The Pursuit of Happiness
(2016 - Stronghold Games, Artipia Games)
I may be showing my age a bit, but I can remember my freshman year of college being introduced to The Sims by Will Wright. I had been a big fan of his SimCity and SimCity 2000 games in the 90’s, and The Sims blew my mind with what could be done with a video game. Granted this was well before the open-world days of Skyrim and Grand Theft Auto, as well as any hint of social media. I remember being enamored with being able to create a character, control the various aspects of their life, and observe how my decisions would play out on screen.
While board game and video games are two wildly different formats for the most part, many board games have attempted to present this same experience for its players. The Game of Life, Funny Friends, CV, and now The Pursuit of Happiness, co-designed by David Chircop (…and then, we held hands) and Adrian Abela. The Pursuit of Happiness is a Euro-style game that combines aspects of action selection, worker placement, and resource management, and focuses on carrying players through their life, beginning with their teenage years all the way thorough death. Players will attempt to collect resources, money, complete projects, get a job, begin and maintain a relationship, purchase items, and do activities, all with the ultimate goal of earning long-term happiness. The player with that’s accumulated the most long-term happiness by the end of the game is the winner.
- Pursuit of Happiness game board
- Project cards
- Item and Activity cards
- Job cards
- Partner cards
- Life Goal cards
- Child Trait cards
- Unavailable Action markers
- Creativity, Knowledge, and Influence tokens
- Player markers (hourglass, track tokens, and long-term happiness marker)
- Level markers
- Round marker
- Money tokens
- Start Player marker
- Summary cards
At the beginning of the game, each player chooses a player color and receives six Hourglass markers, two Track tokens, and a Long-Term Happiness marker of that color. The Long-term Happiness marker functions as the overall Victory Point total for the player. The player with the most Long-Term Happiness at the end of the game is the winner. At the beginning of the game, each player places their Long-Term Happiness marker on the 0 space of the track that wraps around the outside of the game board (seen above). Hourglass markers on the other hand, are used to perform actions during each Round. Since each player starts with six of them, each player will be able to perform six actions per Round. However, players can gain or lose Hourglass markers depending on their current Stress level. At the beginning of the game, each player places one of their Track tokens on the central space of the corresponding Stress track.
The track below the Stress track is the Short-Term Happiness track. Short-term happiness is how content your character is during the current Round. Short-term happiness resets at the end of each Round, and is used to determine the next Round's start player as well as the amount of extra/less resources you'll need to pay for taking on or advancing in Projects. Players can also choose to lose short-term happiness in order to discard a category of cards from the game board and draw new cards (I'll explain how this works a bit later). At the beginning of the game, each player places their other Track token on the central space of the Short-Term Happiness track.
Each player begins the game as a teenager. Therefore, they'll begin with a trait they've developed during childhood. Child Trait cards are shuffled and each player receives two of these cards and chooses one of them to keep. Each Child Trait card contains a number of starting resources that the player will begin the game with, along with a special ability unique to that player. For instance, the player with the Achiever child trait will not have to pay resources for the 1st level of a Project card when taking on projects. He'll also receive 3 creativity, 3 knowledge, and 3 Influence tokens to start with.
As players play the game, they'll move through the different stages of their lives, beginning with their teenage years, moving through adulthood, into old age, and finally death (morbid, I know). There are at least 6 Rounds in the game, with the possibility of a couple more if a player can live long enough. The Round marker is placed on the "teenage" space of the Round track at the beginning of the game. Below the Round track is an area used for taking various actions. Players can place their hourglass markers on an action space to take that action.
As teenagers, players are not yet ready to get a job, work overtime, or begin dating. Therefore during the 1st Round of the game, Unavailable Action markers are placed over these spaces to show that they can not be used yet. Once the 2nd Round begins, and players are adults, these markers will be removed.
