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Subject: Ten Things to Like - And Five Things to Dislike - About Lords of Waterdeep rss

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Trent Hamm
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Lords of Waterdeep is a worker placement game for two to five players, designed by Peter Lee and Rodney Thompson and published by Wizards of the Coast. It's playable in about sixty minutes.

Players in Lords of Waterdeep play one of the masked lords of the titular city of Waterdeep, struggling to maximize their hidden control over the city. (Each hidden lord is represented by a card given face-down to each player at the start of the game that generates points for the player at the end of the game.) Each player has a number of agents to do their bidding within the city.

On a player's turn, they place one of their agents on one of the available spots in the city. These spots allow you to recruit adventurers (represented by colored cubes). These adventurers then complete quests (represented by cards) that reward the player with a certain number of points (and other rewards).

Do players try to cash in on a large number of low-cost and low-reward quests? Or do they go for a big quest or two, worth many points each? Are they choosing in-game objectives that match well with the secret agenda of their lord card?

The winner of the game is the player to accumulate the most influence over the city, represented by victory points.



Ten Things to Like About Lords of Waterdeep
Here are ten things I found enjoyable about Lords of Waterdeep.

1. If there is a "gateway" worker placement game, this is it.
If I were to sit down and teach someone what a worker placement game is at its core, I would probably use Lords of Waterdeep. It makes the idea of taking your workers (in this case, "agents") and placing them on different spots on the board to activate the abilities of that spot, then using those activated abilites in combination to achieve game objectives. At the same time, your workers block other players from taking those spots.

In other words, it contains the core of what makes worker placement games interesting, but at the same time, it doesn't bog itself down with mountains of extra rules. The rules outside of the actual worker placement are very simple and straightforward to explain. Anyone can grasp the ideas.

To me, that makes Lords of Waterdeep into the "gateway" worker placement game.

2. It's incredibly easy to teach and learn.
Hand in hand with the first idea, this is about the easiest worker placement game to teach to a new player. It's very straightforward, with very clear symbols and information throughout. Every method for scoring points is very clear.

I was able to teach this game to four new players in about eight minutes. Some of them had never played a worker placement game before, so I couldn't even draw on that previous experience when teaching.

3. The building and quest powers are varied and create interesting decisions.
The game contains a fairly large stack of building cards along with a reasonably-sized deck of quests. While the buildings and quests do have a few repeated themes and motifs, they're not repetitive, and many of the abilities are actually quite interesting and surprising.

I particularly enjoy some of the difficult decisions that the buildings in the game bring about. If you choose to occupy a building owned by another player, you're going to give that player a reward of some kind - more resources, a few victory points, or something else along those lines. However, the buildings are usually much better for you than taking one of the default spots on the board.

So, you're left with a choice. Do you take one of those building slots, giving yourself more of a benefit but giving one of the other players a nice little boost? Or do you take a basic spot, giving yourself a bit smaller benefit but not helping out anyone else?

It's the little decisions like this that make Lords of Waterdeep a compelling game.

4. The function of the Harbor is very clever.
Waterdeep Harbor is the one spot where you can put your agents where you can play an Intrigue card as a result. Intrigue cards are cards that usually contain some form of player interaction - they can be a penalty for another player, or they can provide you with a large resource boon while providing other players with smaller resource boons.

By themselves, the Intrigue cards probably wouldn't be quite strong enough for you to want to use a whole action. After all, you win the game by fulfilling quests, and simply playing an Intrigue card rarely nets you any progress toward fulfilling a quest.

The game solves this problem by letting you re-use agents you've placed at the Harbor at the end of the round. After everyone has placed their Agents, if anyone has an Agent at the harbor, they can, in turn, place those Agents on any other unoccupied spot on the board. Of course, that usually means you get the "worst" available spots, but it does mean that you'll get some resources on top of using the Harbor.

In our games, the Harbor winds up being a very coveted spot, indeed.

