player takes on the roles of one of the 11 Lords of the infamous port city in the Dungeon and Dragons campaign setting entitled, Forgotten Realms. By using a worker placement mechanic, players will place their personal agents throughout the city in order to recruit adventurers, complete quests, increase their income, and construct new buildings, all with the ultimate goal of becoming the most powerful Lord of Waterdeep.
– Lord of Waterdeep Game Board
One of the great design decisions in modern board gaming has been including notations on the game board that remind players where items go during setup as well as for gameplay purposes. Games such as Trajan, Alien Frontiers, Stone Age, and Le Havre (to name a few) have all included this feature. And it is no different with Lords of Waterdeep. Transparent notations on the game board represent what goes in each section and the iconography is easily intuitive and understandable. Even so, let’s still take a look at how everything is setup to begin a game.
Each player is assigned a player board that includes that player’s particular Tavern and color. Depending on the number of players in the game, a certain number of Agents are placed onto the top section of the player board, entitled the “Agent Pool” (4 Agents for a 2-player game, 3 Agents for a 3-player game, and 2 Agents for a 4 or 5-player game). The Building Ownership markers matching that player’s color are also placed on the player board.
Next we move to the main game board itself. The Round track and Agent area run along the bottom portion of the board.
1 extra Agent of each color (in addition to the ones already located on a player’s Tavern) is placed in the Agent area of the main board. These will be added to the player’s Taverns at the beginning of the 5th Round. Next, 3 Victory Points are stacked onto each Round space of the Round track until all 8 Round spaces are covered.
To the right of this section is where the Buildings are located. At the beginning of the game, all Buildings are randomly stacked, face-down here. The first 3 Buildings are then drawn off of this stack and placed into the 3 Builder Hall spaces, located above the Round track. Since we will begin the game with Round 1, place the Victory Point tokens taken off of the Round space onto each of the 3 Buildings (1 on each Building). This not only gives players a reference as to which Round they are currently on (since all other Rounds are still covered by the other tokens), but it also shows how many extra Victory Points a player will earn when he completes a particular Building.
There are 3 types of cards in Lords of Waterdeep. Players are first dealt 1 of the 11 Lords of Waterdeep cards. This card is kept hidden from all opposing players by placing it beneath the player board and will instruct the Lord what types of Quests will give him bonus Victory Points at the end of the game (there is 1 alternative Lord that scores differently, but I’ll go over that a bit later during the gameplay section). Finally, players are dealt 2 Quests cards and 2 Intrigue cards.
The remaining Quests and Intrigue cards are placed on their designated spaces along the top left and bottom left spaces on the game board, and make up the draw piles for these 2 types of cards, respectively.
An initial 4 Quest cards are then drawn and placed onto the 4 Cliffwatch Inn spaces to the right of the draw pile. These will make up the beginning Quests that are available to players at Cliffwatch Inn to being the game.
The rules state that the last player to have visited a port city, starts as the First Player. But, if you actually live in a port city such as myself, you can determine this in any way you’d like. However you seem to figure it out, the start player receives the corresponding First Player marker and 4 Gold. Play will proceed clockwise from the start player, and each player in succession will receive 1 additional Gold to begin the game (2nd player starts with 5 Gold, 3rd player starts with 6 Gold, and so on). The side of the board will contain extra Gold, Victory Point tokens, and Adventurer tokens. After setup, the game should look something like this:
Players begin the game with the following: 2 Quest cards, a Lord of Waterdeep card, 2 Intrigue cards, Building Ownership tokens, Agents and Gold. Before we begin, let’s first take a look at the different types of cards and what they represent.
Throughout the game, players will be working towards using their recruited adventurers to complete particular Quests, which will reward a player with anything from Victory Points, additional adventurers, Gold, or other specific bonuses. Quests can be divided into 5 separate categories: Arcana, Commerce, Piety, Skullduggery, and Warfare. At the beginning of the game, the 2 Quest cards a player receives are placed face-up to the left side of his personal player board. All Quest located in this area are considered Active Quest. Each Quest card contains the type of Quest, the amount and makeup of adventures required to complete the Quest, and the rewards for completing the Quest.
