$10.00
Recommend
40 
 Thumb up
 Hide
9 Posts

Careers» Forums » Reviews

Subject: Careers: Family Classic or a Game Ahead of It's Time? rss

Your Tags: Add tags
Popular Tags: [View All]
Huzonfirst
United States
Manassas
Virginia
flag msg tools
designer
The women's national team pulls off a stunning victory at the World Cup! U-S-A!!!
mbmbmbmbmb
[This review first appeared in Counter magazine]

An important rite of passage for most American children growing up in the sixties and seventies was the day they finally stopped playing Candyland or The Game of Life and were able to compete with Mom and Dad at an "adult" game. Usually, this meant Monopoly, but first forays into what was then considered the upper strata of gaming also included Easy Money, Rich Uncle, Game of the States, Clue, and Careers. Later the kids might graduate to Risk or Stratego (or at least the boys might; girls weren't expected to enjoy such violent pastimes). These were the traditional games of that time and place and familiarity with them was very much a part of the early education of the Baby Boomer generation.

Well, I played all those games in my formative years, but I discarded them for more challenging pursuits as I grew older. All but one, that is: Careers, a game I still play and enjoy today. In fact, while Careers is unquestionably a great family game, it resembles the German ideal more than the American in that it can be appreciated by the young and the old, and by the casual and the sophisticated gamer.

Since so many of you are no doubt familiar with this game, I'll try to keep my description of its mechanics to a minimum. By the way, there have been many different versions of Careers (Parker Brothers hasn't considered its design nearly as sacrosanct as its sister game Monopoly); as far as I know, all of the differences are in the board's text and not in gameplay. My description will refer to the 1965 edition, perhaps the most popular.

There are three things that players need to acquire to win Careers: Money, Fame (in the units of Stars), and Happiness (in the units of Hearts). At the beginning of the game, each player secretly sets his Success Formula; the number of thousands of dollars, Stars, and Hearts have to sum up to 60 (100 in a two-player game). The game board consists of an outer track and eight inner tracks, each of which corresponds to an occupation, such as Farming or Politics. When on the outer track, players move by rolling two dice, but if they begin their turn on one of the inner tracks, they move by rolling a single die.

Most of the Money, Fame, and Happiness awards come from the occupations. A player can enter an occupation either by landing by die roll on its entrance square (which is on the outer track) or by an Opportunity card, which allows a player to move to a particular occupation's entrance square, either immediately upon picking the card or in lieu of rolling the dice. There are quite a few squares on both the outer and inner tracks that direct the players to pick an Opportunity card. There is a second deck of cards called the Experience deck. Each Experience card has a number from 1 to 4. A player may use an Experience card instead of rolling the dice and move his counter the appropriate number of spaces. Some of the occupation spaces let the players pick an Experience card, but they are also picked when a player finishes an occupation and exits onto the outer track.

When the players pass the start space on the outer board (which is called Payday), they receive their salary from the bank. Players begin the game with a $1000 salary, but it can be raised or lowered by landing on certain occupation spaces. It's not unheard of for players to raise their salary to $10,000 or more.

There are numerous special spaces on the outer track. Two of them (Hospital and Park Bench) force you to stay unless you pay cash or roll a certain number. Players can be sent to both spaces from certain occupation squares, or can be "bumped" to Park Bench if an opponent lands on their token. Another special space is Florida Vacation, which allows you to stay and accumulate Hearts as long as you roll a 7 or less. You can land on this space normally or move there at the beginning of any turn as long as you have completed one of the occupations at least three times. Finally, there are several special spaces where you can buy Hearts and Stars.

When one of the players meets or exceeds the requirements for cash, Stars, and Hearts he set for himself at the beginning of the game, he reveals his formula and wins the game.

Given that it was first published in 1955, Careers is a staggeringly innovative game. This is so even though it belongs to a family of games I have heard derisively referred to as "roll yer dice and move yer mice". True, that is its central mechanic, but the designer took the usual foundations upon which such games are built and turned most of them on their ear. Consider: multiple movement tracks, variable number of dice rolled, not one but three ways of moving in lieu of rolling dice (Opportunity cards, Experience cards, and moving to Florida Vacation). These innovations alone would raise Careers above the typical dice movement game.

But that's only the beginning. Games with multiple objectives are surprisingly rare, even today. (One of the reasons two of Reiner Knizia's tile laying trilogy games, Euphrat & Tigris and Samurai, attracted so much attention was his use of multiple objectives in the winning conditions.) As far as I can tell, Careers was the first game of note to use this innovation, and may very well have been the first game, period. There are also very few games in which players have secret, variable winning conditions (Steve Jackson's Illuminati is probably the best known example), but I can't think of any others in which the players are able to *choose* these conditions. After 45 years, this is still a unique aspect of Careers.

