Thursday, June 14, 2012

Lords of Waterdeep

I played Lords of Waterdeep with my co-workers tonight. LoW is what is known as a "worker placement" game ostensibly set in the world of the Forgotten Realms. I'm no  fan of the realms, because magic is slung about willy-nilly in that setting, and I like the idea, even in a fantasy setting, of magic being something dangerous, mysterious, and rare. But LoW is a so-called "Eurogame"; one of the characteristics of these games is that the theme or flavor of the game is less important than the abstract mechanics. In other words, it doesn't make much of a difference where it takes place.

Unlike other Eurogames, though, a little bit more of the theme cross-pollinates the abstraction. You place your 'agents' on spaces on the board, named after locations in the game city of Waterdeep, to gain resources; many of these resources are named after familiar PC classes from D&D: Warriors, Rogues, Clerics, and Wizards. The object of the game is to accumulate as many points as you can in eight turns, and one of the ways you gain a lot of points is to satisfy "quest" cards--"Domesticate Owlbears", or (paraphrasing here) "Uncover the Secret of [Some Wizard's] Hideout".

The quest cards are where the flavor seeps in the most, because they come in five types themselves: Pious (clerical), Skullduggery (rogue-like), Warfare (for warriors), Arcane (for wizards), and Commerce (a usually-even mix). The Arcane quests, for instance, usually require you to obtain and trade in multiple wizard units, although few quests use only one type. Get, say, two wizards, two rogues, and a fighter, and bang!--quest solved. The themes of the cards seem to map pretty well to the resources needed, so that Warfare cards need a lot more warriors than clerics or mages. The rewards, in addition to points, may also be resources, like gold or character units.

This completely abstracts away the actual adventure--not very roleplaying like, but the notion of different styles of quest card using different balances of character types struck me as theft-worthy. Many, many adventure-writing pieces of advice say something like "make sure every character type has something to do", but creating an adventure better suited for fighters than clerics strikes me as a little more pseudo-naturalistic, and allows for more possibilities; of course, in old-school gaming, there's a lot more overlap between what the fighter and the magic-user can do. And to me, providing multiple quests which fit different mixes of character types (or fitting them better than others), is a sand-boxy notion that opens up the game world to multiple avenues of player exploration.

As of this moment, my imagination is officially stoked, thanks to Lords of Waterdeep.