For instance, the Raid on the Under-Mountain Quest card is a Skullduggery Quest. It requires 1 Cleric, 2 Warriors, 4 Rogues, and a Wizard to complete. Upon completion, the player will receive 20 Victory Points and 2 Gold.
The Quest entitled Heal Fallen Gray Hand Soldiers is a Piety Quest. Being a bit easier than the one above, it only requires 2 Cleric and 1 Wizard, along with 4 Gold to complete. Upon completion it will reward the player with 6 Victory Points and 6 Warriors (if you want to think in thematic terms, the 6 that you just healed).
Any Quests that are currently Active (added to a player’s Tavern, but not yet completed) are set to the left side of the player board. Once completed, that Quest card is placed face down onto the Completed Quests section of the Tavern. While most Quests are standard, there are a few Quests in each category type that are unique, entitled “Plot Quests”. When a Plot Quest is completed, instead of placing it face-down onto the player board, Plot Quests are instead placed face-up to the right of the player board. Plot Quests, once completed, have additional ongoing bonuses that are provided to the player for the remainder of the game. They still count as completed Quests for end-game purposes, but are kept face-up to remind the player of the ongoing bonuses.
The Commerce Plot Quest card entitled, Establish the New Merchant Guild requires a Cleric and 2 Warriors to complete, along with 4 Gold. It immediately rewards the player with 8 Victory Points, but also gives an ongoing bonus for the remainder of the game. From now on, any time that the player completes another Commerce Quest, he will receives an additional 2 Victory Points.
Lords of Waterdeep Cards
Distributed at the beginning of the game, the Lord of Waterdeep cards secretly instruct the player what category of Quests will earn him bonus Victory Points at the end of the game. Amongst the 11 Lords, 10 of them will score 4 bonus Victory Points for every completed Quests combining 2 different categories.
For example, Mirt the Moneylender will score 4 bonus Victory Points for every Commerce and Piety Quests that the player has completed by the end of the game, while Brianne Byndraeth scores 4 bonus Victory Points for every completed Arcana and Skullduggery Quest.
As mentioned before, there is 1 unique Lord that scores her bonus Victory Points a bit differently. Larissa Neathal will score the player 6 bonus Victory Points for every Building owned by that player at the end of the game, rather than based on completed Quest types.
Players begin the game with 2 Intrigue cards and can add more to their hand throughout the game by visiting various Buildings, as well as earning them as rewards from Quests. Generally, Intrigue cards can be played by sending Agents to the Waterdeep Harbor space. Intrigue cards can provide players with anything from new Adventurers, to reassigning Agents, to even requiring other players to complete a mandatory quest before continuing on their own. There is a large variety of bonuses and abilities that can be found throughout the different Intrigue cards.
Taking a look at the following Intrigue cards, a player can play the Bribe Agent card, in which they will pay 2 Gold and will then be able to use an Action space that contains another player’s Agent as if it was their own. The Tax Collection Intrigue card allows a player to gain 4 Gold from the general supply. All other players may then pay that player 4 Gold in order to score 4 Victory Points themselves.
A Player’s Turn:
Beginning with the Start player, each player will take turns placing 1 of their available Agents onto a Building in Waterdeep. Initially, there are a total of 9 Buildings in Waterdeep, though many more can be constructed throughout the game. Each Building contains an action (or in some cases, a few optional actions), that can be taken once a player’s Agent has been placed on it. On his turn, a player may place 1 Agent as well as complete 1 Quest, if able. If another Agent has been placed on a particular space, that space is considered used, therefore no other Agent is allowed on that space as well.
Player A sends an Agent to Blackstaff Tower and recruits 1 Wizard to his Tavern.
