Lords of Waterdeep: Scoundrels of Skullport

By this time most people have played, seen or at least heard about Lords of Waterdeep, the long overdrawn debate about whether or not the theme is pasted on or how many players it is best with, or if the mandatory quests were too powerful. All the complaints aside Lords of Waterdeep has become an everyday suggestion when recommending a starting point for worker placement games. Scoundrels of Skullport adds more of everything that existed in the base game, more options for strategy, room for a 6th player and an entirely new mechanic; corruption.

For the purpose of this review I will assume you know how to play Lords of Waterdeep the base game. Continue reading if you wish to know more about the expansion. This Expansion is actually quite great, it is two expansions in one. You can play them separately or together, I will explain the pros and cons about using them separately vs together.

The Undermountain Expansion: 

Undermountain adds 3 new action spaces and room for a 6th player, at first glance it is boring and much more of the same but look deeper and you will see reason to play it on its own.
Scoundrels of Skullport Undermountain Board

They made things more interesting by adding a third tier of quest cards, you now have really big quests worth 40 points and the previous big/long quests become medium. There is now more flexibility to individual strategy as players have more choices to make.

The Undermountain also puts more attention on the Waterdeep Harbor by providing players with an action that yields 2 Intrigue cards. You also have another way to play intrigue cards although you wont get your man back.

Out of the 15 new buildings in Undermountain many of them allow you to play intrigue cards making the game have more player interaction. This also means that everyone will get a chance to play Intrigue cards even if you are playing with 6 players. They eliminated the chance that there would be no available action space as well.

All in all Undermountain is a good expansion and anyone experienced with the base game will be able to jump right in. In my opinion you should never play LoW without Undermountain, even when introducing new players it provides a lot more options and interaction and I think does a better job of selling the experience than the base game.

Skullport Expansion:

Skullport is the expansion you want to use if you want to really change things up. You will be introduced to a new type of "currency" Corruption which award players with negative points at the end of the game. The value of each Skull (currency of corruption) is determined by how many total skulls are missing from the shared Corruption board. Players will gain corruption for using buildings that provide above average benefit when used.
Scoundrels of Skullport: Skullport Board
The 3 new action spaces provided by the Skullport Expansion all force players to take a Corruption skull.

It is possible to return corruption but remember that could be also helping out your opponents by making each skull less harmful.
Scoundrels of Skullport: Skullport Buildings

I enjoyed the corruption mechanic because it lowers the chances that your last turn will be next to worthless, it also leaves you with a bit tougher decisions to make throughout the game. Ultimately the Skullport Expansion adds a lot of variability to your strategy as well and gives players the option to tailor the game towards their play style. However I would not recommend playing this without experienced LoW players as with greater risk comes greater score and bigger gaps between player scores unless everyone knows what they are doing.

Both Expansions:

Using either expansion on their own is a nice addition to LoW but still leaves it feeling kind of light or not different enough from the base game. When combined they make Lords of Waterdeep a game that I constantly want to play, using both expansions adds a ton of table talk and expands the social feeling of the game while at the same time increasing the options and complexity of the game, in my eyes it is hard for a game to accomplish both of those at the same time and Scoundrels of Skullport is a fantastic expansion to the base game.

Regardless of which expansion you use you will have access to 6 new Lord of Waterdeep cards.
Scoundrels of Skullport: New Lord Cards

Final Verdict: If you are looking for something more out of your Lords of Waterdeep and don't mind a bit of extra playing time then pick up Scoundrels of Skullport for sure. However the basics all stay the same and if you weren't able to see the coloured cubes as more than cubes before then you wont be able to now, not that theme is important to everyone. From a Worker Placement standpoint, adding both expansions definitely brings it up out of intro/light but there is still really only 1 route to victory, finishing quests but now you have more flexibility about which quests and when you will complete them, with both expansions you also have more options to mess with your opponents as playing also adds 50 new Intrigue cards. I will leave you with some example Intrigue cards.

