The big game that is getting the most play here is Lords Of Waterdeep (LoW), and I feel rightly so. I am not sure if it will be the biggest game release of 2012, yet I think it will be essential playing for many of us.
There are a number of reasons I think LoW will be both popular and successful, more on those in my summary.
LoW is a very good resource management game, a cube pushing game at its heart with enoughof a good theme to give it appeal to a wider audience. Set in the city of Waterdeep, a major city in the worlds of Advanced Dungeons & Dragons 2nd edition World of Forgotten Realms (I am showing my age as I remember these details). Players take the role of an imporant, shadowy Lord of the city, who through a semi-secret society looks to gain the upper hand in city affairs. It is a cool kind of theme which works well with the game mechanism.
The game is designed for 2-5 players, and I have managed to put it to the test with all level of players. In fact, its surprisingly good with all number of players, more on that later.
With this game being popular, I have evolved some useful insights and experiences about the game that were not obvious at the begining. Now I feel the time is right to share that, so read on.
Opening The Box
This is an overall very well produced game, and the look of it all is very good. First impressions is that the style of box is unusual. Inside you find a nice big board, with lots of interesting detail.
Next there are a number of card sheets with the ‘building’ tokens. There are three sets of cards, Quest, Intrigue, and Lord. There are a few sheets of money and other tokens to punchout, plus lots of wooden cubes in four colours, orange for ‘Fighters’, ‘ black for ‘Rogues’, white for ‘Clerics’, and purple for ‘Wizards’. Lastly, there are tokens and a wooden scoring marker for up to five players, each with a secret society resource card, plus a very nicely produced rule book.
If I have one critism of this production it is the quality of some of the thicker card, the board, box, plus thicke tokens. They just feel like a lower grade of softer card, which might seem minor, yet this may make lng term wear harder on the components, I will have to wait and see.
There is a big thumbs up for the storage tray. Not only does everything fit nicely and snugly, the card compartments have a tilt mechanism that alloes the cards to be easily removed.
Aim Of The Game
As with most games, the winner has collected the most points over 8-rounds, with bonus points assigned for money, remaining resources, and for the special bonus each Lord card can provide for completing the right quests or other activities.
The main thing is to score points through completing Quests during the rounds, and if possible those that match the bonus critera of your Lord.
Setting up this game is very straight forward, the rules book has a summary on the back, something which I had remembered after the second game. Layout the board in the table center. Each player chooses a colour and takes the secret society card that matches. Place the scoring token on the score track at the ‘0’. Shuffle the cards and give each player a Lord card and two Intrigue cards (all face down for the players eyes only) & two Quest cards face up.
Decide the starting player and allocate money and the Starting Player token. Each player after the starting, gets one more money than the previous, so being last on the first turn will give you money, a useful commodity. Lay out three buildings in the market and place the remainder plus the card decks in the appropriate spaces on the board.
As for the cubes and money, I keep them in the box or an organizer tray I have for gaming.
It may seem like lots to do, yet the box organiser makes this very easy.
Playing The Game
LoW has a very easy play structure. The game has 8-rounds. Each round is made up of turns. A turn is each player in sequence from the starting player, placing an agent/meeple on an action space on the board, doing what that space allows, such as buy a building, collect cards or money, play Intrigue cards, and lastly to collect resources.
After that, the player may, if they have the resources, complete a Quest card. Play continues to the next player who repeats this, and so on until all meeples are in play.
The number of agents/meeples a player has does vary. At setup, the number of players dictates the number, with two players you get 4, 3 & 4 players you get 3, and 5 players you get just 2. On the start of Round #5 an additional agent/meeple become available. Through cards and buildings you may also reuse a agent/meeple, or have the Ambassador or the Lieutenant, both can be very handy extra meeples.
