Tuesday, July 02, 2024

Pauper's Ladder

I want a board game called, "Pauper's Ladder." A second edition of the game is getting ready to come out in October. I thought about asking Julie to preorder it for my birthday, but I'm afraid that she might feel weird about getting me a birthday present that I won't be able to enjoy for another 3 or 4 months.


This isn't a game we can just wait for and then go buy at our local store. It's published by a small independent game company in England. The only way that I will get it is if I preorder from the publisher and pay international shipping. That makes Pauper's Ladder pretty expensive, but I still want it.

Pauper's Ladder is an adventure game. It's a competitive game where players race to achieve objectives in a sort of fantasy over-world environment. This is similar to a game like Talisman, which we used to have but got rid of. Talisman was a good game and we liked it, but we didn't love it. The overall scope of Talisman was a bit too narrow and gameplay just took too long.


Pauper's Ladder has a more "sandbox" feel to it, and plays in about half the time of Talisman. These are solid pluses. In addition, a YouTube reviewer that I enjoy called The Dungeon Dive named Pauper's Ladder as his number one adventure game of all time. And, while I was watching a playthrough of the game Julie said, "That looks interesting." Yay!

Julie isn't a fan of fantasy games like I am, but she enjoys some sandbox adventure type games. I'm thinking specifically of Stardew Valley: The Board Game. I actually get some Stardew Valley vibes from Pauper's Ladder, mainly in how charming and approachable it seems. These are big pluses for the game.


Unlike other adventure games, Pauper's Ladder seems like it will actually fit on our table and be easy enough to set up and tear down. These are huge pluses. There are a lot of adventure games. The market for adventure style games has exploded over the last several years, but almost all of them (and I do mean all of them) are huge table hogs requiring massive amounts of time to set up and hours upon hours to play. 


Also, they are all campaign games that require a commitment of several game sessions to play. Julie and I play games together and we don't mind the idea of a campaign, but it's nice to be able to just play a game for the experience and then come back to it when we want, rather than feeling like we are being forced to play a game multiple times. Which we have to, with campaign games, because we forget. We are old. We were born in the 1900's.

Pauper's Ladder isn't this. It plays in a single session of just a few hours or less. It has tons of support from the publisher, and tons of fans worldwide despite the limits of its distribution. This said, I do recognize that Pauper's Ladder isn't for everyone. It is very random. You draw cards to see what happens and then react to the draw of the cards. You have little means of mitigation, but the game isn't punishing. If you fail to overcome a challenge or defeat a monster, there are no negative consequences. Your character can't die. You won't gain the positive rewards that you might have hoped for, but you just keep on playing.


Pauper's Ladder's board is a large (but not too large) over world map. It's brightly colored and divided into various zones. Each zone represents a kind of terrain. There are mountains and forests and mines and cities and swamps … stuff like that. Each type of zone has a deck of encounter cards that goes with it. When you enter a zone, you can explore it. When you explore a zone, you flip a card and place the card into the zone to show what is there. Each zone holds from two to three cards. If a zone is full, you can't explore any further. You must encounter the things that are already there.

Achieving certain milestones in the game is your goal. There are milestones for completing quests, acquiring skills, battling monsters, gaining treasure and one for slaying a dragon. The first player to achieve 3 of the possible 5 milestones is the winner of the game. This is one of those wander around the board and look for opportunities kinds of games. You have a character that will grow stronger and more capable as you play and every character travels with a bird companion. (Yeah, a BIRD companion. It's THAT cool!)


A big part of the fun of adventure games like this is the sense of discovery and the surprise that comes from drawing a new card. That can grow old after a lot of plays, but Pauper's Ladder has an expansion called the Moon Towers that replaces all the decks of encounter cards with new ones and adds new objectives. So, once you have played out the base game, you can start again with a completely new experience. There's also the This Cobbled Isle expansion that adds a new type of encounter area and several new cards that can be played in either the base game or the Moon Towers expansion.


There's a lot for an adventure game fan like me to be excited about in Pauper's Ladder. I think that its charming look and casual game play will appeal to Julie. I know that the sense of adventure and exploration will appeal to me. This is the kind of immersive game experience that I live for. In the hobby game community people talk about their "grail game." This is a game that they hope to gain, but that seems more like a dream or myth than a reality. Pauper's Ladder is my grail game. It's the board game that I most want to have.

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