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What is Lords of Waterdeep? An Introduction

As a genre, we are huge fans of the worker placement game and have looked at several big players in the category on this blog. We’ve looked at games from Stone Age to Viticulture, Euphoria to Champions of Midgard. That being said, of all the worker placement games mentioned on this blog, there is one that truly stands out – Lords of Waterdeep. It is a game that is so fundamental to the genre, and yet we have given it a criminally small amount of focus on this blog. Well, dear reader, that is about to change. We are going to start talking a lot more about Lords of Waterdeep.

For seasoned gamers, Lords of Waterdeep is one of the quintessential games of this gaming revolution and renaissance we are all a part of. It is often heralded as one of the best board games to cross theme and mechanics so seamlessly, and is probably the most popular Dungeons and Dragons game after the epic role playing game itself. What is more, Lords of Waterdeep has helped D&D reach a wider audience because of its incredible gameplay and intriguing setting. It is truly one of a kind.

Over this series of articles we will be exploring every aspect of the game. We’ll be looking at the location it is set, the mechanics behind the game, strategy, and the meta that surrounds it. This is the first of such articles, looking at what the core game is about, before we explore the rest over the coming months.

With all that said, and now we are a good few hundred words into the topic, let’s explore well and truly, once and for all, what Lords of Waterdeep is. This is the section that shall simply be known as “the beginning”.

What is Lords of Waterdeep?

Lords of Waterdeep

What is Lords of Waterdeep?

To give the incredibly obvious answer, Lords of Waterdeep is a worker placement game set in the fantasy world of the Forgotten Realms, and the region of Faerun. This is a setting taken from the modern day D&D, with Faerun being one of the core continents in the Forgotten Realms. Waterdeep is a city along the western most shoreline of the main continent, a port (a theme that runs through the game) and is a main trading point. It appears in several pieces of D&D literature, including The Dark Elf Trilogy and the Elminster Series.

Thematically, in Lords of Waterdeep you control one of the ruling lords of Waterdeep, using agents to do your bidding. The game takes place over eight rounds, in which time you, as the player, must use your agents to hire adventurers to complete quests. There are four basic types of adventurer – cleric, warrior, mage, and thief – and five types of quest that require different proportions of adventurers to complete. These are piety, warfare, arcana, skullduggery, and commerce.

Lords of Waterdeep, as a game, is considered both a Eurogame and a German Style game. What this means is that, although the designers (Peter Lee and Rodney Thompson) are both American, the game mimics the styles of games coming out of Europe around the late 1980s to mid 1990s. That era helped define the Eurogame genre and so although it is now considered a dated way of looking at games it is also a semi-useful classification.

What this all ultimately means though is that Lords of Waterdeep is a game that uses a wide range of popular mechanics. It uses mechanics such a worker placement, where you start with a set number of agents and need to gather resources each turn with those agents. It has an aspect of a mechanic called “take-that”, which involves using cards to downplay your opponents. It has other mechanics such as set collection with specific quests and types of quests giving certain amounts of points, and it includes a lot of resource management.

So, what this means is that there are two different ways of answering the question: what is Lords of Waterdeep. It could be seen as an extension of the D&D universe, or it could be seen as an extension of a long line of traditional worker placement games.

The Harpers in Waterdeep

The Harpers in Waterdeep

What makes Lords of Waterdeep different?

Looking at what we’ve already explored in this blog, it may be easy to see what Lords of Waterdeep is, but it may not be easy to see why it is so popular. On the board game database site, Board Game Geek, Lords of Waterdeep is not only considered highly thought of but it is currently (at the time of writing this) the 53rd highest thought of game of all time. It is also the 12th highest rated worker placement game of all time which, seeing as worker placement is one of the most popular genres of gaming, is quite an achievement. The big question becomes, why do people feel this way? What is it about Lords of Waterdeep that appeals?

I won’t be going into all the rules behind Lords of Waterdeep in this article; however, they do deserve some exploration. The game is incredibly well balanced, and a well balanced game means so much in the modern gaming renaissance. It is the difference between a game that is crisp and concise (like a fine apple) and a sludgy mess that drags on forever (like a blue cheese that isn’t meant to be blue but you left it on the side for slightly too long).