Each Round, the game board supplies life experiences for players to choose from in four categories; taking on projects, spending money on items and activities, getting a job, and beginning a relationship. When players place an hourglass marker on one of the action spaces on the game board, they'll take a card corresponding to that action and place it in front of them. On future turns they can place their hourglass markers on the cards themselves to advance to different levels on the card. There's a separate card deck for each of these four categories. At the beginning of the game, players will shuffle these decks and place them adjacent to the game board, next to their corresponding row. Both the Job and Partner decks have two-sided cards. Therefore each of these decks comes with a cover card that's placed on the top of the deck to hide what's beneath.
Players can earn additional long-term happiness by completing certain life goals. At the beginning of the game, the Life Goal cards are shuffled, and a number of cards equal to the number of players in the game are drawn and placed near the game board. At the end of the game, the Life Goal card is awarded to the player that best achieved it. For instance, having the most money when they die, or buying the most items during their life. Finally, all remaining components including excess hourglass markers, creativity tokens, knowledge tokens, influence tokens, money tokens, and level markers are placed near the game board. After setup is complete, the play area should look something like this:
Each Round of the game is considered a certain stage in the players life, according to the Round track. Each Round consists of three different phases; the Upkeep Phase, the Action Phase, and the End of Round Phase. At any point during the game that a player has taken more stress than he can handle (his token moves off of the right side of the Stress track), he or she has passed away. Once all players have died, or there are no more spaces left to move to on the Round track, the game ends. Let's take a look at each phase had how they resolve, beginning with the Upkeep Phase:
I. The Upkeep Phase
Normally, the first couple of steps you'd take during the Upkeep Phase would be to advance the Round marker to the next space of the Round track and discard all remaining cards from the game board. However, these won't occur during the 1st Round of the game. Next, players will need to refill the game board with new cards.
Notice that the main section of the game board is comprised of a series of four rows, each representing projects, items/activities, jobs, and relationships. At the beginning of each Round, a number of cards are drawn depending on the number of players in the game. Note than since players can not take a job or start a relationship as a teenager (and all cards from the previous Round are discarded during the Upkeep Phase), players will not place Job or Relationship cards out during the 1st Round. But normally, depending on the number of players in the game, the following cards are drawn from their corresponding deck and placed on the game board:
- In a 2 to 3-player game, 3 Project and 3 Item/Activity cards are drawn.
- In a 4-player game, 4 Project and 4 Item/Activity cards are drawn.
- In a 2-player game, 2 Job and 2 Partner cards are drawn.
- In a 3-player game, 3 Job and 3 Partner cards are drawn.
- In a 4-player game, 4 Job and 4 Partner cards are drawn.
As mentioned before, each Job and Partner card is double-sided. Therefore when drawing these cards, players will deal from the bottom, keeping the cover card on top to keep the contents of the deck hidden. All resources, rewards, and gameplay content on both sides of the card are exactly the same. The only difference is thematic. For instance, a player could choose to either take a job as a Biologist or as a Programmer (flip side).
The only difference between the two cards is the picture and the title. All resources needed to be hired for the job, to maintain the job, the income provided by the job, and the requirements for a promotion are exactly the same on both sides. The only difference between the two sides of the Partner cards are that one side is male and the other female. All other contents are the same.
Once all cards have been added to the board, players will check to see how many hourglass markers they'll be able to use for actions this turn. This is referenced by their current stress level on the Stress track. You'll notice that some sections on the left side of the track contain +1, +2, and +3, while sections on the right side contain -1, -2, and -3. Players always begin the Upkeep Phase with 6 hourglass markers, however they'll need to check their current position on the Stress track to determine how many hourglass markers they'll gain or lose, if any at all. For instance, taking a look at the example, the Blue player is currently in the +1 section of the track, the Yellow and Red players in the central section, and the Green player in the -1 section. That means that after the Upkeep Phase, the Blue player will have 7 hourglass markers, the Yellow and Red players 6 a piece, and the Green player only 5.
It's possible that players have too much going on in their life at one time. This may cause additional stress (though this is evaluated after the hourglass markers are figured). Players have 3 "slots" in front of them that they can place current projects their working on, their job, and their relationships (though it's ideal to only have one relationship going at any one time). During this part of the Upkeep Phase, players will take a look at their current Project, Job, and Partner cards and count them. If the cumulative total for these exceeds 3, they'll need to increase their token on the Stress track one space to the right for each additional card. Also, if players currently have more than one relationship going, they'll need to add a stress point for each additional Partner card.