But wait--there's more. One of the occupations is College and when a player "graduates" by exiting that track, she raises her salary by $2000 and gets to pick a degree. Three of the degrees are associated with three of the occupations and allow the player to waive the payment that must normally be made before entering that occupation. The fourth degree allows the player to receive the payments opponents make when they exit the Hospital space. What's so interesting about this is that the players acquire an ability in mid-game that allows them to break one of the game's rules! This is the aspect of Cosmic Encounter that is always mentioned when that game is cited for innovation, and yet it was there all along in Careers, albeit in a much more limited form.

The game has even more innovative ideas (for example, altering your salary during game play), but you get the idea. Of course, all the innovations in the world don't mean a thing if the game doesn't play well. Fortunately, Careers is a lot of fun to play. There's always a lot going on and lots of little decisions to make. Player interaction isn't the greatest, but between trading and making various threats (more on that later), the game remains highly social. It can be played at whatever skill level you prefer, so that kids and adults can easily play together. And, for an older game, playing time is quite good, usually only one and a half to two hours.

One of the most satisfying aspects of the design is that the three objectives each have their own personality, so that different players will have their favorites and so that you can really tailor Careers to the sort of game you want to play by varying your Success Formula. Money is generated steadily by passing Payday, and you can affect its rate of increase by concentrating on occupations that raise your salary. However, money is also the only commodity that is routinely diminished. It also can be used to buy the other two commodities on certain squares. I usually make cash my smallest objective, since I feel I can always exchange it for either Fame or Happiness if necessary (and it often is). Happiness appeals to those that prefer the slow and steady approach; there are more squares that award Hearts than Stars, but the amounts tend to be smaller. Moreover, you can usually accumulate Hearts without taking many risks. Florida Vacation can also be an important supply of Happiness, particularly near the end of the game. Finally, Fame can be acquired in huge amounts, but only in occupations in which you risk losing the other two commodities. You get to pick your poison in this game, and that means that choosing your Success Formula isn't just a clever gimmick, but a meaningful aspect of the game.

A corollary of this is that certain occupations favor certain commodities. If you want to increase your salary, go through Big Business. You can pick up a nice chunk of Hearts if you go to Sea, while Politics or Hollywood are your best bets for acquiring Stars. The occupations' different aspects mean the players' choices have real impact; you'll have greater success if you can move through occupations that best match your Success Formula.

Much of this many of you already know, but it's probably not enough to convince you of my contention that Careers is a game of considerable skill. At the risk of blowing my own horn, let me present one piece of evidence. I used to regularly play this game with two friends. The first thirty or forty times we played, I won. Now, obviously there were extenuating circumstances (I knew the game well and they didn't, and clearly they weren't as quick to pick up the basic strategies as they might have been), but the point is that such a result would be virtually impossible if the game were truly dominated by luck. A skillful player has a huge advantage in Careers.

The principal technique that needs to be learned is card play. You should try to rely on the luck of the dice as little as possible and cards are the way to do it. Ideally, you should be able to map out your play so that on the last half dozen or so turns, you don't use the dice at all.

Opportunity cards get you to the occupations you need to be at. You're always in a hurry in this game, and time spent rolling on the outer path is usually time wasted. (This is as opposed to Monopoly, where you're usually better off in Jail than moving around.) Occupations are where you can pick up commodities, as well as crucial experience. Opportunity cards also give you mobility. You can use them to escape an occupation that has a penalty space looming ahead. Another common ploy is to use an Opportunity card to pass Payday, spend one turn in that track (you can use an Experience card if you're cautious), and then play another Opportunity card that advances you pass Payday again. If your salary is high, this can increase your bankroll in a hurry.

But if Opportunity cards are gold in this game, Experience cards are platinum. There is simply no substitute to being able to determine your fate. These cards are particularly valuable for the riskier occupations, such as Expedition to the Moon, which have some truly great and some truly awful spaces. You can rely on lucky rolls (and sometimes you have to, if you're losing badly), but with the proper cards you can avoid the disasters and pick the choicest plums.

The cards are most valuable in the endgame. With the proper assortment, you can arrange, in several steps, to land on just the spaces you need to win. One strategy that is sometimes missed is to use Experience cards on the outer track. One way to do this is to "retire" to Florida Vacation and then use a couple of Experience cards to land on the spaces that allow you to buy the Hearts or Stars you need to finish off your formula.

