Kulkmann's G@mebox - www.boardgame.de



Adrian Abela & David Chircop


No. of Players:
2 - 4



A topic which has not yet been exploited in dozens of boardgames is the simulation of a person's way of life. Of course everybody will know MILTON BRADLEY's classic The Game of Life, but over the last few years there only have been some few tries to design games following the topic. The games which spring to my mind are Filip Milunski's CV, a light-footed tactical dice rolling game from 2013, and the more strategic and humorous Fiese Freunde, Fette Feten (aka Funny Friends) which has been created by Friedemann Friese in 2005. However, I have always felt that this topic needed to be explored further, and so I was quite happy when I first heard about the upcoming release of The Pursuit of Happiness at the SPIEL 15. The year before ARTIPIA GAMES had released Lap Dance, proving that Konstantinos Kokkinis and his crew have a good hand for games with unusual topics, and now he has given designers Adrian Abela and David Chircop a possibility to present their take on a boardgame simulation of a person's way of life.

In its basic orientation, The Pursuit of Happiness is a classic resource management game where the players have to manage their available resources in form of Knowledge, Creativity, Influence and Money. More unusual is the fact that the players also have to manage Time in form of Hourglass Markers, but more about this later. During the game the players will strive to collect Long Term Happiness points, and the player who has lived the happiest life will be declared the winner. The game runs for a minimum of 5 rounds (1 round of Adolescence, 4 rounds of Adulthood), but for some players it may continue for up to three more rounds of Old Age, provided the players have managed to live healthy enough to grow that old.

At the beginning of the game each player will receive a Childhood card, listing the starting resources and also a special ability which the player may use throughout the game. In addition, each player will receive a reservoir of six Hourglasses, and in the course of a round these will be used by the players to mark their chosen actions. As hinted earlier, the amount of time (= Hourglasses) available to a player is not fixed, but instead the number of available Hourglasses depends on a player's individual Stress Level. Many actions during the game (splitting up from a partner, giving up on a job etc.) cause a player to gain stress, possibly loosing him one or more Hourglasses at the beginning of the next round. Through certain card actions the players have a chance to regain their balance or, even more positively, get relaxed, and sooner or later they will have to take care if their Stress Level rises. Quite fittingly, the game associates a player's death with the Stress Level getting too high, and in coherence with this stands the mechanism that the Stress Level will be given an additional rise for each round of Old Age. As can be guessed, only a well-balanced player will stand a chance against an ever-rising Stress level.

During each round, the players can spend their Hourglasses for a range of possible actions, with some actions like getting a job being unavailable during Adolescence and the taking of overtime being banned once the game reaches Old Age. Some of the available actions simply are focused on gaining some resources (studying, playing, interacting), whereas others allow the players to gain a card from one of the categories available on the gameboard. During their "lives", the players can get a job, take on projects, spend money for items and activities and develop a relationship, and for all these alternatives a quite wide range of cards is available on the gameboard, with the display being renewed at the beginning of each round.

Of course, the successful taking of such a card will require a player to spend some of his resources, and most of the cards then will provide new resources and either Short or Long Term Happiness. Long Term Happiness are the game's Victory Points, whereas the shifting of Short Term Happiness will begin anew at the beginning of each round. A good value of Short Term Happiness will give a player a benefit whenever he has to fulfil the requirements of some cards, and so the players will try to work out a fitting action sequence for each round of play, structuring their lives in the most fulfilling (or efficient) way.

So far the spending and gaining of resources through different card types doesn't seem too innovative, but in The Pursuit of Happiness the designers have found some rather good mechanisms for integrating each category of cards into the flow of the game. Whereas some Project and Activity cards operate on a basic mechanism of giving and receiving, other cards like Jobs or Long-term Project's require a player's continuing dedication, costing Hourglasses and other resources if the player wants to keep the card and possibly advance to a higher level (as indicated by a token placed on the individual card). For example, a player may take up a certain Job card by spending an amount of resources, and from now on he will receive an income at the beginning of each round, but at the same time the player also will have to spend Hourglasses each round to stay devoted to the job. The development of a relationship is similar, with the player needing to spend ever more time to keep his partner happy, and if the player does not fulfil the continuing requirements of a card, the card will be discarded, causing a small rise of the Stress Level and a loss of Short Term Happiness. As indicated, many of the cards can also be upgraded, and so a relationship goes from dating to the raising of a family, whereas job cards possibly can be exchanged for higher-ranking job cards of the same type if the player qualifies for a promotion.

The different approach chosen for each card type is the element which makes the game quite variable, giving the players - within the restrictions of a family boardgame - the valid option to develop a quite unique vita. The game doesn't give the players any specific parameters how they should organize their lives, and so they can chose any available partner of their liking (or even multiple partners), or try to make a living without any kind of permanent job. In addition, many of the cards approach activities with a quite humorous undertone, and this neatly increases the game's entertainment value. However, the game's mechanisms respond quite well in terms of a rising Stress Level if the way of life chosen by a player gets too frantic, and that's the point where the players possibly have to react to prevent an early death.

Indeed, The Pursuit of Happiness is a game where everybody will die in the end, and in this aspect the game certainly goes a bit further than the already named older games dealing with the same topic. This final note will leave the players a bit pensive when the game is over, looking at all the things which will have happened during their 2nd life. Nonetheless, I like the thought provoking approach which has been chosen by the designers, especially since the game itself operates on a quite intelligent implementation of the resource management mechanism.

A factor which the game is lacking is player interaction. Yes, there is competition for the available cards, and there are also some unique Life Goals which can only be fulfilled by a single player, but apart from these and some Projects which can be taken by two or more players together there is no way to directly interact with another player. The Pursuit of Happiness is a game of balancing and optimizing which draws its attractiveness from the fact that each player will be left with his own vita when the game is over. In this respect the game is quite fascinating, in my view even counterbalancing the low level of player interaction. If played with a group of good friends, there is deemed to happen some secondary kind of interaction, since the players probably will discuss the differences between their real and their in-game vita.

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Copyright & copy; 2015 Frank Schulte-Kulkmann, Essen, Germany