Some of these cards also contain an Upkeep cost along the left side of the card. At this point, the player will need to pay the upkeep cost if he wishes to keep the card active. For instance, keeping a level 2 library (considered a wall) well stocked throughout your life has an upkeep cost of 3 money during each Upkeep Phase. Doing so however will reward this player with 3 knowledge tokens. If a player can not pay the Upkeep cost, or simply chooses not to, the card is discarded from the player's area, and the player increases his stress by 1 point and loses 1 point of short-term happiness. Losing short-term happiness may cause a player to have to pay more resources for certain cards than normal.
II. The Action Phase
Once all steps of the Upkeep Phase of the game are resolved, players will begin taking actions, starting with the Start player (determined at the end of each Round according to who obtained the more short-term happiness that Round). The game board contains a section of action spaces, however players can also place hourglass markers on their own cards in order to advance in levels on the card. On a player's turn, he'll take an action by placing an hourglass marker on either an action space of the game board, or on one of the active cards in his play area. If the player places an hourglass marker on the game board, and that action space already contains one of his markers, he'll gain 1 point of stress. After the player performs his chosen action, the next player resolves his turn, and so on. Let's take a look at how the different actions work:
A. Resource Actions
There are three spaces on the game board where a player can gain resources. They can study to gain 3 knowledge tokens, they can play to gain 3 creativity tokens, or they can socially interact to gain 3 influence tokens. These are the 3 main resources in the game, and will be required when taking on projects, finding and keeping a job, and maintaining relationships. Many of the various levels of a card will reward these to players, however sometimes a player may find that he'll need to take an action at one of these spaces to accumulate them if he's run out.
B. The Temp Job Action
As with resources, players may sometimes need quick cash. Players can take a Temp Job action to gain 3 money tokens. Money is mostly needed to purchase items and do activities, however other cards and upkeep costs will require funds as well.
C. Project Actions
When a player decides to take on a new project, he'll place his hourglass marker on the Take Project action space on the game board. He’ll then pay the resource cost (if any) to start the project at the 1st level. Each basic Project card has a cost on the left side of the card, and a reward on the right side. Once paid, the player will remove the Project card from the board and place it in front of them. Project cards take up a “card slot” in a player’s area. Remember, during the Upkeep Phase, players are penalized if they have more than three cards in these slots. When a player first places a basic Project card in his area, he’ll add a level marker to the level 1 section of the card.
For instance, let’s take a look at two basic Projects; Learn Cooking and Book Club. The cost of learning to cook at level 1 is losing 1 point of short-term happiness. However, the player gains 2 creativity tokens as a reward. In regards to joining a book club, players will need to spend 1 influence token. They are then rewarded with 1 creativity token.
Once a player has started a project, he’ll be able to take future actions in order to advance in them by placing an hourglass marker on the card itself. Projects can only be advanced one at a time, therefore a player will have to advanced to level 2 before level 3, and then on to level 4. Once level 4 is completed, the Project is considered complete and the player will remove the card from his “slot” area. He’ll still keep the card near his play area as some other cards may require him to count his completed projects, but it will no longer take up one of his slots.
Taking another look at the Learn Cooking project, once level 1 is learned, the player could take an action on the card to increase the level marker there to level 2. To do this, he’d need to pay 2 knowledge tokens. Doing so would gain him 2 creativity tokens, as well as increasing his long-term happiness by 1. Advancing to level 3 costs 3 knowledge tokens, and would gain him 2 creativity tokens and 2 long-term happiness.
Finally, completing (and mastering) the art of cooking would cost him an additional hourglass token when taking the action (he’d need to place two on the card instead of just one), along with 3 knowledge tokens. As a reward, he’d gain 3 creativity tokens and 5 long-term happiness.
