Game Review: The Pursuit of Happiness

If you’ve ever played the classic Game of Life, or enjoyed creating an alter ego with the computer game The Sims, a brand new game called The Pursuit of Happiness may be the game for you. Whether your happiness comes from a relationship, a job, or from having lots of pet projects, you can create a life with endless possibilities and live it up!

Designer: Adrian Abela, David Chircop, Vangelis Bagiartakis
Artist: Panayiotis Lyris
Publisher: Artipia Games, Stronghold Games
Genre: Worker Placement
Players: 1-4
Play time: 90 minutes
Number of Logged Plays: 4

Buy it on Amazon via He said, She Said Games

Skip ahead to find out:
Game Overview
Game Play
What He Said
What She Said
Our Pros and Cons
The Verdict

Game Overview

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In The Pursuit of Happiness, players have eight rounds, from teenage years to old age, to live the happiest life possible. Each player receives six active hourglass markers to use as actions each round. Three additional markers are available to use if a player acquires additional bonuses in the game.

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At the beginning of the game, each player chooses a childhood trait that gives them a special effect throughout the game. These range from being rich which gives you money at the beginning of every round or being a nerd which allows you to gain an additional knowledge every time you study. Lifelong Goals equal to the amount of players are placed out near the board that will give players additional points if they’re the first one to achieve that goal.

Throughout the game, players complete projects, buy items, go out on adventures, get a job, or meet a special someone – all of which increase your happiness. The way you want to live your life is entirely up to you because, at the end of the day, doing what makes you happy is the only thing that matters.

IMG_1414In addition to long-term happiness (aka points), players will track their short term happiness. With this, players are able to reduce the resource cost for project cards by the current value of their short term happiness. Unfortunately, if you’re having a bad year, you could have negative short term happiness which makes projects more expensive to advance.

Not everything is going to be rainbows and butterflies though, as players will have to manage their stress levels throughout their life. If players gain too much stress, they will lose hourglass markers to spend on actions because they’re too busy dealing with the stress of what they currently have on their plates. Players can complete projects that give them “Good Health” bonuses, which will allow them to reduce their stress.

Once a player gains too much stress, during the old age rounds they’ll pass away and that’s when the game is over for them. Once everyone has died, they’ll reflect on their lives and see who has accumulated the most Long Term Happiness points. The player who lived the happiest life is the winner!

Game Play:

Each round will consist of three phases Upkeep, Actions, and End of Round.

Upkeep Phase – During this phase players will prepare for the current round by doing the following:

  • Clear out any cards remaining from the last round and place out new ones
  • Lose or gain time markers based on current stress levels
  • Gain stress if you have more than three active cards. Items/Activities and completed projects do not count as active card, but projects, jobs, and partners do.
  • Pay upkeep costs for items, jobs, and partners. If players are unable to pay the upkeep for any of their cards then they lose that card, gain one stress, and lose a short term happiness.

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Action Phase -There are ten available actions on the board plus additional card actions that players can take to progress cards.  The ten actions on the board are:

  • Study – Gain three knowledge
  • Play – Gain three creativity
  • Interact – Gain three influence
  • Take a Project – Players can select one of available projects from the board to add to their tableau. When a player select a project they need to pay the resources for the level they are starting off on. The cost is dependent on the type of project the player select.  Cards with yellow text are only in play for the current round and will be discarded during the End Round phase.  There are three different types of projects players can acquire:
    Basic: These always start at level one and can be advanced by taking the “Advance a Project” card action.
    Single-Round Project: These projects allow a player to select any level to complete. Unlike basic projects these cards cannot be advanced, which means you only get one reward from this card.
    Group Projects: These projects allow players to work together to get greater rewards. These cards have four roles that can be taken by any player. One player may occupy up to two of the available roles. The benefit of these projects are that all players will receive additional rewards at the end of the round if more of the roles are taken. Players with two roles will receive double the rewards.
  • Spend – This action allows players to purchase an item/activity from the board. When players select one of these cards they can choose what level they want on the card and gain those rewards. Typically with items, the higher the level you select results in having to pay more during the upkeep phase. Players can upgrade their items or do the next level of activity using the “Upgrade Item/Repeat Activity” card action.
  • Get a Temporary Job – Receive three coins
  • Get a Job – Select a job from the board and pay the resources required to get hired. Unlike other rows on the board, these cards do not get refreshed when they are taken. Jobs allow players to get money, but will always require at least one time marker during the upkeep phase. Players may also take the “Promotion” card action to give them a discount on the next level of a job in their field.
  • Develop a Relationship – Select a partner from the board to date and gain the rewards for the “Date” level. Players may advance their relationship in sequential order. Players can also have more than one partner at a time but players will immediately gain one stress when they acquire a second partner and will automatically get one stress for each partner over one.
  • Overtime – Players place a hourglass marker here to gain two additional hourglass markers from their reserve for the rest of the round. Players will get two stress in exchange for the two additional markers. This action cannot be taken if the two stress gained from this action causes them to move past the end of the stress track.
  • Rest – Relax and reduce your stress levels by two spaces. Players cannot move to a new stress color bracket using the relax action.

