Lords of Waterdeep is probably best described a medium- to light-weight worker placement game loosely based on the Dungeons and Dragons city of Waterdeep. For the uninitiated, a worker placement game is a mechanic where each player has a set number of tokens called “workers” or “meeples” that they then place in various spots on a board to either gain points or resources that will be used to gain points later.
In Waterdeep, you’re playing one of the Lords of this great city. Mechanically, this card simply tells you which types of quests (we’ll get into these later) score you extra victory points at the end of the game. If you want to add some extra flair to the game and don’t really care who wins, I would suggest roleplaying your character during the game. Obviously, this could break the game if people have played a few times because you can guess which Lord each person is playing and keep them from getting the quests they need. However, if you’re just looking to play a fun round without really caring about the scoring, this is a great way to do it. Further, it’s a fun way to play the game during your first few playthroughs before you really know the different Lords.
Before moving any further, we should probably talk about quests and Adventurers. At the beginning of the game you’ll be randomly given two quests and can acquire more quests by placing a worker in the tavern during your turn. Completing these quests is the main way you’ll score victory points. There are, if memory serves, five different categories of quests you can complete and two different types. The normal quests generally just score you points; however, there are some rare quests called Plot quests that do much more. A Plot quest will have text on it that gives you an extra reward upon completion. This will be something like “when you gain one cleric, gain two instead” or something to that effect. These are often super powerful because when you complete a Plot quest, you continue to receive its reward throughout the rest of the game. So, in the previous example, you will quickly amass quite the cleric army to complete many piety quests.
To complete quests, you’ll need to send your workers to the various places of Waterdeep and pick up adventurers. Adventurers come in four different colors (black, white, purple, and orange) that represent different adventurers (rogues, clerics, wizards, and warriors). You’re going to need quite a few of these little guys. Unfortunately, so does everyone else and, at least at the beginning of the game, there is only one slot per color to pick up new adventurers. That means, unless everyone ends up needing different colored adventurers, you’re going to be fighting over those spots in a bloodbath of worker placement. There are ways to open up the board later on, but before we talk about that, I should probably mention Encounter cards.
Like Quest cards, you’ll be getting two Encounter cards at the start of the game. These cards have many different uses during the game. Some get you extra Adventurers, while others force opponents to take on various Mandatory Quests that they have to complete before completing any other quest. These serve to slow players down who are getting out to a lead. My playgroup is generally pretty nice, so I haven’t seen many Mandatory Quests played, but they certainly serve a purpose. Similar to everything else in the game, you can’t just play an Encounter card willy-nilly. You have to spend a worker to play an Encounter; however, after everyone else has played all of their workers, you get to take back a worker used to play an Encounter card and replay them at another open spot on the board.
The final big mechanic you need to know about is the act of buying buildings. You can place a worker in the spot for purchasing buildings, buy one of the buildings available and place it in one of the open spots along the side of the board. When you do this, you claim that building, and from now on, anytime a player that isn’t you uses that spot, you get a tax paid to you from the bank. This can either be money or adventurers, but it is almost always something you’ll want. Sometimes a building is the best thing to purchase because it represents something that will likely get you extra resources for the rest of the game without having to use your own workers. Because those workers are so precious, that can be an important tactic for the middle to late game.
Those are the basics of the game, but how is it to play? In my experience, it’s extremely fun and varied. When telling new people about the game, I often call it the “next step up from Carcassonne”. It’s not a perfect statement, but it’s one that’s rung true in my plays. Carcassonne is a very casual game that has some strategy involved, but that strategy is fairly limited. Waterdeep takes that simple worker placement mechanic and adds quite a bit more in the many ways you can go about scoring points in the game. The obvious way is to just stockpile Adventurers and use them to complete quests and that’s certainly something you need to do. There’s just more than one way to skin the owlbeast, so to speak.
For instance, in one my plays, another player decided to mostly forgo doing anything besides buying buildings. Now, this made it obvious that he had the Lord card that gave him bonus victory points at the end for every building he owned. However, if I try to stop him from getting buildings, then I need to forgo my own strategy for winning. Also, by keeping him away from his tactic, then someone else has a much clearer path to to win the game with another strategy. You can see how the interplay between everyone’s various strategies forces you to constantly adapt your own in pursuit of victory.
That’s infinitely more varied strategically than something Carcassonne and that’s what makes it so enjoyable to me. In Waterdeep you’re able to have that same “gateway game” experience, while giving your brain something to really chew into. In truth, Waterdeep is often as deep as you want to make it. You can be just as successful with a very basic strategy as someone who’s played a hundred times. Obviously, the latter person is going to have an advantage, but if they don’t play it correctly, their newbie opponent can very easily steal a victory.
And that is an example of a good gateway game, in my opinion. It’s relatively easy to teach, but difficult to master. I’ve played the game quite a bit and I’m still constantly learning new strategies for play. Waterdeep has quickly become a constantly in-rotation game on my table and I would highly recommend that you go out and buy yourself a copy.
Should you buy it? ABSOLUTELY