The majority of Projects in the deck are considered basic projects, however there are a some special projects, which are divided into two types; Single-Round Projects and Group Projects. Both of these Projects are considered complete once the Round in which they were taken has ended. A Single-Round Project has 4 levels, just like a basic Project, however when taken the player will pay for one of the four levels, gaining its corresponding reward.
For instance, taking a look above, a player could enter a Robot Wars competition, which will be completed by the end of the Round (as seen by the “clock” icon on the left side of the card). How well the player does in the competition depends on the amount of resources he puts into his robot. He could put in a “good effort” by spending 1 knowledge token and 2 creativity tokens to complete level 2, and gain 2 long-term happiness. However, if he spent 4 knowledge tokens and 6 creativity tokens, he’d win the competition, and would be rewarded with 3 money and 5 long-term happiness.
Group Projects are those than players can work on together. The player that initially took on the project card will be awarded it as a completed project at the end of the Round, however all player involved will receive a bonus and the more players involved, the higher the bonus. Players can even double up on a Group Project card, but can not place more than two of their own hourglass tokens on a single Group Project.
For instance, a player can decide to open a restaurant. There are four roles needed to fill the restaurant’s staff. If a player wanted to be a chef, the position would require 4 knowledge tokens and 2 creativity tokens. As the chef he’d be rewarded 2 long-term happiness and 1 influence token. The Greeter would require 6 influence tokens, but would be rewarded with 2 long-term happiness and 1 money.
After the Round is completed, players will take a look at how many positions have been filled. All involved players are rewarded a bonus for every level completed, as seen at the bottom of the card. If a player has fulfilled two of the four positions, he’ll receive double for each reward.
For instance, if three of the restaurant positions were filled by the end of the Round, all players involved would receive 2 money (1 position bonus), 1 long-term happiness (2 position bonus), and 2 influence tokens (3 position bonus). If a player had two of his hourglass markers on the card, he’d instead gain 4 money, 2 long-term happiness, and 4 influence tokens.
D.) Item/Activity Actions
When a player decides to purchase an item or partake in an activity, he’ll place his hourglass marker on the Spend action space. Unlike basic Projects, the player can choose any level to start at with Item/Activity cards. Also, when added to his play area, Item/Activity cards do not take up a slot. Players can have as many items and partake in as many activities as they wish without being penalized.
Taking a look at the Comic Book Collection, the player can choose to start with a small (shelf), medium (wall), or large (room) collection by paying its cost in money. You’ll notice that if the player had a level 2 or level 3 collection, he’ll have an cost during the Upkeep Phase (listed on the left side of the card) to keep the card active.
So if he had a wall of comic books (level 2), he’d need to spend 2 money during the Upkeep Phase, otherwise he’ll have to discard his collection, thus losing 1 short-term happiness and gain 1 stress point. By paying this upkeep cost however, he’ll gain 2 creativity tokens. And you parents said those comic books were ruining your brain?! Bah!
Next, taking a look at the Cruise activity, when the player initially takes the cruise, he can choose to stay near the engines (level 1), go with first class (level 2), or go all out with the suite (level 3). Activities do not have an upkeep cost. In the case of the Cruise, you’ll notice that each of these levels reward the player with a “relax” icon (sunshine). This allows the player to decrease his token on the Stress track by 1.
It’s important to note that the Stress track is divided into colored sections. For instance, the +3 area of the Stress track includes 1 space, the +2 section contains 2 spaces, and the +1 section contains 3 spaces. Normally when players are decreasing their stress on the track, they cannot move from one section to another. So if the player has his Stress token on the leftmost space of the +1 section on the track, gaining a “relax” icon would not allow him to move it any further. The only way that a player can decrease his stress from one section to another would be from a “good health” (heart) icon. This icon is quite rare, and only appears on a handful of Project cards as a level 4 reward. Seen below, Healthy Eating, Jogging, and Workout project cards contain this good health icon.
