The Pursuit of Happiness

No. It’s not a game about the movie starring Will Smith.

It is hard to imagine that one year ago I had started this whole blogging thing. I had to take another look at the first blog I wrote. I still think Exploding Kittens is a pretty awesome game. We even finally got a copy of it at Pips.

I want to also say a huge thanks to those who read my blog whenever they get a chance to. It’s awesome to hear the assortment of feedback, and honestly it motivates me to keep writing. So thanks guys!

Anyway, I find it funny that the next game I’m going to review will bring me back full circle, because it is in fact another game that I had backed on Kickstarter about half a year ago. My friends and I have played it a fair bit and I’ve only had it for a week.

IMG_7267The Pursuit of Happiness is a worker placement game designed by David Chircop and Adrian Abela. I would  often say at this point, “Here you will take on the role of… (insert random character or role and explain the objective).” However, in The Pursuit of Happiness, you take on the role of…well… yourself, or you can take on the persona of someone you aspire to be, or you can be completely different from who you are now and try another path in life. That’s the thing about The Pursuit of Happiness. It is intended to mimic a human lifetime. The player who generates the most long term happiness is declared the winner.

Set-up is pretty straight forward. Place the different types of cards in their appropriate spaces. This includes randomly selecting the objectives for the game, which are also known as life goals. Place the round markers and the individual player markers on their respective spaces on the board. Each player is also given six hourglass markers to start and are dealt two child traits, which are essentially benefits that players can start with at the beginning of the game. Each player chooses one of these two child traits.  You then deal out the different projects and items in the first round, and you’re ready to go.

In this game, players place their hourglass markers on the board and perform the designated actions. In the first round, players are in their teen years and are restricted to only six actions. Players can study, play, or interact, which increases their intelligence, IMG_7269creativity, and their ability to socialize. These characteristics are indicated by the book, light bulb, and handshake tokens and are the resources needed to purchase certain cards in the game. Using these resources, players can also use the “take project” action and can choose one of the available project cards provided that they have the resources needed to start the project. Players can also use the “temp job” space to earn a small amount of money. The money can  be used in the “item/activity” action, where players can buy different items or participate in different activities.

When the first adult round occurs, more options become available. Players have the opportunity to take a job, develop a relationship, or take on overtime. Jobs can either be social, scientific, or artistic and to take on a job, players need to have enough intelligence, creativity and socialization resources to purchase the card. These cards generally provide a steady income for the player. If a player takes on a relationship, they can select one of the available partners and get the benefits of dating that person. Finally, if a player wants more hourglass tokens, they can take on the overtime action, but this gives the player additional stress.

IMG_7273Regardless of which cards are purchased from the supply, players need to be able to juggle all of these items. Just like in real-life, when you take on a project, take on a high-valued
items such as a car or a house, pursue a job, or invest in a relationship, you have to take time and resources to maintain or advance each one of these. The game imitates this by allowing players to use their hourglass markers on their own individual cards. Then they can pay the additional resources to move to the next level. Some cards also have an upkeep cost that needs to be paid at the start of the next round. If a player can’t pay the upkeep costs, they will lose the item, job, or relationship,take on more stress and be unhappy.

So what do I mean by stress and happiness? The game has two trackers on the board, a stress and short-term happiness tracker. The stress tracker determines how stressed you are in the game. It is to represent the player’s health. The number of hourglasses is determined by where you on are on the stress tracker. Stress can be increased by losing an item, job, or relationship because you were unable or unwilling to pay the upkeep. You can also take on stress by taking the overtime action, doubling up on an action that you’ve already taken, or taking on more than three jobs or projects. The tracker also has different coloured zones. If you move into a different coloured zone, then you stay in that zone, even if you take rest or relaxation actions. You move higher on the stress tracker if you take on a lot of stress. You can also move lower on the stress tracker by taking on healthy projects. Certain cards like “eating healthy” or “yoga”, will actually move the stress tracker one level lower, which gives the player one additional hourglass.

The other tracker, the short-term happiness tracker, represents how happy you are when you take on or discard projects. If you have high STH, you use less resources when you are taking on projects,  but if you have low STH, you have to use extra resources in order to IMG_7270start projects. In addition, STH is what determines who is the next “first player”. You can also use STH to scrap any of the cards found in one row of the card supply. Players need to control both their happiness and their stress levels in order to maximize the number of points they get.