The game is all about choices, and there are many. Even with so many I find that if you get new players to focus on quests with the odd interaction from Intrigue cards, they quickly find their feet and sort out what they are doing and how they are going to do it. This is why this game is so good for new players. Your main choices are about trying to score the resources you need to complete Quests, and when you have done that or have no other choices you can look for more Quests, change turn order, and play Intrigue cards.
So what are Quests? Quests are like mission cards, and over the course of a game you might complete 4-12 of them. Each card has on it two important pieces of information, what is needed to complete and what the reward for completion is. Requirements are based around the cubes and money, you collect the right colour and number plus any money and complete the Quest. The reward can vary greatly, some seem more balanced or advantageous than others, so in your first few games you learn which seems a better deal. Rewards can be a combination of points, conditional points, cubes and money, even Quest or Intrigue cards, or even other special actions. There is variety.
Intrigue cards create, well I suppose, intrigue. Being kept secret you have no idea what possible choices they might give the owning player. They can give a wide range of benefits, penalties, and can even reward every player. They have a dark nasty side that is just bad enough to make the potential interaction all the more interesting. Players can win through use of many Intrigue cards, so do not ignore them, or the person who is playing plenty of them. Conversely, they only offer opportunities of varying levels of use, so to play effectively does not necessarily require the use of them. Clever use at the right time is what Intrigue cars are all about.
The intensity of the game changes on turn #5, as the additional agent/meeple each player recieves becomes available. This extra agent/meeple makes the options more competitive, so unless a variety of buildings have been constructed then choices are tight, and turn order becomes very important.
As the end game approaches on the last turn, there is a flurry of activit as Quests are completed, resources and money grabbed. Unused resources and money are converted to points at the end, so if you are ready you can make a good bonus from money and resources.
The players reveal their Lord card, and the bonuses for the Lord card, resources and money calculated. Close games might now have a runaway winner, or the lead swap several times over the scoring. It can be a very exciting time the last round and final scoring.
I like Lords Of Watedeep. I like it more and more. Don’t get me wrong, this is no deep game like say Agricola, or Powergrid (will save my thoughts on Powergrid for another game). Nor is it a complete gateway game, even though it really borders on being one. This is a really good game, easy enough to learn, even for relative newbies. Easy it might be to learn to play, yet as an experienced gamer, I feel very satisfied after each game, there is plenty of grit to get you teeth into.
One feature is the variation in the game. As buildings are built, additional action spaces become available, and with more buildings than can be built in a game, the differing options gives you lots of different choices each game. The various cards also give variation, the Lords each give different bonuses, the many quests and their variation of requirement and reward. The Intrigue cards offer another level of play, used to gain some advantage, or hinder many or sabotage a leader.
And then there is that competitive drive for those resources, the fighters, wizards, rogues and clerics, and some money is very useful too. The problem is all about making use of very few agents/meeples, and then getting to what you want before others, which is possible with some clever Intrigue card play or from certain buildings. This game invites you to try and be clever, sometimes it works, sometimes not. Playing safe will not always get you through, you need to take some risks, and this could mean using up a valued agent to interfere with other peoples plans.
Some people in other reviews of LoW, have critisised the un-themeatic cubes. To be honest, I don’t find this an issue, just call them what they are, fighters, wizards, rogues or clerics. The rest of the game has enough theme to carry it through when you do that, and after a few plays, you are so focussed on the game that you forget about cubes.
Lords Of Waterdeep is a great game, easy to learn, fun to play with exciting endings. It is meaty enough for the experienced, and plenty of replayability. I think this is probably one of the must play games of the year, and certainly a must own if you like resource management.
Go try it.
Game type: Euro, Worker Placement
Mechanism / Skill: Set Collection, Worker Placement
Number of Players: 2-5
Playing Time: 75-120 minutes
Ease of Play: 5 / 5
Ease of Setup: 4 / 5
Ease of Learning: 4 / 5
Fun Factor: 4 / 5
Replay-ability: 4 / 5
Strategy Rating: 4 / 5