As with basic Projects, players can place an hourglass marker on the Item/Activity card in order to increase their level on the card. Unlike basic Projects however, players can choose to skip levels if they choose, as long as they pay the full cost of the new level. It’s important to note that players can never revert to a previous level. Once the final level of an activity has been participated in or an item has been upgraded to its most advanced type, the player can get nothing better out of the card. Therefore, sometimes a player may want to advance one level at a time (if he has the available resources), in order to get more rewards out of the card. Alternatively, he may want to go all out for the best reward, using his other actions to focus on different aspects of the game.
E.) Get Job Action
When a player decides to get a new job, he’ll place an hourglass marker on the Get Job action space. Jobs do take up one of the player’s slots in his play area, and a player can never have more than one job at a time. Therefore if a player already has a Job and takes a new Job card, the previous one is discarded (he’s just leaving one job for another). Each Job card is one of three types; Art jobs, Science jobs, and Social jobs. Each Job card is also a level 1, level 2, or level 3 job. The higher the level, the more resources and actions you’ll need to dump into the job during each Upkeep Phase to keep it.
A player does not have to start at the level 1 position. If a level 3 Job is available on the board, and the player has the resources (credentials) for the job, he can take it. Each Job card has two main sections on the card. The top section is the hiring requirements, while the bottom section is the promotional requirements.
For instance, as seen above, the Salesperson is a social job and requires 1 knowledge token and 3 influence tokens to take the job. As a reward, the player is given 6 money. If the player can pay its upkeep cost of 1 hourglass marker, 1 knowledge token, and 1 influence every Round, he’ll keep the job and continue earning 6 money as income.
As an action, the player with the Salesperson card can pay the promotional cost of 2 knowledge tokens and 4 influence to get promoted to a level 2 job. This can only happen is there is another social job on the game board, and that social job is a level 2 job. Nothing keeps a player from moving from a level 1 social job to a level 2 arts job, but it can’t be done through a promotion. In this case, the player would simply pay the hiring requirement for the level 2 arts job and replace it with his social job card. Using the promotion route however, is always cheaper resource-wise.
Each job type (arts, science, social) has one level 3 card. If a player has a level 3 card, it does not contain a promotional section, instead it contains retirement. When a player pays the listed cost to retire, he’ll continue to get the benefits from the job, but won’t have to pay an upkeep cost.
For instance, retiring as a Rocket Scientist (the level 3 science job) will cost a whopping 9 knowledge tokens, 3 creativity tokens, and 3 influence tokens. However, as an immediate reward, he’ll decrease his stress by 1 point (relax icon), gain 6 money, and 4 long-term happiness. He’ll also continue to gain 6 money during every Upkeep Phase, though he won’t have an upkeep cost to get it.
F.) Start a Relationship
When a player decides they’re ready to start a relationship, they’ll place an hourglass marker on the Start Relationship action space, pay the level 1 cost of the desired Partner card on the game board, placing it in one of their player slots in front of them. As with basic Projects, players can only advance one level at a time with a relationship. Partner cards are unique in that player can’t simply just take an action to advance in level. They must also meet the desired requirement from their partner in order to deepen the relationship.
For instance, there is no cost of requirement to initially date Jamie. However, in order to advance to a relationship with her, the player will be required to at least have a level 1 job. Furthermore, she’ll expect the player to at least have a level 2 job before she’ll raise a family with them.
Sometimes, players may feel the need to gain an extra action on their turn. In this case, they can choose to perform some overtime by placing an hourglass marker on the Overtime action space. This gives the player two hourglass markers to use for the rest of the Round (basically +1 action since he had to place a previous one on this action space to receive them). However when taking overtime, the player will also receive two points of stress. At the end of the Round, the two hourglass markers are returned to the general supply.
The final action space on the game board is the Rest space. When a player takes his action here, he’ll be able to decrease his stress by 2 points on the Stress track (though as mentioned before, can not move his stress token to a different colored section of the track). Unlike the other actions spaces, the player can take as many actions on the Rest space without penalty.
III. The End of Round Phase
Once all players have performed their actions, the Round ends. The next Round’s start player is determined by the player with the most short-term happiness (as seen on the corresponding track). All tokens are then returned to the center space of the Short-Term Happiness track. Players will then advance the Round marker on the Round track and begin a new Upkeep Phase.
