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Ladder 29 Review

Quick Look:

Designers: Ben Pinchback and Matt Riddle
Artist: Andy Jewett
Publisher: Green Couch Games
Year Published: 2017
No. of Players: 2-5
Ages: 10+
Playing Time: 30 minutes

Find more info on BoardGameGeek.com
WARNING: This is a preview of Ladder 29. I was sent a prototype version of the game. All components and rules are prototype and subject to change.

Ladder 29 is a fast-paced card game that puts you in the boots of ladder-climbing firefighters. Scale the burning building and work to "extinguish" your hand before your opponents!

The deck of cards and player tokens - all we're missing is the players!


Rules and Setup:
Each round, players are dealt thirteen cards, passing three of them to the person on their left, and take a Hot Spot card, which outlines the player's challenge and how many points they can earn that round. The starting player then decides what lead to play - singles, pairs, three- or four-of-a-kind, or runs of three or more - and other players must play higher cards or suits in matching hands. Once all but one player are unable to play and have passed, that player decides the new lead. Play continues in this fashion until all but one player has emptied their hands. Everyone counts up their points for the round and advances up the score tracker. Once a player hits 29 points, the round is played out and whoever has the highest score at the end wins!

Alongside the Firefighter deck, you also get Hot Spot cards, three score track cards, rule cards, and five score trackers.

Game setup is fairly easy. The score track cards are arranged in the middle of the table, and the score trackers are randomly placed at the bottom. Each player is then given a rule reference card and a score tracker, which are randomly placed at the bottom of the score track cards. The Firefighter deck and Hot Spot cards are shuffled separately. Cards are dealt from the Firefighter deck to players, with any leftover cards getting set aside for the round; the Hot Spot cards are placed face-down, with the Start Player card pulled out, and a number of them equal to the number of players are dealt out alongside the Start Player card. The player who takes the Start Player card (or the person lowest on the score track if no one takes it) then begins the round!

A full table of firefighters!

Theme and Mechanics:
The developers of this game did a great job of modeling Ladder 29 around its firefighter theme. The score track cards are designed to look like a burning building, the Firefighter cards and Special Personnel cards have corresponding artwork, and terms like "Hot Spot cards" and "Flashover plays" do well to keep the immersion going.

It's a long climb to the top - but it might surprise you how fast it can go!

The game's most basic mechanic involves playing hands that beat your opponents'; it's a simple mechanic that works well, and the Special Personnel cards (two Rookies, the Dalmatian, the Lieutenant, and the Chief) add some variety to the mix. However, it's the Hot Spot cards that really make the game exciting. Each one (excluding the Start Player card) has a specific requirement attached to it, from not being allowed to play certain cards at certain times to having to beat your opponent's play by several levels. While they can certainly be difficult, the harder your challenge, the more points you can earn if you come out on top that round.

Hot Spot cards provide a wealth of challenges, forcing you to try different tactics each round.

Artwork and Components:
The artwork on this game is nothing short of impressive. It's clean, colorful, fits the theme perfectly, and it's just plain good to look at. I could easily see myself substituting these cards in for other games or even showing them to other tabletop gamers as examples of card art done right.

The four color suits are stylized with firefighting paraphernalia.

The Special Personnel cards are very well-designed; their artwork is on par with the rest of the game, and their special rules are included on the cards for easy reference. Perhaps the only component that seems a bit out of place are the score trackers, but they still do an excellent job of being simple and easy to use.

I'm a sucker for that dalmatian.

The Good:
Ladder 29 has that right blend of easy-to-learn, difficult-to-master gameplay that will keep you coming back time and time again. Setup and cleanup are easy, its artwork is beautiful, and the challenges can be brutal without becoming frustrating.

The Bad:
The score trackers don't match the theme as well as everything else (though if they unlock their stretch goals, this will no longer be the case), and it is a luck-based game to a point, so you can fall behind the pack fairly quickly if the cards aren't in your favor.

Final Thoughts:
At a time when board games with 1,001 components are all the rage, a simple card game with great artwork and mechanics is a breath of fresh air.

Players Who Like:
Players who enjoy fast-paced, hand-emptying card games like Uno and Phase 10 may just find a new favorite game in Ladder 29.

I am giving Ladder 29 8 out of 10 super meeples.

8 10

Check out Ladder 29 on:


The Kickstarter campaign runs through April 12, 2017.

About the Author:
David Jensen has tried his hand at everything from warehouse work and washing dishes to delivering pizza. Now, he's writing reviews and working as an editor for a start-up literary magazine. When he's not busy procrastinating, he's also running tabletop games for friends and family.
Ladder 29 Review Ladder 29 Review Reviewed by David J. on March 20, 2017 Rating: 5

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