I have a soft spot in my heart for The Game of Life. Despite only discovering it in my adult years, I greatly enjoyed the experience of playing through the life of my character. However, as I refined my taste in board games, the faults in the classic game’s design became too difficult to ignore. Sure, the theme continues to be great, but the outcome was almost entirely driven by the luck of the spinner.
The Pursuit of Happiness takes the theme that makes The Game of Life great and places it into a board game with modern worker placement mechanics. Eschewing the dice and most elements of chance, it aims to simulate the human condition with gameplay that is much more strategic in nature. Is this the hobby-grade version of The Game of Life you never knew you wanted?
The game will start 2-4 players in their teen years and end with their demise at an old age. By the time the game is over and everyone has passed away, you want to live your life in a manner that gives you the most Long Term Happiness, which is the game’s measure for success.
At the beginning, you will start with six hourglass tokens and one Childhood Trait card. The former are used to commit time to certain tasks, such as taking on a temporary job, building a video game collection, or choosing to go out on dates. The latter is a unique player power that will give you some sort of benefit throughout your life. One for example, is the Diligent trait, which allows you to gain a bit more money when you work a temporary job.
From there, each round takes place during an era of your life, such as your teens, adulthood and old age before ultimately passing away. During these rounds, players will take turns allocating their hourglass tokens towards different actions. The game gives you a ton of different options, from taking on a full-time job, to raising a family, to maintaining an entire room of video games if that’s how you want to live your life.
What I found most fascinating was how well the game captures the essence of real life. Part of this is comes from having so many different choices at your disposal, allowing you to live however you want. It’s fun to role play a little bit and flesh out the details of the cruise you just took part in, or how your most recent relationship didn’t work out.
The other part of the magic comes from the myriad of resources you have to manage. From your time, to money, stress, short-term happiness, and other personal attributes you have control of, it all balances out in a way that makes sense thematic and mechanical. For example, early on in the game, money is really tight, as I didn’t have a full time job.
However, once I entered adulthood and got a full-time job, it took away from time I had, making it more difficult to partake in the fun stuff I wanted to do. Throughout your journey, you’ll be placed in many different situations where you’re going to need to make some tough choices on what to do next in order to get the most out of life.
While the theme is one that’s going to attract a wide audience, this isn’t exactly a pick-up-and-play game. For a worker placement game, it’s one of the easier ones to grasp and once you do, the experience of navigating its intricacies is smooth. However, the sheer amount of things you have to comprehend is a bit overwhelming at first. Experienced gamers should be able to make sense of it all with a test round or two, though players unfamiliar with the genre may need some assistance to get up to speed.
The Pursuit of Happiness sets out to be The Game of Life for board game enthusiasts and it handily achieves that goal. By marrying the theme with worker placement mechanics and a well-thought-out resource economy, you get to take a much more active and enjoyable role in managing your life. It may be a bit too heavy mechanically for casual players who may find the theme appealing, but it’s not necessarily a bad place to start with the genre, either, as you can easily draw parallels between the game’s mechanics and real life. Save The Game of Life for the kids, but get The Pursuit of Happiness for grown-ups wanting to enjoy the same thrills that come with the experience of living life.