Waterdeep, the City of Splendors – the most resplendent jewel in the Forgotten Realms, and a den of political intrigue and shady back-alley dealings. In this game, the players are powerful lords vying for control of this great city. Its treasures and resources are ripe for the taking, and that which cannot be gained through trickery and negotiation must be taken by force!
Intrigue, skulduggery, and violence. Welcome to Waterdeep, one of the last bastions of civilization on the Sword Coast.
The massive city grew as the gateway of trade to the northern lands and many adventurers seek to find their fortunes hidden in the Undermountain beneath the city.
But the movements of tiny people are nothing to one such as you. You are one of the Lords of Waterdeep, the secret council that rules over all the comings and goings of Waterdeep. Not everyone shares your vision, however, and the other lords will conspire against you.
You’ll need to navigate through the web of intrigue to become the greatest lord of Waterdeep.
Brief Overview of Lords of Waterdeep
Lords of Waterdeep is a German-style board game (Eurogame) designed by Peter Lee and Rodney Thompson and published by Wizards of the Coast in 2012. The game is set in Waterdeep, a fictional city in the Forgotten Realms campaign setting for the Dungeons & Dragons role-playing game.
Lords of Waterdeep is a Dungeons & Dragons-themed worker placement game. Instead of controlling a simple adventurer that pickpockets guards, you’ll be controlling one of the hidden Lords of Waterdeep. Essentially you’ll become a quest-giver for this board game and hire out adventurers, clerics, wizards, fighters, and rogues, to complete quests and advance your schemes.
When I say that you’re the hidden power behind the city, I actually mean that. Each player is given a hidden Lord card that will determine what kind of bonus points you get at the end of the game. Nobody knows who is who, so deceiving your fellow lords is another aspect of the strategy involved.
Versions & Expansions
Lords of Waterdeep: Scoundrels of Skullport
Players either explore the Undermountain, a series of caverns and catacombs filled with adventure and treasures, or the Skullport, where you’ll need to balance risk vs. reward while avoiding corruption.
Each module adds a new location and a few more mechanics. Whichever one you play, you’ll receive a new set of Intrigue cards and even a new board where you’ll be able to assign your agents.
With the Skullport module, you’ll need to balance a new corruption system. The more corruption you gain, the more you’ll be penalized at the end of the game, but the rewards you’ll get in-game are usually higher when you gain a little bit of corruption. It’s entirely up to you how you choose to balance your faction.
- For 2-6 Players
- 60 minute playing time
- Scoundrels of Skull port adds brand new content for owners of the...
Unboxing Lords of Waterdeep
- Game board
- 5 card stock player mats
- 121 Intrigue, Quest, and Role cards
- 130 wooden cubes, pawns, and score pieces
- Wooden player markers
- Card stock tiles and tokens representing buildings, gold coins, and victory points
I really like most of the components for Lords of Waterdeep. The board itself didn’t sit quite as flat as I liked but if you gently bend everything back into place, it lays down nicely.
I love the idea of the color-coded cubes representing different types of mercenaries.
I think that’s a really interesting touch and gives a general’s eye view of the map. I’ve looked to see if anyone has made custom minis to swap out the cubes with but I haven’t found anyone that’s done it successfully. It would be cool, but it would have to really push the definition of “mini” to fit onto the board.
As cool as the money system is, it’s the absolute worst thing to store in a box. I frickin’ hate it! The money system used are square tiles for 1-value coins, and crescent moons for 5-value coins. Thematically, it’s really cool. Each coin has a hole in the center of it which is reminiscent of actual old-world currency when people could hold their coins on a necklace-like string.
Fun Fact: Coins were minted with holes in them to help produce a consistent shape when they were molded, and square holes were used to help store them on rods to keep them from rolling around.
Why am I going on and on about ancient coin minting techniques? Because the coins are the absolute worst things in the world to put away and the historical design they were modeled after was made to make them easier to store. I actually gave up and bought a small fishing tackle box for all of its fiddly bits.
How to Play Lords of Waterdeep
Lords of Waterdeep is played over the course of 8 rounds. Each player has a set number of agents (workers) that they send out to do their bidding. The more players you have playing, the fewer agents you’ll have to work with.
