W. Eric Martin
The Game of Life has been a standard on toy store shelves since the 1960s, when Art Linkletter's endorsement and smiling face were emblazoned on the ugly oversized box. In the 21st century, The Game of Life has been superficially updated through media tie-ins with the Simpsons and Star Wars, but in terms of game play, Life still has little to offer beyond a wicked cool spinner and...well, the buzzily-entrancing spinner is really all it has.
Where Life fails as a game is that it offers players almost no meaningful choices. Near the start of the game, you decide whether to go to college or attend an occupational school, but after that, you're simply spinning your way to death. Every player gets married, regardless of desire or state law; children appear whenever you land on the right space (so lifelike!); you randomly receive or pay money; then you die and your assets are tallied to determine how large your obituary will be relative to your peers.
That's not the kind of life I live, and I imagine your existence is similarly complicated with daily choices over who to meet, what to ingest, where to go, and why to believe. Luckily for us, a game has appeared that truly deserves the title The Game of Life -- but to avoid inevitable trademark complications, it is instead called Funny Friends.
Designers Friese and Merkle reasonably avoid the entire debate about whether life begins at birth or at some earlier point and instead start the game with players just entering puberty, that time when you leave behind generic childhood mushiness and start becoming the person you will be in adulthood, that time when you have weird urges and take risks that seem foolish in hindsight, that time you meet other wild youngsters who introduce you to new activities and get you in trouble.
Lucky you -- that entire experience is replicated in the game! Puberty cards are displayed on the table, and players can either choose an experience (e.g., Pass a Joint, Nobody Loves Me, Color Hair Green) or pass and receive some number of time counters, which serve as the game's currency.
With each card you choose, your adult character takes shape; choosing "Nobody Loves Me" gives you fat and sadness, for example, while "Pass a Joint" gives you drug use and a friend. Each player tracks nine characteristics on an individual player board, and the sum of those characteristics defines you; each board also has space for friends, relationships, broken relationships, and sexual encounters, which you're sure to use later in the game if you don't happen to indulge in "Heavy Petting" while still in puberty.
Once everyone passes puberty and becomes an adult, you enter life rounds in which players bid to have life experiences. As with life itself, only players with the right characteristics can participate in certain experiences; without friends, after all, how will you ever have "Pity Sex"? (Some life cards also have bidding restrictions; if you're in a relationship, for instance, you can't learn Esperanto.) Whoever wins the bid pays in time and adjusts his player board with the results of this event. Once all the life experiences have been claimed or all players have passed, you deal out a new set of experiences and start another bidding round.
So what are you trying to do? Why experience anything in the first place? Well, unlike Beckett novels and life itself, Funny Friends gives you five goals that you must achieve to win. At the start of the game, each player receives a spirit, relationship, career, life, and friend goal -- each unique and each requiring a different set of characteristics to achieve. One player might aspire to become a game designer (requirements: three friends and three instances of wisdom) while another wants to become an Elvis imitator (fat, two drinks, and a broken relationship); whenever your characteristics let you achieve a goal, you can play the goal card and receive the payoff for all that hard work. (Game designers get sex, while Elvis imitators start to do drugs.)
As you might imagine, the life goals are often contradictory. Coming out as gay, for example, requires you to be irreligious, while having religion is a prerequisite for starting a cult. To fulfill your goals, you want to treat them like a giant puzzle in which you achieve goal A first so that you get money to fulfill goal B, which will break up your marriage to push you towards goal C, and so on.
Since life and games don't always go as planned, Funny Friends gives you two ways to reset a characteristic: through various life experiences (e.g., starting a new relationship eliminates all your sadness) or maxing out one of the other characteristics. If you smoke too much, you lose all your fat; drinking a lot knocks out wisdom; and with tons of money in hand, you can't be sad.
Game play in Funny Friends is incredibly intuitive, and the game is a blast to play -- assuming that you have the right group. Not everyone will appreciate being told that they need to take drugs and have sex with multiple strangers and someone else's spouse to succeed at life. Funny Friends works well with three, four, or five players, but the playing time jumps dramatically with six players, so I'd avoid playing with that many unless everybody at the table is a speedy Sue or quick Quentin.
More importantly, the rules for breaking up relationships and meeting people through a cell call are confusing, but you can avoid quandaries by applying the lessons of life to the game. If you're not in a secure relationship, for example, another player can woo you away from a boyfriend or girlfriend against your will; if you're in a stable relationship, though, you have to agree to be unfaithful. If you call someone on your cellphone, they have to pay attention to you and either become your friend or take you to the event with them -- unless they call someone else themselves.
The best part about Funny Friends might be the stories created during the game. You can look through your stack of cards and recreate your life, from that first skateboarding accident and the crush in Bible class to the time you started a book club, became a workaholic, and developed a smoking-related illness. You'll never forget the day that Adam left you for Jim, leaving you a little bit sadder, but a winner in the long run.
That about sums it up perfectly.
One of the most entertaining party games if you're playing with the "right" crowd - not easily offended.
At one point during our last time playing a daughter(playing a female character) persuaded her mom (playing as a male) to have sex with her just to get one lay closer to the slut bonus goal.
Too much fun if played at the right time. Not an every day / every session play.