Lords of Waterdeep
iPad/iPhone universal app
2-5 players, either human or AI, via pass and play or asynchronous online
Lords of Waterdeep for iOS brings together two things I already like, so you can probably predict the result. The game itself is a winner: the D&D theme, set in a portion of the most popular campaign setting, coupled with a streamlined yet completely strategic worker-placement game that squeezes a lot of gameplay and difficult decisions into not too much game time. The developer of the iPad version is Playdek, known for their early support of existing tabletop games on iOS, most known for the completely addicting Ascension (I’ve completed over 700 online games, and I’m sure in the many thousands for offline games against the AI) as well as other ports of classic games like Fluxx and Can’t Stop.
So to say I was excited about these two coming together, announced months ago, would be an understatement. And thankfully, the end result is as good as I’d hoped. (I’m assuming for purposes of this review you know how to play Lords of Waterdeep already or at least know enough about it to not need a primer.)
How to Domesticate Owlbears (Digitally)
After setting up your profile, you can setup games locally from 2-5 players using a combination of human and AI (with easy, medium, and hard AI- I’m generally pretty good at the game on the tabletop and the medium AI so far provides a reasonable challenge.) On the same iPad you can do pass and play with other players, which uses a “tap to continue” screen to make sure your hidden information stays that way while showing you the moves of all the other players. You can also play online, in much of the same way as Ascension: you’ll need to signup for a Playdek online account first (or use the same Ascension login), and then set the game length and invite people.
The interface shows you the game board, which you can pinch and zoom around, zoom in on any particular quest, building for sale, etc. and scroll through all the buildings that have been built already. On your turn, you drag your agent onto the space you want to use. You’re given a chance to backup the move if you spot something different at the last minute. You also can fulfill a quest if you meet the requirements- the quest will have an outline if it’s one you have the resources for. A little mask icon in the corner will also tell you if your Lord card matches the quest type.
In order to conserve space on the display, the details of what cards you have collapse down, and can be popped up with a tap to see your active quests, intrigue cards, and completed quests. They are summarized as icons in the display, so you can double-tap on them to zoom in and see all the details. You can also tap on your own icon in order to bring up your Lord in case you forget (like I do for the first 4 turns of every game.)
Confronting the Xanathar on Your Downtime
As you’d expect, the app walks you through every stage: it tells you how many turns until you get your extra agent/the game ends, replaying your agents on Waterdeep Harbor at the end of the round, handling your plot quest effects, and so on. There’s also some extra touches for Forgotten Realms fans, like naming the turns after the Faerun calendar.
Turns zip along (my occasional analysis paralysis typical to the game aside), and while there are a few points where the AI has to stop and think, it’s nowhere near the drag that some AI turns in Ascension take. It was entirely smooth on my iPad 3, and even my iPhone 4 was able to handle it fine. Against two computer players I was able to play a complete game in 20-30 minutes, with pass and play with my girlfriend it was closer to 45 minutes, and a network game was somewhere in-between.
In the 8 or so games I’ve played so far, I’ve never hit a point where I thought the app had missed something either- all my bonuses, plot quests, and intrigue cards worked the way I expected them to. There was one point where I hit a “building limit” that I was never aware of in the original game, though that was the only bit of weirdness. Also, the settings claim there are sound effects and music, but there didn’t seem to be any on either of my devices. Those same settings also allow you to adjust the animations, in case you do run into a problem running it.
These Artisans of Mirabar Aren’t Going to Lure Themselves
This is the exact app that I was hoping for and expecting from Playdek, based on my favorite of the D&D board games of Wizards of the Coast. The interface is well done, and nearly everything works exactly as I’d expect, especially based on my experience with Ascension. My only complaint at all is that the Scoundrels of Skullport expansion is not already available in the app, since it improves the game since I’ve played the base game so many times. However, maybe that’s a good thing for now: otherwise, it would be one fewer reason to ever pick up my physical copy of the game. The app is that good.
A complimentary copy was provided for purposes of this review.