On a turn, players can move their agents to any open location and perform the action associated with it.
- Yellow – Knights of the Shield
- Black – City Guard
- Blue – Silverstars
- Green – Harpers
- Red – Red Sashes
- Gray (Expansion color) – Gray Hands
There are several standard buildings in the game. Each time you place an agent on a particular building, you’ll get the number of resources shown. For example, Aurora’s Trade Shop gives a player 4 coins and the Field of Triumph gives a player 2 orange cubes (Fighters) to use in later quests. Unless a special ability is in play, there can only be 1 agent on any given space.
This is where one of the more interesting mechanics comes into play. If you place an agent on the Builder’s Hall, you can choose from 3 face-up buildings that have been drawn from a pile. Pay the cost and set your newly-acquired building onto the board. This adds another location that players can send their agents to and they’re usually more beneficial or more powerful, granting larger bonuses than the standard buildings.
The best part is that after you build one and another player uses it, you get a bonus resource just for being the owner. For example, if you built the House of Heroes and your opponent places an agent on it, they’ll get two orange resources (Fighters) and one white resource (Clerics). You’ll also get either a white or orange resource, your choice.
Ah, the Inn. What good adventuring story doesn’t have a crusty old tavern or inn?
This is where all of the rumors and quests come from, with shady back-alley deals and whispers over tankards of ale.
This is where players pick up quests. Because the Inn is such an important location, there are actually 3 different spots where players can dispatch their agents. Each spot performs slightly differently, but all of them will give players a quest card. In the Inn, there will be 4 quests available to choose from.
The three options are:
- Get a quest and 2 coins.
- Get a quest and an intrigue card.
- Reset the 4 quests available and choose 1 from the new pile.
Quests are how you gain victory points. Each quest has some D&D-themed adventure and you’ll need to gather the correct number of adventurers and money to successfully fund the quest.
Now that you have a handful of nasty Intrigue cards, it’s time to actually use them to your advantage. There are 3 spots for agents at Waterdeep harbor, meaning that everyone should have more of a chance to play an Intrigue card.
After every player has assigned all of their agents, the agents at Waterdeep Harbor can get reassigned to any legal space available to them. Essentially, they are used twice in a single round. First for the intrigue card and then they can be reassigned. It’s an incredibly powerful ability, but limits options.
There are 3 types of Intrigue cards available:
- Utility: Usually adds resources to your pool.
- Attack: Usually forces a player to lose resources.
- Mandatory: Assigns a mandatory quest to another player.
Mandatory quests may need a bit more explanation. Why should you care?
Mandatory quests make it impossible to complete any other quest until it’s been resolved. Usually, they have an annoying combination of resources needed to be completed and they have a very low point value. In essence, another player is forcing you to waste your agents and resources dealing with a quest for very little reward. It’s super annoying and also an amazing tactic.
Castle Waterdeep is an interesting spot. There’s a unique turn-order mechanic build into Waterdeep that can completely shift from round to round, or never move once in a single game. When a player sends an agent to Castle Waterdeep, they’ll receive the first player token and gain an Intrigue card.
In the next round, whoever controls the first player token goes first. If players are unconcerned about the turn order, that player will remain the first player until another player dispatches an agent to Castle Waterdeep.
After the final round, it’s time to tally up your points. Do you remember the hidden identity you received at the beginning of the game? Hopefully, you do. This is where they come into play.
Each lord has a hidden talent. Some lean towards the darker side of power and will get bonus points for every Skullduggery quest completed. Perhaps your lord is more magically inclined and receives bonus points for every Arcana quest completed.
Either way, each hidden Lord will have hidden bonus points that you should be working towards throughout the game. If you have no idea what bonus points you’re getting from the start, chances are you’re going to be missing out on a lot of points by game’s end.
The other bonus points are for any unused adventurers in your tavern at a rate of 1 to 1 for victory points. Any unused money is also worth a few points at a rate of 2 coins to 1 victory point.
