After you’ve played Agricola a handful of times, you might find yourself thinking something like “huh… this is fun, but the setting is a hair… provincial.” You might find yourself wanting to play a game with a similar mechanic but a somewhat more fantastic setting.
Hence: Lords of Waterdeep.
It’s got most of the hallmarks of worker placement games… the competition is indirect, there’s only limited ability to mess with your opponents, and the scoring is somewhat obfuscated from the players until the very end of the game (though you still can get a pretty good idea of who is doing well and who is doing poorly).
The conceit is that you are one of the eponymous lords of Waterdeep and you are trying to gain influence. Place your worker here and get two thieves, place your worker there and get 4 units of currency, place your worker over there and build a building (which can then be a new place where people might place their workers). While interaction is limited between everyone, it somewhat possible for you to throw a bit of a spanner (but not much of one) into the works of the people against whom you’re playing (or, for that matter, give them a bit of a nudge of help). This is done by way of playing an “intrigue” card. (And you have to place your worker in a place that will let you play an intrigue card first.) Some intrigue cards let you steal ownership of another player’s building. Some intrigue cards let you force your opponents to defeat a short quest before beating another quest. Some intrigue cards give you a couple of thieves or fighters or what have you… and have you choose a co-player to also receive one. A well-timed intrigue card can really mess with an opponent, I suppose… but you’d have to time it impeccably.
All this time that you’re accumulating fighters, thieves, clerics, and mages, you’re using these units to accomplish quests of five different “flavors”: Arcana, Skullduggery, Piety, Warfare, and Commerce (and you won’t be surprised to hear that the first four of these “flavors” tends to rely upon units associated with them… wizards with Arcana, thieves with Skullduggery, clerics with Piety, fighters with warfare). Each quest gives you influence points. Some quests give you a small amount of influence but only cost a small amount (or give rewards that involve things other than influence, some additional units, perhaps. Perhaps bonus influence for future quests.) Some quests give you a great deal of influence but require a much greater investment (for example, there are quests that give 40 (!) influence but they require an entire handful of units to complete).
And, at the end of the game, you reveal which particular Lord of Waterdeep you are and you get bonus points for the appropriate quests you’ve got under your belt. One Lord gives you bonus points for Skullduggery and Arcana quests, another gives you bonus points for Warfare and Piety. All kinds of Lords for all kinds of combinations. Count up the points and figure out who has the most influence.
A good game will take somewhere around 90 minutes.
I really can’t recommend this game enough.
So… what are you playing?
(Picture is HG Wells playing a war game from Illustrated London News (25 January 1913))