Once the Round marker reaches one of the Old Age spaces, players will immediately gain the number of stress points equal to what is shown on the round’s space. Players will continue to accumulate more and more stress with each Old Age round, until eventually all players will have died. Once all players have died, the game ends.
Players will have accumulated most of their Long-Term Happiness during the game. However, additional points can be earned after the game is over. Players will gain 1 Long-Term Happiness point for every 5 resources of the same type they end the game with, as well as 1 Long-Term Happiness point for every 5 money they end with. These are considered the inheritance that they’ve left their family. Players can also gain additional Long-Term Happiness by completing the Life Goal cards that were placed out at the beginning of the game. If players are tied for the Life Goal card, neither player gets the points from it.
For instance, the Career Oriented life goal grants 4 Long-Term Happiness to the player that has the highest level job when he dies. The Done It All life goal however, grants the player that completed the most Activities during his life 1 Long-Term Happiness per Activity, up to a max of 5.
Once all points have been totaled, the player with the most Long-Term Happiness has won the game. Though not mentioned in the rulebook, the way we’ve been playing it is that you final score equals you age when you died. And we have players look though their cards and tell a summary of their life story. Not required, but it makes for an entertaining end to the game.
When playing The Pursuit of Happiness, I was reminded by another popular game I played earlier this year called CV. Both games focus on walking a player through all the aspects of their life, from childhood to adulthood, and into their elder years. However, both games approach this using completely different mechanics. CV uses a die-rolling Yahtzee-style mechanic, in which players used the resulting facings to purchase and draft cards from the game board. These cards may then contain resources that will allow them to purchase better cards in the future. The Pursuit of Happiness on the other hand, is much less luck-based, and uses a combination of action-selection and resource management elements in its design. That’s not to say that either game is better at what its trying to accomplish than the other, its just two different styles. Players looking for a more simple, less involved die-rolling game will find CV more attractive, while players looking for a more Euro-driven, less luck based strategy game will find The Pursuit of Happiness more up their alley.
I’ve always found that the designs I enjoy the most are those that are able to merge theme within the design aspects of the game. I’m a big theme guy. But taking a theme and allowing the mechanics to build upon that theme always excites me. If The Pursuit of Happiness gets anything right, it’s this right here. Balancing short-term happiness and a player’s stress level. Taking on too many projects at once, attempting to maintain more than one relationship at a time, being unable to keep up with the lifestyle you’ve built around you (not being able to pay cards upkeep cost); all of these can affect a player’s stress and short-term happiness. I also found it interesting that its much easier to gain stress than it is to lose it. Unless a player focuses on working out, exercising, or doing some type of yoga training, he’ll only be able to lower his stress so far without that “good health” icon.
The use of resources and how they work with the different cards make sense as well. Jobs will provide you income (money), but you’ll need certain resources as credentials to get hired. Purchasing items and doing activities are going to require money, while working on and completing projects will mostly help you accumulate the knowledge, creativity, and influence needed for other aspects of your life. Relationships can require the most time (hourglass markers spent during upkeep), but can also provide the most rewarding of resources. All players also have a unique trait that is special to them, an ability that they carry throughout their life. It all flows together and is quite intuitive.
Players may be surprised to find a Euro-game brimming with so much theme. At times the amount of theme itself hides the fact that there’s so many Euro-game mechanics combined in The Pursuit of Happiness. I find this to be a good thing. It can be a great introduction to players unfamiliar with worker placement, action selection, and resource management mechanics. While a game about following a character through life from beginning to end is not something necessarily new, The Pursuit of Happiness does so in a unique and impressive way.
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Tolerance for ambiguity is the first step in maturity.
Really appreciate the time and effort that you put into these reviews. Thanks again. So many helpful pictures.
Chris Schreiber wrote:
Really appreciate the time and effort that you put into these reviews. Thanks again. So many helpful pictures.
Love working on them and sharing! Thank you.
Very nice and detailed review!
Thank you very much!