This one got a release in Essen last October, but is finally being released in North America! It came out August 31st. It had a pre-release at Gen Con, which is where I got my copy. I watched a review of this last fall with my 13-year-old daughter, who thought it looked so cool that she told she wouldn’t talk to me if I didn’t pick this up at Gen Con. I have now played it 4 times (3 times with my daughter). So how is the game? And what did my daughter think? Let’s find out!
PURSUIT OF HAPPINESS (2016; U.S. Release Date) Designed by Adrian Abela & David Chircop; Published by Stronghold Games and Artipia Games. It’s for 2-4 players and takes about 60-90 min. (but could take longer with 4 players)
The theme is what attracted us to the game. The short description would be that this is a Euro version of the Game of Life. I like to call it the Eurogame of Life. The theme of Pursuit of Happiness is pretty much the same as that iconic classic game, which is get a job, develop a relationship, take on projects, buy things, and live the best possible life. But while in the Game of Life, you’re spinning to move and ending up at random spaces, in this game you actually get to make decisions! Imagine that! You can choose your job, and the projects you take on, and the things you buy, and who to date!
Pursuit of Happiness is a worker placement game that is played anywhere between 5-8 rounds (every game we played lasted 6 rounds), depending on when players die. You see, you get to live your life beginning as a teenager, all the way until you die from old age.
The object of the game is to gain the most life points(victory points) by living the best life possible. There are 3 different kinds of traits that act as resources throughout the game. Knowledge, Creativity, and influence. You will spend and gain those resources by completing these things: Jobs, projects, activities, buying items and developing relationships.
Every player begins the game with a randomly chosen child trait (charismatic, social, etc.) card, which will tell them how many of each resource they will start the game with. Every player also starts with 6 hourglass markers to place on action spaces during the rounds, but there are ways to get more (or less) throughout the game.
Each round will begin with adding cards to the board: Projects, Activities, Jobs, and Partners (however, jobs and partners won’t be available until the second round). There is also going to be a certain amount of Life Goal cards depending on the number of players.
These cards are a long-term goal that the players will try to accomplish throughout the game. The first person to achieve this goal win the card and the victory points it provides.
Each round, the players will alternate playing their hourglass markers on action spaces, and performing those actions. Here is a list of the actions.
- Study – Gains 3 Knowledge tokens
- Play – Gain 3 Creativity tokens
- Interact – Gain 3 influence tokens
- Take Project – Pick a face up project from the board, pay its costs and gain its rewards.
- Activities – Pick a face up Activity from the board, pay its cost and gain its rewards.
- Temp Job – Take 3 dollars from the supply.
- Get Job – Pick a face up job from the board, pay its cost and gain its rewards.
- Start Relationship – Pick a face up partner from the board, pay its cost and gain its rewards.
- Overtime – Gain 2 extra hourglass markers to use during the current round, but gain 2 stress.
- Rest – Lose 2 stress.
You can do the same action multiple times in a round, however, you will gain 1 stress each time you do this.
Most of these actions are pretty self explanatory. But let me explain some of them in further detail.
Projects – There are 3 types of projects you can acquire. First is a basic project which you will work on throughout the game. There are 4 levels to a basic project, and you must advance them one level at a time. Level one usually doesn’t cost a whole lot, but when you reach level 4 on a project, it usually is pretty spendy. You keep track which level your on by placing a black cube on it.
There is also a group project which multiple people can use. There are 4 spaces on a group project. You can even put a second marker on it as an action and you won’t gain extra stress if you do. At the end of the round, this project is discarded.
The last project you can get is a one time project. It has 4 levels, but you can choose which level to do. At the end of the round, this project is discarded.
Actvities – Pretty much like projects, as they each have multiple levels, but you can choose which level to start at, and you can do the same level again later, you just can’t go backwards. Activities you keep throughout the game, even if you make it to the last level on it.
Jobs – You can only get one job at a time. There are 3 different levels of jobs. If you want to go from a level 1 to a level 2 (or 2 to 3), you must find a job that has the level you are looking for on the board, plus it has to be the same type of job that you already have (like art job, science job, etc.). Then you pay the costs to promote yourself listed on the bottom of your job card. Discard your current job, and gain your new one. Eventually, you could even retire if you have a level 3 job.
Relationships – You can have multiple relationships, however you will gain a stress for each extra partner you have at the beginning of each round.
I forgot something. In order to advance projects and relationships (or doing an activity you already have at a higher level) you simply go to that action space, and them move your cube on the card, providing the costs it requires.
One thing you should be aware of is stress. You gain stress on the stress track if you have more than a combination of 3 projects, jobs and partners. (one stress for each, plus one stress per extra partner). if you discard a card (losing a job or a partner). Also performing an action twice gets you stress. You can reduce stress by gaining rest on certain cards, and good health.