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Card/Miscellaneous Actions:

  • Advance a Project – Players can advance one of their active basic projects to the next level by placing a hourglass marker on that card. Just like “Taking a Project,” the player will pay the required costs of that level and gain the rewards. Once the project is at level four, it is considered complete.
  • Job Promotion – This action allows players to pay the Promotion cost on a job to move to the next level of the same Job Type. Players will receive the Promotion reward but will not gain the new job’s reward. The hourglass marker used for this action will be placed into the “Spent Time” section of the board.
  • Upgrade an Item/Do A New Activity – Players can place an hourglass marker onto an item or activity to upgrade their item to a higher level or do an activity at a higher level on their card. Once a player moves to the next level on their item/activity card they cannot downgrade or do an activity at a lower level on the card.
  • Discard a Card – Players may discard a card in front of them by gaining one stress and losing one short term happiness. (This does not count as the action for your turn)
  • Refresh a Row of Cards – Players can refresh one row of cards on the board by losing one short term happiness. (This does not count as the action for your turn)

Players can place use as many hourglass markers on card actions without penalty. If they repeat any of the actions on the board they will gain one stress if they already have at least one marker there.

End Of Round

During this phase players will go through the following steps:

  • Gain bonus rewards for group projects
  • Discard group projects and single round projects
  • Collect all hourglass markers. If additional markers were taken for the Overtime action they are returned back to your inactive markers pile.
  • Determine the new starting player based on Short Term Happiness levels. If players are tied then the tied player furthest from the current starting player will go first.
  • Reset short term happiness back to zero.

At the end of the game players will gain one long term happiness for every five resources of the same type or five money that you died with.

He Said

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Growing up, I remember playing The Game of Life with my family and thinking how awesome it was that it was a simulation of life all taking place in a six person mini van. From getting to choose a career, having kids, and random life events, it was always a blast to play. When I first heard about The Pursuit of Happiness I thought it sounded like a more advanced version of The Game of Life. After playing four games of this, I can confirm that it is indeed a more advanced version of The Game of Life with a lot more options and cool life events.
IMG_1408The main difference between the games is that in The Pursuit of Happiness you’re trying to gain the most amount of happiness, whether it’s focusing on your career, being materialistic and buying a lot of items, or settling down with someone and raising a family. The rewards from the projects that you take on during the game also made me laugh because the rewards for them are very appropriate. Like if you wanted to eat healthy you get negative short term happiness for the first two levels because starting a diet at first is always hard. The end of every game always creates an interesting stories as you go through your projects, items, jobs, and relationships.

Juggling Act
Like Mandee, one of my favorite things about this game is how closely it tries to simulate life. In our first game, we both tried to maintain a relationship and a job and found ourselves lacking in the hourglass department pretty badly. Based on the couple times we played, it doesn’t seem like it’s possible to maintain a level three job and a family at the same time. It consumes a whopping five hourglass markers, leaving you with only one action per turn. But I guess if you were career oriented in real life it would be really difficult to spend time doing anything else. These things make the theme so strong because you could relate with the life you’re creating in this game. And if you try to spread yourself too thin, you’re not going to have a good time.

IMG_1435 (2)Not All Jobs Are the Same
I feel like not all level two or level three jobs should consume two or three hourglasses during the upkeep phase. It would have been nice to add more variability in the time investment with your job as you progress through your career since rising up the ranks and time spent working isn’t always a linear thing. Also not all jobs would require that much time.

The same could be said for being in a relationship as well. I feel like the long term happiness you receive once you raise a family with them is beneficial, but I think they should also bring in some income for you too. Not enough for you to replace a job with, but just enough to show that they also bring in some income as well. Alternatively, raising a family could give you additional resources the longer you’ve been at that stage to represent your kids growing up and helping you out as you get older.

Adding something like that wouldn’t add too much complexity to the game and it would really take the game up to the next level for me. So, while I really like the theme and how well they represent different aspects of life, I think they could have taken it a step further and added variable time required for certain jobs and partners because not all level three jobs are going to be the same for everyone in real life.

Stressed OutStressed Out
The main resource you’ll be managing in this game is stress, and there are quite a few ways to gain it but not a lot of ways to reduce it to a significant enough point to gain extra hourglass markers. I think this aspect of the game is pretty strong thematically since getting stressed out is really easy and losing hourglass markers (aka time) because you’re too stressed makes a lot of sense. Figuring out if it’s worth it to increase your stress to get those couple extra projects or items could be the difference between winning and losing.

The only problem I had with the stress system is that there are only about five projects in the game that can give you a “Good Health” bonus to reduce your stress into a lower bracket allowing you to get additional hourglass markers. In most of the games we played, the “Good Health” cards only came out on our last adult stage or on our first old age round which limited their effectiveness.  I think maybe doubling the amount of Good Health Cards would help or allowing the “Relax” effect to bring you between zones as well. Maybe I’m just not utilizing the “Overtime” action enough, but it feels like it would be extremely hard to be able to get up to two or three additional hourglass markers from less stress in a game.

