3 Chits, 4 Giggles
Did you ever watch the film 'The Pursuit Of Happyness' starring a down on his luck Will Smith and his adorable son Jaden? Minor spoilers here, but it was a pretty crushing movie about a man for whom the definition of good luck is that the floor he's sleeping on that night won't be drenched in urine, so if you're like me you probably came out of the cinema feeling like you've been put through the wringer. Thankfully, this film was not the basis for the board game I'm about to review, because if it was I can see a lot of people out there not wanting to finish it.
Instead, this correctly spelled moniker by Artipia Games is a joyful celebration of life and all its geekiness along with some ups and downs, but mostly it leaves you with a massive grin on your face. You take on the role of, well, you I suppose, and you must guide yourself from a teenager through to your final years while trying to gain as much happiness as possible. You'll do this by spending the main resource in this game, time, in each stage of your life pursuing various secondary resource gaining activities. These include creativity, influence and knowledge. You'll then convert these into long term happiness (aka victory points) which of course having the most of is the ultimate goal. Along the way there are items you can purchase, and both activities and projects you can take on, while you'll also have the option to get a job as well as a partner (or perhaps more than just the one for our more risque readers), yet you can also accumulate stress which is a big hinderance and can shorten your entire game if not taken care of, while having enough money is a key factor in many of these decisions, but then how could it possibly claim to replicate life if it didn't?
I think what I enjoy most about this game, and it's something I've come to realise is a reason why I like a lot of things, is how closely it ties into the real world version of what it's trying to portray. Let's take a look at how your job works in the game as an example. You only have so much time represented by hourglass pieces to spend in each stage of your life, and when taking on a job, you are forced to spend a portion of this time on it or you'll lose it. In return for your commitment, you'll get money as well as some resources, but there are moments when you feel like your career is only worth sticking with if you get promoted and a salary increase to go with it. Of course, having a job is certainly no necessity, so you are free to spend your days instead on projects that make you happy as well as other fun stuff, but this means that unless they are getting you money (which they rarely will) you are not going to be able to do or buy everything that you want to. It's a cool mirror to the society we live in, where we are constantly balancing our own happiness and survival requirements.
There are also a few things in this game that flag how up to date it is. Take the projects for instance. These are cards that you can gain during gameplay, and contain things like 'ESports', 'Yoga' and 'Startup Company'. Most projects can be advanced, so the more you commit time to doing them, the bigger and better the pay off will be, and in a nice touch, they've done a good job of creating fairly logical advancements on these cards so the progression makes sense, and the process reminds me a lot of the careers in The Sims except vastly less cartoony. The thing is, you can only take on so much at once, with only three total activities/projects/jobs/partners at once, so sometimes you'll have to abandon something in order to gain something new or perhaps more achievable. This does mean you may have to consider dumping your loved one (who can also be advanced from dating through to long term partner and in a nice touch, can be switched from male to female according to your preference with no difference whatsoever in terms of gameplay) in order to train for that marathon. That's subtly funny.
When I was originally being taught how to play by one of Artipia's staff, they suggested each action you take be accompanied by a story of sorts, about why your character has chosen to do the specific task. While this doesn't alter the gameplay, this sort of thing is becoming increasingly popular, this idea of adding story to a non-story based game, but here it sort of works. Why are you quitting your job? Because you need to spend that time to become a musician or become a local football team coach. It can add a little more flavour to a game that doesn't even need it.
Speaking of flavour, the artwork on display here can only be accurately described as colourful. Very colourful. The full spectrum of the rainbow is utilised within, and the characters in the game remind me a little of the comics you find in kids puzzle magazines (like the Quiz Kids, anyone else remember those?) or even classic comics such as the Beano or the Dandy. Everything here is meant to convey 'joie de vivre' and what better way to do that than splash bold, bright colour on every aspect of the game?
A few additional notes on the gameplay. The end of the game is triggered when all players have died (sounds morbid, but makes sense considering the theme of the game) and this occurs when you have gained too much stress in your old age, something which you'll suffer in increasing amounts once you've reached the final stages (i.e rounds). However, this can be extended temporarily through gaining health through various activities (like running a marathon). Additionally, there are tracks for both stress and short term happiness, which adapt the costs of certain projects/activities, and each player gets a childhood trait card at the beginning of the game which gives them a permanent ability or upgrade during the game. Therefore as much as I've not gone into detail about the game's core mechanics, this is very much a strategic game, wrapped up in a light yet convincing theme.
That's not to say this is all smiles and sunshine though. While the mix of theme and strategy works well for me, it's going to be a tough sell to anybody wanting something with a bit more life to it. The end of the game can be dull too if one player has extended their lifespan (thanks to choosing a healthier lifestyle), meaning you could have to wait an entire round of them playing alone, which is a minor but irritating flaw. Finally, there's an issue with some games being too dependent on luck. To demonstrate, my goal in one game was to focus on my career above all, but as each career card has a type and a level, to get promoted to the next level is cheaper if you are in the same field, but you're only allowed to do this if the card of required level and field is present on the board. Well, would you know it, that card never appeared, which short changed me. "But that's life!" you may cry, and I hear you, but when life screws you over individually, you're damn sure allowed to be annoyed about it!
Overall, this is a great themed game with enough depth and replayability to make it worth the purchase. You may be wondering how it compares to other life simulation games such as CV or CVlizations, and the truth is I haven't played them enough to make a comment, but that said The Pursuit Of Happiness intrigued me way more on my initial playthrough of it than either of the other two did. If you're looking for a worker placement game that's familiar yet fun, this is certainly worthy of your attention.
Review by Russell Chapman