Review of Lords of Waterdeep (Board Game) by Wizards of the Coast


First Post
We here in the gaming community so often think of Wizards of the Coast as synonymous with Dungeons & Dragons and Magic: The Gathering that we tend to overlook the fact that WotC also produces some amazing board games. And not only have they picked up and still produce several of the lines from Avalon Hill (Axis & Allies et al/ Betrayal at the House on the Hill), but we’ve been seeing more and more board games being published which draw upon the rich and well-developed world settings such as the Forgotten Realms (The Legend of Drizzt), Ravenloft (Castle Ravenloft), and the D&D Core Setting, Nerath (The Conquest of Nerath).

Clearly, mining the various D&D settings for board game inspirations has paid off so far, and reviews for these, said with true respect, “spin-off” products have been really positive. Not only do they provide increased promotion and attention to our favorite role-playing game, but one must also admit they also provide an easy “beer & pretzels solution when a D&D session falls through because of a missing player or DM!

The most recent addition to the growing family of D&D-inspired board games once again pulls from the massively detailed Forgotten Realms setting. In Lords of Waterdeep, players are given the chance to battle for control and influence of the City of Splendors as one of the secretive and masked Lords!

Lords of Waterdeep (Board Game)

  • Designer: Rodney Thompson & Peter Lee
  • Illustrators: Ralph Horsley (cover), Mike Schley (board), Eric Belisle, Steven Belledin, Zoltan Boros, Noah Bradley, Eric Deschamps, Wayne England, Jason Engle, Tony Foti, Tyler Jacobson, Todd Harris, Ron Lemen, Howard Lyon, Warren Mahy, Patrick McEvoy, Jim Nelson, Ralph Horsley, William O’Connor, Adam Paquette, Lucio Parrillo, David Rapoza, Richard Sardinha, Andrew Silver, Anne Stokes, Gabor Szikszai, Matias Tapia, Kev Walker, Tyler Walpole, Eva Widermann, Eric L. Williams, Matthew D. Wilson, Sam Wood, Ben Wootten, James Zhang (game cards)
  • Publisher: Wizards of the Coast
  • Year: 2012
  • Media: Board Game
  • Cost: $49.99 (available from [ame=""][/ame] for only $31.49)
Lords of Waterdeep is a fantasy board game for 2 to 5 players, set in the greatest metropolis of the Forgotten Realms. The game comes complete with a full color game board depicting a map of Waterdeep, as well as various locations and their in-game play elements. The game includes a colorful Rulebook with complete instructions on how to play, and a the back page doubles as a reference sheet for quick set up and turn information. There is also 5 card stock player mats, one for each faction in the city, 11 Role cards depicting the Lords of Waterdeep, 60 cards showing various Quests to be completed, and 50 cards with Intrigues to be used to against other Lords. Finally, there are 100 wooden cubes (25 of each of 4 colors) which represent fighter, rogue, cleric, and wizard adventurers, 29 pawns to represent agents and other uses, and 175 card stock tiles and tokens representing buildings, faction control markers, gold coins, score tiles, and victory points. And the game sports an in-box components tray for easy storage, set-up, and clean-up.

Production Quality

All I can say about the production quality of Lords of Waterdeep was that it was simply excellent. From the instruction manual to the lushly detailed board, the awesome looking cards and the beautifully designed tokens, everything just looked and felt great!

The instructions were very easy to read and comprehend, and were just as easy to explain to my fellow players. In fact, you can check them out yourself, and get a look at the instruction manual at the WotC site here, and even download a copy of the rules in PDF format, as well as the Quick Start Reference Sheet as a separate file.

As far as components goes, everything about the game feels vibrant and colorful, and I really liked the feel and quality of the Role, Quest, and Intrigue cards. They were a smidge thinner than standard playing cards, but have a textured and glossy coating, giving them a good feel and were easy to shuffle. The card board cut-out tokens were also have a semi-glossy finish and are of decent thickness, and we only had one mishap with a gold coin while punching them out of the sheets. By the way, the one gold token is a square with a hole in it, as the Waterdhavian toal is described, while the 5-gold token is a crescent shaped token, like the Harbor Moon – yes,it’s only 5 gold and not 50 gold, but the token still looks cool! The wooden pieces had a decent finish applied to them, and although simple in shapes, are more than adequate to use as tokens for agents and adventurers.
The art director, Keven Smith, should be congratulated for his choice of artists and artwork for the cards, board, and tokens. Everyone who played the game with me, or spectated, was very impressed with the quality and the “look” of the art.

