Lords of Waterdeep: Dungeons & Dragons Meets Meeples, Makes Magic

Lords of Waterdeep. Image via Amazon.

Board games are serious business in this household, second only to our weekly D&D campaign when it comes to social interaction and flat-out fun. As such, we’re a little spoiled for games. I’ll have to admit, in spite of the fact that we’ve accumulated an entire closet full of games (just under a hundred and counting) I’m rarely really wowed by something enough to write about it. Especially when it comes to D&D-themed games. I was not thrilled by The Wrath of Ashardalon, and we really won’t talk about Castle Ravenloft.

Listen, I’m a very picky board gamer. I don’t have a ton of time on my hands. When I sit down and play a game I want to finish it and immediately want to play again. I want to feel challenged. I want to feel like the game is something special. Most games fall into the “play once” category and I never think of them again. But not Lords of Waterdeep. No, geek friends, this game rocks.

You know right away that’s the case, because as soon as you open the box you’re in a happy little magical world of cardboard and wood. Just a glance informs you that this is a special game, combining two things I love a great deal: Eurostyle gaming and Dungeons & Dragons. There are meeples. There are delightful little wooden cubes. There is slick art. There are cards. Board game geeks among our readers will understand what a thrilling feeling it can be to split the cellophane and lift the box (with just a little resistance as you break the seal) and see such a wealth of little, tiny pieces.

Like many Euro games, which Lords of Waterdeep clearly is paying homage to, the strategy is about building and plotting and planning your way toward victory points, much in the way you would with Puerto Rico or Settlers of Catan (some of the basic building mechanics remind me very much of Puerto Rico, which is still probably my favorite game of all time). But to sweeten the deal, there is a second tier of strategy: getting and completing quests. Each player gets certain bonuses for completing different kinds of quests (they’re color coded as Arcana, Warfare, etc.)–these various bonuses are assigned randomly at the beginning of the game, so your “identity” and bonuses aren’t revealed until the end. Which is particularly nice since it’s always hard to see a victor.

Image by rachel_pics via Flickr. CC BY-ND 2.0

To complete quests you must gain and spend both people (which are color coded and include rogues, wizards, warriors, and clerics, as you do) and money as well as other requirements. Positioning on the board changes with every turn, so depending on where you place your large meeples (think of them like emissaries or something) changes how you’re able to finish, get, and start quests. It’s one of the best mechanics out there for leveling the playing field and reminds me a bit of the game Citadels in that respect. The order is always fluid, so you can’t depend too much on the board at first glance. I’ve found it’s best to try and have plans A-D going in, because inevitably your plans will be foiled (which is totally part of the fun).

As always, I’m a big fan of good art, and this game certainly has that. The illustrations are evocative of the Forgotten Realms mythos we’ve all come to know and love, and support the nuts and bolts of the game effortlessly. One of my recent gripes in board games would have to do with the way many games are clearly a mechanic with a theme painted over it. The art might be nice, but it feels totally separate from the gameplay. Lords of Waterdeep never feels that way.

Best of all, it’s quick. The pacing is exciting, and you jump headfirst with the first round. Although I often wish for an extra round I think that has more to do with my own skills than the way the game is played. Unlike some games with thousands of pieces that take an hour to set up (seriously, Descent, I love you, but we’ve got to talk about the wind-up) it’s a fun, full-fledged game that’s easy to play spur-of-the-moment. No whining from the crew. And it’s a game–like Small World and a few others that I’ve been introduced in the last year or so–that I’m happy to hop into even if I’m tired or under the weather. It’s just that good.

And at just around $50 ($38.31 @ Amazon,) for such a polished game with so much replay possibility, you’d be a silly kobold to miss it. My hope (and there is plenty of speculation) is that there will soon be an expansion!

[Lords of Waterdeep]