The daily grind is something we all come to endure. No one truly loves it, not every aspect of it, and everyone would happily win the lottery. Luckily, with any job, there's opportunity for progression. It's usually within that same field of work, but imagine it isn't. Imagine you're the least qualified for a job but you're offered it... Would you take it on? Even if it means taking on dragons, vampires, giant pests and golems? I know it's not the usual 9-5, but Paupers’ Ladder by Bedsit Games is just that. You were a nobody, a peasant, the lowest of society, and someone's offered you a branch of hope. You can become king! The ruler of the entire country! So long as you show your worthiness! It's a game for 2-4 players and it takes 60-90 minutes to play, and has quickly become a frequent choice for us!
Gameplay and Context
Paupers’ Ladder feels like a mix of many different genres done well. Really well, actually! It's got area movement, set collection, collect and deliver, hand management to name but a few of its mechanics, and none are too overwhelming nor too discrete. It balances them perfectly. The game is effectively a sandbox adventure game with elements of what you'd want in any simple RPG; defeat monsters, collect cash, purchase items, complete quests and utilise a familiar (well, a bird).
Players take on the role of a pauper and their companion bird. The pauper and the companion can explore and move, with the pauper being able to access the recipes and items found throughout the game. It can't be stressed how valuable the bird is, and the fact that both the pauper and the birds have variable abilities adds an element of difference with every play.
The objective of the game runs on its simple story. The king has had enough and is now looking for his replacement. He doesn't want anyone you'd expect taking his seat though, that's too obvious a choice! Who picks the person most qualified nowadays? Instead, he offers it to the paupers: those who have nothing and very little. They must show their worth by earning virtues to show their capabilities as a king. Players earn these virtues by discarding vast amounts of wealth, defeating monsters up to a certain strength, learning recipes, completing quests, or taking down a dragon. Whichever pauper earns three of the five virtues first becomes king!
How It Feels To Play
Paupers’ Ladder is the game Goldilocks would pick when she's not breaking and entering. I cannot stress how well balanced it is with its mechanics. When I initially read the rules, I felt overwhelmed me - you could do so many things! For such a tidy looking game component wise, it looked to be a lot all at once! However, first impressions are not all they seem, and I am always willing to take my humble pie. The game worked superbly. There was no rush, no fast tracking, no easy shortcuts and no potential to abuse a mechanic. It was neat, tidy, precise and still allowed player decisions.
The Mechanisms Within
The game is mostly card driven, with all the wilds being drawn from independent decks as encounters. When a character explored in a region, a card was drawn and it was resolved. Some cards were placed on the region, some were kept, others acted on immediately. All were clear and made sense within the progression the game set out. The interesting thing about the wilds cards was that they all had purpose. Some stay on the board permanently too! This beautifully linked to the quests and introduced a need to travel and explore to find specific things also! And, if there was no quest linking to it, it still had an in game mechanic! Everything moved when it needed to, and they could utilised as needed.
What's more is that player outcomes are also card driven. What could have been a dice is replaced with a player outcome deck, meaning that it can be manipulated in some respects through item effects. It removes the randomness of a dice and its chaos, and allows for control. It also meant that players couldn't "get lucky" with the dice. You were never going to be able to blame anything. If you knew you had poorer cards coming up, you had options available and ways around the cards. That said, some of the lower valued cards had perks and ways round the obstacles within them. Multiples of times I had a friendly dwarf rock up and apply the pain on my behalf!
Who Are You?
In Paupers’ Ladder, each Pauper plays differently and has a variable power, but don't feel that's going to make a big difference. If it could, you wouldn't be a Pauper. You're going to struggle initially regardless to who you are, but the variable powers will help in a pinch! The player cards for the Paupers are identical in layout with a space for trophies, coins, completed quests, items, recipes and more. It's made with the player in mind and had a heavy focus on showing where things should go, and also had little details on it to make it player friendly throughout!
The Paupers don't ride solo though, each one has a companion bird to help them. These companions can move independently, fight hazards, buy and sell at shops, and even get stronger when fully trained. Despite their clearly skilful attributes, they can't use equipment or move more than one region (unless stated otherwise). These are effectively an extra player to use, a method of dividing and conquering. It's slow going to start with, as expected of any journey at its beginning, so they're an invaluable resource when trying to find specific things across the map.
Moving and exploring are the two actions a player (Pauper or Bird Companion) can partake in. A Pauper can move one region for free, and any number of extra regions for an equal amount of coins; moving four regions in total would cost three gold. Birds can't move as far, but can engage with specific trained bird activities and other things, as well as having their own variable power when trained, making them an invaluable asset and an excellent tool!
The Vast Land
Paupers’ Ladder's playing board is eye catching and makes sense too. Initially you'll assume that each square is a movement zone, but it isn't. Each region is, within itself, a space to move within. A mountainous region may have three squares in it to explore, but moving to the mountain region as a whole would only be one movement.... under the circumstances that you're adjacent! The map is attractive and the symbolisms on it to indicate the different wilds are clear and colour coded too. A lot of thought clearly went into something that looks simple to ensure that, when it's populated and busy, it's still easy to navigate.
The Beasties To Fight
As far as monsters, nasties and other abominations go, there's a plethora across the lands. There's no wonder the kings kicking the job in, it’s hardly a friendly a place to rule. You've got nasties on a scale from pest to dragon, and it's a steep scale. All monsters can be beaten and this will aid you in multiples of respects. Whether you're going for the Virtue of Bravery or cashing in on the Virtue of Generosity, there's a reason to take them on.
Monsters all act in the same way. They stay exactly where they are but attack Paupers or their winged familiars on sight! There are many ways to take a monster on, and they fall into categories accordingly. As example, you've got Pests, Humanoid, Dragons etc. It's a diverse place with tonnes of fauna, but it's not a friendly place. There are some items specific to takin on some categories of monsters. A group favourite is feeding rotten food to a humanoid enemy! It allows you to supersede the poorer outcome cards, and it also enables players to have more options.
The Virtues and Struggle
The Virtues themselves are not inconceivably hard to achieve, but you'll see the struggle to get there. It's Paupers’ Ladder, not Pauper's Elevator. You've got to work for reward! Get from bottom to top! And the only way to do that is to achieve these things through struggle. We found the hardest to do was the three quests. The Virtue of Fellowship sounds easy, do three odd jobs, but we argue against that. It's the most contextually specific one, as some quests require a lot more effort than others. It's about working with what you've got and taking each situation as it comes.
In A Nutshell...
Paupers’ Ladder is by no means a light game, but at the same time it doesn't play in a heavy manner. It's accessible at all occurrences. Things are resolved quickly and there isn't any scope for analysis paralysis. You think, you choose, you resolve. It's not something you can really get wrong. There are elements that do make it an uphill struggle, and these are things that are player chosen. You can choose to fight the Sea Serpent for 5 turns and lose for 5 turns... or you could spend 2 turns coming and going to the shop to be better equipped. It's your choice, but sheer determination won't bring down a big beastie every time. Sometimes you've got to fight with your head!
Paupers’ Ladder has become a game frequently at our table and is always on the options for the big game of the night. It's a charmingly straightforward game with lots of choices but none that will take you ages to to choose. An excellently presented, vast, neat and tidy adventure game.