The real question is how to manage your cards. You can sometimes acquire a few by trading with impoverished opponents, but experienced players soon learn to hang on to their cards. Of course, you can hoard them until the end of the game, but you risk being so far behind at that point that all the cards in the world won't make a difference. Besides, early card play can actually enhance your card supply. For example, playing an Experience card that sends you to a space where you can pick two Experience or Opportunity cards. (If you have duplicated Experience cards, you might even play one of them to move to a Pick 1 Experience card space, in the hopes of winding up with a more diversified collection.) Or using experience to make sure you safely exit an occupation, giving you even more precious Experience cards. On most turns, you usually have a decision of whether to use one of your cards or save them for later. Even though the process is diluted by die rolling, the card play options are quite comparable to many current games--except they appear in a game that appeared before many of us were born.

One final strategy that should be mentioned is using Opportunity cards to bump other players to Park Bench. It's common in games with two or three players for everyone to accumulate a sizable stash of Opportunity cards, in anticipation of a wild orgy of card play at the end of the game. The problem is that one or more of your opponents may have the same Opportunity card you have. If you play your card to initiate some grand strategy, an opponent will likely play their card, bumping you to Park Bench. Not only might this cost you time or money you can't afford to lose (to leave Park Bench, you must either wait until you roll a 7, 11, or doubles, or pay the bank half of your cash), but you've wasted a card and, quite literally, an opportunity. Of course, you have the same option yourself if your opponent uses his card first. Even the threat of using your cards this way can be effective. The best way out of this stalemate is to wait until your opponent uses *another* Opportunity card. Since this locks him into spending his next turn in that occupation, you are now safe to play your Opportunity card. You can also make agreements with an opponent to avoid bumping each other for one or two turns. You might even use such an agreement as an extra incentive during trading.

(With more than four players, the bumping rule can make the game quite chaotic. There's just too many opponents to be able to guarantee safety, so usually Opportunity cards fly and there is a constant stream of players occupying the (hopefully enlarged) Park Bench. This can be a lot of fun, but can play havoc with any serious strategy. For this reason, it's hard to play anything but a casual game of Careers with more than four.)

In addition to requiring skill and being fun to play, Careers has a wonderful theme. Who can resist a game that allows you to set your goals in life and then meet them by working at a variety of interesting professions? It fit the decade of its creation, the optimistic 50's, like a glove, but the theme has such resonance that it has continued to appeal to both serious and casual gamers for almost fifty years. Every aspect of the game ties in naturally and delightfully to this theme, which, maybe even more than its fine gameplay, has contributed to its continued success.

One consequence of the game's long life has been its many different editions. It's fascinating seeing the changing trends of American life through the game board changes, as Farming becomes Ecology and Uranium Prospecting becomes Sports (I don't know, maybe success in both fields represent million to one shots). Less enthralling are the various spin-offs of the game which have appeared through the years, all of which have resulted in dumbed down versions of the original. Most egregious of all was "Careers for Girls", in which the little darlings were encouraged to follow their dreams and become nurses and secretaries. Appearing just when the Women's Rights movement was gaining momentum, it's high on my list of most insulting games ever, particularly since there already existed an excellent game in which girls could play at planning their future professions--namely, Careers itself.

Careers' components are in line with the Parker Brothers standard: attractive and professionally done, but in no way stylish. Two elements deserve special mention. The gameboard is excellently designed. Consider: it contains nine tracks, 112 squares, and an enormous amount of text, and yet everything is clear and easily perceived. The designer made particularly good use of color to help distinguish different types of squares and commodities. The pad of player information sheets also contains a huge amount of information--the Success Formula; Salary, Fame, and Happiness tracks; the Occupation Record; and the list of College degrees--and presents it clearly and logically. Careers requires a good deal of record keeping, but the sheets accelerate play quite a bit. The design of these two components add significantly to the game's ease of play.

