Ben Pinchback & Matt Riddle-Designers
Green Couch Games-Publisher
Disclosure–We were provided a preview copy for Ladder 29 from Green Couch Games prior to the Kickstarter which launches on 3/15/2017.
Climbing games, the bane of my existence, in that, I never get to play them and I quite enjoy climbing games, and trick taking games which have some similarities. But the climbing games that I have in our collection all have been fairly difficult to get to the table, Tichu because it is a 3-10 player game and while three players is pretty regular, our third player is fairly irregular, I’m looking at you Gabby, in her picks of what she’ll play. Haggis and Clubs have suffered similar fates. So when Jason Kotarski over at Green Couch Games asked if I wanted to preview Ladder 29 I anxiously jumped in, but was a bit worried about what my family would think about it and if my family would give it a try. My worries turned out to be unfounded, and here is why.
Ladder 29 is a card climbing game for 2-5 players, and like most climbing games or card games like this, the theme here is merely used as a way to teach the game, to make sense of the mechanics, and it works beautifully in that sense. But, I am getting ahead of myself, what exactly do you do in a game of Ladder 29?
Ladder 29 consists of a deck of 60 cards of four different suits(Red, Yellow, Green & Blue), with each suit numbering from 1-15. There is a hierarchy for the the suits as well, Blue being the highest, followed by Green, then Red and then Yellow. Also in the game will be 19 “Hot Spot” cards as well, these cards are where you are going to get your scoring from, but also these cards are the Cog in the Wheel so to speak, they give you direction in that they limit you in what you can play, but once again, I’m getting ahead of myself here. Also in the game will be a score track much the same as has been used in previous Green Couch Games titles and some score markers and player reference cards for up to 5 players. So I think it’s safe to say, this will be another lovely little small box game from Green Couch Games to match all the others in their line. Seriously, I’m going to build a small shelf for these, I swear I am.
So, the deck of 60 cards is shuffled and everyone is dealt 13 cards, regardless of player numbers. You are then going to pass 3 of those cards to the player to your left. After everyone has passed cards and you have your starting hand, you are going to draft those “Hot Spot” cards now. In the game there will be one more Hot Spot card out than there are players and there will always be a Start Player Hot Spot Card in the offering.
The Hot Spot Cards are where you will get your scoring for a round. Each player will pick one card, that card will contain a rule for the player to follow for that round and their scoring. In the example above, if the player is the first to go out, they get 8 points and so on down the line with last place always getting zero.
After everyone has drafted their Hot Spot Card a round of play begins. Starting with the current start player, the player will lead either a single card, a pair of cards a triple, a run of three or more or a four of a kind. Everyone thereafter has to follow the pattern, meaning that you cannot play triples on pairs, or runs on singles, etc. Play continues in clockwise order until everyone has to pass, the last player who played then leads another legal play to start another round. All in an effort to be the first person to shed all of their cards from their hands.
There are also some special cards that help you along the way that go along with the 60 other cards in 4 different suits. These cards help you bend the rules so to speak. You have the Chief and the Lieutenant who can only ever be played as singles but they are the highest rank singles, with the Chief being the highest and Lieutenant being second highest. You also have the Dalmatian that can be played as a single or in runs with a value of zero, OR more importantly the Dalmation can be played as the second card in a pair. Lastly you have the Rookies, apart they can be played as singles or in runs as a value zero as well or paired together, The Rookies become the most powerful Pair that you can play.
Oh, and what would a good Climbing game be without one way to break the following rule? In Ladder 29 a Four of Kind may be played at any time, regardless of what has been led and is called a Flashover, Flashovers are the highest valued plays in the game and can only be beaten of course, by Flashovers of higher value.
After everyone but one has shed all of their cards from their hand, the round is over and you calculate your scores based on the Hot Spot Cards in front of the players. The game is a race to 29 points, once 29 points is hit the game is over and whomever ends up with the most points, wins the game.
I wish I had more experience with climbing games so I could make all the comparisons to Tichu, Haggis, Clubs and so many others, but I don’t, but I will say if you are looking for that, be sure to check out Ryan Sanders’ write up over on The Indie Game Report.
For me, what I’m going to say is this, Ladder 29, is a fantastic addition to the Green Couch Games line of games. The artwork by Andy Jewett is beautiful, inclusive and I know that they are taking steps to help with some of the color blind issues that have been pointed out once folks started playing the game more out in the open.
Much like any climbing game or trick taking games the strategy of play comes down to learning your opponents idiosyncrasies I think, but also, you have to know your own as well. The Hot Spot Cards add a huge new twist to your strategies, because not only do they limit what you can or cannot do, but they also are your score each round, so sometimes you have to take that Start Player Hot Spot Card even though it is only 6 points for first, just because you want the lead at the beginning, as you may never be able to get it otherwise. Sometimes you have to take the big points on the nearly impossible cards, just in hopes of making up some lost points even with going out maybe third. They make for interesting decisions to make each and every round and really push the game.
Seven plays so far under my belt, from 2 player to 4 player, I just have not been able to get that fifth person to the table, but we’ve enjoyed it at all player counts, although I will say, Kerensa and I both agree it is probably more fun for us at 3 or 4 than at 2 player. 2 player is once again a lot of back and forth and whomever figures out or at least thinks they’ve figured out, what the other player has is usually the winner.
Ladder 29 is just another fun, well designed, beautifully illustrated game from Green Couch Games. We really can’t say much more than that. If you really like “Great little games, that make great big connections”, don’t let this one pass you up. This one got me Hook and Ladder, I am most definitely a backer.
And I haven’t even mentioned how I am like Matt Riddle and Ben Pinchback’s 12th biggest fan!
This preview was written by Brandon Kempf for the What Did You Play This Week Podcast & Blog.