5. The turns go quickly, since players essentially have just one action per turn.
On a player's turn, they simply place an agent and do whatever action is required from that agent placement. If they complete a quest, they can turn that quest in. That's a complete turn for a player.

Since the individual turns are so quick, the game moves along at a brisk pace. You can usually think about your next placement for the turn or two before yours comes up, so this is a game where you're not going to be walking away from the table too much, either.

6. The decision as to where to place your agents is always interesting.
This is just a natural phenomenon of the worker placement genre, but it is still an interesting part of the game.

When you're deciding where to place an agent, your primary concern, of course, is how that placement can improve your game position. However, at the same time, you're also concerned with what your opponents are going to do with their placements, meaning that there are some spots that are more valuable for you to take because they also keep your opponent from taking those spots.

That's the core of why worker placement makes for an interesting game, and Lords of Waterdeep has that in spades.

7. There's a healthy dose of player interaction.
Worker placement by itself means that you're going to have a bit of player interaction in that you're blocking their places. On top of that, Lords of Waterdeep adds a significant additional dollop of player interaction in the form of the Intrigue cards.

Almost all of the Intrigue cards allow for player interaction. You're either taking away abilities from another player or giving some number of them additional options. In either case, you're actively going to be altering the course of the game for other players through playing your Intrigue cards.

The cards aren't overpowering for the most part (with one exception, which you'll see in the "dislike" section), but they do add a fun taste of player interaction to the game.

8. The design of the cards is very clear, with enjoyable yet nonintrusive art and presentation.
The cards are all clearly designed. The text on the cards is very clear. The art isn't distracting, but it's not unpleasant to look at, either.

In short, the cards are just about exactly what you would want for a game of this type. They convey the theme clearly and present the rules for the game clearly, too, while maintaining a crisp, clean design. The cards have a linen finish, which means they'll hold up to repeated games quite well.

9. It works well for any number of players in the range.
Lords of Waterdeep works well for any player count between two and five. It plays a bit differently at each player count, but I've had enjoyable games of this at each different number.

This is a game that works well whether I pull it out with my wife on a lazy evening or if I put it on the table with a group of five of us at a dinner party.

10. It doesn't overstay its welcome.
While the game packs a lot of interesting choices into the box, it doesn't go on for too long. It feels like it ends at the right moment.

What I mean by that is that players feel as though they accomplished some things, but there are still a few goals out of reach. Players got some use out of their buildings and their reuseable Quest rewards, but they weren't able to just completely bludgeon other players with them round after round after round. It lasts just the right amount of time.



Five Things to Disike About Lords of Waterdeep
Here are five things that some players will see as a problem with Lords of Waterdeep. Other players won't see these as a problem and may even see these as a positive.

1. The game sorely needs an expansion.
The biggest problem I have with the game is the "same-ness" of some of the game options, particularly many of the quests and especially the Lords themselves. More variety in those departments would be very welcome in this game.

As it sits now, it's pretty easy to guess exactly which Lord the other player is unless they're intentionally being sneaky about it, and if they're being sneaky about it, they're costing themselves significant points anyway.

The other components don't need as much for expansion, though more Buildings, more Intrigue cards, and more Quests are always welcome. Thankfully, there is an expansion coming at Gencon 2013.

2. The mandatory quests can be devastating.
Mandatory quest cards are a particular type of Intrigue card that you can play on other players if you've placed an agent at Waterdeep Harbor. Functionally, they're just like a very simple quest card except that the player must complete that quest before completing any other quests.

In other words, if you're the leader, you should pretty much expect to be hit with at least one of these during the last round of the game, and you might as well assume you're not going to be completing any real quests that round.

Mandatory quests are very powerful and they're the one element in the game that can feel like another player is simply kicking you in the face and making sure that you don't win. They feel almost too strong if they're used at the perfect moment by a wise player.

