Some Thoughts on Lords of Waterdeep

At just over five years old, Lords of Waterdeep is a modern classic — which is a polite way of saying that, in boardgame years, it’s kind of old. On the other hand, considering that it’s still being played five years later demonstrates that it’s withstood the test of time thus far; personally, I’ll rarely turn down an opportunity to play it.

We had six guys at our recent game night — slightly more than our usual four or five. Most of the games in our respective collections top out at five or less. Furthermore, Ty was joining us the first time, so we wanted to avoid jumping too far into the deep end right away. These parameters narrowed down our options pretty significantly. Fortunately he did have some prior gaming experience (including playing D&D), so Lords of Waterdeep fit the bill perfectly.

At its core, Lords of Waterdeep is a fairly straightforward worker-placement game. Each player, taking on the role of one of the hidden (as in, secret) lords of the City of Splendors, sends their agents out to various locations around the city to recruit adventurers to go out and complete quests. The rewards for completing quests normally come in the form of influence over the city, represented by victory points, but they can also take the form of gold or even additional adventurers. Taking a page from Ticket to Ride, each player is randomly assigned a lord at the start of the game which gives them bonus points at the end, typically based on types of quests completed, but there are a few exceptions.

There are five basic resources in the game: four types of adventurers (fighters, rogues, clerics, wizards) and gold coins. Each quest requires a specific group of adventurers, and frequently a sum of gold as well. Gold is also used to purchase buildings — other locations around the city where agents can be sent in order to recruit adventurers, earn gold, or gain other types of benefits, ranging from the relatively mundane to the quite powerful. Of course, this being a worker-placement game, there is also a sixth resource, the most precious one of all, hidden in plain sight: the number of actions available to you over the course of the game, represented by the number of agents under your control. Each player has the same number of agents throughout the game, but there are a few ways to do some “sequence breaking” and acquire additional actions.

Everything functions within a fairly tight set of parameters. Although not explicitly stated, there’s a firm exchange rate in place on the relative value of adventurers, which can be seen with a little effort by comparing the number of adventurers required to complete a quest with the rewards that it yields. Essentially, two coins equals one fighter or rogue, and two fighters or rogues (or one of each) is equal to one cleric or wizard. The starting locations also bear this out, as you can recruit fighters and rogues in pairs at their usual hangouts, but only a single cleric or wizard at their respective locations. There’s also a starting location that earns you four coins.

There is a clear effort in the design to balance all of the moving parts and for the benefits of each action to be incremental and sometimes even beneficial for multiple parties. For example, when a player sends an agent to building, that player receives the reward for placing their agent there, but the owner also receives a small bonus as well. Likewise, Intrigue Cards will frequently provide a bonus to multiple players, not just the one who plays it. Even Intrigue Cards that attack other players aren’t terribly punishing.

The board is reasonably sized, but you’ll never have too much space available to play this game.

 

For those steeped in D&D lore (specifically, the Forgotten Realms campaign setting), the game takes on extra flavor and immersion. The quests themselves are fairly thematic. For example, a mission to break into an ancient crypt is primarily rogues’ work, but a wizard or two may be necessary in order to assist with any magical dangers that may be present.

On the other hand, a common criticism of game is that the theme feels tacked-on. This is a fair assessment, and something that will be felt most acutely by those who are not familiar with the setting. Extrapolating from the name of a quest why a particular group of adventurers is needed requires a little imagination on the parts of the players, and being familiar well-versed with D&D, or fantasy tropes in general at the very least, is definitely helpful in this regard. Making the extra effort to refer to the cubes as the type of adventurers that they represent (not simply by their color) along with reading the little bits of flavor text that are present on the Quest and Intrigue cards will also go a long way for creating a sense of immersion.

The tight design of Lord’s of Waterdeep, whileone of its greatest strengths, is also an easy target for criticism. For all of the flavor present in the quests, there really is no differentiating one type of quest from another. Sure, Piety quests will typically require clerics and Skullduggery will require rogues, but they’re all simply worth points in the end based on a fairly straightforward calculation and they are mechanically identical; the only reason to choose one over another is based on the particular lord you’ve drawn and the types of quests they earn bonus points for.

The burdens that accompany the role of being one of the hidden lords of Waterdeep proved to be too much for Spike.

 

Expansions
Lords of Waterdeep has two expansions available (or “modules” as they are referred to within the game, a nod to classic D&D lingo): Undermountain and Skullport. Both come in a single expansion set called Scoundrels of Skullport (a questionable marketing move since by focusing on “Skullport,” the name downplays the fact that there are two expansions present in the package).

