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The best Dungeons & Dragons board game is now on Steam

Hello, ye nobility of the Forgotten Realms. Did you notice that Lords of Waterdeep released on Steam in September? It’s a great board game, and I’m happy to finally have it on PC with solo, hot seat, and online play—it’s something we don’t have a lot of: an abstracted, heavily-stylized and thematic game that we in the board game world call a European-style strategy game, or Eurogame.

In 2012, Lords of Waterdeep was the newest hotness in board gaming. It was also pretty unexpected. It’s a Eurogame from an American company in an iconically American brand—Dungeons & Dragons’ Forgotten Realms. It’s that weird contrast that makes Lords of Waterdeep good, actually. Where most Eurogames are about niche genres like farming or building medieval castles, Waterdeep has the broader appeal and engaging flavor of fantasy politics, dark elf skullduggery, and dungeon-delving adventure.

Fundamentally, Lords of Waterdeep is a worker placement game. As a lord of Waterdeep, you gather adventurers to send them on quests vital to the fate of your fantasy realm and/or to enrich yourself. You do this by selecting one of a set of limited actions each round. Once someone selects an action space nobody else can use it until the next round. Selecting spaces gets you resources like fighters or wizards or money, and you use those resources to complete quests. It’s a tactical-strategic blend that’s a lot of fun because it stretches your ability to plan ahead by forcing you to account for what other players have done before and after you. Some turns you’ll set up for the future, but others you’ll scramble to make the cleverest move available. Also, you have a secret objective. Try to fulfill that for the sweet bonus points.

Some disparage it as ‘multiplayer solitaire’—and there’s something to that critique—but it’s that space which lets it flourish as a fun social experience.

On PC, once you understand how it plays, you can zoom through a game in half an hour by yourself while playing against the rather competent bots. That’s a pretty good improvement compared to an hour or two on tabletop.

It is simple and fast compared to most games like it. I use it as an introduction to worker placement games pretty often, but it’s also good enough that I’m happy to play it with a crew of experienced gamers. One of Lords of Waterdeep’s greatest strengths is that despite its strategy it’s a relatively relaxed game experience. You can happily hold a conversation with friends while playing the game because you don’t have to do much when it’s not your turn. Some disparage it as “multiplayer solitaire”—and there’s something to that critique—but it’s that space which lets it flourish as a fun social experience. 

The laconic space between your turns lets you chat, ask how someone’s day was, and creatively curse at them about the tavern full of Warriors they just stole out from underneath you. If you or your gaming buddies enjoyed Armello or Gremlins Inc, you might like to spend some time with Lords of Waterdeep and a Discord voice channel. It’s an experience where you can casually trash talk your friends, domesticate some owlbears, raid a wizard’s dungeon, and proclaim yourself the richest noble in the city of splendors.

The only real downside to the PC version is that it’s a slightly rejiggered port of the tablet version from a few years back. Blowing up a tablet interface has made the whole game look cluttered. It’s not ideal—especially when on a PC there’s enough screen real estate that one could have done away with some space-saving tablet restrictions like only seeing one opponent’s status at a time. The upside is that Lords of Waterdeep’s tablet version was really good, so the overall user experience feels average rather than subpar, like many tablet ports. In the end it’s something I was willing to overlook in exchange for having Waterdeep on PC, where I’m much more likely to spend hours and hours playing it than on the cramped real estate of a tablet.

Oh, and the Skullport expansion is way better than the Undermountain expansion, if you’re wondering. Glad I could clear that up for you.

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