Now I’m sure many of you have played the classic game The Game of Life. It’s the childhood game where you spin the wheel, move the number of spaces, and determine what happens with your life. I also just researched that there was a predecessor called The Checkered Game of Life, which included spaces such as “prison”, “disgrace”, and “suicide”. In any instance, both games were great for its time. If you look at the spinner version of The Game of Life, your life had very little choice. In the beginning you could either choose to go to college or avoid it, and then you just see where life takes you. Based on the game, your next steps are to get married, purchase a house, and then eventually retire. Although the game also has different spaces along the way,  my issue with The Game of Life is that it is a pre-set path with minimal decision making and in the end, the player with the most money is considered the winner, which in many cases, isn’t the best indicator to who has the better life. Given how much board games have evolved in the last decade, this style of gameplay is great for little kids when you’re teaching them counting, or basic decision making, but is doesn’t satiate my appetite for gaming any longer (unless you’re wanting to feel a sense of nostalgia, in which case you play it once and then realize, why the hell did I want to play this game in the first place).

So why am I saying all this? The Pursuit of Happiness takes practically all the elements of The Game of Life and displays it in a more modern and contemporary way. For one, you no longer have to follow the path of get a job, then get married, then get a house, and then retire. The Pursuit of Happiness takes on a very liberal approach to how life actually works nowadays. One friend chose not to take on a family, and just date random girls. Another person decided to focus mainly on career and the projects that he took on, while another was just using the money that she earned from jobs to buy as much stuff as she could. All of these methods would contribute to their long term happiness goals. A byproduct of this would be the various stories you could tell based on the cards players picked up. For example, when one friend took on the “web page design” and “amateur film” projects from the supply, we joked around and said “so you’re taking on the pornographic film industry”. Another friend took the “Invent Secret Recipe” card, to which we said “so you’re taking on the role of Walter White in this game and making crystal meth”. I got the CEO job and the invent new board game projects and I said that I was the CEO of a company that was making “Board Game: the Board Game”. The only reason why we have these in-depth storylines was because we got to choose the projects, jobs, relationships, and items. Your own creativity adds to the already exciting experience found in this game.

If we put the storytelling elements to the side, The Pursuit of Happiness has some strategic elements. Players have to balance between many different actions, pay their upkeep, while maintaining both their happiness and stress trackers. In one game, I would take on a partner because I knew that person would provide me creativity resources, which would help me in both in my career and with the projects that I’m working on. There were other times that I would just maximize my level in jobs, and just consistently have the income flowing so I could purchase the finest things in life. In both cases, each will earn long-term happiness. And because there are a lot of cards in the game, this game has a high replay value. Even though the mechanics are the same throughout the entire game, your strategies will change depending on the objectives given and what cards are available.

There are a couple criticisms that I have with the game. Although the game boasts a whopping 180 cards (more if you bought the Kickstarter version), I honestly wish there were a few more. There are many other projects, items, and jobs that a person can take on in real-life and it would definitely make the game more interesting if some of these elements were included. Perhaps the creator can consider making an expansion which includes more cards.

The other criticism is that the worker placement mechanic is too basic. If we strip The Pursuit of Happiness to its bare essentials, the game is basically (1) place a marker, (2) pay the resources, (3) get the benefits,  (4) maintain the upkeep and (5)  reset everything. When I look at worker placement games, I compare it to Lords of Waterdeep or Agricola. One thing I noticed with these two games is that it blocks players from performing certain actions and has elements in which you can hinder a player from progressing in their own goals. It is this aspect in which players have to think ahead and gauge as to whether or not they take on certain actions early, or wait because there’s another favourable action to take instead. The Pursuit of Happiness eliminates this anxiety by allowing players to take on the same action space. It doesn’t make sense to prevent a person from buying items or taking on projects just because you took on that same action. Being able to play on the same space is a double-edged sword. On the one hand, it reduces the anxiety for players when placing markers on the spaces, thus players are able to achieve their own goals fairly easily.  On the other hand, this element reduces the amount of strategic thinking because you don’t necessarily have to contemplate ahead in order to progress further in the game. This game may be lacking then for those who are highly strategic and competitive.

The Pursuit of Happiness is the best alternative to The Game of Life that I have seen in awhile. It is a light-hearted game that mimics real-life very well. When you fail at certain projects or tasks, you feel a bit sad and anxious. Fail consistently at certain projects and tasks, and your health even deteriorates. Take on too much in your life, you’re going to feel stress. It will take time to work on individual projects, your job, or your relationships, but you feel gratified knowing that you can accomplish these goals before your inevitable death. Pursuit of Happiness provides a level of conversation that I rarely see in board games because of its ability for players to relate. Overall, this is definitely a game worth checking out and adding to your library.

Pros: 

  • A very good alternative to The Game of Life
  • Neat worker placement game
  • Great for a social players who are able to generate stories based on cards
  • High replay value

Cons: 

  • I wish that there were more cards in the game
  • Mechanics don’t change much throughout and is basic to those who play worker placements often.
  • Not great for introverted players; the storytelling is what makes this game awesome.
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