Undermountain is basically what Prosperity is to Dominion: no changes to core mechanics or gameplay, just more of it, bigger and better. It adds a new section to the board with several powerful areas where lords can send their agents, along with bigger quests that require larger groups of adventurers going for bigger payoffs, and more expensive buildings that provide greater benefits to their patrons. It adds a new layer of decision-making: is it better to complete several lower-point quests, or go for more difficult but higher-value ones? Worker-placement games are fundamentally about action economy and determining optimal moves. It takes fewer actions to complete a single higher-value quest, but it requires more actions to recruit the requisite number of adventurers, so it’s not always clear which is the better decision.

I’m not sure if there’s a direct Dominion analog for Skullport. Alchemy would probably be the closest because, as with Alchemy, Skullport also adds a new resource type and with it, new mechanics: corruption. “Resource” is actually a misnomer because, while it must be carefully managed, it’s a negative side effect that comes frim sending agents down into Skullport, the seedy (literal) underbelly of Waterdeep, represented by another separate board with new starting locations, or by participating in particularly unsavory actions (new quests and Intrigue Cards). The payoffs for sending your agents to these places is significantly greater than for sending them to the more reputable parts of the city, but they come at a steep price — represented by subtracting victory points for every corruption token that you possess (or does they possess you?) at the end of the game. In a really clever example of game design, the tokens start out on a corruption track and are removed as players earn them, revealing a progressively worse negative value for each token. A small taste of corruption can help an ambitious lord get ahead; too much will easily bury him or her in the end. As with Undermountain, Skullport introduces its own set of new buildings, quests, and Intrigue Cards.

Each expansion adds three new lords to the game, with benefits that are more interesting than the standard “earn 4 victory points for these two types of quests” from the base game. In our gaming group, we have a house rule where we divide the lords according to whether they come from the base game or the expansions. Each player is randomly given one from each group and chooses the one that they wish to play as. My personal favorite is the beholder crime lord of Skullport known as the Xanathar.

In a nearly complete inversion of the corruption mechanic, and one of the rare instances where the mechanics and theme of using a particular lord converge, the Xanathar actually scores 4 VP for each corruption token at the end of the game. The catch is that he still takes the penalty as well. Effective play with the Xanathar comes down to making the most of locations and quests that confer corruption, carving out enough of a lead over the other players during the game in order to still be in the lead even after lords are revealed and bonus points for quest type are awarded. This is decidedly not how it turned out for me during my group’s last game.

I got the Xanathar! Oh, happy day.

 

We played the full version of the game, using both expansions, and I was thrilled that I drew the Xanathar as one of my lords. However, I ended up struggling to score many points during the game, due to a combination of some sub-optimal choices I made early on, as well as the vissicitudes of the game, particularly which quests came up. There was a relatively low number of the big 40-point quests that showed up, which meant that they were even more valuable when someone was able to score one. Despite having a fairly high number of completed quests none of them were of the coveted 40-point variety, and I finished in fourth place.

My resources and completed quests at the end of the game. Needs more points.

 

For almost the entire game, it appeared that Nick was going to finish closer to the bottom than the top. Nick has earned the reputation of being our resident game shark, so no matter who wins, it’s always at least a minor victory for everyone else as long as it’s not him. [Just kidding, Nick, you’re awesome! Please don’t take umbrage and destroy me even worse in whatever game we play next!] However, in the last round, he pulled off an impressive combo involving a couple of different Intrigue cards and Quests, rocketing past several other players on the score track, and finishing tied with Joe at a respectable 124 points after bonus points were tallied. Of course, being Nick, he ended the game with more coins in his tavern than Joe, winning the tie-breaker and the game.

Although it wasn’t a very good showing for me, I got to make some fun plays over the course of the game. I drew an “Open Lord” Intrigue Card early on. Playing it meant that I revealed to everyone that I was, in fact, the Xanathar, but it also made me immune to Mandatory Quests and other attacks from the other players for the remainder of the game. I was also able to complete the “Unleash Crime Spree” quest during my final turn, true to form for the Xanathar and a (im)moral victory at least. I may not have won, but I got to tell a fun story with the quests that I completed.

It was an enjoyable game with an exciting and unbelievable ending, and I’m happy to have logged another play with this classic.

 

40k Paint & Play – Weeks 3 & 4

I got a little behind with my summaries of my Paint & Play games, so I’m doing a double for this post.

Week 3
In the third round, I faced off against the poster boys of 40k, the Ultramarines, led by none other than the biggest space marine of them all, Mr. Bobby G (aka, Roboute Guilliman). My opponent Brett expressed some concern at the start of the game about the line of bugs that were staring down his marines, but they proved to be unfounded. We played the “Relic” mission which, combined with our deployment zones resulted in a starting setup that I like to call “yelling distance for angry neighbors across apartment buildings.”

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The battle lines at the start of the game. Turn 1. Before any units had moved.

