Lords of Waterdeep is often regarded as a gateway worker-placement game. It’s not a gateway game for someone new to strategy tabletop games, but it’s more of a step up from Catan or Ticket to Ride. It does such a great job of keeping the game short, but still taking you through the engine-building process of most worker-placement games. This will serve as a strategy primer for the base game that covers the most critical strategies and tactics you need to keep in mind to optimize your play. Watch the video version immediately below or the text version that follows it.
It’s no secret that the goal of this game is to maximize your victory points by the end of the game. To do that, you need resources, whether it be adventurers or gold. These resources are all roughly equivalent:
1 Cleric = 1 Wizard = 2 Fighter = 2 Rogue = 4 Gold = 2 Intrigue Cards
Keep this in mind as you decide on the quests you acquire or which resource you chose when you are faced with options. Early in the game, you almost always want to choose Clerics and Wizards over Rogues or Fighters since they will help you complete higher VP quests as the game progresses. Once you get towards the end of the game, this distinction isn’t as important because you are more concerned with just completing a few specific quests before the end of the game.
Early Game (Round 1-3)
Build buildings that are valuable to opponents with output that will help with your lord’s quest types.
Gather quests of your lord bonus types, focusing on plot quests that will give you useful bonuses for building your engine.
If you cannot get plot quests, you will want quests that give adventurers as output so you can use them as input to other quests to increase your efficiency.
Your highest priority in the first few rounds is to buy good buildings that will be valuable to opponents and help you complete your quest types. In order to keep buying buildings in the early game, you will spend most/all of your first 9 actions on the Builder’s Hall, Castle Waterdeep to take the first player marker, or Aurora’s Realms Shop to acquire gold. It may feel like you are wasting actions, but it is well worth it to get early buildings that will benefit you throughout the rest of the game. You can stray from this if the buildings available are not very good or continue it even after the first 3 rounds if the buildings are particularly outstanding. Controlling Builder’s Hall will take anyone who is Larissa Neathal (the building lord) out of contention while ensuring the buildings that get onto the board will provide additional opportunities to get the adventurer types that will help you complete your quests.
Any additional actions should go towards acquiring and completing Plot Quests or other quests that give adventurers as output, but are also of your lord’s bonus types.
Middle Game (round 4-6)
Stop worrying about Plot quests and start getting/completing quests that give adventurer output.
Use the engine you have built with Plot quests to your advantage.
- Start acquiring quests that will give high VP output.
You should be transitioning away from acquiring Plot Quests and building buying so you can finish up creating your “engine” and getting it to peak efficiency. This part of the game is all about getting resources, getting quests of your type, and completing quests as quickly as possible.
End Game (round 7-8)
Determine your competition. You should know their lord’s identity based on the quest types they have completed.
Give mandatory quests to your primary competition, specifically in Round 8.
Focus on quests that give you huge VP output rather than adventurer output or Plot Quests.
Ideally, you should slide into the finish line with no adventurers in your Tavern, no Quests left to complete, no unused Intrigue card, and empty pockets. This means you didn’t waste action points on getting quests you could not complete or getting resources you couldn’t use. Obviously, you get some end game points for gold or adventurers left over, so it’s not the end of the world to have some of those to cap off your points, but they would be better used for quests.
This spreadsheet (waterdeep_stats) is a breakdown of all quest inputs and outputs. You’ll see that they are extremely well balanced between input and output so you’ll be able to get an edge over your opponents in one of these ways:
Your lord’s bonus.
The special bonuses you get as rewards.
Note in the spreadsheet that the only quest that has ridiculously good output compared to input is the Commerce quest for Thin the City Watch. Try to acquire that quest no matter your lord’s bonus quest types.
To take advantage of the first one, you will want to find the quests matching your lord’s bonus types with minimal input requirements and tend towards adventurer output rather than point output. This will help you complete more quests throughout the game and allow you to get a big bonus from your lord’s quest types at the end.
For the second one, you want to get engine-building bonuses in your early quests that will make you more efficient throughout the rest of the game. This might be an extra VP bonus for one of your two lord bonus quest types, extra resources when you take an action that provides one of your primary adventurers, or a building bonus.
Although high victory point quests generally have the best ratio of output to input, it is usually better to get as many low input quests of your lord’s types so you can cash in on that lord bonus as much as possible. Granted, many small quests will require more quest pick-up actions, but it is generally a better deal because of bonus rewards from them and the bonus you get from your lord.
Buildings are another way to gain an advantage over your opponents. You want to buy buildings EARLY while keeping these three things in mind (at least one, but all, if possible):
Feature an action that allows you to take your primary adventurer types so you can use it to complete your quests.
Have an owner reward of something that will help you in case your opponents use it, whether it is your primary adventurer type, gold, or VP.
Keep buildings with actions that your opponents need for their quest types off the board.
You should put forth an extensive effort to buy buildings in the first 3 rounds, but after the 4th round, you can pretty much ignore them as the benefit you get from others using them will be greatly reduced. The primary exception is that there are some buildings (usually costing 8 gold) that will be particularly useful for completing your quest types that may even be worth buying later in the game so you can take advantage of easier access to those adventurer types. Another exception would be to pay the cost of the building to get the VP bonus that has accumulated from no one buying them.
A good building in the first round will get you 8 rewards (either from you using it or an opponent) for an investment of 3-8 gold. Those rewards will equate to a ton of resources and victory points throughout the game.
The less frequently discussed side of building purchasing is that if you can control Builder’s Hall, you control which buildings get out onto the board. You may want to buy less useful, cheaper buildings and take up the Builder’s Hall space to prevent an opponent from buying a building that will be particularly helpful in completing their quest types. In other words, controlling/occupying Builder’s Hall has advantages that go beyond strictly the output of the building you purchase. In short, controlling Builder’s Hall lets you control the game.
Intrigue cards can help you improve your action/turn-advantage because you get a benefit from the card and then you get to reassign that agent to another action later in the round. You basically get 2 actions for the price of 1. Unless there is a very critical action space that you need on your turn before someone else gets it, use your action on intrigue cards whenever possible.
It may be hard to decide which Intrigue cards to use. It depends primarily on the number of players because many give advantages/disadvantages to a single opponent or multiple opponents. In a 2 player game, using an Intrigue card to take two adventurers while giving your opponent (100% of your opponents) one isn’t an amazing deal. In a 5 player game, getting two adventures and giving one of your opponents (25% of your opponents) one is a much better deal.
Mandatory Quest cards should obviously be played on the opponent in the best position. You usually want to save those for the final round so you can prevent them from completing a high-reward quest at the end of the game. Carefully analyze which opponent is doing the best and/or the number of actions they will have to take to gather the resources needed to complete the mandatory quest.