Back in 2021, I had the chance to review Dungeon Scrawlers: Heroes of Undermountain from WizKids. Since then, Heroes of Undermountain has consistently stayed in my gaming rotation. It’s fast, it’s kid-friendly, and it’s relatively easy to teach. When I learned about the Heroes of Waterdeep expansion, I had only one question: what could they possibly add to this game?
Truth be told, Heroes of Waterdeep is more of a standalone sequel to Heroes of Undermountain. The gameplay is familiar: players simultaneously race and trace their way through identical dry-erase dungeon maps while grabbing treasure, eliminating monsters, and generally scoring points in various D&D-themed ways. (You can find a more thorough explanation of play at the review linked above.)
Of course, this version sports a few new features. The most immediately obvious is the set of cards that come along with the standard double-sided player sheets. There are five character cards, swapping the original game’s sturdy cardboard for dry-erase so that players can track their score across all three rounds. This is a nice quality-of-life addition, though the new cards only include a graphical representation of their character ability, rather than a full text description. There are also reference cards for each of the game’s 8 dungeon maps. (Note that one of the dungeons uses 2 maps, so there are 8 maps but only 7 dungeons.) These highlight any special rules, variable ending conditions, or scoring bonuses that apply for that dungeon.
More exciting are the large Mini-Dungeon and Boss cards. Mini-Dungeons appear in some of the harder dungeons, and work about how you’d expect: when you reach a mini-dungeon entrance icon on your standard map, you pull one of these cards and complete it, exiting back onto your regular map at one of the mini-dungeon exit icons. These don’t offer a drastically different experience, but they do help with replayability.
Better yet, they can be combined with the Boss cards to form a separate variant, eschewing the conventional sheets for a single deck of dungeon cards. In this mode, players race to finish four mini-dungeons and then take on one of the Boss cards, which are essentially more complex versions with their own unique scoring conditions.
The last major twist is the introduction of Dragon coins. These are collected by touching their icon during a dungeon. When a player does so, they grab one of the physical tokens from the table. During scoring, each coin is worth a point, with a bonus for the player who collected the most.
Along with these, there are a handful of minor tweaks to the maps themselves. The only meaningful one is the appearance of one-way arrows that limit how players can move around certain maps. The rest are cosmetic choices, like varying the style of the exotic plants that can be collected.
Dragon Your Feet
I have to admit that I’m still on the fence about Heroes of Waterdeep. In theory, it’s a better version of the original game, with upgraded components and a few extra gameplay features, as well as a more recognizable setting. (Though Undermountain is actually connected to the city of Waterdeep in the Forgotten Realms setting, board gamers are much more likely to recognize the name from another game we’ve reviewed: the popular worker placement game Lords of Waterdeep.) The new Mini-Dungeon cards are fun and the option to play using only those cards, rather than the full sheets, is an enjoyable twist that gives players another reason to pull this box off the shelf.
On the other hand, Heroes of Waterdeep has relatively few innovations and none that are particularly inspiring. The Dragon coins introduce another variable (and another step) to the already tedious scoring process without adding much value to the gameplay. While I appreciate the new character cards, the lack of new abilities is a huge missed opportunity to make this feel like a distinct entry. And the Waterdeep maps don’t particularly distinguish themselves from the original’s Undermountain maps; if I dropped them all together in a pile, I’m not sure I could quickly separate them back out to their respective boxes. All in all, these are incremental changes to a game that honestly didn’t need much improvement to begin with.
If you have never played Dungeon Scrawlers, I would generally recommend Heroes of Waterdeep. It has all the charm of the original, plus a few extra bells and whistles that make it slightly more engaging on the whole.
If you’re a casual fan of Heroes of Undermountain, you’re probably not going to get drastically more enjoyment out of Heroes of Waterdeep. They’re not distinct enough to really provide a different experience; it’ll feel like more of the same but with the occasional twist.
And if you’re a hardcore fan of Heroes of Undermountain? Well, that’s tricky. You’ll probably want the new maps and the new cards, but be aware that these aren’t going to drastically change the game. If anything, Heroes of Waterdeep has given me an appreciation of all the things that Heroes of Undermountain got right – and of the potential that still lies in wait should WizKids try to make a more ambitious expansion down the line.