3. The cubes feel really unthematic.
It's really hard to see the purple cubes as "wizards" when they're just purple cubes. Thematic meeples would have made an enormous difference in bringing the theme of the game to life.

Without them, our group simply calls the various adventurers "cubes," because that's what they are. It really abstracts you from the fact that these are adventurers going on quests and tears you away from the theme.

If you have easy access to some white, black, purple, and orange meeples, they would make for a great cosmetic upgrade for Lords of Waterdeep.

4. Your strategy is basically randomly assigned to you in the form of your Lord card.
Your Lord card more or less tells you what types of quests to go for (and, in one case, tells you to go for buildings). The bonus points that your Lord gives you at the end of the game overrides many of the other strategic choices you might make in the game.

Sure, you might complete a quest or two that's outside of your Lord's recommendations, but you're at a scoring disadvantage for doing so because other players are likely matching their lords with their quests.

While I do like the idea of hidden Lords with bonus point capabilities, more Lords with more flexible options and more flexible quests would certainly help with this. Again... an expansion fixes this issue.

5. The insert is problematic for anyone who doesn't store their games in an exact precise way.
If it works, the insert inside the box is brilliant. If anything is slightly out of whack, though, it quickly descends into disaster. The insert was overdesigned, in my opinion.

If you're very careful with the box and stack everything in there perfectly, it will hold everything in a sensible place and it's easy to unpack. That's just not realistic in a lot of households, though, and I watched the contents of my Lords of Waterdeep box descend into chaos quite quickly.

I ditched the insert and moved to baggies, which is what I normally do with games, and it's what I recommend here. If you stick with the insert, expect some frustration and a learning curve.



Who Would Like This Game?
I actually quite like this game. It is far from my favorite worker placement game - I can name at least five in this subgenre that I prefer - but it's the one I will pull out if I'm going to introduce a new player to the idea of worker placement. It does one thing and it does it really well.

People who will like this game include:

"Gateway" gamers - This is the perfect "simple" worker placement game. It makes that one central mechanism shine.

Huge Forgotten Realms fans - This game is set in the "Forgotten Realms" thematic universe, for which there are many novels and roleplaying supplements available. Some gamers will really enjoy all of the "inside" references to the Forgotten Realms universe.

Worker placement addicts - If you like worker placement games and want to rope other gamers into this genre, this is probably the game to do it with. It might not be as "deep" as you want, but it is the perfect game to get people comfortable with the mechanism and ready to try out deeper games in that niche.



A Video Review
I also posted a video review of this game, which touches on many of the points described above in a reasonably short package. If you want a good glimpse of the game components, this is worth watching.

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Ryan Newell
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Good review that mostly mirrors my own opinions of the game. Except for the cards, which I would list as a reason to dislike the game. I have good eye sight but I have a hard time reading them while they're on the board, especially the small white font on the red icon indicating the points rewards. A mild annoyance but still an annoyance.

I also don't think there's much to love about Lords of Waterdeep. It's a pleasant enough take on a crowded genre of games, but there's absolutely no "wow" factor. It's one of those games that I'll never turn down but will also never request.
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Paul DeStefano
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Quote:
4. Your strategy is basically randomly assigned to you in the form of your Lord card.


This is a thing to like, not dislike.

It forces players to not adopt a formula way of playing.
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Eric Knauer
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Quote:
2. The mandatory quests can be devastating.
Mandatory quest cards are a particular type of Intrigue card that you can play on other players if you've placed an agent at Waterdeep Harbor. Functionally, they're just like a very simple quest card except that the player must complete that quest before completing any other quests.

In other words, if you're the leader, you should pretty much expect to be hit with at least one of these during the last round of the game, and you might as well assume you're not going to be completing any real quests that round.

Mandatory quests are very powerful and they're the one element in the game that can feel like another player is simply kicking you in the face and making sure that you don't win. They feel almost too strong if they're used at the perfect moment by a wise player.