What Lords of Waterdeep does is merge those mechanics, and in merging the mechanics it creates a game that isn’t too complicated, yet it has enough depth to it that it can entertain almost any type of gamer. With a lot of gamers in the modern age starting off with the likes of Catan, Munchkin, or Fluxx, a game like Lords of Waterdeep is a fantastic introduction into the world of more serious gaming.

Not to mention who doesn’t want to play a lord in a fantasy town where you get to send warriors and thieves to cause havoc with mages? The theme is engaging and exciting. When compared with other games in the genre, such as Stone Age, Lords of Waterdeep has an exciting theme that is thrilling time and time again.

I think this is one of the core reasons I wanted to write about Lords of Waterdeep, and why I am sat here now writing about it. It is the kind of game that absorbs you and keeps you engaged with what is going on around the board. You may send your workers to the Harbour or to the Plinth or wherever on the board, gather adventurers , and then send those adventurers on epic quests. The longer you spend gathering resources the more epic those quests feel when you finally get the points for them.

Epic quests in an Epic Game

Epic quests in an Epic Game

An Epic Game

This article has more been an introduction to the game of Lords of Waterdeep and a bit of a hint for things to come. This is something I have been meaning to write about for a while and so am really excited that now I can finally get around to doing it. What is Lords of Waterdeep? It’s epic, and a game that I want to do justice to.

Coming up over the next month we will be looking at the mythos behind the game, looking at each lord in some detail, as well as looking at the mathematical breakdown of who the best Lord is. After that we’ll look at the individual quests and round it off by looking at the strategy behind the game. It’s going to be fun.

I would love to know your thoughts on the game, so please feel free to leave me a comment in the comments section below.

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24 Comments »

  1. We love this game as a group. Mix Dungeons & Dragons theme with worker placement and I am all in. I will lay the digital version on my iPad two, three, four times in a row easily.

    Great article!

    Liked by 2 people

  2. Thank you for the article. Lords of Waterdeep has been one of our most played games. We’ve not taken it out for quite a while yet, but played it in our games group virtually every week for a good few weeks, and then again sporadically again and again. When my daughter was around 10, she played it with my wife and I as well and loved it. It’s such a great game, with so much variety. We found the base game to be quite enough and the expansions aren’t really necessary.

    Liked by 1 person

    • I agree with you there. I think the expansions are a “nice to have” rather than necessity. We also binged on Waterdeep 😁 such an easy game to fall in love with.

      Like

  3. Great game. One other aspect often attributed to Eurogames is the rubber-banding effect. Where no one completely runs away with an unbeatable lead. In earlier games like Risk and Monopoly, etc. whomever gets a good initial start, will win the game. So the fact that games run pretty even (I can tell you the story of a boardgame newbie winning Catan someday), is nice in keeping all parties interested.

    I wasn’t too much of a boardgame fan when I first heard of LoW. But the D&D theme really intrigued me. The idea of playing the LORDS who control all those LITTLE adventurers kinda blew my mind. Because in D&D, I had been playing all those little adventurers running to their deaths (like lemmings), quest after quests. Finally I could be the one in charge, haha!

    I definitely have to disagree with the comment about the expansions. I would say Skullport is a necessary addition to the game. It changes it in so many ways. I feel like we would have ended up bored with LoW long ago, if we didn’t have that expansion. Undermountain is ok, but we mainly only add that, if we want to play one giant uber game of LoW.

    I’ve mentioned before, but we played a ton of LoW, enough that we had some burnout. It got replaced a bit by Belfort, as our worker-placement goto. But if I have someone who wants to take boardgames slightly to the next level, I’d definitely break out LoW. Plus we still break it out every now and then for fun. It’s definitely out-lasted a number of other games in our game closet.

    Liked by 1 person

    • You know – it’s amazing how many people have a story that’s similar? It’s one of those games that really helps people get into gaming. We also hit burn out for a while, but I’ve been playing it again recently and fallen in love with it again.

      So Skullport adds some interesting parts to the game. I love the bigger quests, but it’s never quite worked when we’ve tried it with 6 people.

      You have good taste Faust, and I trust you’re judgement, so I will keep giving it a go and keep an open mind 🙂

      Liked by 1 person

  4. I never equated this with the forgotten realms city. I always thought the name sounded familiar (which it would have been with me having read quite a few of the books many years ago). I feel like an idiot lol. Cheers for the write up, I’m looking forward to this immensely.

    Liked by 1 person

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