4 May 2014 | 31 Comments
I first played Lords of Waterdeep, a Euro board game set in the Dungeons & Dragons universe, almost exactly 1 year ago at Geekway to the West. I thought it was a super boring cube-pusher, and I didn’t see myself playing it again.
I was wrong.
I’ve played it more than I’ve played any other game over the last few months thanks to the iPad app (and once with the “real” version). My experience with Lords of Waterdeep during that time has reminded me that you really can’t judge a game after 1 play, even if that game has cubes in it where it should have custom tokens. It’s also a great learning tool for game designers, as I’ll describe below.
If you don’t know how to play Lords of Waterdeep, watch this episode of Tabletop, especially since Patrick Rothfuss is one of the guests.
Here’s why I’ve come to love and respect this game, and why I think every game designer should play it:
- The Clarity of Economy: In some games (including games I’ve designed), it’s really hard to tell how much one resource is worth in relation to other resources. This clarity is important when you’re making choices about priorities, value, and goals. Lords of Waterdeep has a really simple economy, and it explains it not with a key off to a side, but rather through the action spaces themselves (see image on the right). 2 black cubes are worth 1 purple cube. Simple as that.
- Increasing Complexity: When you start a game of Lords of Waterdeep, there are a manageable number of actions on the board (11, I think). Most are self-explanatory. Thus the game is really easy to teach–you can start playing after a 5-minute explanation. However, once you start playing, you can build new actions (usually 1 per round), allowing for a slow increase in complexity. This also changes the economy a bit–now you can place a worker to get 1 purple cube OR you can place a worker to get 1 purple cube and 2 orange cubes (but the person who built that action gets a cube too). Thus every game starts out simple and grows into this beautiful map of interesting decisions.
- Short-Term Goals:/End-Game Uncertainty: I’ve written about this before, but now more than ever I appreciate games that give you short-term goals to point you in a direction–any direction–and also give you some long-term goals to consider without completely shaping your strategy for you. In Lords of Waterdeep, you start out with a few quests in hand, giving you direction early in the game. Many of these quests have residual benefits that will help you over the course of the game (plot quests). Also, each player has a secret lord card that gives you extra points at the end of the game. Sometimes when you’re choosing a quest in Lords of Waterdeep, you don’t know which one to choose. The lord cards help you make that decision, and they also provide uncertainty as to which player is truly in the lead at the end of the game.
The more I play Lords of Waterdeep, the more I respect it as an exemplary example of worker-placement. I highly recommend the iPad app if you want to give it a spin, or if you’re attending Geekway to the West in St. Louis in 10 days, I’d be happy to teach you how to play.
The only qualm I have about the game (as alluded to earlier) is that I wish the cubes were custom pieces. I understand why they’re not–it would be easy for new players to confuse worker tokens and adventurer meeples, not to mention the additional expense–but they add a lot of flavor to the game when you play with them (the play-to-win versions of Waterdeep at Geekway have the custom meeples).
What are your thoughts on this game?