This is an appealing adventure game designed by Paul Stapleton and published by Bedsit Games. Players (2–4) are all downtrodden paupers, each with their own flavour-text backstory. They have been invited to explore the lands that surround and link their respective cities. Through their exploration, their aim is to be the first to 'learn' any three of the five 'virtues' (combat and collecting objectives). Players control both their character meeple and a token representing the bird that acts as a second avatar; essentially giving players two exploration actions per turn.
In their own or any other city, players can visit the shop to buy equipment and they can take on the displayed quest. As they and their bird avatar move from region to region, they draw a card corresponding to that region's terrain. With luck, these will be treasures or ingredients they can pick up to add to their collection and help them in completing one of the virtue objectives. They may, however, draw a hazard - typically a foe that has to be defeated. When this occurs, they draw one of their 'outcome' cards and compare the strength on that card with the strength of their enemy. If they at least match the monster's strength, it is defeated and they gain a benefit (plus the monster's points contribute to meeting the requirements for one of the virtues). If they fail, the card remains in place on the board. Any player visiting the region can attempt to combat it on a future turn. Players can usually boost their chance of success by paying a gem (the currency of the game) to roll a 'lucky charm' die that offers a chance of adding 0, 1 or 2 to their strength.
The attractive art and light text add hugely to the charm of Paupers' Ladder. It's certainly a game you can play with the family and, tho' you are encountering the usual array of monsters, there's nothing here that's going to give anyone nightmares. The tension of the game builds as players' adventures unfold. What starts off as quite separate and independent explorations from the four separate starting points in the game becomes increasingly interactive as the initially very open board begins to fill with cards that stay stubbornly on their terrain and take up spaces - forcing players to spread further afield. Players will also be keeping a weather eye on their opponents' progress towards learning a virtue, and they may increasingly be looking to steal items from them or find other ways of hindering them from completing a virtue.
We've greatly enjoyed our plays of the prototype version of Paupers' Ladder, shown here on Board's Eye View, so we're really eager to see how it looks in the published version that's due out in October. We'd just like to see the addition of a solitaire option in the rules. We experimented with some ideas for solo play ourselves and came up a challenging solitaire option that worked without having to add any components beyond those that already come in the box.
You can find out more about the game on the Bedsit Games website at www.bedsitgames.co.uk