The final mystery surrounding Careers--its creation--has been resolved recently, but not without adding a new set of questions. Like practically all vintage U.S. games, the Parker Brothers' editions of Careers included no information about its designer. However, the 1997 edition of the game (by Pressman, which apparently has purchased the rights from PB) proudly states that the game was designed by James Cooke Brown. Another small victory for game designers everywhere, but just who is this Mr. Brown? A little research uncovers a Dr. James Cooke Brown, a professor who was best known for creating Loglan, a constructed human language that remains an area of active academic study. Dr. Brown was also the author of several books and articles and seemed to be a person of considerable talent and varied interests--in fact, the sort of man, if you will, who dabbled in quite a few careers. But nowhere in these references did I find any reference to Careers or any other game. The only affirmation I have that the creator of Loglan and the creator of Careers are the same person is a note posted on one of the rec game boards following Dr. Brown's death. So apparently we've got our man. But how did such an individual come to invent a game like Careers? Did it have a previous life before Parker Brothers? Did he publish any other games? If any Counter readers know or can discover the answer to any of these questions, I'd be most grateful if they would pass the information on to me. Until then, I will raise a silent toast to Dr. James Cooke Brown whenever I play his creation.
35 
 Thumb up
2.00
 tip
 Hide
  • [+] Dice rolls
David Sears
United States
Oldtown
Idaho
flag msg tools
mbmbmbmbmb
Careers is a great game. Unfortunately, I wasn't privaledged to grow up with it and only discovered it at a friend's house in my early twenties. Since then we bought our own copy and have enjoyed every play with our friends.

I would have to agree that it is the best 'roll and move' game out there. It has high replayability as well because of all the cards/dice but is still as you say a game of skill. You have to choose the right success formula and actively use opportunities, experience cards, bargaining to get where you need to go.

We haven't introduced it to anyone new and had them not like it. Even for the players who don't quite get there I think the progress one makes on their individual goal and as mentioned the social and varied experiences the board provides are excellent.

I'll have to admit I decided to start skim reading through your review because it was so long, but thanks for adding it. Careers should have been the 'continually remade game' which monopoly has become. Gaming would have been far better at a far earlier time although it is rapidly catching up and expanding.
 
 Thumb up
 tip
 Hide
  • [+] Dice rolls
Eric Phillips
United States
Greensboro
North Carolina
flag msg tools
mbmbmbmbmb
Interesting. I liked it a lot when I was a kid, but was remembering it as basically another roll-and-move game. This makes me want to play it again and see if it is still enjoyable.
 
 Thumb up
 tip
 Hide
  • [+] Dice rolls
Dave Eisen
United States
Menlo Park
CA
flag msg tools
mbmbmbmb
It is. It's the only board game from my childhood that I will still play. Well, chess, I suppose. You guys know what I mean.
 
 Thumb up
 tip
 Hide
  • [+] Dice rolls
Dave Eisen
United States
Menlo Park
CA
flag msg tools
mbmbmbmb
I note that the original poster omitted a key part of the game: it is a negotiation and trading game. You can buy and sell cards to other players. This is something I never noticed as a kid and have only adopted in recent plays.
 
 Thumb up
 tip
 Hide
  • [+] Dice rolls
myles
United States
Mustang
Oklahoma
flag msg tools
KNEEL BEFORE ZOD !!!
badge
100 geek gold and this is all I get? :p
mbmbmbmbmb
He/she does mention trading and negotiating.

"You can sometimes acquire a few by trading with impoverished opponents, but experienced players soon learn to hang on to their cards."

Also mentions negotiating not to bump each other as part of trades, etc. Too lazy to quote that part also.
 
 Thumb up
 tip
 Hide
  • [+] Dice rolls
Christopher Walker
United States
Great Falls
Montana
flag msg tools
mbmb
Excellent review. A great read.
 
 Thumb up
 tip
 Hide
  • [+] Dice rolls
Tony Sanfilippo
United States
ISSAQUAH
Washington
flag msg tools
mbmbmbmbmb
Great review. I played this a lot in the early 60's and today in 2012 I played it again and actually enjoyed it. I would love to see a more modern game of strategy using some of these ideas.
1 
 Thumb up
 tip
 Hide
  • [+] Dice rolls
Craig Hilton
United Kingdom
Edinburgh
Midlothian
flag msg tools
mbmb
An absolutely excellent review, with really interesting snippets of history, strategy, etc. "Careers for Girls" has gone on my list of hot wants, so I can marvel at it's wrongness.

Having owned this for over a decade, I played it today for the first time with my 13 year old son and 8 year old daughter. It was a hoot.

They both thought it was fantastic and can't wait to play again.

A 57 year old game which still has appeal for all ages. Fancy that!
2 
 Thumb up
 tip
 Hide
  • [+] Dice rolls
Front Page | Welcome | Contact | Privacy Policy | Terms of Service | Advertise | Support BGG | Feeds RSS
Geekdo, BoardGameGeek, the Geekdo logo, and the BoardGameGeek logo are trademarks of BoardGameGeek, LLC.