Jorge Zhang

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Rulebook Preview 7: Pauper’s Ladder, Empty Space Explorers, Outpost 18, Jazz Nights

Hey everyone! Today I am back with another installment of my Rulebook Preview series. In this series, I take a look at tabletop games that have not yet been released or have been very recently released. I have not played these games, but simply reviewed the rulebooks (hence Rulebook Preview). Anyway, without further ado, here are 4 new games that you should keep a lookout for!

  1. Pauper’s Ladder
  2. Empty Space Explorers
  3. Outpost 18
  4. Jazz Nights

Pauper’s Ladder

In this game, you play as a pauper exploring the world with a magical bird to help you (admittedly, I didn’t know what a pauper was before reading about this game. According to the dictionary, a pauper is a very poor person). You compete against the other players to complete the virtues of generosity, knowledge, bravery, fellowship, and magnificence. I really love this twist on the whole exploration genre of games, as it isn’t all about conquering territory and amassing armies. Rather, you’ll spend your time donating money, completing quests, or gaining knowledge from the villages you visit. Perhaps you’ll set out to explore hazardous territory, and slay a dragon. If you complete 3 of the 5 virtues, you’ll win the game and be declared the next ruler of the royal court! Pauper’s Ladder was created by Bedsit Games, and will be available for pre-order around September (it is not going through Kickstarter).

Set Up

Turns consist of a player moving into a connected region and placing a random tile of that terrain type or encountering a previously placed tile in that region (each region consists of 2-3 tiles). Players can spend gems to move farther, which can be smart as you may want to avoid or seek out certain terrains. In addition, each player can take turns for their bird and their pauper separately! This means that players essentially get to take 2 turns in a row. If a player explores on a city region, instead of placing a tile they buy (or sell) 1 card at the shop. They can also complete the city’s quest. I really like the simplicity of the turns, and how the board would quickly evolve and change. As players defeat hazards, complete events, encounter natural disasters, or harvest materials, tiles will be removed from the board. This puts a very reasonable cap on the amount of space the game takes up while still allowing for the continuous exploration of the world.

You can fight an aggressive tree!

I’m a big fan of the combat in Pauper’s Ladder. When you fight an enemy (the game calls them Hazards) you simply need to exceed their strength value. First, you draw an “outcome card” that gives you some strength. These outcome cards have special abilities, such as the ability to pay gold to increase your strength. In addition, you can choose to spend a gem to roll a die and get 0-2 strength. Finally, you may want to collect weapons and armors that increase your strength. If you end up having more strength, you’ll defeat the hazard! You get to keep the tile and any rewards, and are closer to fulfilling the bravery virtue. If you lose, it’s no big deal: the hazard will stay in the region and fight anyone moving through. I like how simple the combat is, but how it is more complex than simply having a really powerful sword or rolling a die. Instead, this combination of factors allows the player to make some decisions based on whether they want to strategically lose the battle, or stretch for a victory. And if they are really powerful, then they can choose to not spend money to increase their strength! In addition, a lot of the enemies in the game seem to be very imaginative and fun to battle.


There is a lot more great stuff to this game, but since this preview is getting a bit long I just want to focus on recipes. A recipe is a card that is double-sided. They start on the in-learning side, which shows 3 ingredients. These ingredients are found through exploring tiles (you get to keep ingredient tiles to keep track of which ingredients you have). If a player has 2 of the 3 ingredients, they can immediately spend them to flip the recipe over. These recipes give your pauper very powerful abilities, such as the ability to peek at cards on top of the deck. Paupers start the game with 3 uncompleted recipes, and can have up to 5 recipes. I find this mechanic really cool, as it is flexible enough to not be impossible to complete, but difficult enough to be something to aim for. I am really excited for this game, and can’t wait to hear more about it!