Scoundrels of Skullport: New Intrigue Cards

Oh one last thing, if you are playing with both expansions as a way to combat the added time and keep things balanced/not too up to luck, there is a list of cards and buildings you must take out of the base game. You can find this list here on Board Game Geek

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I do a lot of two player gaming and the biggest problem I have is that games get boring. You can help this by getting games that scale well with more than 2 players, my problem is that usually involves a longer setup and cleanup time and honestly games meant for 2 players tend to be better 2 player games. Jaipur doesn't just back that statement up, it is the reason it exists. If there is a two player game I can't get bored of it is Jaipur. Below I will cover how to play Jaipur, my thoughts on it and why it is my favourite two player.

How To Play:

Your goal in Jaipur is to get the most points through selling various goods. Depending on how many times each particular good has been sold that round it is worth a decreasing amount of points. At the end of the round, the player with the most points wins and the first player to win two rounds is declared the winner.

The Goods

First take 3 camels out of the deck

Then shuffle the deck deal 5 cards to each player and 2 cards to the 3 set aside pile containing the 3 camels

Turn the 5 set aside cards (3 camels, 2 randoms) face up in a line between the players, this creates the 'Market'
The Market
Each player sets any camels drawn this way to create their personal camel pile, refereed to as their 'herd'

Sort all of the tokens by type and create a stack of each product in descending order of value
You are now ready to begin.

On your turn you will select only one of the following actions

Take Card - This allows you to take one product of your choice from the available 5 face up cards in the middle of the table, alternatively you may take all of the camel cards that are currently face up. Before the next player takes his turn you must refill the Market back up to 5 cards.

Swap Cards - This allows you to swap a minimum of two cards from your hand (any combination of products and camels from your camel pile is allowed) with an equal number of cards face up in the middle of the table. You are not allowed to swap a card for the same type of card and you can never have more than 7 cards in your hand.

Sell Product - This action allows you to sell product, selling multiples of 3,4 or 5 will earn you a bonus token (explained below), you may sell any number of cards at a time unless they are Rubies / Gold or Silver, you must sell a minimum of 2 of these products. Each card you sell earns you the top token of the corresponding product.

Bonus Tokens:

Selling 3, 4 or 5 of a product will award you with a bonus token. The value of your bonus token is somewhat random, 3 of a kind will net you 1,2 or 3 points. Selling 4 of a kind will award you with 4,5 or 6 bonus points and selling 5 of a kind will give you a 8,9 or 10 point token.

End of Round Scoring:

The round ends once 3 goods have been entirely depleted or you are unable to fill the set of 5 face up cards in the middle of the table. (Market)

Players add up the value of all their goods tokens and their bonus tokens then the player with the most camels is awarded the camel token worth 5 points, the player with the higher total wins the round, the first player to win two rounds is declared the winner.

My Thoughts:

Okay, this might not seem like a masterpiece but you will only discover how great Jaipur is if you try it. Jaipur is not only my favourite 2 player game, but one of my favourite games overall. This is because I love games that take 5 minutes to learn but a lot longer to master, the rules in Jaipur present a pretty straightforward game heavily laced with luck. In fact one of the few criticizes I hear of Jaipur is that it is too luck dependent. Well I call bullshit, sure there is a lot of luck involved in Jaipur, but really the game is about minimizing the effects luck will have on you through clever timing.

You will do this by keeping a close eye on your opponent, paying as much attention to what cards they are collecting as what cards you are collecting. You will have to perfectly balance scoring points and screwing up your opponent, the only problem is that every decision you make will benefit your opponent or hinder yourself in some way shape or form. This is intensified by the fact that you can only do 1 action on your turn. You have to plan a few turns in advance but by that time so many things could have changed, your opponent could have sold some of that good, there could be better goods for sale, you could have acquired a better product in a move that was too good to pass up. Since each game is technically 2 or 3 plays I have probably played 100ish times and I can say that no more than 5 of those games have been lost outright due to luck. It can happen, but most likely you will lose to being outplayed or making a couple mistakes. Timing is the most important aspect of Jaipur, when you decide to do which action will determine who wins or loses.