 

Brett went first and managed to shoot my Carnifex into oblvion during his first turn. The game played out fairly predictably, with my bugs charging towards his line of marines, attempting to get into melee, and getting shot up in the process. I deployed my trygon and genestealers behind his line on my first turn, but they also mostly got shot to pieces by overwatch fire, with the ones that made it into melee proving to be largely ineffective.

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What was left of my army, not long after the start of the game.

 

Despite losing most of my army fairly early in the game, I was going to make a last-ditch effort to use the Swarmlord’s Hive Commander ability to have the remaining termagants capture the relic then retreat back to my side of the table, forcing Brett’s units to chase them down and possibly surviving long enough to steal a victory. Unfortunately, the Swarmlord, perhaps in a moment of desperation, was overzealous in his attempt to channel the power of the warp and rolled double 6’s, melting his brain, along with his last remaining wound, in the process. Not only did he die before getting to use his Hive Commander ability on my termagants, but as an added bonus, the unleashed psychic energy managed to kill a few of them too. It would have been perfect if they had been just a little closer because then the Swarmlord’s death throes would have caught them as well, possibly killing off the rest of the unit, but you can’t have everything, I suppose. With only a few termagants remaining and Brett’s entire army still intact, I conceded the game.

 

Week 4
In Week 4, I faced off against George and his Tzeentch army, a welcome change after three weeks of playing against various Imperium armies. We were back to using points to determine the victor for this game. George deployed his units of pink, blue, and brimstone horrors in layers around his Lord of Change and dug into some craters, awaiting the Tyranid onslaught.

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I picked off a few cheap models during the early shooting phases, slowly carving away the cheaper screening units providing cover for the more valuable ones behind. My trygon arrived behind enemy lines as usual, this time bringing a unit of termagants, while the rest of my foot-sloggers advanced. A moderate-sized unit of termagants equipped with devourers is able to lay down a respectable amount of firepower, and they managed to decimate a unit of horrors on their first turn.

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I continued to chew through George’s fodder during my shooting phases. George maneuvered a unit of Screamers of Tzeentch to tie up my hormagaunts, but the bulk of my force continued to advance, and the Swarmlord, genestealers and trygon were fairly effective once they were able to close for melee. At one point, George informed me that it felt like I had his army on the ropes. I didn’t have a good enough grasp of his army to accurately assess the situation myself, but I took his word for it.

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However, my trygon eventually succumbed to the sheer number of smites that his various units were able to pull off in the psychic phase. In an effort to tie up more of his units and get an extra round of melee, I ran the Swarmlord ahead of his tyrant guard retinue. He did a decent amount of damage to the Lord of change, but was left more susceptible without the unit of guards being close enough to absorb wounds for him. It came down to a slugfest between our two heaviest hitters, but the Swarmlord was the first to fall, despite the tyrant guard having caught up to him and absorbing a total of six wounds.

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I was actually able to quickly kill the chaos spawn that was created in the wake of the Swarmlord’s demise at the hands (talons?) of the Lord of Change. I had scored a good number of points by this point in the game, but the tables began to turn quickly. I’m blanking on the exact final score, but it was a moot point because George managed to wipe out the remainder of my army in the final moments of the game, tabling me and thus winning the game.

 

Takeaways from this game:

  • Learned more about more effective positioning with swarm armies.
  • Learned more about effectively using cheaper units as screens for more valuable ones.
  • Lack of synapse is less punishing in 8th edition, but being able to choose targets for shooting instead of having to default to the closest one can have an impact on the game.

 

 

My copy of Clank! arrived today

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In between dinner and bedtime (our daughter’s, not ours), we sleeved and prepped the game as a family, and my wife and I got in a few rounds of play, with the girl spectating off to the side. Our first impressions of this game are good. It’s always a plus when I find a new game that my wife genuinely enjoys. We would’ve played more, but my daughter protested the idea of missing out on “discovering the game together as a family” (her words) so much that I promised her we’d wait until tomorrow morning so that we could all play it together.

#100: Sir Conlan

For my 100th post I thought I’d wax nostalgic for a bit about one of my all-time favorite miniatures: Sir Conlan, from Reaper’s tabletop miniatures game, Warlord. The game itself has been dead for some time now, but they still sell the miniatures. Most of the sculpts are fairly high quality, and there are some standouts, but to be honest, most of it is the standard stuff that you’d expect to find in a range of fantasy minis. All of that aside, Sir Conlan holds a special place in my gaming history.

In the fall of 2004, I found myself at a Hobbytown USA in Pittsburgh, PA. At that point, I had been away from any serious tabletop gaming for several years. I was staring at a display wall of metal minis, many of which were part of something called “Warlord.” The blister packs contained not only the minis, but colorful cards with an image of a painted version of each miniature as well, and on the back was a a list of the figure’s stats and abilities. While I had painted plenty, I had only dabbled in miniatures games before, but I was genuinely intrigued by the Warlord minis, and I chose Sir Conlan as my first purchase.

