I'm a D&D gamer from quite a ways back, and I had my doubts about this game. I checked out the new 4th edition tabletop game when it first came out, and over a brief period of time it fell out of favor with me. D&D 4e can be a fun game, but it lost something for me in all the focus on tactical combat. The more recent D&D board game entries from Wizards of the Coast seemed like they took tabletop D&D and turned it into a simple board game.
The 4e connection to Lords of Waterdeep is what worried me. As it turns out, there is no tabletop D&D to be found in this game. Instead, it takes the city of Waterdeep as the setting, and allows you to be a secret ruler sending out adventurers on quests to collect victory points.
As a tabletop D&D gamer, I instantly found an attraction to this game soon after learning how to play. The thought of being the person in charge of gathering adventurers and sending them out to do my bidding was very appealing to me; finally I would get a sense of how it feels to be on the other side of the adventure. Sure, I've run games as the Dungeon Master before, but the Lords of Waterdeep are essentially non-player characters; extras in the background that the players don't get to interact with very often. To make these powerful extras take centerstage as playable characters was an exciting prospect to me.
As a board game collector, I was extremely impressed with the packaging. After you have punched out all the cardboard pieces and followed the guide provided in the instructions, everything is sorted and organized to facilitate fast setup. Every group of tokens, meeples, cards, and tiles is separated into their own tightly constructed compartment. Once the board is placed on top and the box closed, there is little fear that the pieces will be a headache-inducing jumble and/or damaged from handling when next you open it up to play. It is this kind of attention to detail that can win big points with me, as there are a number of other board games I own that do not have sorted compartments in the box. This usually results in me putting pieces into ziploc sandwich baggies to help avoid having to sort everything out every time I want to play. With Lords of Waterdeep, I open the box and get into playing the game a lot sooner, and the condition of the game pieces is maintained while the game is transported and stored.
As a board game player, this is a basic resource gathering game that has the backing of a D&D setting. The artwork is gorgeous, the flavor text ties in very well with the lore of Waterdeep, and it plays super fast. The wooden pieces are a nice break from the plastic parts and cardboard standees of other games. After reading the rules and test playing once, I never had to go back to the rule book in subsequent plays. Everything is laid out visually, with relatively little game mechanic text. What effects or instructions that are listed on the cards and tiles are very clear and easy to understand, and you can tell at a glance what resources you and your opponents need to complete their quests. The designers stated they wanted to create a board game where you could figure out how to play from just looking at the board. I feel they have succeeded in their attempt. The game only plays for 8 rounds, and most of the time this will be accomplished in about an hour, maybe and hour and a half max, even with 5 players. Although at full 5 players your victory point scores will likely be lower than in a 3-person game, the challenge of working your resources against four other "Lords" can be quite fun.
So why not a 5-star review? This is a pretty basic resource Euro-game, and there is little in the rules regarding interactions with other players other than trying to stop them from collecting resources and/or victory points. There is no mention of being able to strike alliances with the other "Lords", make trades, and other such activities that really make a player try to work with the other players to accomplish their goals in an attempt to win. It is this one aspect that I feel makes a Euro-game really soar in enjoyment; you are competing with each other, but you cannot win on your own. With Lords of Waterdeep, the rules are very basic and straight-forward, and win conditions do not require you to work with your opponents at all. The allusion in the rule book to a possible expansion containing a sixth faction is nice, but if it only offers a new faction and does not expand the game with new gameplay options then I would feel the potential for this game's future will have been squandered.
Don't get me wrong; this is a fast and fun resource game. I find the packaging and quality of the game parts to be worth the price, if only to vote with my dollars for such packaging and quality in future products. That it also plays well is a rare find. However, D&D for me shines in it being a role-playing game where the players actually role-play their characters, and I'll likely experiment with offering trades and alliances to encourage players to aid and/or backstab each other. After all you are the Lords of Waterdeep, the most powerful people in the city. Why not play the part for a little while?