He then decides to complete a Piety Quest entitled, “Defend the Tower of Luck” by sending 2 Clerics, a Warrior, a Rogue, and a Wizard. As a reward, he gains no Victory Points. However, since it is a Plot Quest, he receives the ongoing bonus of being able to add 1 of any type of adventurer to his Tavern at the beginning of each Round. After sending out the following Agent and completing a Quest, Player A’s turn ends.
Players will continue to take turns in clockwise order, until all Agents have been used. This completes the Round and a new Round begins by taking the Victory Point tokens off of the Round space and placing them onto the 3 different Buildings in the Builder’s Hall. Remember, that beginning with Round 5, all players will receive 1 additional Agent to their player board, thus all players will at least have 1 extra turn from Rounds 5-8.
Let’s take a look at the initial Buildings that can be found throughout Waterdeep in which players can send their agents. I’ll also cover a few of the optional advanced Buildings that can be built from the Builder’s Hall:
– A player who sends their Agent here will receive the First player marker as well as 1 Intrigue card. From this point forward, this player will remain the First player each Round until an opposing player visits Castle Waterdeep. A player may even choose to send an Agent to this location in order to keep the First player marker.
Field of Triumph
Grinning Lion Tavern
– A player who sends their Agent here will recruit 1 Wizard to their personal Tavern.
Aurora’s Realm Shop
– A player who sends their Agent here will select a new Quest to add to the Active area of their Tavern. This location can hold up to 3 Agents at one time, and each space provides a particular bonus that comes with gaining the new Quest.
1.) An Agent placed on the leftmost space of Cliffwatch Inn is able to select a new Quest from the 4 face-up Quest cards, as well as gain 2 Gold.
2.) An Agent placed on the middle space of Cliffwatch Inn selects a new Quest and is able to draw 1 Intrigue card.
3.) An Agent placed on the rightmost space of Cliffwatch Inn will first discard the current face-up Quests and draw 4 new Quests from the draw deck. After doing so, he will then select his new Quest.
– A player who sends their Agents here will be able to construct 1 of the 3 optional Buildings currently available in the Builder’s Hall. Each Building has a cost represented in the top left corner of the tile. Once paying this cost in Gold, the player will immediately score Victory Points equal to the amount of Victory Point tokens that had been placed onto the Building. The newly constructed Building is then placed into one of the 10 vacant spaces along the far sides of the game board, while attaching a Building Ownership marker to the bottom corner of the tile to represent which player owns the Building. A new Building is then drawn from the draw pile and added to the Builder’s Hall.
Player B decides to build the Dragon Tower location by sending an Agent to the Builder’s Hall and spending 3 Gold. He scores 2 Victory Points since there were currently 2 Victory Point tokens on the building, and places his newly constructed Dragon Tower onto a vacant building site space.
Since Player B is the green player, he adds one of his green ownership markers next to the building. This is now an additional building that any player can use when sending out Agents.
– A player who send their Agents here will be able to play an Intrigue card and resolve its effect. What’s unique about this space however, is that any Agent placed in Waterdeep Harbor also gains a reassignment. After all other Agents have been placed by other players, any Agents assigned to Waterdeep Harbor can then be reassigned to any of the remaining vacant Buildings as a second action (you can not reassign an Agent back to Waterdeep Harbor). This sequence of reassignment resolves in the order shown on the 3 available spaces from left to right.
So, in the above example, Player A was the first player to place an Agent in Waterdeep Harbor, therefore he will be the first to reassign an Agent when that ability takes effect. After he is finished with his reassignment, Player C (the red player) can reassign his Agent, and so on.
Buildings that are constructed out of the Builder’s Hall can be used like any other Building when sending out Agents. These Buildings give more advanced bonuses, but also reward the player that owns it every time an opposing player uses that particular Building. Note that while the player can send Agents to Buildings he owns for their regular Actions, he does not score the ownership bonus. The ownership bonus is only scored when other players send Agents to that Building.
