Thursday, June 30, 2016

Its good to be lord

This weekend I played a game of Lords of Waterdeep for the first time and I am having trouble figuring out if I love it or hate it.  Lords is a board game that advertises itself as being of moderate length but ends up taking forever because of people trying to crawl inside each other's minds.  Individual strategy is simpler than Agricola, comparable to Puerto Rico, and is similar to Puerto Rico in that you can't decide anything of use without knowing exactly what everyone else will do.

I love Puerto Rico, so maybe I love Lords?  It has some mechanics in common, such as slow accumulation of bonuses on things that haven't been selected and essentially drafting job choices, and that seems good.  I definitely think the theme and fluff are fantastic - when I want to do a quest to save some injured soldiers I need to collect clerics to do it, then when I succeed I get a bunch of fighters to do work for me in a show of gratitude.  I am not a fan of the Realms from a roleplaying perspective, but the general DnD / fantasy theme is well done and I like it.

The general flow of the game was good, and felt polished.  I liked way the game was balanced too - quests were variable in quality, and although some quests being much better than others might strike others as imbalanced I thought it was excellent because then the actions that let you gain and/or manipulate quests became useful.  I enjoyed the game quite a lot for the first seven turns.

The eighth and final turn though... I dunno.  I was in the lead, just barely, but because some points are hidden and my hidden points were low I wasn't at all sure I was going to win.  I did have a pair of huge plays set up though, and it seemed that if I hit either of them I would win.  Unfortunately for me, everyone at the table decided to throw their turns away to prevent me from scoring either play.  All three other players failed to score a quest on the last turn of the game, which seems like it has to be extremely unusual, and I won via tiebreakers.

It didn't feel like a fun last turn though.  Even the player who had no chance to beat me tossed away her turns to stop my plays, and had she not done so she might well have been able to push her placing from fourth to third, while extending my lead from tiny to massive.  This was a result of a common dilemma - is the game simply winner take all, or does placing matter?  Being in first in a winner take all scenario is frustrating because people who can't beat you spend their time pounding you down instead of pushing their own placing, and it feels like scoring points and playing well in the early game might not even matter because it just means you get hammered in the late game.  If players were actually playing to maximize their own rank instead you end up with people getting in fights over 3rd/4th place, and that might just let the leader walk away with a victory while 2nd place stews that nobody focused on the leader.

In these sorts of situations I like to be playing for money with a points system to determine the payouts.  I remember encountering this sort of issue before when playing Settlers, and the system I ended up liking best was scoring people based on the difference between their own score and the average score of their opponents.  That means that endgame revolves mostly around maximizing one's own score, but punishing opponents is still useful.  I find that games are just more fun when each player is playing to push their own agenda, and taking a whack at opponents when they overextend or when a really juicy opportunity presents itself.  I don't mind being in first at having people put a target on my head so long as the entire game doesn't become "Beat Sky".

I wonder what it says about me that so often I want to 'solve' board games by introducing complex meta point systems and play for money.  Perhaps it means I take these things too seriously!


  1. As for throwing away turns I don't think that is a great assessment...for instance, my intention was to score AND block and would have been possible if there was just that final space left to play an intrigue - or had Matt not removed that one priest from my tavern, which was unexpected. From playing a bunch of times now the last turn sometimes plays out the way it did in our game, but not necessarily - sometimes it does indeed make more sense to boost your score rather than limit the (perceived) leader.

    I see HOW you score as another layer of overall strategy in the game. Having more hidden points is an advantage as you appear weaker - had you 15 fewer points on the board and 12 more hidden points you may not have been a target that last turn. (I think this plays well into the intrigue/hidden plans theme of the game very well by the way). Anne was far more competitive than she seemed to the point that it looked like there was no way she could recover (I think her hidden points were 36 in the end, which is at least twice what most usually score) - and a bad quest choice actually made it impossible for her to complete it, which she probably would have done instead.

    I tend to operate on the assumption that if a player has completed lots of a particular kind of quest they are getting bonus points for them - in this sense you were in the worst possible state: high score and the perception that you would score a lot of bonus points because of quest choices (I expected you to add 20 or so points because of your stack of piety quests not 0).

    In the end, scoring for yourself is generally a good idea even on last turn because scoring puts you up relative to all other players rather than just the one you would knock down. This is more likely if the leader cannot really be determined and it looks like a close race. There are a lot of possibilities and perception is important.

  2. Well, you had the opportunity to immediately score a lot of points, declined to do so, and got blown out because of it. That is what I meant by throwing away turns. I didn't mean that you had no intention of winning, just that you took a serious risk to try to punish me, and (unsurprisingly, since you were really close to the top) you got punished in turn.

    Anne threw away her turn in the sense that she took rogues that helped her in no way but jammed me but if she had done something else she could have scored something instead of nothing on the last turn. In her case though I think it was just miscounting, not necessarily a strategic thing.

    More to the point though, the final turns of the game involved a lot of kingmaking, which is how games of this sort pan out. If any of the three of you had played selfishly, I win, but whichever of you defects first comes in second place I suspect.

    I am not saying the game is bad or people made the wrong decisions. (setting aside Anne's counting error on rogues). Only that once Anne made that decision you had the choice of totally lock down second place (and maybe get first, but probably not), or gamble on getting to do it all and clinch the game. You gambled and lost, and my game revolved entirely around that choice. I am not sure how I feel about that being a central mechanic. Certainly your choice is reasonable, and Matt's choice to punish you was ideal for him since he had no chance to win if he didn't.

    That is how the game is, for good or for ill.