Designed by David Chircop, Adrian Abela & Vangelis Bagiartakis | Published by Artipia Games and Stronghold Games
1-4 Players | 60-90 Minutes
Growing up as a kid, I remember really enjoying The Game of Life. I especially enjoyed making the life decisions in the game. Do I want to go to college? Do I want to invest in property? What job should I pursue? Now that I’m older, I’ve faced many of those decisions (and consequences) in real time. Shockingly, things play out a wee bit different in real life than those 30-minute station wagon excursions from college to retirement. I was surprised and hesitantly optimistic when I learned about The Pursuit of Happiness: a sophisticated, grown-up foray into a world of challenging life decisions. At the very least, I was hoping for a fun, family game with fluffy, consequence-light decisions. As I begin to dig deeper it becomes apparent that there could be something deeper lying under the surface.
In The Pursuit of Happiness, you’re essentially doing what the title says: pursuing the everyday occurrences of life in an effort to find long term happiness. It all plays out in a light, euro-style presentation where the currency of the day is your own personal time. You’ll pursue jobs, relationships, experiences and possessions with each bringing you their own list of rewards and consequences.
HOW TO PLAY THE GAME
The game takes place over 9 rounds from teen to old age. During the game players will take turns using their hour glass markers, representing time, to engage in a number of life activities. These activities will produce life resources which can then be saved or reinvested into additional actions.
To begin, each player selects a Child Trait. Each Child Trait is themed (such as “Creative” or “Social”) and provides the player a unique ability or special action along with a starting set of resources.
The board is broken up into a number of action spaces where you can spend your time tokens. These are where you can do basic life activities such as studying, playing, interacting, working, etc. As you engage in these activities, you’ll earn resources. For example: studying earns you knowledge, play earns you creativity, interacting gains influence and work, of course, earns you money. Knowledge, creativity, influence and money are the primary tools you’ll use to reinvest throughout the game to plant and grow your life of happiness.
In addition to these standard actions, you’ll also be able to “Take on a Project” and “Spend”. Taking on a Project gives you access to a series of Project cards. These are general activities someone might engage in over their lifetime. They could be anything… literally anything at all from training your dog, to joining a book club or learning how to cook. Each Project will require an initial investment such as a knowledge or creativity token. They will in-turn provide a benefit. For example, if you choose to write a play, you’ll need to invest a token of creativity to build some inspiration and in return, receive 2 tokens of knowledge. But these aren’t one-shot projects, they are long-term projects that you can pursue over the course of your life. After developing some play writing inspiration you can “level up” your project and write a first draft. The first draft will provide you with additional resources. Eventually you’ll be able to contact a publisher and publish your play – if you’re willing to invest the proper time and resources.
Projects might only last a single round. Some Project cards might allow for others to participate – such as helping at a homeless shelter or participating in a robot wars competition. The more participants, the more everyone benefits at the end of the round.
If you take the Spend action you can purchase something from the Item/Activity section. This could be anything from buying a new motorcycle to taking a trip to the zoo. Each item will cost an initial financial investment, but again, can be leveled up to provide more enjoyment and thus more life resources. Truth be told though, things you own can end up owning you. As you become more invested in your things and activities the benefits increase, but they may end up requiring you to spend additional money as well as other resources each round of the game to maintain those possessions.
I think this is where I really started to see some true life lessons come into play: If you can’t pay for your toys… maybe you shouldn’t have bought them to begin with.
What would a game about life be without the opportunity to pursue a job or a relationship. Taking either of these actions will give you access to choices in each of these areas. Pursuing a job will require certain resources as well as time investments that you’ll make each round, but will also provide financial benefits to use elsewhere in life.
When it comes to relationships, finding the right match can be important. Certain partners might be more high maintenance and require more effort in the form of resources and time while others might be more easy going. Typically, the relationships that require more investment lead to benefits and the benefits grow substantially if you’re willing to pursue deeper relationships and eventually a family… It’s so weird… It’s just like real life.
I was really impressed with how this game simulates realty, but nothing could compare to the Stress track. Oh yes, a game based on life cannot be complete with a path gauging your personal stress level. It almost felt like my toes were being stepped on at this point… maybe we’re getting a little too real. In all seriousness I LOVE THE STRESS TRACK. Nothing can hold you more in check than a physical representation of your intake of stress. You’ll see consequences from over stressing your life and benefits from pursuing rest and relaxation.
There are a ton of things in life that can cause stress and as you incur these things your personal stress increases potentially resulting in less time available to do the things you want. This can be a real balancing mechanism since pushing yourself too hard will ultimately lead to more resources to spend, but also a higher level of stress
The stress track also balances out your time available. As you move into your golden years, you’re forced to move further south on the stress level resulting in less time to do activities. Again, I loved how this mimicked real life. As you age, you can’t work as many hours or participate in all the activities you did when you were younger. While it doesn’t necessarily mean you’re more stressed when you hit old age – the idea of using your limited time more wisely is cool.