Here is what I mean by benefiting your opponent or hindering yourself:

Taking: If you take just 1 card, a better card could be turned up for your opponent, you are also spending your entire turn to take just 1 card, good if its a high value card not so much if its a low value. Taking 1 low value card might be better than taking multiple camels in some cases.

Swapping: If you swap a cheap good such as leather for a better good you are making it easier for your opponent to get a bonus token and you are not gaining new cards this turn but rather upgrading in value or getting your own bonus token, this means that if your opponent spends less total actions swapping, they will have more cards than you.

Swapping: If you swap a medium priced good for a better good, you are making a decent option available for your opponent that might not have been before, this can really suck if there are still high value tokens of that good or they already have a couple of that particular good. Just like above, you are losing out on gaining more cards.

Taking Camels: If you take camels you must take them all, taking 1 or 2 camels is not really worth it in terms of getting the camel token or having significant trading power but taking 4 or 5 gives your opponents lots of new card options, keep in mind that they can trade a combination of their goods AND camels in order to get these newly available cards at the market. You are also taking something that is not worth physical points (you cant sell camels)

Using Camels: When you use your camels, you are lowering your chance of getting the camel token, you are giving up some of your ability to adapt and in the long run replenish your hand after you sell most of your cards. Make sure you have a few goods in your hand or you will not be able to take advantage of a fresh market if your opponent takes the camels after you use them.

Selling just 1 card: You are stopping your opponent from getting the higher valued token but giving up the opportunity for a bonus token yourself, you will never score double digit points this way and you are giving your opponent free pick of the market. This can either encourage your opponent to collect a set of that good or ditch any they had making it easier for you to collect a set, this can also force your opponent to take a card or camels leaving the market open for you. This becomes a significantly less "good" option later in the game unless lots of the expensive goods have already been sold.

Selling Multiple Cards: You have probably gained a sizable balance of points and maybe even a bonus token, but how many turns did it take total to gather and collect the store of goods, if you focus one collecting one type at a time you are vulnerable to your opponent sniping the high valued or gaining better cards themselves, they can also score lots of points while you are trying to collect a set, if you focus on two types you could be stuck in a situation where you have to make a set available at the market in order to finish your other set. When and how you decide to collect a set is very important.

Two things to keep in mind, one of them I mentioned before:

You can swap a combination of Camels AND Goods when acquiring new goods from the market.
You MUST swap 2 cards, you cannot swap 1 for 1.

Who would enjoy Jaipur?

Casual Gamers: The rules are simple enough to learn in a couple minutes and you can jump right into playing, because it is played out of 3 rounds it has an addicting feel. Jaipur is not too heavy and not too light and a must have two player, playing doesn't take long and most importantly Jaipur is fun. You can teach Jaipur to just about anyone and the theme is fun, trading in gold and rubies is far more exciting than what most people do on the average day.

Gamer Gamers: For anyone that does serious two player gaming this is the perfect game for you, every turn matters and you can easily mess with someones plan. Jaipur is a great game if you are the type of person who enjoys keeping a close eye on your opponent and making tactical decisions. After a few plays you will start to really have fun with Jaipur, I am very impressed with the amount of different strategies compared to most other 2 player games.
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For a long time Dominion was one of my go to games, when it first came out we played a lot but without expansions it simply loses its charm after a lot of plays. Then I got into Thunderstone and instantly took to it because of the way more exciting theme and less solitaire gameplay. However owning Thunderstone and 2 expansions put me off from reinvesting into Advance and for some reason classic Thunderstone takes a few plays to understand the strategy / rules. Where is all this going? Well the next stop was my discovery of deckbuilding / board hybrids and let me tell you they blow old deckbuilding games right off the table. Trains from AEG is simply fantastic and although I've burned two different groups out on it I would gladly play Trains any time of the day. What makes it so great / addicting? I will go over how to play Trains, then explain my thoughts on how it plays with 2, 3 and 4 players.

