Pursuit of Happiness Review

sg8023_lThe Pursuit of Happiness is a game about life, specifically, living your life to generate the greatest long-term happiness.  At it’s heart, this is a worker placement game with an interesting theme which it carries out well.  It’s not ground-breaking, but there’s potentially a very good conversation to be had during and after the game about goals in life and even the structure of the game.

Appearance: This is a cute game.  The artwork is cartoony without being distracting, symbols and information are easy to read and understand and tokens are differently shaped to make things simple to locate.  Perhaps the coolest thing they have are the hourglass tokens which are used as ‘workers’.  This is a decent looking game but it won’t blow the socks off anyone. I should also point out that both the jobs and partner cards are double-sided, allowing  you to pick your job / partner in a way that suits you.

Rules / Ease of Learning: The Pursuit of Happiness is a relatively easy game to learn.  You have hour glasses for your ‘workers’ and can take actions on the board to purchase items / activities, get a job, date someone, pursue a project or spend your free time being creative, studying or making social connections or just working for money.  Spending time taking up projects or taking part in activities can generate creativity / knowledge / social connection points which can then be used to complete further projects or complete your upkeep for your jobs.  There’s nothing particularly innovative about the way the game works and any experienced gamer will grasp the basic mechanics very fast.

Perhaps the most interesting thing that the game brings to play is the ‘stress’ track.  The stress track dictates the amount of time (i.e. workers) your receive each round and at the higher ends, can lead to your death.  With ‘Old Age’ rounds adding to your stress track automatically at the start of the round, players who have managed to lower their stress in previous rounds will be able to gain an additional round (or two).

Gameplay: This game can play fast if taken lightly.  However, if you  have players who are prone to analysis paralysis or who need to get the most out of each round, this can drag as this is a pure information game.  All the cards, all the options for each round are laid out so it’s easy to spend a while analysing the best route to get the most out of your turn.  This can cause the game to drag a bit.  In addition, the uneven ending times can also cause a bit of frustration for those not playing the last round(s), so this is definitely not a game for people looking to finish at the same time.

Other than that, the game plays quite well. There’s ample opportunity for ‘role-playing’ your characters and even more fun making up stories about who and what you want to be.  My last game, I was the fitness fanatic, zen-master ex-President who found love late in life after spending the first half of his life ‘finding himself’.  Another player was the true geek of the group, building up his gaming collection, taking part in and running gaming groups who in the end found his time sucked up by a high-paying job and a demanding wife.

And that’s where the game shines.  The Pursuit of Happiness lets you make decisions that make sense.  Want a job that gives good money? They often require significant amounts of time to upkeep each turn.  Want a relationship or a family? That’s going to require upkeep each turn, how much depends on how involved you are.  Each relationship and job will have different per-requisites  and often different benefits, so best pick wisely.

One criticism I will level at the game is the lack of opportunities to reduce stress.  There are very few cards that allow you to ‘jump’ between stress bands, which means that players are often deadly afraid of getting any forms of stress.  It certainly feels more forced especially since the opportunities to improve your health are entirely luck-based and almost purely project based, ensuring that a player who manages to get a couple of those projects has a distinct advantage over his opponents.

Final ThoughtsThe Pursuit of Happiness begs to be discussed in a meta context.  Does having a relationship really generate that much long-term happiness? Is it always that stressful to date multiple partners (especially if it’s ‘casual’)? Is it better to have items or take part in activities to be truly happy? Should they both contribute the same amount to your long-term happiness? Don’t / can’t a career make you just as happy as raising a family? Those are all questions that can be raised and discussed, both with your friends and family after this playing game.  Unless you have very specific objections to it, it also allows you to discuss the options that people decide to make to ‘win’.

The Pursuit of Happiness is a decent, mechanical game, but it’s the theme and conversations that rise from playing it that raises it above the generic slush of worker placement games out there.

 

 

Mini Review Time!

I’ve not really had a lot of time to play games recently, and many games have had the 1-play and done treatment which means I don’t like writing a long review on them.  On the other hand, it’s been ages so I figure it’s mini-review time!

Bohnanza

Bohnanza‘s a classic card game that is quite good.  It’s a negotiation / set-collection game that has an interesting level of depth to it even though the rules are pretty simple.  It’s a good filler-like game like 7 Wonders with a different series of mechanics.  Unlike 7 Wonders, instead of dealing with the individuals on either side of you, you are negotiating / talking with the entire group.  This makes it both a better group game and worst (increased play-time due to negotiations).

