I have many fond memories of playing The Game of Life as a kid in my friend’s basement. Countless hours, and countless lives being a police officer, doctor, rock star and more. The game was simplicity itself to play, and as a kid living out exciting lives, having kids, and buying a house was often like a game of make believe, just with a bit more structure and a winner at the end of the road. The game actually goes as far back as 1860 with a version by Milton Bradley himself called The Checkered Game of Life, but the modern format that most people know came about in 1960. Taking on the popular format of Monopoly, Sorry, and other games Life is a simple roll and move game. There are some fun choices, like whether to go to college or not, what career to choose and what house to buy, but for the most part life is a game of consequences based on the spaces that you land on. Some of these spots on the board are fun, as players get married, and often fill up the back of their peg car with kids. Others are less fun, like a skiing accident that requires you to pay the player who’s the doctor, or the inevitable taxes space.
The fun of the game was not always in how it played, but in the stories that it spun. Players sat down at the game to see what happened just as much as they did to see who won. It took a while for modern games to really capture this story telling aspect, but a new game coming out this week packs a lot more decisions AND more story into the box. That game is The Pursuit of Happiness. It released at the German Spiel gaming fair last October, but is making it’s way to the U.S. this month. In The Pursuit of Happiness players start as a teenager, and round by round make their way to old age and eventually, death. The goal of the game is not to have the most money, as in Life, but to have the most long term happiness.
The game really captures the theme by getting right down to every day life. There are cards that represent projects, possessions, jobs, and love interests. Players can select whatever action they’d like on a given turn, with the only restriction being life resources, the
complexities of every day living being boiled down to influence, money, ideas, and knowledge. Unlike The Game of Life which feels like a roller coaster ride, here you are charting out exactly how your character lives their life each turn. Do you want to be an artist with a giant comic collection and a yacht? You can do that! Do you want to be a politician who eats healthy and lives a life of solitude till and old age? You can do that too. It all depends on what cards come out, and if you have collected the right resources to make it happen.
The cards themselves are not surface level. They have depth, and degrees, just like real life. You can buy bigger and bigger boats, but they require maintenance costs. You can move forward in your relationship, and even have a family together, but partners have expectations that you have to meet. You can change jobs or get promoted, but those have requirements too. This depth really gives the game a narrative arc because the planning and strategy that goes into each card has effects on other aspects of your fictional life.
There are also group projects that multiple players can take part in, like being in a band, or running a restaurant together. The sense of choice in this game is immense, and consequently the stories of each game very wildly. To push the play in a certain direction each game has overall life goals that all players are trying for. While the game of life was a fun ride, and still brings me a lot of nostalgia, The Pursuit of Happiness is a game that is engaging both in how it plays and the stories that it tells.
I am really looking forward to the fun and sort of role playing that comes with this kind of theme. It can be fun to daydream a bit and play out a different life. Where The Game of Life happens to you, Pursuit of Happiness gives you fun and interesting choices that make this “what-if” theme a lot more compelling.