I removed these after reading the rules for the first time. After playing with a new group for the first time, I show them these cards afterwards, and everyone has agreed it was a good idea to leave them out.
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Noble Knave
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There's a pretty neat variant floating around on the forums to fix MQs:

d10-1When a player plays a Mandatory Quest, they place their control marker and 1 VP marker on it and place it face up near Cliffwatch Inn.
d10-2At the start of each player's turn, they add 1 VP to any active MQs.
d10-3No one can complete a non-MQ Quest while there is one or more active MQs.
d10-4A player can choose to use their turn's Quest Completion to complete an active MQ for the accumulated VPs plus the amount written on the card
d10-5The player who played the MQ also scores the printed VP, but not the bonus.

It makes MQs a shared burden and potentially a windfall of points to whoever finally completes it, and makes playing one beneficial to the person who plays it, like normal Intrigue cards but unlike standard MQs.
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Hank B
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The insert is the best I have ever seen in a game. That is all.
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Nathan Spillman
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As to gateway Worker Placement games, if you truly want an entry level WP game, look at The Hunger Games: District 12 Strategy Game especially if whoever you're trying to teach is into the theme. It's even more streamlined than LoW but still teaches the "Place worker/Get goods/Make hard End of Round decision" dynamic.
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David Molnar
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Geosphere wrote:
Quote:
4. Your strategy is basically randomly assigned to you in the form of your Lord card.


This is a thing to like, not dislike.

It forces players to not adopt a formula way of playing.


Hmm... while i agree with this in general, I'm not so sure that "going for Piety and Warfare quests" and "going for Skullduggery and Arcana quests" can really be considered distinct ways of playing. Maybe with the expansion, the lords won't feel so samey.

btw, thanks for the recommendation, such as it was.
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Patrick Riley
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molnar wrote:
Hmm... while i agree with this in general, I'm not so sure that "going for Piety and Warfare quests" and "going for Skullduggery and Arcana quests" can really be considered distinct ways of playing.


Agreed. Unless you get the one Lord that gets points from buildings, they all play the same and the difference in strategy is negligible.
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James Bentley
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The box insert is, in my very humble opinion, one of the best in the business. I can't imagine throwing it away.

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Eric Knauer
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jrbentley wrote:
The box insert is, in my very humble opinion, one of the best in the business. I can't imagine throwing it away.



While I agree the insert is one spiffy mold, it's really tedious putting the pieces back in the slots especially the money. I bagged the tedious pieces, and put them under the insert.
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Vernon Evenhuis
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Horrid Beast wrote:
You should have reworded this one '5 Things I Like and 10 Things I Dislike' as this game is well...lame.


The reviewer didn't name his post that way because, obviously, he doesn't feel that way about it. You clearly do, so maybe instead of coming onto his review page and posting "this game is well...lame", which is a completely useless comment, you could post a review of your own entitled '5 Things I Like and 10 Things I Dislike' and actually explain what it is about this game that you find lame. That would be useful.
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Marty Kane
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White Knight wrote:
The reviewer didn't name his post that way because, obviously, he doesn't feel that way about it. You clearly do, so maybe instead of coming onto his review page and posting "this game is well...lame", which is a completely useless comment, you could post a review of your own entitled '5 Things I Like and 10 Things I Dislike' and actually explain what it is about this game that you find lame. That would be useful.



He's got you there, it's hard to deny...

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Daryl Wilks
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Nice review, thanks!

Lately we've been dealing each player 2 Lords (pick 1) and three starting Quests (pick 2) which has been a really nice addition to the game play.
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Marc Mistiaen
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Horrid Beast wrote:
You should have reworded this one '5 Things I Like and 10 Things I Dislike' as this game is well...lame.


You, sir, make a compelling argument.
 
