Review: Up the…… Corporation
Publisher: Glass Ceiling Productions
Year: 2004
Tagline: <none>

Cartoonish writing over a commercial building

how we met

I have a sister, and she is lovely. My lovely sister gifted this game to me. She bought it somewhere that was not thrift, but more like a home goods store or something. If I remember correctly it was around $7 or $8, so more than a typical thrift purchase but brand new and sealed. She bought Up the…… Corporation for me not too long after I started this blog because she thought it would be a good fit. And boy, was she right!

how it plays

In Up the…… Corporation you have a singular goal, which is to climb the corporate ladder and beat all of your hideous coworkers to the top. Then you win!

NOTE: Presumably the game is called Up the…… Corporation because they were not allowed to use the term corporate ladder?

Players choose their characters randomly by choosing a card out of an envelope that says, “No Peeking!” Each character card has a brief description of that character, and each has a matching pawn. Once you have your character then you adopt it completely, including gender. If cards refer to gender, they mean your character, regardless of the player. This comes up a lot, so it’s important to mention.

Character B.S. Artista is an exaggerated salesman
I played B.S. in our group’s play. Check out my sweet sandals, ladies.

Once players have characters, they draw a random SALARY card and a random EDUCATION card. The SALARY card will represent which rung is your starting position in the corporate ladder. Those cards are then returned to the SALARY deck. The EDUCATION card sits in front of you and may come into play by rewarding or punishing you based on how much education you have. They do not change starting play.

Salary card examples showing 20, 40, and 50 thousand
Random SALARY cards
Random education cards show Bachelor of Arts, Bachelor of Science, or GED
Random EDUCATION cards

Players also begin the game with 5 STRATEGY cards that they should keep secret from other players. These cards say things like Vacation, Complete Goals, Avoid the next Demotion, and things like that. They can potentially protect you from negative things happening.

Random strategy cards show Project Completed, Activity Reports, and Vacation
Random STRATEGY cards

The player whose pawn is on the lowest salary gets to go first. On their turn a player draws from any of the three decks: ETHICS, POLITICS, or HARD WORK. Players read the chosen card aloud and resolve it. Some of the ETHICS cards, in particular, will let you keep them and use at an opportune time later in the game.

Random ethics cards show memos asking people not to eat each other's lunches or stealing a strategy card
Random ETHICS cards
Random politics cards showing females moving down 2 levels, or AnnaLee Airhead moving ahead
Random POLITICS cards
Random hard work cards including moving up a level if you have a degree
Random HARD WORK cards

Generally all the cards you draw will punish you, celebrate you, punish all of the workers, celebrate all of the workers, focus on a particular gender, focus on a particular character, or be neutral. Anything can happen, really.

Your pawn will move up and down the corporate ladder as these cards are played. If you end up all the way at the bottom rung and need to go further down, just lay your pawn down in the mailroom and wait for better luck. The first pawn to reach the top is the winner! Choose 3 rewards!

how it went

Up the…… Corporation is so photogenic, but it had a few flaws. So let’s tackle these things one by one.

First and foremost, the components are sublime. I don’t like to sound too dramatic, but there are no nicer components in this big, wide world than the ones in Up the…… Corporation. The game board has a ladder going up out of it, so your pawns move (hopefully) ever upwards. And the game board spins! It spins, effortlessly! And so each of the six different decks has its own place and each deck is easily within reach of every single player. Sublime.

The pawns are lovely, and they sit on bases that can fit onto the ladder rungs either full on or sideways. Two pawns can’t fit nicely on a single rung full on, but they can move sideways and fit fine.

The illustrations for the card backs are not spectacular to me. In fact, they are reminiscent of clip art, or just a cut above it. But the character illustrations are very nice. And the bottom of the game board is a mail room, and it looks like a mail room.

The full board showing the ladder, characters on the ladder, and the spinning game board
This shot shows you a view of the spinning board, the decks, and the ladder. I think at this point we teased Bill that he could smell the stamps from the mail room.

