My Favorite Board Game
A million years ago (2012! We were so young!), I talked about Lords of Waterdeep. Well, I’m going to talk about it again. (Let me point out that Lords of Waterdeep is not only available at Amazon and at finer gaming establishments everywhere, but you can get a computer version of Lords of Waterdeep on Steam for $7 bucks (and it goes on sale from time to time as well).) A game for 2-5 players and a game will take about two hours if there are people who have never played before and about one hour if you’re playing with seasoned veterans.
Lords of Waterdeep is somewhere between the extremes of games like Candyland (100% chance) and Tic-Tac-Toe (the only chance is who goes first) as it is a Worker Placement Game (but it’s a heck of a lot closer to Tic-Tac-Toe). Worker Placement games have an initial set up that is based on chance with such things as quests or buildings or whatnot, but after we pick who goes first, there’s nothing but strategy and the only randomness comes from what happens to be next in the deck after someone takes a quest or buys a building or takes an intrigue card to play.
Here, let’s play a game together:
The basic game starts with the same basic board each time, but, at the top of the board, you see those quests? You’ve got two Warfare and two Piety. Those quests are placed in Cliffwatch randomly from the quest deck. Now look there at the red circle on the left:
You see how I have two quest cards and two intrigue cards? And you see my little guy up there in the corner? Let’s take a look at what I’ve got:
Okay. I have been dealt a Piety and a Warfare quest, I have a utility intrigue card and an attack intrigue card, and, when I see who my own personal Lord of Waterdeep is, I see that I got very lucky indeed. I’m playing Piergeiron… It doesn’t matter that he’s “the Paladinson”, what matters is there at the bottom: “At the end of the game, you score 4 for each Piety Quest and each Warfare quest you completed”. (The little red lozenge shape around the 4 indicates that those are Victory Points… the measure of who won.)
Now, there are 5 categories of quests. Warfare, Piety, Arcana, Skullduggery, and Commerce. Let’s go back to look at the board. You see those areas in the middle? You choose where you will place your worker and that’s what you get. Go to the Field of Triumph? Get two fighters. go to The Plinth? Get a cleric. Go to Aurora’s Realms Shoppe? Get four gold.
See there at the bottom? The Builder’s Hall? You can go there and spend gold and build one of the three buildings there (the buildings are also chosen randomly from a deck of buildings). Buy a building and when someone goes in one of those, the owner of the building gets a reward based on the type of building it is. The “timer” of the game is that there are 8 rounds. A Victory Point gets placed on one of the buildings that hasn’t been built yet as a bonus for the person who purchases it. Buy a building on turn 1? Get a victory point. A building stays unbuilt for 4 rounds? Now it has 4 Victory Points on it. So a building that you might not have been interested in buying on turn one can be fairly tempting by turn four.
I don’t know who any of the Lords I’m playing against are (and they don’t know who I am) but I know that they will also be getting bonuses based on a combination of quest types (just like I will be). I look up and see that I was randomly assigned the castle and so I get to go first. So… what would I want to do? Well, I know that I’m going to need a BUNCH of fighters for my Quell Mercenary Uprising quest and I’m going to want to get that early because not only do I get 4 bonus points for having done that quest, I’ll get a bonus 2 points for each Warfare quest I finish after I do that one. I look up at the quests I could take and see that one of them is the “Heal Fallen Grey Hand Soldiers” Piety quest that gives me, holy cow, look at that… 6 fighters. But I also have a Piety quest that gives me bonuses for doing Piety quests! So what I want to do is get that quest from Cliffwatch inn, then work on getting Priests and Fighters for my “Protect the House of Wonder” quest so that when I finish my Grey Hand quest, I will get bonus points for that.
And so I place my first worker in the leftmost Cliffwatch space and take 2 gold and take the quest that I want.
And then we go around the table. Other players place their workers in the remaining open spaces, some of them place cards in Waterdeep Harbor and play their own intrigue cards (which may be utilities or attacks) and I play my second worker in The Plinth, which is still open. We finish up our turn and then, when everyone has placed their workers, we go back to Waterdeep Harbor and take the workers out from 1 to 2 to 3 and place them in any remaining spaces on the board.
