Does Lords of Waterdeep properly capture the magic that made the board game a modern gateway classic?
Android & iOS
20 -30 Minutes
# of Players
1 - 5
Wizards of the Coast
Lords of Waterdeep is the classic gateway worker placement game which pits Lords against each other to collect resources which are used to complete quests and rack up victory points. The base game plays two to five players and usually takes around 20 minutes, but that can fluctuate with player count and decision making time. A turn in Lords of Waterdeep has each player taking turns placing an Agent on one of the available actions on the board. These actions can do a variety of things for you, ranging from generating resources (which are dubbed Adventures in this game), to allowing you to select new quests or construct new buildings which open up new Agent options for all players.
The goal of the game is to accumulate Victory Points and outscore your opponents. The largest source of VPs is completing quests which can provide significant points in one lump sum and some also provide bonus points for future actions. Secondary methods are available by use of buildings or Intrigue cards, which are cards a player may draw and then play to trigger an event. A game lasts eight rounds, an extra Agent is given to each player at the start of round 5, otherwise each round is identical.
Lords of Waterdeep is the oldest five year old board game out there, and I mean that as a compliment. If you came into the gaming world in the past few years, there’s a very good chance you came across the recommendation of LoW as a gateway worker placement game. There is very good reason for that, it is truly a classic worker placement game. It introduces players to the most common aspects of the genre, from getting used to other players stealing the actions you wanted, to light engine building aspects, and so on down the line. The game has stood the test of time because there is a rewarding amount of depth that new players will come to love, the satisfaction of properly planning and executing a plan for big points, even when your “friend” next to you keeps taking your preferred actions, is extremely rewarding.
The variation in the game comes from the randomly drawn cards: quests, Intrigue, and buildings. Also, each player is assigned a specific Lord at the beginning of the game, this information is hidden but each Lord has their own quest types which will earn bonus points during end of game scoring. Quest cards are the most important, but they pass through the play area enough that you likely won’t be at the mercy of the draw there. Intrigue cards are a fun addition as a way to earn some extra Adventures, gold, Intrigue or quest cards. They can also have a “take that” aspect to them and harm your opponents, although never devastatingly so. While most games inevitably end up looking mostly similar, there is a need to “play your hand” here, if you complete a quest card early that gives VP bonuses for playing an Intrigue card, for example, that can shape your decision making going forward.
Lords of Waterdeep fits a category I have discussed as being underserved in the past: medium weight board game apps with asynchronous, cross-platform online play. One of the motivations for starting this website was my inability to find a game that met that criteria. At this time of writing this review, our website has reviewed 30 games. The only one outside of Lords of Waterdeep that fits the criteria is Galaxy Trucker. There are a few card games that match, but they aren’t board games. A few lighter games that don’t quite scratch the itch and even a few heavier games. Those occupying the middle ground are difficult to find. As such, I personally welcomed the Android release of Lords of Waterdeep with open arms after enjoying the iOS version for so long. Let’s see how it stacks up.
Barrier to Entry
Lords of Waterdeep has a tutorial series, a rulebook, and a card gallery. The tutorial series is broken down into five rule-explaining tutorials, one interface tutorial, and two tutorials introducing the available expansions. The five part rule series is well done, each taking you through a turn in the game, adding basic game components each time. Upon completion you should have a decent idea of the game, but, like always, it will probably take a full game or two before everything really starts to sink in. The interface tutorial is always a welcome addition, it is meant for those who have played the physical game and just need an overview on the app. Another welcome sight are the expansion tutorials. These are available to complete even if you don’t have the expansions purchased. This is a great idea by the developer as it allows you to sample the fun additions brought to the game by the expansions.
The rulebook provides a concise overview of the key aspects of the game. The card gallery is always a nice touch to allow you to see what the various card abilities exist in the game. Overall, Lords of Waterdeep does a good job of teaching new players how to play the game.
A nice tutorial list
Sharp looking menu
A look at a quest card
Look and Feel
The app is well designed with attractive menus and quality in-game setup. The controls are all intuitive and don’t need much explanation which is always nice.
On the down side, there are a few issues here. The first are the load times, which are up there with the longest we’ve seen in any of our reviewed apps so far. It doesn’t help at all that they include a sporadically updating progress bar that can stall out at any point and rarely shows as a constantly increasing percentage. This sluggishness carries over to the in-game animations, there is a setting to speed these up, but they remain slow even on the fastest setting. On the control side of things, on a phone the preciseness required for a drag-and-drop is unforgiving. I get requiring a relatively close drop to execute an action, as the last thing you want is a player to take an unwanted action, but there are two issues with that: the board layout is so well done that none of the actions are THAT close for this to be a big issue and there is an undo button for every action. Granted, I would also complain if I had to hit undo 10 times a game, but I think there is likely some room for improvement without crossing that line.