Now let’s talk about the gameplay. Up the…… Corporation seems to be going for shock value, which is not something I tend to appreciate. The game is taking the inequality of corporate America, a real thing, and overly characterizing the characters, minimizing the struggles involved, and generally painting with a brush as wide as corporate America itself.

And that’s my problem. I will show you some of the cards we saw and laughed at. We are used to laughing at cards that should not exist, but that’s because we play so many vintage games. Up the…… Corporation is from 2004, so that’s still quite a long time ago, but it’s a bit close for comfort.

This card says as a female you need to take a typing test
I actually did take a typing test once, not as a female but as a temp, but I am probably on the outer cusp of this phenomenon
All men move up 1 level
There were one or two of these, without context. But who am I to ask? I am just a lady corporate citizen.
This card says one of the characters is PMS'ing so everyone goes down one level
Becky the Backstabber is clearly the most powerful character and we didn’t even get to play with her 🙁

Up the…… Corporation introduced an interesting struggle for me. I am pretty tolerant of very old games and their shocking cards and characters and play. But I was there in corporate America in 2004. So should I give a break to old games where I was not there, but then judge so critically where I feel like I lived it too? That’s not really fair. But this is my blog, so on I go.

This shot shows the Airhead character winning
In our first play of this game, AnnaLee Airhead won

I have another bias worth mentioning, where I tend to get frustrated with anything that is too black and white. I live in a grey world, and so many of the fundamental truths expressed in this game can be (and especially were) true. But exaggerated this way, even I reject the points as absurd humor. The nuances were lost, and it’s too bad.

The outside of the box says real names were not used to protect the ignorant
This was on the outside of the box. The shaming was relentless.

Now looking at the game on BGG, the two designer names appear to be female. Good for them for making a game to express their frustrations (and with those amazing components!). But the gameplay feels like a vent, and I think that is a disservice to the fundamental issues at hand.

Suzy Do Right won our game
Bill won as Suzy Do Right! And true to Suzy Do Right’s lot in life, even I cut her off in the photo. Not intentionally, but it never is.
Reward items included dream house, trophy wife, and getting indicted for fraud
Bill’s rewards were Trophy Wife, Dream House, and Getting Indicted for Fraud. Hopefully he put the house in her name!

This game is about being heard, but it is not about being listened to. Up the…… Corporation is a cry into the darkness. The characters are straight out of central casting. And I think that was interesting to me because I play with role biases in my own game, Panic Mode. And it’s one of the things I ask players to discuss: what biases are used and are they fair? Why or why not?

Up the…… Corporation doesn’t need your answer to that question, because it probably already knows. I imagine there’s a lot of righteous anger in being a competent individual that is constantly overlooked or taken advantage of. But maybe Suzy Do Right just wants the same thing you do, and AnnaLee Airhead maybe hasn’t gotten child support in 2 years, and B.S. Artista probably knows what you call him but he doesn’t get paid if he doesn’t sell, and Jack the Jock maybe hasn’t gotten child support in 2 years, and etc.

You don’t get to complain about a lack of empathy while you are actively demonstrating a lack of empathy. That’s my rule, I just made it up. It’s going to change the world.

play or pass

Pass. This game is incredibly interesting (at least to me) as something that happened, with characters locked in time. Kind of anthropologically speaking. I think it can be a good starter conversation for how these designers felt at this time, what has changed, and what has not changed.

It is clear from reading the rules that Up the…… Corporation is trying to achieve the same experience that happens in corporate America. And I have to say, it succeeds at this. It doesn’t matter where you start in the company, and it doesn’t matter what your education is. You sometimes get rewarded out of left field, and sometimes your entire gender gets a perk (perhaps from a recent lawsuit?). You may get benefits if you are a hit at parties, and you get punished if you don’t take credit for your own work. It’s a long, back and forth slog.

While Up the…… Corporation is not a play, the game is special. And did I mention that it spins? It spins effortlessly.