Of course, the ultimate equalizer is death. It is coming for us all… just sooner for those dabbling too deeply in the stress track apparently. Each player’s game ends when they fall off the stress track or by completing the last round of old age. At that point, players tally their long term happiness and the player with the highest total is declared the winner… of life.
THE COMMUNITY EXPANSION
The Community Expansion actually provides a lot of enjoyment to the game. Players now have an additional action available where they can engage in community activities. These activities might be having a BBQ night, visiting a renaissance fair or participating in a flash mob. Each activity card might require an initial engagement cost to activate it. After the round ends, players will then have the option to invest additional resources in that activity earning them happiness, additional resources or popularity. As players grow in their popularity, they can participate in more community activities and ultimately earn more long term happiness points.
The expansion also provides tokens for a 5th player as well as additional Project, Item/Activity, Relationship and Job cards.
While the expansion isn’t 100% necessary, it definitely provided more of what makes the game work.
It’s best to get this out of the way right now. The components are nothing to write home about. Everything feels very generic. The cards all seem a little thinner than they should and the resource tokens are just ok. The time tokens are wooden, but feel like they could have been taken from a game of Sorry or Chutes and Ladders. The game boards are fine and sturdy enough, but, but there isn’t really anything more to say about them. The rulebook is slightly challenging, but this is a strange game to communicate. Overall, I think they did a fine job presenting the rules.
The artwork is strange for me. Again, similar to the components, it feels very generic. Nothing really stands out. I suppose it’s charming in it’s own cartoony way, but if I’m being honest, was very underwhelming. The iconography throughout the game is very clear though and the game’s graphic design is well organized. Everything that matters for playing the game is presented clearly.
Playing through The Pursuit of Happiness, I really begin to take stock of how I spend my own personal time. I’m not young anymore and being able to equally look back on my younger years and forward to my endgame isn’t always terribly pleasant. But there are lessons learned and good times had… and I’ve still got plenty of time to make the future count. Playing a game that causes reflection like that is almost transcendent. I’m not trying to be overly-dramatic here, but that’s about the highest praise I could possibly give a game.
All of that aside – you’re probably saying: Enough with the metaphysicizing… is the game actually fun? Despite the generic components and so-so artwork I had a blast playing The Pursuit of Happiness.
This is a light-weight euro game where the theme really shines. It’s deeply ingrained in the game’s mechanics and it all makes a lot of scenes. There are thematic consequences to every decision you make. Do you want a job that pays more? It’s going to cost you. Do you want a better job? It’s going to cost you more.. in fact, it might even kill you. If you want to participate in a creative project you’ll need to figure out a way to build creativity in your life. Interested in inventing a new machine? You’ll probably have to study first. You’ll do this all while managing your personal stress.
I also appreciated the almost spontaneous creativity in the game’s Project and Item/Activity cards. There are so many weird, off-the-wall and just plain normal activities that I found incredibly appealing. Do you want to join an a cappella quartet? Sure. Do you want to be on a game show? Yes, I do. Do you want to build a game room? Uh… yes please. Would you like to have a summer fling? Why not?
Like most euro games, there isn’t a ton of player interaction. You can pretty much play wherever you like without anyone blocking the space. There are really only 2 opportunities for player interaction: one negative, one positive. Players can participate together in a joint project. I found this much more effective at larger player counts. The negative interaction really just involves stealing a Project, Item/Activity, Job or Relationship card someone else might have been eyeballing.
As far as the mechanics go, the game seems pretty balanced. I didn’t find one path to victory that really overshadowed another. Even adding in the Community expansion – it really just added a new, fun way to score happiness. The mechanics aren’t difficult and you can essentially take the games by the horn your first play through.
I may have been slightly blinded by the optimistic theme of The Pursuit of Happiness, but I didn’t find anything wrong with the lighter game play. It was always engaging. It’s one of those games where I didn’t always care if I made the right decisions as long as the decision seemed right to me. Sure, buying a really nice watch may be a bad strategy, but it was something I really wanted to do. In fact, I was willing to find a new job just to support it. Yikes!
I’m a huge fan of The Pursuit of Happiness. I love bringing to life a new person and making choices that are going to affect their overall success and happiness. We all know buying things doesn’t necessarily equate to happiness, but it’s the pursuit of the process.
Maybe I will decide to participate in a singing festival and want to see how far I can go… local, national, international. You’re almost role playing the entire thing out in your head. Suddenly I’m thinking about what song I’m going to sing (It’s My Life by Bon Jovi)… how the audience adores me (truth be told I can’t sing a note). But as I mentioned before, the game transcends the cardboard and printed paper causing you to reflect on your own life in the best way.
While it is a step above more entry level games, the learning curve isn’t terribly difficult and I would definitely endorse this as a great option for family game night. I also think this is a great fit for anyone who enjoys games like The Sims. Overall it’s Fun! Fun! Fun!