Your First Game of Lords of Waterdeep
At first glance, Lords of Waterdeep can seem very overwhelming. Personally, I think worker placement games just tend to be intimidating the first time you play them. There are a lot of options and spaces and a good worker placement game won’t let you complete everything you want to do. It can be stressful the first time you look at it.
Overall, it takes about two rounds of a game to get into the groove. The symbols on the buildings and locations are very clear and easy to recognize. You’ll quickly get acclimated to the board.
End-Game Bonus Points
For your first game, you’ll want to keep in mind what bonus points you’ll get at the end of the game. Try and focus on picking up quests that’ll give you bonus abilities and if there are quests rewards that have an ongoing effect, try to make those a priority.
Some quests will give additional victory points for certain quests. Those are the best to target as your first quest. They’re a pretty hefty early investment in the game but can rack up points over the course of the game.
The built-in timer for Lords of Waterdeep is pretty cool but can be tricky for your first game.
To set it up, place 3 victory point tokens on each of the turn markers. During the upkeep of every turn, you’ll place those 3 tokens on the buildings that are available to build at the Builder’s Hall. There are only ever 3 buildings available, so each gets one. The player that builds that building will get all of the victory points stacked on it. That way, that the less desirable buildings will slowly gain in value and the build stack doesn’t stay stagnant throughout the whole game.
On turn 5, you’ll notice a little arrow leading to a set of meeples. That’s when things start to snowball towards the end-game. On turn 5, every player will receive an extra meeple, which is super helpful. Lords of Waterdeep is one of those irritating games that offers a ton of choices but never enough actions to do everything perfectly.
I like using Lords of Waterdeep as a gateway game to ween players off generic board games like Monopoly and Risk. It doesn’t necessarily revolutionize any particular mechanics but everything it does, it does well.
It introduces worker placement mechanics without too much fluff and is overall just a solid enjoyable experience. I’ve rarely had a game where a new player has walked away saying, “Man that sucked.” Usually, players are completely intrigued and want to play another round to try a different lord or strategy.
Pros & Cons
- Built-in game timer
- Excellent gateway game
- Terrific theme
Lords of Waterdeep is a relatively simple game to learn. There’s not a whole lot of groundbreaking mechanics but they all work well together. The game does a good job of making it simple enough to jump right in and explain quickly.
The theme works well, adding to the experience rather than distracting, and it’s designed to end after 8 rounds. Overall it’s very easy to set up, very easy to get immersed, and you’ll walk away with a complete experience in a short amount of time. Not a bad way to introduce worker placement games to new players.
- Storage issues
- The theme isn’t necessary to the game
Ok, I’ve admittedly gone overboard on bitching about the storage options. Everything else in the box fits quite nicely. There is legitimately a spot for everything, but the coins are such a pain in the butt to put back. For some people, box storage isn’t a huge factor but I really get worked up over it.
I’m a big fan of Dungeons & Dragons but you don’t need to be in order to enjoy this game. The game could honestly be rethemed to any secret order/society in charge of a city/organization/colony. What I’m trying to say is if you’re the type of person turned off by the D&D theme, don’t be.
Give it a try first. It’s just a vessel for the game, like hummus on toast. Nobody really gives a crap about the toast. It’s all about the hummus. It’s just there to get from the table to your face.
Lords of Waterdeep Review (TL;DR)
It’s an excellent gateway game and the rules can easily be picked up within a round or two.
The game has a built-in timer of 8 rounds and delivers a full gaming experience in a neat package.
My mother was the one who actually first bought this game back in the day. I had wanted to play it for a while, but never actually got around to picking it up.
[Just as a bit of background: my mother has never played anything related to D&D, and has no background knowledge of anything related. She loves this game.]
A lot of the barrier to entry of Lords of Waterdeep is the theme, I think. D&D players tend to have a very elitist mentality or it’s seen as an extremely complicated world that tends to push away newer players. Not all D&D players are like that, but that’s been my experience and a lot of people’s general view of the hobby.
That’s a bit of a shame because I think a lot of board gamers miss out because it can be a bit of an intimidating theme.
Have you ever played Lords of Waterdeep? We’d love to hear your thoughts on the game! Drop a comment below and let us know.