Let me be very upfront about this: I don’t like Lords of Waterdeep. The boardgame. I’m just talking about the boardgame for now. It’s a me-too worker placement game without any meaningful twist other than its forced connection to a fantasy license. What is the fantasy analog to these “agents” we’re placing every turn? Why am I visiting the harbor to commit intrigue? So why are the orange cubes warriors? The purple cubes might as well be ham, silk, elerium, or monarchy points. Oh, they’re wizards. I see. Purple wizards. It’s all worthy of a breakfast cereal and not much else. If I want a good worker placement with distinct theming — or even moderately realized theming instead of this desperate effort to appeal to the Official Dungeons & Dragon Fanbase — I’ll play Carson City, Dominant Species, or Agricola. Lords of Waterderp. See what I did there?
After the jump, now let’s talk about this iOS port.
Given that I don’t like the boardgame because I’d rather be playing something better, what are my choices on the iOS? There is no iOS version of Carson City. This iOS Dominant Species is one of those sad little games without a meangingful AI. The iOS Caylus is fine, but it’s just Caylus, the long obsolete prototype for worker placement. I could dice my way through the snappy iOS version of Stone Age, but that’s so light and dicey that it hardly counts. The real alternative to Lords of Waterdeep is Agricola, also published by Playdek. Agricola is a grand iOS game, but there’s something so oppressively staid about the design. It’s punishing and austere. It’s the worker placement game that tricks you with hearty Lutheran garb around its cold Presbyterian heart. You think you’re going to be cavorting with thick-ankled milkmaids and adorable piglets, but it’s all starvation and begging and no room for another baby, much less a spare pig. It’s so Uwe Rosenberg. You expect this ruthlessness in Le Havre’s steely industries. But out here on the farm?
Lords of Waterdeep, on the other hand, is a much more rough and tumble game of direct cockblocking. There’s plenty of jostling, but also plenty of direct interference with its intrigue cards. It’s the older brother that punches you too hard on the shoulder to Agricola’s wrathful Old Testament god and Medieval deprivation. It’s a dopey fantasy world that plays fast and loose and forgettably, every bit as goofy as Stone Age even though it takes itself super seriously. Yeah, yeah, the Crypt of Chauntea and an Eltorchul mage and whatever a Waymoot is. I’m sure that all means something to someone, but I’m just here for a bowlful of worker placement comfort food.
But just as with Agricola, Playdek has a problem getting the necessary info onscreen at once (Codito’s port of Le Havre remains the standard for how to optimize the iPad’s screen real estate for a complex boardgame). The little animated trappings are nice enough, and far more modest than Agricola, but I’d rather have a better overview of the game. Lords of Waterdeep should be constantly concerned with what quests and resources each player has. Unfortunately, this is info tucked onto slideaway panels, and you can only see one at a time. There’s far too much sliding of panels for things that should absolutely always be visible. At least in Agricola, the charm was considerable enough to almost make it worth swiping around all those screens. But Lords of Waterdeep offers only an expanse of cosmetic citymap.
Otherwise, Playdek does a fine job keeping the pace snappy, conveying the rules well enough, and providing an AI that can play the game. Let’s not underestimate the importance of that last point. Since the AI knows how to play the game, and is smart enough to play it well, you might never even need to try the multiplayer. Which is fortunate, because this is a terrible game for asynchronous multiplayer. The pacing is such that it requires frequent input for decisions from each player, often out of order. Have fun remembering what you were going to do a day or two later when your turn comes back around. But that’s hardly Pladek’s fault. They’ve done the yeoman’s work of adapting Lords of Waterdeep to multiplayer, and they furthermore haven’t shirked their duty making a viable single-player worker placement game that I can breeze through in a matter of minutes. Even if I don’t like the tabletop game.
Lords of Waterdeep
Lords of Waterdeep is a strategy board game for 2-5 players. You take on the role of one of the masked Lords of Waterdeep, secret rulers of the city. Through your agents, you recruit adventurers to go on quests on your behalf, earning rewards and increasing your influence over the city. It doesn't really have anything to do with Dungeons & Dragons, but we paid for the license, so we're darn well going to use it!