Ladder 29 Review

Ladder 29 (Green Couch Games)
Grab your helmet, call the dalmatian and hop aboard the engine, it’s time to battle the flames with Green Couch Games’ Ladder 29!
With a theme that’s conveyed and carried entirely through the illustrations, Ladder 29 is a trick-taking card game with more modern gaming mechanics like risk/reward and hand management. To start each round players are dealt 13 Firefighter cards (from a deck numbered 1-15 in four different suits) and then Hotspot cards equal to the number of players are laid out face up along with the First Player Hotspot card. After arranging their hand to maximize classic poker plays (such as pairs, triples, runs, etc) players select three Firefighter cards to pass to the player on their left. With the Firefighter cards now set for that round, in reverse score orders, players pick a Hotspot Card that outlines a special rule and points value for going out. Easier rules (such as being first player) score fewer points while harder rules (such as all cards in a run must be all different colors) score more.
After each player has their Hotspot, whoever drew First Player (or has the lowest score, if no one did) leads with one of the outlined legal poker plays. Proceeding players must be able to beat that current poker play with a higher number version of the same play (if a pair of 2s were lead, at least a pair of 2s in a higher suit or pair of 3s has to be played). The trick continues until everyone has passed, and the last player who passed now starts a new trick.  Play proceeds this way until only one player remains with cards in hand with everyone else scoring based off of when they went out and the points set on their Hotspot card.

Utilizing play from well-known games is tricky. It can be like a band covering a song; take too many liberties and you lose familiarity, but recreate it too closely and… what’s the point? Ladder 29 finds its balance by relying on just enough classic game rules and play to give it that feel, while introducing attractive illustrations and more modern gaming choice with the Backdraft Hotspots Cards. Quick to explain and pick up but with enough choices to remain interesting for game after game, there’s a lot to like in this little box. (Green Couch Games) by David C. Obenour