Rulebook: The rulebook has some great graphics, and does a great job of explaining all the different bits and pieces. There is a lot going on, and there’s a ton packed into this game! But I felt that it made intuitive sense. Shout out to Paul, who has been a follower of this blog, for making a very neat game. You can see the rulebook for yourself here:

Empty Space Explorers

Basic set up (there are other configurations)

Empty Space Explorers is an interesting hybrid between an exploration and racing game. Your goal is to get to your color’s Exoplanet first, but the twist is that you don’t know where the obstacles are! You’ll have to research in order to identify which areas are safe to travel to (or take a risky gamble and move into unknown territory). I find this combination of ideas really fascinating! Empty Space Explorers will be on Kickstarter on June 26th, so make sure to keep an eye out for it.

The turn

Turns consist of players choosing to either research or explore. Researching allows you to draw 2 cards from the deck. Similar to games like Ticket to Ride, you can also draw cards that are face-up. After drawing cards, you can trade in 2 of them to peek at one of the face-down cards (or, you can reveal it to everyone if you want). Exploring allows you to move onto an area that is the same color as your ship. If you want to move into an area that is a different color, you need to discard that color card from your hand. If you want to move to an unexplored area, you flip it over and then pay to move there if needed. You can actually keep doing this and move quite a far way in a single turn, but you’ll probably eventually run out of cards as the hand size limit is 4. So what is the incentive to research and see what cards are face-down? Well, that’s because of black holes of course! If a player moves into a black hole, their spacecraft is destroyed and they have to rebuild it and begin from the start.

I really like this simple gameplay, and I think it is interesting because you might want to wait for your opponents to do the heavy lifting of discovering which sectors are safe or not safe. But by piggybacking, you run into the hand limit quite quickly, and you’ll always be one step behind. There’s also the bluffing element of “What did you see?”
“Oh, just a safe sector, you don’t have to worry at all.”
I actually wonder if the option to reveal a sector to everybody actually limits this bluffing element to the game, as it means that you can just ask a player to reveal their research to everyone. That can be a good or a bad thing. I like the harsh penalties for entering a black hole, and there are 9 of them out of a 96 card deck, so the probabilities of entering one are not insignificant. If you draw into a black hole, the nice thing is that you can place it during your research action on any face-up card that doesn’t have any spacecrafts on it. This way, you can pretty effectively block off your opponent. You might even try to completely surround your opponent with black holes. This is mitigable as one other rule to mitigate this is that a player can discard 3 cards to “change the universe” during their research action, which allows a player to place one of the discarded cards in the place of any face-up tile. This effectively

Some interesting alternate layouts

Anyway, this is a really simple and light game, but there’s a lot of strategy underneath it. I can see a lot of different viable strategies, and even some teamwork and backstabbing. I am a big fan of the alternate layouts as well, and I think the layouts could create bottlenecks that simply add to the amount of conflict.

Rulebook: The rules are beautiful and simple! I really enjoyed reading about how the game was influenced by some other games, and how the designer heavily involved his daughters in the game design process. It creates a nice personal touch that a lot of other games lack. I was impressed by the rules and thought that they were pretty clear overall. I’m sure that the rules will only get better as the game approaches launch. Shout out to Peter, who also follows this blog, for making a really neat game! You can read the rulebook online here.

Outpost 18

Set Up

Outpost 18 is a neat 2-player game that is made up of only 18 cards! I really love the simplicity of this game, and how extremely portable it is. As someone who has played a ton of collectible card games like Yu-Gi-Oh!, this game appeals strongly to me. I have not gotten around to playing the PnP version yet, but I really hope to soon because it sounds really awesome! I am not sure what the next step for the creator is, but I can see this being on Kickstarter or being published as an affordable and fun small game.

An explanation of the cards

There is a ton of strategy in this tiny game. How is that possible? Well, that’s because every card in the game is actually two different cards. On your turn, you play one card from your hand. You choose to play it vertically as a spaceship, or to play it horizontally next to your Outpost as an upgrade. Your outpost is the same every game: a 5 HP (health points) card that lets you draw a card at the end of each turn. By upgrading your outpost, you increase the amount of damage your opponent needs to deal in order to destroy your outpost. You also get bonuses! These can give you resources, let you draw more cards each turn, let you play more cards each turn, or protect your other upgrades.

