Lords of Waterdeep is a board game based on the world of Dungeons and Dragons. Waterdeep is the mythical town, known as the staring place for adventurers to go on their quests.
Players can play the iOS game asynchronously against online opponents, locally (via pass and play), or against AI.
But why review the iOS version?
1. Asynchronous games have a lot of interesting design space.
2. There aren’t mainy great implementation of asynchronous play.
The goal of Lords of Waterdeep is to gather the most victory points by completing quests. To complete a quest, players trade adventurers (different colored cubes) they have collected.
The game is a worker placement game. This means that each turn players place a worker on a certain location which gives them cubes, coins, or a special ability.
There are two core mechanics in Lords of Waterdeep. Players collect adventurers and then trade them to complete quests.
The main thing players will do on a turn is place a worker on a space to collect colored cubes. It’s that simple. The game doesn’t rely on spatial relationships, which allows it to not be limited by a phone’s small screen size.
Players may spend a worker to collect adventure cards and draw action cards.
It’s small, but the advantage of playing on iOS is having the heads up display of your totals. This helps players understand the board state. This actually makes it much easier to calculate how close you are to completing a certain quest.
Exchanging Squares for Victory Conditions
Once a player places their worker, they may exchange adventurers they control for victory points on their quest cards.
For a worker placement game, it’s straightforward. There are two exchanges that have to make place. Workers -> grab cubes, Cubes -> Victory Points. Only having two exchanges limits analysis paralysis because it’s clear to see how any given action will result in victory points.
Some quests grant bonuses as well as victory points upon completion. Players are granted extra adventurers, coins, or action cards upon completing certain quests. This is a bonus that can help players chain quest completions during their turn.
There is a second type of quest, called a plot quest which has further impacts on the game after completion. The most common type of plot quest is a quest that grants extra victory points for quests of the same type. There are also quests which grant adventurers or coins based on actions you take the rest of the game.
These bonuses give players a clear path forward through the game. It’s a great example of lenticular design. For novice players, getting bonuses presents a clear strategy: “Oh I’m going to take all Skullduggery quests from now on!”. Yet, for more experienced players, it gives more potential paths forward.
Getting a bonus character halfway through the game.
During the 5th round, every player receives a 4th worker. For the first half of the game, this means rounds progress quickly. At the end of the game, players have more potential actions to take during a round. At the same time, the board clutters up faster which increases the tension at the end of the game. Adding an extra worker also means players feel less like the game caused their loss.
Player “powers” that give bonuses at the end of the game.
Each player gets a hidden power that will grant them bonus points at the end of the game. These usually relate to types of quests or building extra buildings. While this seems to add a deduction element to the game, (especially on iOS) their doesn’t seem to be a large payoff for figuring out a player’s bonuses.
Player powers show one of the big challenges (positive and negative) of the iOS format. The positive is that you get powers and bonuses regardless of whether you remember them. In a “in-person” board game, if you forget to use a power, you lose the bonus. But, because of the limited real estate on a phone, some information has to stay hidden. In the case of Waterdeep, this means that player bonuses get hidden unless you remember to check. I noticed myself picking up a game and making a poor decision because I forgot my special power.
Drawing and playing cards which grant special powers
Players also collect and play action cards to interact with opponents. Actions mainly involve stealing cubes, grabbing extra cubes, completing extra quests, and giving mandatory quests. A mandatory quest gives an opponent few victory points but they must complete it before they can attempt others.
What’s especially clever about the action card mechanic is that players can use it to take extra actions. After all players have used their pieces, the players used a worker to play an action card, may replay that worker. It incentivises players to take advantage of the flexibility action cards offer.
Building buildings which give more access to special cards
These choices would add up to a very satisfying (but dry) game without the ability to expand. This is exactly what buildings add to the game. Building is another worker zone where players can pay coins to expand the resource of available options. Buildings add worker placement spaces where players can collect coins and adventureres.
1. It changes the shape of the game from play session to play session. Certain types of adventurers will be easier to find in one play through versus another.
2. It gives players the ability to generate passive income. When another player uses your building, you get victory points, adventurers, or coins.
Lords of Waterdeep is an exciting and dynamic game, but what can game designers learn from it?
Flatten the game!
Because information is accessible on the top level of the screen makes the game more grokkable. Players can quickly understand the game state and decide on their action for the turn. The challenge is making sure this doesn’t turn the game into a massive spreadsheet.
Pay Close Attention to Player Turns
It’s very noticeable when your turn has to be paused so another player can make a decision. Waterdeep mitigates these, but it’s a clear design constraint of asynchronous play. Make sure a player can complete their turn before passing the game to the next player.
Replay on re-entry
Every time you re-open the game, Waterdeep replays the last turn(s) your opponents have taken. While waiting can be frustrating, it helps contextualize the game as you re-acclimate youself to what you have to do. It’s important to remember with asynchronous games that players are not continually playing. This means the game must handle reminding the player about what’s going on, every time they open the app.
Thanks for joining me for the review! See you next week when I talk about Yoshi’s Wooly World.