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Abdiel Xordium
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trenttsd wrote:

4. Your strategy is basically randomly assigned to you in the form of your Lord card.

Spot on. Do designers really think gamers are such morons that they need to be shepherded through the game?

A clever twist on this idea are the secret goals in Troyes where all players get the bonus points for your secret goal card. If you give it away through transparent play, other players can take advantage.

Geosphere wrote:

This is a thing to like, not dislike.

It forces players to not adopt a formula way of playing.


I see where you are coming from, but the Lord cards are unnecessary to accomplish this. The game already does this in many ways that don't act like bowling lane bumpers; building availability and quest availability, for example, require players to adapt to scenarios that vary from game to game.
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Clay Berry
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Nice overview and thoughts. Overall I agree with all of it in general. 2 minor notes though:
1. The Lord cards seem lame but serve two useful functions
a, for those getting the Building bonus card, at least it truly is different (vs any 2 card types for bonus)
b, it actually helps reduce AP because you generally have less quest choices if you're trying to stick with your bonuses.

2. gateway games
another poster mentioned Hunger Games. I don't know there (not played myself) but I would suggest Stone Age first.

As for the Mandatory Quests, I agree as I hate any bash the leader mechanic. The variant proposed in comments is interesting, but I think for overall pace of the game I'd just leave them out. Note though that there aren't but so many of those in the deck I think.


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Stephen Mould
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Hank34 wrote:
The insert is the best I have ever seen in a game. That is all.


I vote small world. i love that box.
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Stephen Mould
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trenttsd wrote:


It is far from my favorite worker placement game - I can name at least five in this subgenre that I prefer




Could you name them please? it's a genre i haven't played much of but i've been enjoying LoW and would be interested in more complex varients.
 
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Linda Baldwin
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Well, the video review mentions Agricola and Belfort, two good choices.

One of the most unfortunate things about this game that I've noticed is that the D&D fans (and particularly those familiar with the Forgotten Realms) are the most disappointed in this game. (Sadly, that includes many of my friends -- and myself.)

All the D&D references are vague and fairly gratuitous -- you're guarding a temple, so you need, hmm, 2 fighters, 3 clerics, and a wizard. (Made up example, but really, there MIGHT be a logic behind it, but it really doesn't matter. All that matters is that fighters and thieves are easier to come by than wizards and clerics.)

The Forgotten Realms references are nothing more than name-dropping. It's not the least bit unusual to have an organization doing quests for a traditional enemy because, hey, points! I can't speak to the Lords and their affiliations (I'm not up on the latest generation), but I expect many of them wind up being randomly affiliated with enemy factions as well.

In short, there's no theme at all; it's more pasted-on than an average Knizia title. Which would be fine if the game didn't APPEAR to be so thematic. I kept seeing the faces fall. "This has nothing to do with D&D. At all." Even players who had been warned not to expect too much theme-iness felt let down.

If you're going to sell the theme, a very specific theme like Waterdeep, use it. Build a game AROUND it. (See Merchants & Marauders or any CGE game.) YMMV, but I thought this was an opportunity wasted.
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Stephen Mould
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I know what you mean. I'm not a D&D fan myself but it does seem like the game might as well be called 'cubey' in which players try to get the right cubes in order to complete missions that say 'get five white cubes' as this is how it ends up being played anyway.

One of my group attempted to keep the theme up by insisting on referring to the cubes by their thematic titles (wizard, cleric etc) but even he has now succumbed to the 'i'll take two black cubes' style of play.
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Jim Jamieson
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Quote:
If you have easy access to some white, black, purple, and orange meeples, they would make for a great cosmetic upgrade for Lords of Waterdeep.


Or you can get the custom meeples for the game: [thread=807557][/thread]
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Paul Chapman
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Disclaimer: We've only played this once and I would like a couple more plays to fully formulate my opinion - probably one with and one without the "you lose" cards.

I think Stone Age is a much better gateway worker placement game than this, and much more fun overall. Just after finishing our first game of LoW I actually said "I like the theme but can't work out why I would play this when we have Stone Age".