You put upgrade cards under your station core

Ships are cards that can attack the opponent. They start off with pretty low power, which determines how much damage it deals when attacking. The other important rule to know about ships is that they are destroyed after they attack, so you need to be careful and deliberate when launching an attack! One thing I noticed when looking through the cards were that ships start off being pretty mediocre. Often times, you get more health for playing an upgrade than you get power for playing a ship. That being said, the ships get significantly better once you collect enough resources! Many of them have passive abilities that give them more power while you have certain resources. Some give you a special ability. These abilities are activated once the ship attacks, and can be very devastating! So in the long run, by collecting the right resources for the right combos, ships become better than upgrades.

Some of the ships in the game

That being said, the beauty in games like this is that it isn’t all about the numbers. An early offensive attack can neuter your opponent by rendering some of their ships useless (if you can get rid of the resources they really need). By the same token, waiting until you have a lot of ships on your field and launching one big assault can also be very effective, though you’ll have allowed your opponent to build their defenses. Because the attacker gets to decide (for the most part) how to distribute damage among the upgrades, the attacker also has that inherent advantage. The attacker also gets to take destroyed upgrades into their hand. That being said, I anticipate this being less of a big deal than it would be in many other dueling card games, as you have a hand limit of 3 cards and can only play 1 each turn. So it can be difficult to gain card advantage. I want to talk more about this game, but I think I may have to hold off on other judgements until I actually play given how dependent the gameplay will be on the cards themselves.

Rulebook: The rulebook was excellently presented, and I loved the choice of fonts. It also was extremely short at only 2 pages! For any dueling card game, that is a massive achievement, as there are often times many small edge-cases and extra rules to consider. I did think that it could be a little bit more detailed, as while all the rules seem to be there it did take me a couple read-throughs. That being said, it’s still a prototype rulebook, so I’m sure it will only get better from here. You can check out the rules and print your own copy here! Also, sign up for the official mailing list here!

Jazz Nights

In Jazz Nights, you are building a Tableau

I was taking a look at Jazz Nights for the monthly rules exchange hosted by the Board Game Design Lab Community Facebook group. If you are a game designer, I highly encourage you join this group for the rule exchanges! You get feedback from other game designers about how to improve your rulebook, and it can be very helpful. You can find this Facebook Group here. Anyway, since I already gave feedback for the rules, I thought I might as well write a small bit about it here. I’m not sure what the designer intends to do with this game, but I would not be surprised to find it on Kickstarter at some point.

Card stacking

This game is about hosting the best jazz performance. On each turn, a player places one of their cards on their tableau. This continues until all players are out of cards. Then, the players score their tableaus. The player with the most points wins! You can score points in many different ways, but the main idea is that you want to be drawing in the largest continuous crowd and create the most artist-instrument pairs. After that, you want to be conscious of ways to score points through locations and collecting items, but those points are rarer to come by. What I really like about this game is how flexible the card placement is. This creates a ton of different choices on each turn! Also, no matter what you do you must cover at least 1 square. This makes it really tough to place your cards as it means that you will have to sacrifice certain symbols to make combos, and you won’t ever be able to reverse that decision. At first, I thought that there was no interaction between the players. But actually, depending on what the other players are going for, you might want to compete for something else, as this affects scoring. Overall, a neat concept, and I can’t wait to see how it continues to develop!

Rulebook: The rulebook has improved a ton since I last looked at it. I really like how descriptive it is, as it made it easier to understand the rules. My initial suggestion was to reduce some of the repetition, and it looks like the creator has since made the rulebook a lot shorter and easier to get through. Anyway, you can find the rules here.

What did you think about these 4 games? Want to know more about some of them? Let me know in the comments below, and thanks for reading!

© 2020 Jorge Zhang