How to Play
To be the first player to make it to a new fiscal year with two secretaries, two salesmen, one sales manager, one vice-president, and one president.
Based on the number of players playing the game a number of employee cards are put out onto the game board:
- Two Players: 4 secretaries, 4 salesmen, 2 sales managers, 2 vice-presidents, and 1 president
- Three Players: 6 secretaries, 6 salesmen, 3 sales managers, 3 vice-presidents, and 2 presidents
- Four Players: 7 secretaries, 7 salesmen, 3 sales managers, 3 vice-presidents, 3 presidents
Each player gets a company card, $50,000 (3-$10,000, 4-$5,000), and a playing piece. All playing pieces are placed on the “new fiscal year” space. Players roll the dice to determine who gets to play first. Whoever rolled the highest number gets to move first and they move the number of spaces they rolled.
The key to Ulcers is to acquire employees for your company. To hire employees players need to land on spaces indicating the different positions that a player needs to hire. For example if a player lands on a secretary space they are able to hire one secretary from the pool on the game board. If all of the cards of a particular position have already been hired, a player is unable to hire that position.
To hire an employee the player chooses how much they would like to pay the employee. The amount they choose to pay the employee is paid to the bank. A player can pay an employee any of the salary levels printed on their company card as long as one rule is followed. As in the corporate world, higher level employees have to be paid at least as much as their subordinates. The hierarchy of employees is as follows: secretary, salesman, sales manager, vice-president, president. So for example a sales manager has to make as much or more than a salesman.
So you might just want to give all of your employees the least amount of money that you can. While you can do that it also makes it easier for other players to steal your employees. When a player lands on a “raid” space that player can steal one employee from one of the other players. To steal an employee the player has to give the employee a raise. If an employee is currently being paid $10,000 the player will have to pay $15,000 to take that employee. The money paid to take an employee is paid to the bank. While raiding an employee the salary paid to the employee that is raided must not break the rules of a subordinate being paid more than a superior.
While a player can’t prevent another player from raiding an employee they can be proactive to prevent it from happening. On a player’s turn before they roll the dice they can give any or all of their employees a raise of any amount. The player has to pay the amount of the raise to the bank though. For example if a player raises a salary from $5,000 to $10,000 the player would pay $5,000 to the bank and move their employee to the $10,000 salary space on their company card. When giving a raise the rule of subordinates not making more than their superiors must be followed.
Since you have hired employees you are eventually going to have to pay them. Whenever you land on a salary space you have to pay the salary of the employees listed on the space.
If you can’t afford to pay all of your employees indicated on the space, you are forced to move your piece to the salary track. You do not collect the money for passing the new fiscal year space. If you land on the payroll space from normal movement you have the option to pay the salary of all of your employees or you will have to move through the payroll track. A player moves through the whole track in their current turn. They roll one of the dice and follow the instructions on the space they land on. The player keeps rolling the die until they move through the entire track and re-enter the normal game board.
If a player lands on the strike violence space on the track, they either pay the $10,000 or they have to go back to the beginning of the track and continue moving through the track.
If a player lands on the business venture space, lands on a space that takes them to the space, or use a card that takes them to the space the player will move through the business venture track. Before moving through the track the player decides how much money to invest in any increment of $10,000 ($10,000, $20,000, etc). The player puts the money in the center of the game board and starts rolling one of the dice. The player keeps rolling the die and taking the actions associated with the spaces that they land on until they have moved their pawn out of the business venture track. When the player leaves the track they are paid the amount of money that their investment is worth after moving through the track.
Other Miscellaneous Topics
Factory Staff on Strike: If a player lands on a space that makes them go through the “factory staff on strike” track they follow the same process as the payroll track.
Scandal Spaces: The player has to pay $25,000 to the bank or fire their highest ranking male employee and a secretary.
New Fiscal Year Space: When a player passes the new fiscal year space, the player gets $50,000 from the bank. If a player lands exactly on the new fiscal year space they get $100,000 from the bank.
Employee Trades/Sales: Employees may not be traded or sold to another player.
Bankruptcy: If a player has no money remaining they are not eliminated from the game. The player can’t hire any new employees or raid employees from other players until they get some money though. If the player owes any money and can’t pay the amount owed, the amount that can’t be paid is ignored.
Taxes: When a player lands on the taxes space they pay $5,000 times the roll of both dice. If the player can’t afford the entire tax they only pay what they can.
Ulcer Cards: When a player lands on a space to draw an Ulcer card, they draw the top Ulcer card. A player can choose to play one ulcer card at the beginning of any turn instead of rolling the dice. Ulcer cards can be sold or traded to other players.
Winning the Game
A player needs to acquire an entire staff of employees which includes two secretaries, two salesmen, one sales manager, one vice-president, and one president. To win the game a player needs to move past the new fiscal year space with a complete staff of employees.
If I were to tell you that Ulcers was a “HR Simulator” most people would probably scoff and immediately dismiss Ulcers. How could a game that simulates HR and hiring employees actually be a good game? At first I didn’t give the game much thought either but due to being a topic that I have never seen a board game about in the past I had to try it out. I have to say that after giving Ulcers a chance it was actually a lot better than I was expecting.
At first look Ulcers is a pretty typical 1960s/1970s roll and move game. You roll the dice, move around the board, receive and spend money, and hope to beat the other players to your objective. So many of these games have been made that it is really hard to stand out if you just make another bland roll and move game. If this was all there was to Ulcers it would be just another bland roll and move game.