IMO Stone Age is better in the following ways:
- More generally-accessible theme (this will vary - D&D fans may find it more accessible, but the Stone Age is extremely accessible for everyone I've tried it with, gamer and non-gamer alike)
- Theme is much less pasted-on in Stone Age, and as a result it's fun building your tribe up even if you aren't winning (the "Agricola effect"). Part of this is much nicer board and components for Stone Age (except the box insert in LoW, which is the best I've seen).
- Dice-rolling for those who like it (and I am someone who really doesn't like any luck element in games, but I can stomach the dice-rolling in Stone Age, and for non-gamers adds some of what they are expecting from a board game, and thus forms a better gateway).
- Most importantly, Stone Age lives and dies as a worker placement game. This is most visible when it comes to the Intrigue cards - if you want to catch up with a leader in Stone Age, you have to use Worker Placement mechanics to deny them what is optimal to them. In LoW, it seems to be more optimal to blow them up with Intrigue cards, which are usually not that hard to come by and relatively cheap to play. It also manifests in terms of how you pick your strategy - the random Lord cards remove the value of actually placing workers to define your optimal strategy. The equivalent of Lord cards in Stone Age would be to create a deck of Tribe cards which are randomly dealt giving several Shamans, Farmers etc to each player, which I think would weaken the game.
- Too much of the "Diplomacy Effect" in LoW, where several players can gang up on one other to ensure they don't win, and there's nothing they can do about it. Again detracts from the worker placement game and isn't fun if you're on the receiving end.

There are some custom rules which you can use to get around some of the problems above, and I'd even suggest it would be a better gateway worker placement game without the Intrigue cards... but then the weakness of the components and theme becomes clearer and you realise you're just pushing coloured cubes around the table. And yes, you can fix that by buying some better components... but this seems to be a lot of fixing when there's a game out there that is more fun and more accessible out of the box.
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Paul Chapman
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Horrid Beast wrote:

I am not a fan of either game but don't you get sick of rolling dice all the time for resources. I find this a serious drag on an already too loooong game for what it is.


No, but we aren't averse to long games, and we usually play with kids who really enjoy the dice rolling. The nice leather cup doesn't hurt either.

On the other hand, I don't like it when one player keeps rolling well under-average scores and another keeps rolling well over-average, but this doesn't actually happen that often. Of the 20 or so games of Stone Age I've played, only a couple seem to have been significantly influenced by the dice. Personally I tend to go heavy on agriculture, tools and culture cards, which really help to reduce the amount I am affected by luck.
 
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Having played 20+ games of Lords of Waterdeep now, I believe that this review is fairly accurate. Let me add, however, a few more points:

The biggest effect of the Lord cards is to determine who you compete against for quests. Since there are a limited number of quests, and various lords have similar goals, there can be rather intense competition for quests at times. The fun part is figuring out who you are competing against.

Similarly, which buildings come up can affect the supply of various cubes. In our last game, three buildings came up that provided rogues (black cubes), so this tweaked the quests that could be completed easily, and made figuring out the Lords not quite so easy.
Priests (white cubes) were in short supply, so piety quests were harder. Wizards (purple cubes) never became plentiful, so Arcane Quests similarly suffered. And so forth.

This "ripple effect" was lost on me the first five or so times we played, but now is an important part of our strategy decisions.

At first I did not like mandatory quests, but over time I have seen them to be an important part of the game. They often provide the difference between winning and losing. Again, I think this might take a few plays to see what they add to the game.

Finally, there is a expansion planned to come out in late August which will increase the number and type of Lord cards, provide a much more robust opportunity for larger come-from-behind quests, and provide a negative resource in skull-shaped corruption points to avoid. If you thinking that this game needs more oomph, early game reports seem to indicate that this expansion will provide as much depth as a person might possibly want.
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