Ah, the life of a Lord or Lady in the early 20th century. Money, leisure, and high-society events are the things that occupy your mind. There’s not much else to worry about except figuring out how to advance your standing in the world. It begins with finding the ideal mate – it doesn’t even have to be someone you love, just someone who can increase your status. Once you find that mate, then all you need to do is produce an heir and some other children that you can marry off into other great families. It also helps if you can afford to hire a lot of servants, as other people are always impressed by a large staff.
Of course, it’s not that easy. Other families are chasing the same thing and the pool of eligible, ideal mates and worthy servants is small. Not to mention that one well-planted piece of gossip or a child falling in love with someone beneath them (or, heaven forbid, a servant!) can bring your whole legacy tumbling to the ground. This is the world of Lords and Ladies.
How It Plays
The goal of this card game is to raise your family’s status by marriage, having children, and hiring servants. Of course, as with any society-related drama, gossip and servants can be used to tear down another family’s status. So how do you go about creating your legacy?
At the start of the game, each player takes one starting lord or lady card and writes a name on the line provided. (The cards are wipeable and the game comes with a dry erase marker. You don’t have to write a name on your card if the idea of defacing game components freaks you out. Doing so just gives you and the other players a way to refer to your family.)
The game is played over a series of rounds. A round is complete after each player has taken a turn. A turn has two parts:
- Take two gold pieces, or one gossip card.
- Perform an action. You may choose one of the following four actions: you can either marry one of the available suitors, hire one of the available servants, roll the die to have a child (if you have a married couple), or take an additional gold piece.
Additionally, at any point during the round (not necessarily on your turn), you can play gossip cards, use a servant’s special power, pay to make gossip go away, or buy a status token.
There are three award cards available to the players that achieve specific goals during the game, including having the greatest number of servants, the most generations, or the most gossip tokens. A player can win a card and its associated status points at any point during the game, but should another player later exceed that goal, they may take the card and its points from the original player.
As status is won and lost during the round, each player moves their token along the status tracker board to keep track of the score. At the end of each round, the “market” of available suitors and servants is replenished and the start player marker is handed to the player on the left. A new round begins.
The game ends when a player finishes a round with eighteen or more status points. If two players finish with more than eighteen points, the highest total wins. If there is a tie, the player with the most gold wins.
Upstairs Elegance or Downstairs Servitude?
As a huge fan of shows and movies like Downton Abbey, Gosford Park, Upstairs, Downstairs, and the like I was excited to try this game. It looked like a fun way to get into the snarky, backbiting world of high society in a lighthearted way. It was that, but this may not be a game for everyone.
The primary ways to gain status in this game are through marriage and childbearing. In keeping with the theme, if you want to marry someone with a higher status, you have to pay the difference in gold. The suitors that offer the highest status are expensive, unless you are of similar status.
Each suitor also has birth points, representing their ability to have children. Once you have a married couple, their ability to have children is the total of their birth points. When you want to have a child, you roll the birth die. If the total is equal to or less than the couple’s total birth points, a child is born and a birth card is placed next to the parents. This process is luck-based, but you can mitigate that by marrying suitors that will give you the best possible odds of success.
We found that the marriage/childbearing aspects of the game provide the most decision points, as well as being the parts you can most control. When choosing a suitor, you need to look at both their status and their birth points and decide which is more valuable to you. Sure, having a high status is great, but if it also comes with low birth points you might not be able to create a large family. You also have to decide when you’re ready to cut off the childbearing prospects of the prior generation and start marrying off the next generation. You’re making decisions that weigh gaining status points now against the possibility of gaining more in the future. None of these are brain-frying choices, but they do require a little thought.
The rest of the game is largely about other people trying to destroy your status. Despite the theme evoking thoughts of sedate afternoon strolls and evenings by the fire, Lords and Ladies is mean. There is a large “take that” element to the game, as well as the ability for players to gang up on other players. When a player plays a gossip card onto another player, the gossip is not “confirmed” until another player plays the same gossip card (or a “True” card) onto that player. If the gossip is confirmed and the recipient can’t pay to make it go away, something bad happens such as having an offspring banished from the family, losing all money, having a lord/lady marry a servant, etc. You can get into situations where players are constantly ganging up on one poor soul and gossiping them into ruin. This seems most likely in a three player game where it can easily become two against one.
Some of the servants also have special one-time use powers that allow you to mess with your opponents. Powers include swapping all of your gossip cards with another player, running off with an unmarried lord/lady, firing another player’s servant, etc. If you can play all of the meanness in a fun, lighthearted way and give as good as you get, it’s not so bad. If you’re playing with people who are overly sensitive or who are expecting more of a solitaire experience, Lords and Ladies is not likely to go over well.
It usually takes about an hour for a player to reach eighteen points, although some games do go quicker. This isn’t bad, but some people may find that this is a bit long for the lightweight game that Lords and Ladies is. I found that I appreciated the game a lot more when my fellow players played quickly rather than analyzing everything. This is supposed to be a funny romp through an exaggerated noble family and taking it too seriously leads to a long slog of a game.
Aside from not taking it too seriously, you’ll get the most out of the game if people are willing to make up stories about the families. There’s hilarity to be had if you’re willing to tell the story of the couple with bedroom problems, the kid who had an affair with a servant, or the family facing financial ruin. If you’re not willing to poke a little fun at each other, much of the theme is lost.
I’ll also add that this game doesn’t hold up to a lot of repeated plays in a short period of time. It’s a bit like CV in that way. The stories are where the fun of the game lies, but there aren’t enough different cards in the game to keep the jokes fresh for long. Once you’ve told all the stories you can tell, you’re just left chasing points. This isn’t necessarily bad, but there are many other point-chasing card games on the market. Lords and Ladies doesn’t do anything spectacularly different and once you’ve worn out the theme, you’re left with a fairly bland card game.
The game comes with the “Foreign Affairs” expansion, which is a deck of eight additional suitors. These are nice to have, but not necessary. I would rather have seen more servants and gossip cards included, since those are where most of the fun stories come from. Also, the art on the expansion cards does not match that of the rest of the game. The rulebook explains that these cards were drawn by guest artists. They’re not unattractive, just a little out of place with the rest of the game.
If you’re a big fan of Upstairs, Downstairs type shows, you’ll probably be able to get some mileage out of Lords and Ladies. It can be fun to play as a warm-up prior to sitting down to the latest episode of Downton Abbey, or a showing of Gosford Park. If you’re looking for a serious, thinky card game, however, look elsewhere. This one is meant to be funny and lighthearted, not a brain burner. I certainly didn’t hate the game and I can see myself keeping it around to play during “Downton Season” in the winter and when I have friends over for dinner parties. Beyond that, I’m not sure it will see much table time as I don’t want to wear out the theme and I usually prefer a little more strategy and thought in my games.
iSlaytheDragon would like to thank Eagle-Gryphon games for providing us with a copy of Lords and Ladies.