Child Prodigy?
At the beginning of the game, you get two child traits that you can choose from that give you special abilities to utilize throughout the game. Some of these cards are pretty good, like not having to pay any level one cost for cards or ignoring relationship requirements.  There are also some other ones that just give you one additional resource type every time you take one of the specific three actions that give you resources on the board.

One of the traits really baffled me though and that was the “Rich” trait. The reason it didn’t make a lot of sense to me was because it only gives you one gold at the beginning of each adult round. I think this trait should be a bit stronger and should give you three or five gold, which would be enough to maintain the upkeep on an item at least.

The same could be said for other traits like Nerdy, which gives you an additional knowledge token when you use the “Study” action. I think this should give you an additional knowledge token anytime you acquire one from doing anything which would make it a lot stronger and in line with some of the better traits. While it’s awesome that each player gets a child trait at the beginning, it would have been cooler if they had a bigger effect on the things you could do.

Final Thoughts
Overall I did enjoy the game but I wish it went a little deeper into differentiating jobs, relationships, and child traits. I’d recommend this as a family game or a gateway game since it’s easy to teach and all the actions make sense thematically. At the end, everyone has a cool story to tell about all the things they did in their life.

She Said

Like many other 90’s kids, I grew up playing The Game of Life and the computer game The Sims. To me, The Pursuit of Happiness is a blend of those two games. You’re in control of a new life and the possibilities are endless. Although you don’t get to build a pool and then abandon a person in it to swim helplessly for hours, but maybe I was just a mean Sims Overlord.

A Metaphor for Life
IMG_1434We’ve played this game a few times, and admittedly, the first few times we played it I did not enjoy this game. I found it way too stressful and thought it caused a lot of analysis paralysis each turn. However, we discovered that we had actually been playing one rule wrong and giving ourselves more stress in the game than we needed to. Which meant we were basically playing the game on Expert Level when we didn’t need to. Once we played it correctly, I began to like the game A LOT more.

This game has an incredibly strong theme and it attempts to be a metaphor for real life. One instance of this is in the ability to adopt pets like a horse, a tortoise, or a dog. Most of the animals also have a phase that you reach called “Goodbye Friend,” much like in real life.

Life is an Open Book
One of my favorite things about this game is how strong the theme is. It is a very good metaphor for how life really is – stressful and enjoyable at the same time. It requires a lot of balance to determine if you want to maintain a relationship, a job, or just bum around and do a lot of pet projects.

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I played with a different strategy each game. The first game I tried to  maintain a relationship and a job and that did not go well. In subsequent games, I tried not having a job and just collected projects that gave me money and other resources and I also tried having a job and collecting various items and projects. There really is no one strategy that works best, which is a nice element to this game.

One downside to the theme is that I find it way too difficult to maintain a relationship and a job in the same game. It requires way too much time and you have very few actions. And I find that it’s actually not a great metaphor for real life because it implies that you can’t have a great job, a great marriage, have kids, and still get to do things you find fun. It’s certainly possible, but not really in this game.

 

IMG_1437Good Health is Hard to Come By
In addition, to the other resources, stress is another one that requires a lot of management. It’s often incredibly difficult to not die after the first old age round because there are not enough “Good Health” cards to help you increase your stress levels.

This is a huge downside in my opinion. In a two player game, the only five good health cards may never appear in the game. This could be solved by shuffling them in so they appear every so many cards, but an easier solution is to just increase the number of cards in the deck. Although I suppose it’s a great metaphor for  life that good health is hard to obtain. This is a time where the theme takes priority over game play.

And, another downside to this game is that it ends very abruptly. You suddenly become too stressed and die with very little resolution. Although this is a great metaphor for life in that you never know when death is coming, this is another instance of theme taking priority of game play.

Final Thoughts
Overall, I found this game enjoyable, but I also found it lacking. For one instance, I find the artwork a little cheesy. Second, like Calvin, I expected a little more from it. There are elements that could easily be added to the game to the make it a better reflection of real life. I also don’t like the idea that the game implies that someone cannot have a family and a career without it consuming all of their time.

And, although I love a strong theme in a game, I find this game prioritizes theme over game play, which makes the game as a whole suffer. At the end of the day, you’re still playing a board game and I’d much rather the game not be a direct reflection of real life in order to make the game play a little smoother and enjoyable.

Pros and Cons

Pros:

-Cards are very thematic
-Easy to learn
-Playtime is pretty quick
– Very strong theme that drives game play

Cons:

-Not enough cards that give the “Good Health” benefit.
-Feel like Childhood traits should have stronger bonuses. Some of them don’t feel like they’re that strong.
-Group Projects feel like they’re mandatory because of all the bonuses they give you
– Theme often takes priority over game play

The Verdict

He gives this game 6 Projects out of 10.

She gives this game 6.5 Knowledge out of 10. 

Board Game Geek Page

Buy It Here or Here

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