…Well actually the title should have a caveat; I am, technically speaking, not the owner of my copy of Lord of Waterdeep, but it lives with my board games so we will take octopus as a domestic animal and boat as an aquatic one ;p. As far as worker placement games go there are loads to choose from, but these are the ones that have ended in my hands. Champions of Midgard became a Christmas present two years ago because you know Vikings for the Viking obsessed girl. Then Lord of Waterdeep was presented and sold to me as “the good stuff”, particularly with the expansion. And, well, my opinion may be biased but I have sincere problems with one of these two games, and this is what I am going to talk about today, what makes, in my opinion, and engaging worker placement game, and what makes a dyer of an evening.
Lord of Waterdeep does have an advantage over Champions of Midgard that is worth considering, which is the fact that it can cater for more players. The basic Champions game is 2 to 4 players, whilst Lords takes up to 5. Champions of Midgard has 2 expansions that will up your number of players as well as other juicy stuff, and Lords has Scoundrels of Skullport that puts it up to 6 alongside other mechanics. I have never played without the expansion for Lords, and I have never tried the expansion for Champions, and I must say, already without the expansion Champions is a good game, whilst I have been advised by more than one person that playing Lords without Scoundrels is a bit meh. Pricing is a contested issue for sure. On the official Wizards of the Coast website for Lords the price given is $49.99, plus $39.99 if you want to play with the expansion…That is already the better part of 80 quid. Basic set for Champions from Grey Fox Games is $59.99, add more for the expansions if you want, and depending on which one. So, I feel if you’re going to invest decent money on a game, you should keep these things in mind.
In terms of game play they are both relatively long games. I do not think I have player a game of Champions in less than 45 mins, mas just over an hour, whilst Lords, I’ve never finished before the hour and there have been a few games that have nearly pushed it to two. I do not believe that a worker placement game where you acquire points through a very simple mechanic as, place meeple, then collect stuff, or play a card should take That Long. Which is one of the reasons why I prefer Champions. In the time I spend doing that in Lords, in champions I have placed meeples, collected resources, potentially played a card or kept in mind what I need to do with my cards, and then (unless you get a dry spell of combat) decided how many things I am killing with what dice, roll the decide, potentially collect rewards. There are multiple ways of acquiring victory points in Champions of Midgard: the easiest is by killing monsters, but there are other tactics that can bring profitable business as demonstrated by our most recent game – going to the Stave church to pray can gain you a freak tone of favour and each favour token double on victory points at the end. Therefore there are several tactics, I feel, as to how to balance your game play. In Lords well, either you complete mission after mission, or you are screwed essentially. And the balance of what is required to complete missions and the reward you get is not always worth while. The quests in waterdeep stay the same round after round unless you have gone to pick up a quest or you use one of your meeples to put new ones out. In Champions of Midgard, whilst some of the monsters stay that way, Trolls and Draugr refresh every round regardless as to whether someone fought them or not. I think this gives the players a better chance to change their tactics on the fly if needs be, it makes the game more fluid, and then you are not stuck with sucky mission round after round if the cards have been dealt like that. There are certain types of missions in Lord that require resources that are considerably more scarce than others (I am talking about your piety and arcana quests!) – there are less ways of acquiring white and purple cubes than orange and black. And the problem is that these piety and arcana quests do not necessarily give you more points, so there are no direct advantages for shooting yourself in the foot and playing a longer game. And this is the moment when having the expansion is utterly necessary. If you are playing Lords with the highest number of players you can get, it is very easy to run out of spaces that are actually useful where to place your meeples – but Scoundrels adds a new area to the map with more locations. You would think this is likely to happen in Champions too? Well, not so much or no that I have ever experienced. There are always alternative means of acquiring the same resource, even through round about ways. So, the chances are fair, and I think they are so because of the plurality of options to acquire points.
On top of that, I think that the competition in Champions of Midgard is a bit more fun. Lords can become a very isolationist game where your interaction with other players is all down to whether you have the right intrigue card to attempt to steal something minimal from another player, and whether or not you get to the resource before someone else does. There is a bit more tension and friendly competition in Champions. The different monsters can be appealing to different players, but, for example, if no one kills the troll at the end of the round, every body gets a blame token which deducts points at the end of the game. If you defeat the troll however this gives you the chance to remove your blame tokens and pass them on to someone else. Maybe someone is preparing an expedition to kill a big bad full of loot, and just because you wanna be evil like that and spoil it for them, you may wanna go look at the runes and see if that trip is gonna be a tranquil pleasant ship ride or if they are gonna struggle so you should certainly take the last food resource from the table, just to add salt to the wound. The dice rolling makes it more dynamic as well and the different types of resources and rewards make the game more interesting. And, as stupid as it may sound, so does the art work. Lords is so very DnD grey and grim, with nothing terribly pretty to look at. Even the resources are all so samey. Champions is vibrant, there are different textures, shapes and colours. Very few of the lord identities that you assume at the beginning of the game have a direct and meaningful impact into your ultimate scoring or direct game play, whilst the champion you are using for Midgard will have a direct input in your gaming tactics.
In essence, I feel for the money there is to pay, Champions of Midgard is a much better game. Without the expansion already the game is plenty of fun, easy to learn and not repetitive. I haven’t had to games that have played out the same. The end scores were somewhat unpredictable until the very end. Meantime in the edges of Waterdeep I have found myself playing over and over doing the same stuff, desperate for more orange and black, upset that the juicy missions never come at the right time and as soon as someone completes it, that is it, forget about catching up unless a miracle happens or unless you are strong in buildings and people keep on giving you extra resources to complete more petty missions. And I would like to point out this has nothing to do with Vikings or not – that is just a bonus. I love rpgs and there is no detriment to the fact Lords takes place in the DnD universe, in fact I would love to see more of it that what it shows, or to have a higher impact other than just some particularly not thrilling flavour text.
So these are my three pence on the subject folks. Go an explore the beauties of worker placement board games, and then come tell me about it. Until the next one 🙂