For instance, Player B built the Dragon Tower on a previous turn. Player A decides that on his turn, he will send one of his Agents to this building, recruiting 1 Wizard and gaining an Intrigue card. Because of this, Player B will also draw an Intrigue card, as the ownership bonus for this space.
Let’s take a look at a few of the different Advanced Buildings:
Palace of Waterdeep
– Sending an Agent to this building will allow the player to recruit the Ambassador to his Tavern. This Ambassador can be used at the beginning of the next Round before any other player (including the Start player) takes their turn. He’ll not only allow you to go first, but also gives you an extra action for that Round. The ownership bonus for the Palace of Waterdeep is 2 Victory Points.
The Stone House
After 8 Rounds have been completed, players will earn additional end-game Victory Points in the following ways:
– 1 Victory Point per adventurer still located in a player’s Tavern
– 1 Victory Point for every 2 Gold (rounded down)
– Special Bonuses according to the player’s Lord of Waterdeep card
Player C reveals his completed Quest cards and sees that he has completed 6 standard Quests and 2 Plot Quests, for a total of 8. This means the he scores the following end-game Victory Points:
– 2 total Victory Points for his leftover Gold
– 32 Victory Points for his completed Commerce and Warfare Quests
I almost never cover storage or inserts as part of my reviews, just for the simple fact that they really have no substance as how a game works mechanically, while many of us dispose of them and come up with our own storage solutions anyway. However, I feel the need to note that the insert for Lords of Waterdeep is probably one of the most manageable, solid inserts I’ve ever had the chance to see. The adventurer tokens are set into bowl-shaped compartments that make it very easy to pull from.
The card compartments are made with a drop off on either side (think of a see-saw), that when pressing on either end of the stack of cards, the other end flips up so that you don’t have to dig your hand into the insert to get the whole stack out. While inserts are usually the last thing game companies seem to pay any mind to (and probably for the best), it is nice to see Wizards of the Coast make such an effort to make an outstanding one.
At first glance, a game that mixes a Dungeon & Dragons theme with the worker placement mechanics found in such titles as Caylus and Dominant Species, wouldn’t entice one to think of a gateway game. Yet, Lords of Waterdeep is designed in a way to be just that. The simplicity of placing a worker on a space, resolving that space and collecting resources off spaces to complete quests is essentially the core of the game. In a hobby already full of more complex worker placement titles, this would seem like a step back to some. But the way that these mechanics interact with each other, makes for a great introduction to those unfamiliar with this style of game, while not entirely dumbing down the use of strategy.
Granted, the mixture of strategy and simplicity isn’t flawless. Concerning the individual Lord cards (while functional), it’s quite easy to figure out which player has which Lord, simply by observing the Quest cards they are choosing to complete, or in the case of Lord Larissa, if they are buying lots of buildings. Hopefully future expansions will help to add a bit more depth to this area, and it seems as if Wizards of the Coast will do so with their upcoming Scoundrels of Skullport expansion, later this summer.
The first thing many will notice about the game when seeing it on the shelf is the Dungeons & Dragons brand. However, the theme is subtle. Nonexistent for those that have never read an R.A. Salvatore or Ed Greenwood novel, nor could tell you about Drizzt Do’Urden or a D20. Though, in no way are these a requirement. Dungeon & Dragon fans will find pleasure in the different quests throughout Waterdeep as well as the many references noted on the cards and buildings, but the core of gameplay is spent around the enjoyment and streamlining of its mechanics, not its theme. And it’s for that reason that the game appeals to such a wide range of new, casual, and dedicated gamers. Some will note that they are sending an Agent to Blackstaff Tower to recruit a Wizard to their Tavern, while the next person will say “I’m placing my dude on this space and get a Purple guy”. And for that reason, Lords of Waterdeep simply works. It’s a streamlined introduction to the worker placement mechanic, a game that is designed to bring together the D&D player, the yearly convention attendee, and the friend who is brand new to the hobby.