Tammany Hall

Tammany Hall starts off simple, with players kind of doing their own thing in each of their areas.  As the game progresses though, conflict increases as players vie for control in each electorate and along with the conflict comes increased complexity of strategy.  In fact, towards the end Tammany Hall feels like it rivals Louis XIV in terms of brain-burn – there’s just so much to analyse and review that your head starts hurting.  Not a game to play with those prone to analysis paralysis and/or individuals looking for a medium-to-light strategy game.

Suburbia

I haven’t played a lot of these ‘City Building’ themed games so Suburbia was a pleasant surprise.  It’s mostly a tile-laying game like Carcassonne, but tiles may have special abilities that effect or is effected by other player tiles so your tile choice is important.  In addition, managing both your income and reputation levels is very important, with a resource engine being needed to be built to do well.  Unfortunately, this is a game that benefits experienced players significantly (like Race for the Galaxy) due to their familarity with the tiles.  Also, I’d be worried about choosing certain strategies which are dependent on specific tile(s) coming out – if you miss out on those tiles (or have them specifically discarded), you could lose out to another player who manages to get the tiles they require.  S

Clash of Cultures

I explained this game as a streamlined Sid Meier’s Civilization the Board Game to a friend recently and compared it to how Eclipse streamlines Twilight Imperium.  Each are great games in their own ways, with Clash of Cultures playing faster than Civilization, and having a different ‘feel’ than Civilization but missing some of the multiple routes to victory and flexibility Civilization offers.  Overall, a very, very good game and one I’ll definitely add to my own collection for sure.

Flash Point: Fire Rescue

I’ve now played most of the major co-operatives and Flash Point is my no.2 so far after Ghost Stories.  Where Ghost Stories does well at both ratcheting up the tension and sudden bursts of ‘oh god’, Flash Point mostly works on the ‘It’s OK, it’s OK, Oh God!’ method of board hate.  The explosions caused by the fire are a bit too random I find to create a good sense of dread, yet you do worry especially when there’s a lot of fire and a low number of damage markers left.  I do like the fact that you can play up to 6 players though, something that Ghost Stories just can’t do.  It’s probably a game to be added to my collection for lighter game groups that I visit.  It also seems to give the entire ‘alpha gamer’ issue a miss by keeping the entire gameplay / choices obvious enough that there really isn’t a huge amount to discuss / fight over – and when there is, the choices can often be equally as good (do I go here to fight these big fires with everyone else or do I stay here to keep control of the minor fire here in case it flares up?)

View Revew : Filler Games (Part 1)

This week we’re doing a special on board game fillers. All of these games are quick, fun and easy to learn and play; so we figured we’d do a single large review rather than multiple small reviews. This week, we are reviewing Zombie Dice, Martian Dice, Cthulhu Dice, Spot It! and We Didn’t Playtest This at All.

Video Reviews : A Business Perspective

We’ve recently been creating video game reviews of our various board games (and soon, our role-playing games).  It’s our newest marketing push on the site, and there’s a few reasons we’ve gone about doing it.   Obviously, it’s a great marketing tool – it allows us to promote our site in other locations without being too pushy; it (hopefully) convinces customers to purchase a game and perhaps just as importantly, put a ‘face’ to our company.  Even if that face is Kaja’s for the most part. 🙂

There’s a lot of great things to say about the video reviews; but there are obviously concerns too that have held us back from creating them long ago.

Firstly, they’re expensive.  Part of that is my insistence that we do it well.  After all, we could just use a digital camera; slap it down on a table and make Kaja talk into it and then post the resulting footage without editing.  However, I’d rather we do something a touch more professional – thus Rob, Phasefirefilms and Joanna.  That does mean that each video costs us a few hundred dollars though.

The next question is ROI.  If it costs us that much to shoot, how wdo we make it back? The obvious answer is that we have to sell that many additional games from it. However; that’s not viable at all.  Except for truly big-sellers like Settlers of Catan, the resulting increase in sales is unlikely to pay us back.  Frankly, so far we haven’t seen the stick move at all (at least as tracked by sales increases on the product page directly).

Lastly, while it’s great for promotional uses; we have to walk a very fine line between making it useful for promoting our site and being too ‘corporate’ with the video.  Adding too many links on the video or ‘pushing’ a game too hard could create the opposite effect that we’re going for.

So why do it? So far, it’s a promotional and branding tool.  It helps get our name out, helps build some goodwill and it might convert a few gamers to buy here and there.  Of course, that does mean that we’ve got to consider how we’ll make our money back in other ways, which can mean something as simple as adding Adwords to the videos.  After all, nearly 60% of our video viewers aren’t ever going to be our customers since they aren’t from Canada.