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Sir Conlan 2004 (metal version)

I painted Sir Conlan over the course of the next week or two, at the same time trying to find out more about Warlord. I was already familiar with Reaper, but I didn’t know that they were making a fantasy miniatures game. I soon acquired the core rulebook for Warlord and, over the next several months, got a few games in with my wife and some of our friends. Sir Conlan was from the Crusaders faction, so that’s what I started collecting and painting. I didn’t have many official Warlord minis yet, so we proxied about 90% of our armies.

I also got back into playing D&D with a short-lived campaign that one of my friends ran during this time, and I liked the Sir Conlan miniature so much that I used him to represent my character, a half-elf fighter/mage. It wasn’t a perfect match, but it was close enough to work.

Today, while I still have a good portion of my collection of Warlord minis, it’s considerably smaller than it once was, and I haven’t actually played Warlord in several years. It’s a fine game, and I’m sure I’d enjoy it if I played it again; but the reality is that gaming is a social hobby, and it’s much easier to play games that already have an existing player base and not one that you have to build yourself.

Although it’s in my past now, I owe a debt of gratitude to WarlordLooking back, I can pinpoint the exact moment of my serious return to gaming; it took me several years to get as deep into tabletop gaming as I am now, but getting into Warlord, beginning with Sir Conlan, is where it started.

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The plastic Bones version, painted in 2016

Swarmlord WIP – Part 1

Behold, in all of his unpainted glory, the raw might of the Hive Mind made manifest in physical form, the Swarmlord! I decided I’m going to change things up a little for my next 40k match, and I’m bringing the Swarmlord along as part of my new list.

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I got into 40k partway through 5th edition, right when the new Tyranid codex came out. The Swarmlord made his debut in that codex, but the official model came some time later, when the Hive Tyrant kit was converted from metal to plastic and new bits were added that let you make either a regular Hive Tyrant, a Flyrant, or the Swarmlord. I stopped playing 40k right around the time that 6th edition was released. I didn’t get in a ton of 40k games the first time around, and I’ve never used the Swarmlord in a game before.

I got this model last fall when I picked up a bunch of second-hand monstrous creatures at a good discount*. The guy I got them used a ton of superglue and greenstuff because to assemble and magnetize this model, along with some other extremely sticky substance that left behind a considerable amount of residue. Fortunately, I was able to clean it off with some dish soap and elbow grease.

I didn’t anticipate having to do this much work to get this model ready. Frankly, the amount of time and effort required made getting the discount from buying it used a wash. Unfortunately, there wasn’t any mention of the sticky residue in the auction description.  I’ve been more and more disappointed with eBay sellers lately.

The swords were magnetized, but the magnets in the torso sockets were so crudely placed that I decided to dig them out and clean out the excess greenstuff and superglue. I was originally planning on going all-out and making this a nearly fully-articulated model, but I decided in the end to keep it simple. I did add magnets to where the torso connects to the lower portion of his body, so at least it has one point of articulation, plus it’ll make transportation easier since I can separate the upper and lower portions of the body.

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Plus, I can mount the torso on a flying base from one of my screamers of Tzeentch!

 

*After writing this, I realized that I left the Swarmlord out of that picture that I linked to, but he did in fact arrive with those other guys.

40k Paint & Play – Week 2

So I’ve joined a 40k Paint and Play at my FLGS and played my first game the other day (with last week’s game retroactively counting as participating — Thanks, Matt!). This time around, my bugs faced an army of Salamanders run by Grant in a 1,000 point game.

The view from my side of the table, before all the killing started (or dying, from the perspective of my nids).

 

Grant’s heavy weapons digging in inside of some ruins.

The game was a blow-out, with me having lost my entire army except for two units of termagants by the end of the third turn, with Grant having suffered only a few wounds to a rhino by that point. I thought I was being clever by having my trygon and genestealers tunnel up near Grant’s land raider, but the genestealers failed their charge and they all got flamed to death by said land raider along with the trygon before their next turn.

And once again, poor Old One Eye got killed before getting to close with any enemy units. I’m starting to think that he really needs to arrive in style in his own private tyrannocyte rather than trying to foot-slog it alongside the rest of the fodder.

 

They may only be termagants, but these guys got the most kills in this game for me, a rhino and several marines. My only kills of this game, actually.

 

I conceded the game by the end of turn 3, but we played a little longer to give me some more practice, basically doing drills with basic mechanics to help me get them down better, and Grant was a good sport about playing against a noob.

At this point, another Tyranid player named Luke stopped by and we all talked shop for a bit. He gave me some pointers on play and army construction that I’m planning on trying in next week’s game.