(Oooh, someone played an Intrigue card that gives them two of any Fighter/Thief/Wizard/Cleric tokens they want at the cost of everybody else getting one of whatever they want. I pick a Wizard. Ew, someone put a worker on Castle Waterdeep, giving them the Castle that indicates that they go first on next turn. Darn it.)
Turn 2, I place my worker on the Plinth and take a second Cleric and we go around again and there is an open spot in Waterdeep Harbor and so I play my card that gives me 2 Fighters and gives everyone else an opportunity to give me one of their own in exchange for 3 Victory Points. Well, nobody gives me a Fighter. Jerks. So here’s where we are now:
You see there on the left? I have six gold, two Clerics, two Fighters, and one Wizard. So I’m going to play my Protect the House of Wonder quest and set myself up to play the Grey Hand quest so I can play my Quell Mercenary Uprising quest so THEN I can really start to play the game. How do I want to set myself up, though? Well, after playing my quest, I still have 4 gold left… and nobody has taken Castle Waterdeep… so I am going to. Why? Because you see down there at the bottom? The Yawning Portal gives its owner a bonus of any Fighter/Thief/Wizard/Cleric token they want when someone goes on there. When I buy that building, I’ll have a very tempting place to visit for the other players at the table and each visit will give me a free token!
I’m going to need a lot of Clerics this game, I can tell, so since I want as many Clerics as I can get, I’m going to buy that building. Since I want to guarantee that I can buy that building, I’m going to take Castle Waterdeep and get the Castle and an intrigue card at random from the intrigue deck.
I luck out: Not only does someone land on my Yawning Portal, someone else uses the Zorostar space to use my Yawning Portal and so I get TWO Clerics! As you can see, I still need 4 gold to complete my Fallen Grey Hand quest:
And so I can go into Aurora’s and get 4 gold and finish my quest and get set up for my next one. I get 6 Victory for completing my quest AND a bonus 2 Victory Points from my Protect the House of Wonder bonus!
Seriously, I couldn’t have asked for a better setup.
But as the game progresses, we see that our opponents also are doing the exact same things we are. Going places and getting quests and buying buildings and getting rewards and it’s a race to see who can get the most points… but also, sometimes, to be a dog in the manger against your fellow players. I mean, if you know that your opponent is taking Commerce quests… why not go to Aurora’s Realms Shop and take the gold before they can? If they’re doing Arcana, why not go to Blackstaff Tower? I mean, if you can use it too, of course. It’d be kinda jerky to go to places you don’t even need in order to slow them down…
Anyway, we get to the end of Round 8 and then finish up and go around the board and see who was playing who and who gets bonuses for which quests.
Ah, I see I was playing against Nindil Jalbuck (who gets bonuses for Piety and Skullduggery), Sammereza Sulphontis (Arcana and Commerce), Nymara Scheiron (Commerce and Skullduggery), and Durnan the Wanderer (Commerce and Warfare).
And that’s the game.
It looks intimidating as heck the first time you sit down to play it but you’ll have it down by Turn 3. After you play 5 or 6 games and get the hang of it, you might notice that the board game has an expansion that allows for up to six players to play and gives additional Lords to play (with new and interesting bonuses), new intrigue cards to play, new quests, and new buildings.
But I’m not even thinking about the expansion yet. Lords of Waterdeep, by itself, is an amazing board game for the family or for visiting friends on game night. Easy to learn, easy to play, easy to talk smack, and, when you can’t get a group together, you can scratch your itch on Steam.
As you can see above, you don’t need to know anything about D&D to play the game. The Fighters? Orange cubes. The Clerics? White cubes. But you don’t need to know anything about spells or any other silliness. If you’re familiar with the Waterdeep setting, you might enjoy the flavor text on the various cards more than someone who doesn’t, but if you just enjoy strategy and games where it’s just you against the other people at the table without chance picking the winner? Seriously, I can’t recommend this game enough.
(Featured image is a screenshot of the offline games screen from the Steam version of the game. Screenshot taken by the author. Same for all of the other screenshots in this essay.)