Trains AEG

Objective: Similar to Dominion and most other games your goal is to have the most Victory Points when the game ends. Trains gives you more options than a traditional deckbuilder, you can score points via cards, or two different ways on the gameboard. This immediately gives you room to experiment with different strategies and my first few games I spent trying out your options to see what gives you the biggest edge.
Victory Point Cards
Deckbuilding Portion: There are two things to keep in mind when playing Trains vs other deckbuilders.

First there are no limitations to the number of cards you can play in a turn, instead you must collect a waste card (explained in detail later) when you play any card with the recycle symbol, these are typically found on cards that let you place pieces onto the game board.

Secondly there are no limitations to the number of cards you can buy/play on your turn (other than their cost) if you can afford to buy 6 cards you can buy 6 cards.
Cost is located in the top right corner of all cards in a red circle. 

Let's cover the different types of cards starting with the unfamiliar ones.

Station Expansion Cards: These cards allow you to place train stations onto any city on the game board, you do not have to have a railway constructed in the city. There is no $ cost associated with the construction of a Train Station, however you do have to collect one waste card.

Train Stations Explained: If Railways are your bread then Stations are your butter, your railways are worth no points if they are not in a city that has 0 Train Stations. Each city depicts a specific number of skyscrapers, these indicate the number of Stations allowed to be built inside that city. At the end of the game, 1 station is worth 2 VP, 2 stations are worth 4 VP and 3 stations are worth 8 VP. Any Station that has your railway marker in it will score you points regardless of who constructed the Station.
In this example Green would score 10 Victory Points.
Blue and Yellow would both score 4 Victory Points.
Lay Rails Trains Starting Card AEGThat sounds like a pretty sweet deal how can I get my trains to go through cities occupied by opponents? Its actually quite a simple process but I will need to cover the basics of laying rails.

The green cards allow you to place your Railway tokens (cubes) onto the gameboard on any space adjacent to one of your other Railways, some of them will give you discounts based on where you are constructing your Railway for example the Tunnel card makes it cheaper to build through mountains. Each time you play a green card you will be required to take a waste card. Playing the green card is not enough to build a network of railroads though and you will need to bring financial support depending on where you wish to place your cubes. Here is a breakdown of the costs:

River = 1$
Mountain = 2$
City = 1 + # of Stations
Remote Location = $ = to the number inside the star
Opponents' Railroads = $ = number of railroad tokens + gain 1 waste.
Field = Free
The Yellow and Black striped lines may never be crossed.
If the Yellow player was starting their turn in Amagasaki and they wanted to connect to Umeda they would need:
Two Green cards allowing the Yellow player to place two railway cubes on the board, and a total of 4$.

These would be the two Rail Laying cards Yellow wants on their turn.
Their only cost would be gaining two waste.

The mountains sort of look like forests, they cost an additional 2$ to place a railway.
Assuming the Blue Player started in Oji and wanted to connect to Kashiwara in 1 turn they would need to play:
Two green cards that allow the Blue player to place railway onto the board and a total of 4$.

Looks like laying railways can get expensive pretty fast, how do you get money? By playing Train cards of course! Each Train Card has a numbered value inside a golden circle in the top left corner, these work like copper/silver/gold in Dominion but lots of them also come with a special text ability that range from gaining additional money if conditions are met to removing waste cards from your hand. I especially like this because it gets rid of that boring startegy from Dominion where you just continue to buy and upgrade your copper-gold cards.
The symbol choice is a bit strange and doesn't match up thematically, I want to call them dollars but usually end up paying for my railways in gold coins.

Then we add action cards to the mix, these are the red cards. They allow you to do cool things ranging from drawing more cards to gaining additional money or removing waste. Remember there are no limits to the number of action cards you can play on a turn, this lets you create some pretty cool combos. More than having the ability to play numerous action cards, I prefer the way they are designed in Trains versus any other deckbuilder I have tried. How are they different? I think they are much more interesting, a lot of them offering you choice or the ability to combo with other cards of other types.