There is also a short-term happiness track. Some rewards give you short term happiness and whoever has the most short term happiness at the end of each round will determine the start player. You can also lose short term happiness by losing jobs and partners.
Starting with the second round, there will be an upkeep phase at the beginning of each round. If you have a job, some partners, and activities have an upkeep cost that you must pay at the beginning of each round. If you can’t pay it you lose the card and you lose a short-term happiness and gain 1 stress.
Players will continue to gain resources, money and victory points by collecting projects, activities, jobs and partners until old age kicks in. Starting with the sixth round, players will gain stress before the round begins. Round 6 is 3 stress, round 7 is 6 stress. and round 8 is 9 stress. If your stress marker moves off the board, you have passed away, and are done with the game. Once all players are dead, count up coins (2 for 1) and resources (5 for 1). Also, check to see if any life goals were met. Player with the most points is the winner.
I love worker placement games to begin with so I would’ve have been surprised if I didn’t like this one. I thought it was good fun. My daughter, however thinks it’s the best game of the year, and says it’s easily in her top 5 games of all time. I think there must be something about living a fantasy life that people can get into. Doing things you may never do, like join a motorcycle gang or go skydiving. Actually, there’s nothing really far-fetched in this game. Every project, job and activity is something that is achievable by almost anyone. I thought that was cool.
There is a nice balance in this game. I loved trying to figure out which projects to get in order to get the resources I needed to get the job I wanted, or the partner I wanted to date. You can easily just play the game without thinking about it, but you probably won’t do too well. There is definitely a way to get the most bang for your buck. If you do have to put in the work in order to do that.
The mechanics of the game are solid. Honestly, nothing I haven’t really seen in other worker placement games, but that doesn’t matter. The theme is very strong! It really is well-integrated with the gameplay. I love that if you’re dating more than one person, you gain stress, or if you have too many projects on your plate, you gain stress. Also, doing things like volunteer work gives you short-term happiness. I think this was pretty brilliant in its design.
Another thing I want to give the game praise for is that you can choose the gender you date. I think it’s great that you can date a male or a female (each card is double sided). Artipia Games also took this approach with their controversial (but ultimately harmless game) Lap Dance, in which girls or guys would ask for dancers of the same gender. I applaud the company for this.
I have only have a couple nitpicky things with the game. One is that the stress track and Short term happiness is right next to each other. Going up and down these tracks was a little confusing at first because they are positioned differently. If you get a negative effect on stress, you go right, if you gain a negative effect on the short-term happiness track, you go left. It was a little confusing for a couple of the people I played with at first. We kept going the wrong way on each track when we had to move it. I feel like they should have made both tracks go the same direction when having a negative and positive effect.
The other thing is trying to lose stress is extremely difficult. The stress track has different colors on it. There is about 3 spaces in each color. If you lose a stress by using rest, you can only go as far as the color you are in. So if you are all the way over to the left in one color and you rest, you can’t go any further down on the stress track. The only way to go down past another color is to gain a good health. That will allow you to move your marker from one colored spot to the next colored spot. BUT…… there are only 5 project cards that will give you good health. That’s 5 cards….. OUT OF 60! In my first 3 games, we never even saw one of those cards, and when we got one in my fourth game, it was in the final 2 rounds. So it wasn’t very likely anyone was going to gain the good health. I feel like if they are going to offer Good Health, then it should be a little more attainable. I don’t think it should be easy to gain good health. But at least attainable.
However, my daughter did argue the point that in life, it’s hard to gain good health and you really have to work at it. She likes how hard it is to get. So I guess thematically it all makes sense, but still, by a mechanic perspective it’s ridiculously hard to achieve.
Also, I think the game could go on too long with 4 players. But if you don’t mind that, then more power to you. But for me, I don’t like too much down time, and this is the kind of game that could have a bit of it if you’re playing with the max player count. But I usually don’t play games with full player counts for this reason. It plays great with 2 and 3!
All that belly aching aside, this is a really good game. Just like there was something about The Game of Life that kept bringing people to it, there will be people curious about this one. There’s just something about writing a that great novel, or entering a music contest, or joining a soccer team that is silly fun. Pursuit of Happiness takes the intriguing concept of The Game of Life and turns it into a solid, strategic worker placement game. And when it’s over, there’s something satisfying about looking at what you have accomplished.
I even think this could be a great game to get non-gamers who love The Game of Life, into modern boardgames. If you’re one of those people who used to love The Game of Life as a kid, but now find it not that great of a game, then you should definitely pick this game up. It’s pretty darn good!