Finally, I can’t move on without mentioning the portrait versus landscape debate. The game was originally launched nearly four years ago exclusively on iOS. That version was played in portrait mode which makes a fair bit of sense as the physical game board has a portrait design. Fast forward to summer 2017 when the app was released on Android and Steam, and updated on iOS. The game was now played in landscape mode. Having played both, I will throw my two cents in that I don’t mind horizontal mode at all. I know there are some out there who were really bothered by the change, I don’t mean to discount that opinion, but simply want to state that I think the horizontal mode is completely functional and if you were picking up this app for the first time, you likely wouldn’t have any complaints on the layout.
Lords of Waterdeep can be played cross-platform, near real time or asynchronously over the course of (up to) 45 days with two to five players. Each game has a timeout per player which is the amount of time each player has over the course of the game to complete their turns. 45 minutes provides a near real-time experience, while 45 days ensures you have as much time as you need to complete your turn. Waterdeep works well as an asynchronous game because just about everything is open information, you can easily catch up on what you, and your opponents, might be going for each time you open the game. There is also a handy game log if you want more detail.
The online game uses the familiar chess ELO ranking system, everybody starts at 1500 and rises or falls after wins or losses. There aren’t any game-specific options to toggle other than the timeout period. If you purchase expansions you can choose which of them to use. For normal play, you can browse a lobby of games looking for players, or create your own. If you want a quicker experience you can try to create a Quick Match in which the game will attempt to pair you with somebody(s) looking for the same game type.
The online lobbies for the game have had roughly a dozen games, at a minimum, available for joining in the days since the update/release. This is a good sign for an active player base.
The game also supports local pass-and-play.
Single player is played against AI opponents at three different difficulty levels: Simple, Average, and Cunning. For experienced players, Cunning can be deceptively easy against only one or two AI opponents. The game gets much more difficult at higher player count, which is a worker placement staple as the chances of you being able to complete your desired actions diminish. Having played a fair amount of Waterdeep, I still find myself losing to Cunning, which is a great sign for the shelf life of this app. On the other end, Simple is there for learning purposes, the challenge won’t last very long for most players. Average expectedly lands in the middle.
The starting board
Post-game scoring breakdown
Lords of Waterdeep, the board game, has Scoundrels of Skullport as an expansion. This is a highly recommended addition to the game, and for good reason. It adds some really neat mechanics, cards, and action opportunities to the game.
The app offers the contents of Scoundrels of Skullport, but has split it into two in-app purchases: Undermountain and Skullport. Undermountain adds a new board module which opens up new actions for your Agents as well as adding a game mechanic which requires players place resources on action spaces. This gives added bonus for taking certain actions. This expansion also adds some extremely high point quest cards which certainly change the game. Finally, Undermountain contains a sixth faction which opens up the game to allow six players instead of the normal five. Skullport also adds its own module to open up new action spaces. Additionally, it introduces a new resource type: Corruption. Corruption has some tricky specifics, but essentially is punishment for taking certain actions. At the end of the game VPs are deducted based on how much Corruption you have accumulated.
The expansions are a big part of adding replayability to Waterdeep, if you enjoy the game you will likely want to pick up the expansions.
The Wrap Up
Lords of Waterdeep is a modern classic gateway game. It does a fantastic job of introducing worker placement mechanics and has some fun variation off of the genre to keep you busy for a while. The full suite of online play options is really what is going to sell this game. If you are a fan of the game, there is endless replay value to be found here with the expansions and active online base.
On the downside, the implementation isn’t perfect. Some nagging control issues could probably use some touching up. The visuals (i.e. landscape mode) and sluggishness are something that I can overlook to play a great game, but they understandably will be major issues to others.
Update (9/11/17): I had a finished version of this review ready to go with a score of 4.0, one of the primary complaints being the lack of notifications for online games on Android. The morning we were going to publish, the app was updated with a fix. After verifying the fix worked, I removed the complaints, and scored the app 4.5 as that was the only significant bug for me. Fast forward a few days, the Android notifications are broken. You still receive the email notifications, which are enabled by default, but that is an incredibly inefficient way to play. As such, I have lowered the score back to 4.0 and will leave it there until this issue is fixed. Apologies if somebody found this review before this update in which the notifications were broken. We never intend to mislead anybody with our reviews. We will update this review, again, if/when this bug is fixed. Not having notifications for async play greatly diminishes the utility of that play mode, so I feel this issue is big enough to warrant the drop in score.
Updated (10/12/17): I had to switch to an older phone for a few days and with it an older Android version. The notifications worked fine in the older Android OS. They continue to not work on Oreo. Given that this is the latest version, we still feel it is fair to keep the score at 4.0 until the issue is fixed.