Unboxing Lords of Waterdeep

I got my copy of Lords of Waterdeep last week Thursday evening, which gave me a great opportunity to give the game a try with some of the players in my D&D gaming group in Toledo before our session on coming Saturday. I didn’t do any unboxing of the game before I headed down, save to grab the rules and give them a thorough reading on Saturday morning. As I mentioned, the rules were well-written and easy to follow, even without having the whole game in front of me, so I could leave the unboxing and preparation of play for everyone to enjoy.

There were three of us available for play – our fourth got caught up in a WoW raid – but, even still, it only took us about 30-minutes to punch and sort through the components, get them into the plastic storage tray, and get the initial components set up on the board. Our only difficulty, which was relatively minor, was finding a good bin for the harbor moons, but other than that, initial sorting and setup was a breeze.

Lords of Waterdeep Game Play

Lords of Waterdeep is set up to play in 8 rounds, with various actions such as completing Quests, using certain Intrigue cards, and building new shops and locales will generate Victory Points. The player with the most Victory Points after 8 rounds wins the game. It sounds pretty simple, and it is for the most part, but the real game is about the tactics of how to deploy your agents in each round to gain benefits, adventurers, new quests, and other resources to gain your VPs faster than your opponents.

At the start of Lords of Waterdeep, each player is dealt one of eleven Lords of Waterdeep cards, and takes a faction (color) to represent them. Like their counterparts in the Forgotten Realms, the identity of the Lords are kept secret from each other, as each has secret conditions which allow them to reap extra VPs at the end of the game. As an example, I ended up with Khelben Blackstaff in my first game (yea, how cool is that?), and I would gain 4 extra VPs for each Arcana and Warfare Quest card I completed by the end of the game. (More on Quest cards below.) The color tokens represent the Knights of the Shield (yellow), Silverstars (blue), the City Guard (blue), the Harpers (green), and Red Sashes (red – surprise!). The various factions have no other effects in the game other than for color of tokens, and general coolness factor – I had the Silverstars as my personal agents in the game.

During each round, players take turns deploying an agent, until all of the agents are out on the map. Each space on the map grants a benefit when an agent is placed there, such as Builder’s Hall (which lets you buy, place, and own a new building), or The Plinth (which grants a single cleric adventurer), or Castle Waterdeep (which grants a change in who is the first player and a draw from the Intrigue deck). But the real trick here is that only one agent per round can occupy and control a particular location on the map, which makes who goes first and where placement occurs to be a very real and tangible tactic in the game.

As if that wasn’t tactical enough, as the game progresses there are new buildings which can be purchased and placed on the map, each of which also provides new benefits to the player that places an agent there. Buying and setting up the famed tavern, The Yawning Portal, allows an agent which is placed there to pick up two adventurers of any type. And of course, there is also a tangible benefit to spending gold buying and placing buildings, as each building offers a reward for being used to the player that places it. The player which builds The Yawning Portal gets to collect an adventurer of any type whenever an agent occupies the tavern. And yes, there are plenty of other noteworthy locations from the City of Splendors, such as The Zoaraster, the House of Good Spirits, and the Dragon’s Tower – clearly the designers were putting their Volo’s Guide to Waterdeep to great effect in making this game! So again, you can see how the complexity of play begins to increase with each round, as more locales come into play.

The real goal of the game comes from accumulating VPs, and the biggest source of those are by completing Quests. Quests are divided into Arcana, Commerce, Warfare, Piety, and Skullduggery, and are completed by expending numbers of adventurers and sometimes gold. Yes, it seems a bit heartless, but one of the things a Lord of Waterdeep does is recruit certain numbers of fighters, clerics, rogues, and wizards, and then sends them off to complete a quest in order to gain fame and influence in Waterdeep! So for example, to complete a Warfare Quest called Confront the Xanathar, it takes one cleric, four fighters, two rogues and a wizard to complete – but the reward is two gold and a massive 20 victory points! Quests reward anywhere from 4-25 VPs, and of course can help to secure extra VPs at the end of the game if that is part of your Lord’s benefit. Some quests are also Plot Quests, which have an ongoing benefit after they are completed – one of my favs during my game was Study the Illusk Arch, which was only worth 8 VPs, but gave me 2 bonus VPs every time I completed an Arcana Quest, so you can imagine how beneficial that was given my Lord’s victory bonus!