Ulcers like most roll and move games relies heavily on luck since what spaces you land on have a huge impact on how well you will do in the game. If you can’t land on employee spaces you can’t hire employees which means that you can’t win the game. Other players could also keep landing on raid spaces and take all of your employees away from you.
Not surprisingly money is key in the game. The players who get the most money in the game have a great chance at winning the game. In the game I played I had no chance of winning the game since I couldn’t get any money. With no money I couldn’t hire or steal any employees, other players kept taking my employees since I couldn’t pay them much, and I ended up having to fire several employees because I couldn’t pay their salaries.
On the other end of the spectrum one player was very lucky when it came to money. At one point in the game they got to go to the business venture track. The player made like $50,000 to $100,000 going through the track. They proceeded to pass the new fiscal year space (on the same turn) earning $50,000 more and then landed on another business venture space allowing them to repeat the process again. This actually happened three times on the same turn and the player ended up making several hundred thousand dollars on the turn which had them set up with money for the rest of the game. This player didn’t end up winning the game though because he was unlucky when it came to landing on hiring spaces since he was never able to put his money to use hiring employees. This just goes to show you that you need luck with money and landing on the right spaces in order to win Ulcers.
At this point Ulcers might not sound that great since it relies on luck and simple roll and move mechanics. Ulcers’ one unique mechanic though is the idea of hiring employees and this just so happens to be the best thing about the entire game and keeps Ulcers from being just another bland roll and move. While I called the game a HR management game, that is kind of an exaggeration. Mostly you just manage hiring new employees and keeping their salaries competitive in order to prevent other players from stealing them.
While this might sound boring I have to say it is more interesting than you would think. It actually has a decent amount of strategy behind it as well. When hiring an employee you actually have to put some thought into how much you want to pay them. You can go low in order to save money when you have to pay payroll and by going low you also give yourself more flexibility in how much you can pay higher level employees. By going low you put your employees at risk though since a player that has an opportunity to raid an employee is likely going to take an employee from a player that they will have to pay less for. Also if you go too low with all of your employees you might create a situation where it is really hard to hire/steal employees because of the rule where superiors have to be paid more than their subordinates.
Your decisions are never really complicated but you need to think about them or you could build yourself into a corner. While luck has a big impact on who wins, a player can make it easier to win by being smart with how they pay employees. For example at the end of the game that I played, one player was about to win the game. Everyone knew they were about to win but the rest of the players really couldn’t do anything because they didn’t have the money or the flexibility in the pay structure to steal any employees from the player. A couple of the players even landed on the necessary raid space but were unable to steal any employees from the player that would eventually win the game.
While Ulcers is not a fantastic game I actually thought it was a pretty good game for a 1960s roll and move game. The game is pretty easy to play and there is a pretty good balance between luck and strategy even though I wish there was a little less luck in the game. Other than luck the only other significant issue I have with the game is that it kind of takes a little too long to complete. The game will usually take around an hour and that means the game drags a little at the end especially if you have no way to get back into the game. The game would work better as a 30-45 minute game than an hour game.
Being a game from the 1960s you have to be a little more lenient on the components. With that said I think the components in the game are kind of cheap. The company cards feel like construction paper. The artwork in the game is quite bland. The artwork doesn’t really distract you but the board could have used a lot more than just colored spaces. If you are looking for good/great components, Ulcers isn’t going to be the game for you.
Before wrapping up the review I want to talk about the theme for a while. Being a game from the 1960s and being about the workplace you might be wondering whether the game is sexist. It is kind of hard to tell whether Ulcers is sexist or not. The game is from 1969 so it is not surprising that the game doesn’t have a lot of female employees in high ranking positions. On the other hand I have to say I am surprised that the game has a female president and sales manager in the game. I doubt many games from the 1960s had the option for high ranking female employees. Other than these two employees though the game is pretty stereotypical of the era with men dominating the higher ranking positions while the women are mostly secretaries.
One thing I want to address is the “Scandal” space. Based on the rules for the game, only male employees can get caught in the scandals insinuating that the “scandal” involves a high ranking male employee being unfaithful with one of their secretaries. I find this to be a pretty stupid rule for a couple reasons. First it insinuates that only male employees can get into scandals which isn’t true. I attribute this to the era when the game was made. Gameplay wise it is also kind of stupid since it makes the female employees much more valuable then the male employees. If you play the game with the original rules there is no reason not to hire the high ranking female employees since you eliminate the risk of this happening to you. I think this is a stupid rule since in every other way the game treats all of the employees of the same rank in the same way. My group decided to modernize the game and make the highest ranking employee (male or female) eligible to be fired when landing on the scandal space.
A lot of roll and move games have been made in the past and a lot of them are quite generic and rely way too much on luck. Ulcers relies too much on luck as well but it actually has some interesting ideas that add some strategy to the genre. You would think that a HR game wouldn’t be fun but I was actually surprised by how much I liked Ulcers. It is far from a fantastic game but it is actually a good roll and move game that does something new. I just wish the game relied a little less on luck and was a little shorter.
If you hate roll and move games or the concept bores you, I don’t think you will like Ulcers. If you like roll and move games though or the concept looks interesting I would actually recommend you look into Ulcers.
If you would like to purchase Ulcers you can purchase it on Amazon here.