In our continuing monthly look at great tabletop titles to distract you from your digital gaming, we move from last month’s Star Wars RPG to a surprising board game from the folks at Wizards of the Coast, best known as the publishers of Magic: The Gathering and Dungeons & Dragons. Lords of Waterdeep draws on the fiction of the latter, transporting players to the infamous D&D city of Waterdeep for a game of urban intrigue. However, unlike the ubiquitous role-playing game, Lords of Waterdeep draws strongly on the traditions of Euro games like The Settlers of Catan, Puerto Rico, and Agricola, in which luck takes a back seat to careful tactical choices.

While smart and strategic thinking is at the heart of the game, Lords of Waterdeep (designed by Rodney Thompson and Peter Lee) manages to be easy to learn and quick to play – an ideal choice for a gaming night that mixes longtime tabletop gamers with relative newcomers. And the great fantasy overtones certainly don’t hurt. 

Getting Started

Wizards of the Coast has outdone itself with the production value of the components in Lords of Waterdeep. High-quality wooden pieces are deployed across an attractive board that depicts a map of the city. Evocative fantasy art graces the cards and box, and the various cardboard token pieces are sturdy and solidly crafted. 

I also have to give a nod to the developer for its immaculate storage inset, which perfectly fits all the game pieces and serves as an attractive place to keep tokens and pieces in the midst of a game. Longtime hobby gamers are familiar with the frustration of a box that doesn’t hold its components well, but Lords of Waterdeep dramatically improves setup and cleanup time through smart organization and presentation. 

As a result, setting up a new game is quick and largely painless. Two to five players each choose one of the secretive lords and a set of agents that will enact your will in the city, represented by wooden playing figures. Players then take turns sending agents out into the city, recruiting adventurers to join your cause, and sending those adventurers on quests to further their influence. The game plays out in a standard number of turns, assuring that a full playthrough is faster than many strategic board games; my experience has been that a full game plays out in a little under two hours with new players, and experienced players can manage a game even faster. 

[Next up: Recruiting adventurers, completing quests, and messing with your buddies]