But the final tactical part of the game came in playing Intrigue Cards, which either gained you a benefit over your fellow Lords, hampered your opponents in some way, or sometimes did both! To play an Intrigue Card, you assign an agent to Waterdeep Harbor, and up to three agents can be assigned there over the course of a round – meaning there can be up to three nasty Intrigues played. Again, these cards add to the tactical complexity of the game, allowing players to do everything from cause another player to lose gold or adventurers, discard uncompleted quests, or assign them Mandatory Quests, which must be fulfilled before other quests can be turned in. I should note that the Mandatory Quests have very poor rewards – like 2 VPs – and waste your opponents adventurer resources to boot. Intrigue cards can also gain you gold and adventurers, extra turns, new buildings free of charge, and other advantageous benefits. And placing an agent to play an Intrigue card is not a set-back, as after all agents are in play, the agents in the Waterdeep Harbor are reassigned to regular locales, although the pickings might be slim for where they can be assigned.

So the game follows that “easy to play, hard to master” vision, but is still fast to learn. And the game play seemed very balanced to all of the players, and our VPs were almost always within 10 or so of each other until the very end. Despite the fact that there are some very hefty VP rewards from Quests, which made it feel momentarily like one player was going to sweep the game, using Intrigue cards and some shrewd agent deployment can allow the trailing players to slow down the leader very quickly, and give them time to catch up. Sadly, Khelben did not win the day, despite having a ton of completed Arcana quests in my pile – it was Larissa Neathal, the courtesan, who pulled out the win by gaining a whopping 6 VPs per building she built, and she had been quite involved in the real estate of the game from the get-go!

Overall Score: 4.6 out of 5.0

The Lords’ Assessment

Unanimously, all three Lords who played this session of Lords of Waterdeep had a great time, and were all very impressed with not only the appearance and look of the game, but how fun and balanced it was for everyone at the table. The game plays pretty fast with three players – 2.5 hours total including unboxing – although I daresay it might be a bit longer with more players We were also just learning the game for the first time, so maybe it plays even faster with experience? But regardless, the game was just an awesome play experience, and I certainly would love to see more board games of this caliber coming out from WotC, using the wonderful worlds of D&D to inspire even more challenging and fun games.

So until next review… I wish you Happy Gaming!

Author’s Note: This Reviewer received a complimentary copy of the product from which the review was written.

Grade Card (Ratings 1 to 5)

  • Presentation: 5.0
  • - Design: 5.0 (Awesome gameplay, easy to follow rules, quick to learn but hard to master!)
  • - Illustrations: 5.0 (Beautiful illustrations, gorgeous game board, loved the cards!)
  • Content: 4.75
  • - Crunch: 5.0 (Great for thinkers, fun strategies possible, love the intrigue)
  • - Fluff: 4.5 (Plenty of Forgotten Realms references, fairly immersive)
  • Value: 4.0 (Really decent price for a board game, especially considering the quality of the components)
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2.5 hours? That's long. The game is generally 60 minutes with 2-4 players, and 80-90 minutes with 5 players.

The author does say that includes unboxing, which likely includes explanation of rules along with set-up as well, a two-and-a-half hour "playtime" might not be totally, errr, outside the box. :)

Between this review and yours, MerricB, I'm likely to pick this game up at some point. It sounds fun.

These news sections read like ad copy.

They do.

As such, I've started to ignore them.

EDIT: I'll still read em as "product release news" so I can find out details about a new product, but I'm now ignoring them as helpful information on which to base an opinion.

MerricB's post was MUCH more balanced and believable, and he gave a similar rating...I trust his post quite a bit more regarding whether or not this is a quality product I might like.
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Quick question; is the player who's first player /always/ first? Or does the tower pass at EOR or something?

Reading the rules, I kept thinking like that felt like it /should/ be there, but I didn't see it.


Eternal Optimist
Quick question; is the player who's first player /always/ first? Or does the tower pass at EOR or something?

Reading the rules, I kept thinking like that felt like it /should/ be there, but I didn't see it.

First player stays first player until someone takes it from them by placing an agent at Castle Waterdeep. That player then stays first player until someone else uses the Castle.



5ever, or until 2024
Neuroglyph, much thanks for the detailed review.

As for "ad copy"...neither reviewer has held their punches with the WotC's in the past.

Maybe they actually liked the game.

Gaming Tonic

First Post
They do.

As such, I've started to ignore them.

EDIT: I'll still read em as "product release news" so I can find out details about a new product, but I'm now ignoring them as helpful information on which to base an opinion.

This review is an excellent example of how the game is played. I think that Forgotten Realms fans will really enjoy the game at least the first couple times. The game is quick and easy to play but it also had a few things that bothered me one of which was a quick fix. My review is here and it is no less or more an honest take on the game than this review. I like the news style because this is where I get the bulk of my rpg news and then filter to other sites for big opinion pieces.

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