Review: Lords of Waterdeep (iOS)

Lords of Waterdeep (LoW) started life as a table top board game. Set in the Dungeons and Dragons universe yet foregoing the more hardcore aspects of that game, LoW is part of a genre of games known as “Worker Placement”, sitting alongside the greats in the genre such as Le Havre and Agricola. In late 2013 it was ported over to Apple platforms by Playdek, the same development studio behind other excellent board game to digital conversions such as the excellent Ascension: Chronicle of the Godslayer, Agricola and Summoner Wars. Those were all excellent, faithful conversions of the board games upon which they were based, so it should come as no surprise that Waterdeep is just as good. In fact, it may be their most polished game yet.

Lords of Waterdeep takes place in the city of Waterdeep, one of the Dungeons and Dragons universe’s most important cities. D&D lore says the city is governed by a group of masked Lords, whose real identities are not known, even to one another. In the game, you take on the role of one of these mysterious Lords. Over the course of eight rounds, players must complete quests and build buildings, all to further their own goals (and, in doing so, get bonus points at the end of the game). To do this, you place one of your agents on one of several buildings dotted around the board. By doing so, you gain resources, such as adventurers who will complete quests for you, money to help you build buildings, and access to new quests to complete. All the while you are aware of your own identity, of course, but other players don’t know your identity until after the eighth round, when final scoring occurs and players masks are removed. It is surprisingly easy to learn and a lot of fun to play.

This sense of ease and fun translates well to the digital version of Waterdeep crafted by Playdek. From the game’s menus to its game interface, it’s all dead simple to use. Where this matters the most (on the virtual board), it works best; simply drag an agent from your agent pool to the desired building on the map, and the buildings resources are yours! Can’t read the text of a building or card? No worries. Double tap and the view zooms in to make it readable. Indeed, the zoomed in view of the board shows how a digital board game can be superior to a real board game, in that Playdek have added little flourishes like cloud animations floating over the city, as well as birds and dragons. It’s an almost superfluous feature, but it adds to the experience.

The strength of any board game relies on how much fun it is to play with friends, and this is true of digital board games as well. Thankfully, Playdek has nailed multiplayer In Waterdeep, so much so that it is one of the few games that I play almost exclusively in multiplayer mode (Playdek’s own Ascension and Agricola are, interestingly enough, two of the others). While Waterdeep comes with a perfectly fine single player mode, it’s not as much fun to face off against a computer opponent as it is to play against a human (or four). Waterdeep is played asynchronously, so you can make your moves at your own pace, with a notification letting you know when it’s time to make your move.

The multiplayer component of Waterdeep uses the same servers as Playdek’s other multiplayer games, so if you have an account for Ascension or Summoner Wars, for example, you already have one for Waterdeep. While this is a great system for creating games against random opponents and players you’ve added to your friends list, it isn’t as great for setting up games with friends who’ve never played any of these games before. To add a friend, you need to get them to install the game, set up an account and then tell them your username, or find out theirs. Then you need to invite them to start a game, or have them do that to you. Then you can add them to your friend list, at which point future matches become easier. It’s a bit unintuitive, and worst of all it makes it harder to convince your actual friends to play with you. A system that would allow you to invite friends, either via email or Game Centre, would make things easier. Without this, it means that for the most part, your matches will be fought against human opponents who are nothing but a username to you.

Similarly, it is odd that Playdek hasn’t implemented a chat system for multiplayer, either in Waterdeep or any of their other games. The banter that takes place during tabletop board games is another aspect that makes them fun, and it’s sad that you can’t do this in Waterdeep. I’ve played numerous games against other users, both strangers and friends, and they’ve all been played in silence. It would be nice if this feature were added in a future update.

Speaking of a future update, Playdek recently announced it would be releasing the first expansion to Waterdeep, the excellent Scoundrels of Skullport. Look forward to a review of that game when it’s released in a few weeks time.

Apart from some match making issues and the strange lack of in-game chat, Lords of Waterdeep is an excellent game. It nails the look and feel of the tabletop game, and this makes it fun and easy to play for fans and newcomers alike.

Final Score: 8.9 out of 10.

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