Gerald was always a bit of a nerd. He was the quintessential bookworm, and felt very strongly about politics, especially those concerning healthcare. So great was his love for politics that it resulted in him starting up his own political party as a teenager. However, it eventually devolved into a social club, though two great things did come out of this pet project of his: he engaged in a lifelong study of the political sphere, and he met Sophie.
As an adult, Gerald’s love of helping people and his interest in healthcare resulted in him studying to become a doctor. Whilst he did continue his study of politics, it was more a hobby than anything now. With a secure job and a now stable relationship with the very sociable Sophie, Gerald bought a cheap car, and began collecting antiques of all sorts. A promotion to surgeon allowed him to complement his antique collection with a large library, and he soon wed his high school sweetheart.
With both Gerald and Sophie too busy to have children, much of their adult lives was spent acquiring more material comforts. The genius that he was, Gerald soon found himself lecturing at a university. After a comfortable life led and a very successful career, Gerald was able to retire a little earlier than most, riding his pension and savings to be able to continue to afford all of his goods.
As old age set in, Gerald and Sophie found themselves with more time than they’d ever had. They decided to upgrade their library from a single wall of books into a great room, and took a trip to go skiing, something that they’d wanted to do their whole lives but never had the time for. Now too old to have children of their own, the couple decided to adopt and start a family, with Gerald finally being able to become a father and live the happy life he’d always dreamed of…
Then came the health issues. His whole life, he’d pursued material gains and a stable, happy but childless relationship with the one love of his life. As he lay on his deathbed, Gerald wondered if he could have been happier. What if he hadn’t pursued his career with such focus and, instead, had children of his own to raise? What if, instead of concerning himself with the difficult and lifelong study of the political sphere, he’d gone out and volunteered to help people, or learned to play the guitar? As all these thoughts raced through his head and his life flashed before his eyes, Gerald departed from this life.
This is the type of story you get from playing The Pursuit of Happiness, a new game from Stronghold Games that I have been looking forward to ever since the first time I heard about it. In fact, it topped my list of top ten games on my watch list, which can be found here. Yesterday, I finally got the chance to play it after waiting for so long, and what better way to start off a review after such a long break than with a bit of a format shakeup? Let’s get down to business.
What I Expected Going In
As this was one of the games on my watch list, you can expect that I had a fair idea of what the game was about. A mid-weight worker placement game with a heavy emphasis on flavour was what I had been promised. The bright colour scheme, family friendly art style and generally simple mechanics meant that I expected this would end up being a great game to pull out during family time. I also imagined that a lot of the enjoyment of the game would be derived from losing yourself in the experience of the game as opposed to from mechanical brilliance.
What I Got Coming Out
The Pursuit of Happiness delivered what was promised as far as the thematic experience goes. As you can tell from the write-up, I loved every second of the flavour story. One of the other players even mentioned getting so lost in the flavour that he fully intended to finish his character’s lifelong project, even if it wasn’t optimal. The fact that the game can evoke these kinds of feelings in the players is testament to the strength of the theme. It was everything I had wanted and more.
At least, thematically. Mechanically speaking, the game doesn’t quite translate well. In effect, the entire game is a conversion engine; you’re constantly trading some resources for either long term happiness (points) or some kind of resource, which you then use to gain more cards which also convert your resources. There is some slight engine building that excels at reproducing the flavour, but other than that, I don’t always feel the flavour of what my character is doing in my actions so much as what the cards themselves say.
There are some solid mechanics in the form of stress (another mechanic in which the theme makes sense) and upkeep, as well as the penalties of getting fired, breaking up, or having things repossessed. However, for the most part, the actual worker placement aspects of the game are incredibly basic to the point of blandness. Other mechanics (particularly short-term happiness) have strange options that don’t make any sense at all. For example, you can lose short-term happiness to replace all the cards available in one of the sections with some new ones. Not only is this strange thematically, but also a bit tedious mechanically (given that you can effectively burn all your short-term happiness before your last action in order to find a card that you really want).
That being said, The Pursuit of Happiness absolutely oozes theme. Much like Burger Up, however, a lot of your enjoyment in the game will likely be determined but how much you engage with it. If you’re looking at it as a mechanical game to be optimised, you will very quickly grow bored with it. However, if you go in as I did, expecting a wondrous and family friendly frolic where you get to watch your character grow and change, this game will deliver that in spades.
The Pursuit of Happiness is not a gamer game. The mechanics are fairly brittle and susceptible to being gamed, yet even then, they do not exactly lend themselves to tension or excitement. What Pursuit of Happiness IS is a platform for storytelling and immersion into the lives of ordinary people (like Gerald), wherein the whole family can have a laugh and have fun with this simple and incredibly flavoursome work of art.
The Aficionado enjoys this game a lot.
Interested in The Pursuit of Happiness? Grab your copy today!