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Updated Review: Waterdeep on steroids!
on August 22, 2013
Lords of Waterdeep was awesome, and Scoundrels of Skullport makes it even bigger, better, and crazier, like the original game on steroids. You get two expansions in one: Undermountain and Skullport. Both feature 3 new Lord cards, 3 new basic building locations (each on a separate small game board), a ton of new buyable buildings, plus a huge amount of new quest and intrigue cards. Skullport includes a Corruption mechanic that penalizes your end-game points by the number of Corruption tokens (blue skulls) you have vs. how many remain on the included Corruption Track (also on a small game board). You gain Corruption by using the awesome new buildings or completing some of the crazy new quests. Corruption is easy to gain but hard to get rid of (ask any politician, lol), but the game includes a number of ways to get rid of it a bit at a time (such as through using certain buildings, completing certain quests, or playing certain intrigue cards). Corruption management is vital. Don't worry about it early, but be sure to start cutting back by mid-game and reversing the number whenever possible.
This expansion also includes a 6th player faction, The Gray Hands, and an extra agent meeple for each color with optional rules to play a long game where everyone starts with an extra agent (you must use the long game rules when playing with 6 people). There are also caravan tokens which stand in for large numbers of adventurer cubes in case the supply runs short. In a 3-player game, this only happened once, but I can see it being necessary with 4-6 players because you will gain a lot more adventurer cubes a lot faster using either or both expansions.
Tried playing a 3p long game with both expansions, and it tripled the game time to almost four hours, but it (mostly) flew by. Part of the length was because we were learning the new rules and freaking out over the expansion's super-powered new stuff, partly chatting, and one of the players suffers from "analysis paralysis" big time, with the other two having milder cases. Pretty sure the game would have only doubled in length if we were less chatty and more familiar with the expansions.
Some of the new stuff seems like it might be underpowered or overpowered (and we don't like half the new Lords, including Xanathar who makes your Corruption penalty less, or Halaster Blackcloak and Sangalor who only score by buying their expansion's buildings and completing its quests, which get diluted when using both expansions). Compare those lords to the one who lets you score 6 pts. from any 1 quest type of your choice, or 5 for each 10+ pt. quest you complete). There are several ways to play 2-3 or even more intrigue cards per turn, and that really slows the game down and feels unfair and overpowered to the rest of the players. That said, both my opponents in the 3 player game I mentioned had the ability to play multiple intrigue cards per turn and I still beat them by hardly playing any intrigue cards. I focused on Corruption management, going from a high of 7 to only 1 at the end, which was only worth -4 pts. to me (instead of -28 pts), and solving as many double digit pt. Piety quests as I could (including a 40 pt. one) to get my Lord bonus of 6 pts. for any 1 quest type of my choice.
If you combine both Undermountain and Skullport in the same game, you have to remove 12 buildings, 30 quests, and 25 intrigue cards from the base game to accommodate all the expansion stuff. That'd be fine--once--but the rules want you to do it every time you play by randomizing which base set bits are removed. I'm not sure I can imagine only playing with one set after trying both, so maybe the best solution in this case is just to yank all the crappiest stuff out of the base set once and never use them again. Also, when the game is prepped for using both sets next time, neither the new storage tray or base set hold the combined buildings and cards properly, resulting in unsightly sprawl with loose cards floating around and a bunch of buildings having to be split between both boxes--which sucks.
Nitpicks aside, I do love this expansion, and you get a TON of stuff to freshen up the game that will keep you going for months. It's a great value and a lot of fun. It's so big and crazy, I'm not sure what the designers can do for the next expansion, but I'm looking forward to finding out!
UPDATE #1: Decided after another game using both expansions at the same time that it's just too swingy, too super-crazy, and unpredictable. And the Xanathar lord is broken and guaranteed to make you lose the game, so I've thrown that card out until it gets an official fix. Tried a game using only Undermountain, and that played much more like the regular game, only reasonably souped-up. Game time was increased to about 2 hours, nothing crazy like the 4 hours using both expansions. And I completed four 40 point quests! Will try using only the Skullport expansion next and update my review if necessary, but for right now, I'm advocating you restrain yourself from trying the mega-game and just do Undermountain first, then Skullport, then maybe try to combine them once just to see what that's like. But I think the expansions were not really meant or balanced to be used together.
UPDATE #2: After playing just the Skullport expansion, I have to say I'm not that fond of it or its Corruption mechanic. Undermountain is way more fun. Not that Skullport doesn't have good stuff, just that a lot of it is overshadowed by Corruption. I've decided to just streamline the base game and the expansions and weed out all the inferior or overpowered stuff (including anything that gives or removes Corruption), mixing just the cards and buildings that are the most fun. Some of these cards and buildings never get bought or played, so what's the point of bothering with them at all? Still others are possibly broken and OP, like the Yawning Portal (4 gold cost building that gives the user 2 cubes of their choice and the owner one and basically hands them the game if they get it early enough), or the Undermountain building (name escapes me) that lets you play three Intrigue cards. And all the new cards that let you steal people's buildings are unfair and create more hard feelings than fun. That still leaves a ton of good stuff to choose from. I'm knocking my rating down to four stars after having played with this set for about a month. It's not balanced well enough, and I hate that expansion games can take so much longer to play. The game isn't deep enough to support more than 60-90 minutes of play time.