Click Here For Example Action Cards.

Waste Cards: Think of these as victory point cards in Dominion, except that they are worth no points. When you draw them you simply get screwed and have 1(or more) less usable card that hand. Lots of cards force you to take waste and fewer allow you to get rid of it but you can always skip an entire turn to remove all the waste in your hand from your deck.

Game End: The game ends when one of the following conditions is met.

One player entirely depletes their supply of Railway Tokens.
The stock of Train Stations runs out.
4 different stacks of cards available for purchase have no cards left.

If any of these conditions are met the game ends immediately and players count score.

My Thoughts:

In case you still need it spelled out, Trains is far superior to most games I own, it takes a lot of known mechanics and intertwine them in a way that hasn't been done before. I have played well over 50 games now and tried many times with each # of players. Here are my thoughts and observations on how Trains plays with 2/3/4.

Two Player: At first two player trains seems a lot like Dominion or other deckbuilders, just a Race to get the most points. However with only 2 players I found that you get to build your routes more and place more pieces onto the board, I also found that there are more than a few different approaches you can take to the 2 player game. My go to 2 player strategy is to focus on building lots of $ at first and then lots of Railway card once the other player has built up some stations, you can piggy back off their points and use your high $ value to pick up a couple Skyscrapers before the game ends. I found that more often than not, a players supply of Railways will be the reason for the game's end.

Three Player: Three player was not very fun when we first started playing. It is very easy to end up with a Kingmaker situation where two players will be investing in stealing each other's points while one player can simply construct an extremely well thought out efficient route that scores a lot of points. After about 10 plays though three player Trains became my favourite, if everyone knows what they are doing it is really intense, trying to piggyback points and get an edge over your opponents, with three players I like how there is variance in each player's strategy and I like the length that the game ends. With three players you have the ability to speed up the game and bring it to an end quickly if you are in the lead, you are also easily able to prolong the game a bit to catch up, most importantly when your game ends you will want to play again. You get to see your strategy come to life but not entirely flourish and while playing you got to see the magnitude of other strategies at your disposal.

Four Player: At first I hated 4 player Trains, I thought wow this ends way too fast, then I really enjoyed it for a few plays thinking wow these are the closest games points wise and therefore must be the best way to play. My opinion is close to where it was at the start now, with 4 players unless someone is using a strictly card strategy it always ends too quickly. I think the reason the scores are close together is not because the 4 player game is balanced but because no one really gets to develop their plans. Instead you are left with what could have been and to me 4 player trains seems very anticlimactic.

The combination of deckbuilder and physical board to do stuff on has captured my attention in a way that no game has been able to in a while. Even if my friends won't play Trains anymore I have my eye on a couple more of these deckbuilder / board hybrids.

Tokyo Trains Game Board

Osaka Trains Game Board

Who Will Enjoy Trains?

Family Gamers: The rules are simple to learn especially for someone who has played Dominion, the strategy is a bit harder to come up with on your own but definitely allows for more creativity. The theme is neutral and I think there is a lot that can be learned from playing Trains. Obviously not one that kids can play on their own but for a board game oriented family Trains would be a hit.

Casual Gamers: Trains has a very fast setup time and the cleanup isn't bad either, the rules are easy to explain and turns whip around the table. Even though it is a "train game" the typical train theme is almost non existent, I think this makes it more accessible since I know a few people who have been turned off by train games or just simply not excited by them. I think what makes Trains great is it has that addicting feel of wanting to play again and again, this is great to show more casual and newer gamers because it really lets players develop their strategy and a lot of mechanics cross over into other games.

Gamer Gamers: Like I said, its great for showing non gamer friends, plays well with 2,3 or 4. Easy to explain but difficult to master, and multiple routes to victory. I think more serious gamers will appreciate how much you are able to manipulate the playing time and the level of interaction. And of course if you are someone who enjoys numbers you will like trying to figure out which strategy provides the most points and how to play more efficiently.

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