Welcome to The Game Shelf!

After getting into the board game hobby at the end of 2014, we've decided to share our thoughts on the games we're collecting on our shelves. The collection has certainly expanded over the last few years and we've been making up for lost time!

Sometimes our opinions differ, so Amy will be posting reviews every Tuesday and Fi will post on Thursdays. We hope you enjoy reading some of our opinions on board games - especially those for two players.

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Monday 9 November 2020

The Game Shelf Reviews:- The Pursuit of Happiness

Game: The Pursuit of Happiness

Publisher: Artipia  Games

Designer:  Adrian Abela, David Chircop

Year: 2015

The Pursuit of Happiness
is often referred to as a gamer's version of the classic board game 'Life', or 'The Game of Life' if you live in the UK. It's a game where you will progress through a lifetime, from your teenage years, through to retirement and eventual death, which can happen at a different age depending how stressful you life has been.

The Pursuit of Happiness has been well supported with expansion content over the years and it's strange to think that it would now be regarded as an older worker placement games. We first tried it out quite a long while ago and the theme was enough for it to stick in my memory and to want to explore it some more.

If you're looking to live out a fantasy, get a new job or see if it's possible to hold down two girlfriends at the same time, then let's talk about The Pursuit of Happiness.


The Pursuit of Happiness is a worker placement game where your workers represent time that your character can spend working dating, studying or following their dreams. As such each 'worker' is shaped like a sand timer. There are nine action spaces on the board which let you perform these various tasks throughout your character's life from young adulthood to dying in your old age. Four of these spaces simple reward you with a handful of the basic resources of the game, from social interaction to cold, hard cash. 

The spend space lets you buy new items or activities. Activities are one shot cards, while items can have expensive upkeep, but often reward you with lifetime happiness, which is the game's points. Projects represent hobbies or goals for your character to progress in, they often cost and reward basic resources to advance and can be completed over several rounds. You can also get a job, jobs are great if you want money as they give you an income every round, but they also lock one (or more) of your sand timers on them, giving you less actions during your turns the game. Relationships act similarly, once you settle down for a family you will lose a sand timer to the relationship since you have to spend time raising your kids! To counteract this you can use the overtime space to gain extra sand timers for the round, but this will come at the cost of stress. Gain too much stress and you'll have less sand timers to place each round, making you need to do overtime more, and get more stress...

Over the course of the game you'll have to balance your stress, finances, social life and hobbies in order to try and create the most long-term happiness. The Pursuit of Happiness does not have a fixed number of turns, instead old age simply causes everyone's character a set amount of stress. If your character gets too stressed they will die, meaning a player who has led a healthy life may have earned themselves an extra round or two to play out, while someone who lived fast, might indeed die young.

Amy’s Final Thoughts

Anyone who looks at The Pursuit of Happiness will immediately think of The Game of Life, the classic spin and move Hasbro game. While the thematic comparison is certainly there the gameplay is, mercifully, leagues apart. Yet I cannot deny that the theme has a certain magic to it, the same appeals as playing the Sims. You are not so much roleplaying a character, as acting as a benevolent god, guiding their path to ensure they are productive, happy and healthy. You end up feeling a pull towards non-optimal moves, simply because they make sense narratively. I remember my last game vividly, not because I enjoyed the mechanics or did particularly well, but because I made a character. He was a spoiled rich kid who started life joining a biker gang to 'prove his manhood', but by his old age was happily settled down in a gay relationship and writing screenplays. He had an arc, and that's something you don't get outside of roleplaying games!

But a strong theme alone does not make a game fantastic, do A pursuit of Happiness' mechanisms support the fantastic theme? They do adequately, let's be honest almost everything here is bog standard worker placement, four spaces on the board are painfully dull gather resource spaces which you almost never do. The job and relationship spaces you typically only do once a game (unless you want the stress of juggling two partners, yikes!). The stress meter should be a fun mechanism to balance, but the restriction on moving down the stress marker (you need a special reward to gain an extra timer) means that you are only normally trying to hover around one zone of 3 spaces. Don't get me wrong, it all works it just doesn't light my world on fire.

A pursuit of happiness is an average worker placement game with a fantastic theme. This absolutely is enough to get enjoyment out of it, it becomes a great lighter game which has an easy to understand internal logic and few rules which aren't outright intuitive. While you absolutely could play the game to min-max and harvest every last point out of it, it won't feel right. The theme makes you want to sit back, have a couple of drinks and just chill. Which means despite not being my favourite game, it is one that I'd be happy to play again and again.

Fi’s Final Thoughts

The Pursuit of Happiness is a game that's all about the theme for me. Typically theme isn't of interest to me in games, I'm happy to live for mechanisms alone, but from a mechanism perspective, The Pursuit of Happiness is honestly pretty bland. However, with its theme, it falls into a category, along with Fog of Love, of games that take a real-life theme and let your imagination run wild with the possibilities of that your life can be. They are some of the only experiences that have ever got me roleplaying. Once you've picked a couple of cards early in the game, it's so natural to start putting together a story and a character and to find yourself only picking cards that riff on a particular theme. Sometimes a card fits so well that it stops mattering whether it's very good for your strategy, but more often than not, the designers have created synergies between cards that work together thematically. If you do need to do something a little out of character to get some resources, then there's always a story to go with it. Perhaps you've made a computer nerd who's willing to go to an art gallery to impress their artsy boyfriend.

From a mechanics perspective, everything works well but doesn't do anything very stand-out. Perhaps at the time it was published it might have been more unique, but now placing workers to gather resources that pay for cards is just par for the course. What stands out a little more is how time and stress are woven together as part of the theme and the mechanisms. You can take more stress to get more time, you can get more stressed to make more money, and all of this plays out in the limitations you face for workers and rounds in the game.

Ultimately this gaming experience is about the stories it creates. I don't care about winning or losing if I've been faithful to my character's story. While for me the game might need to be a bit stronger technically, I can see why that character creation keeps The Pursuit of Happiness as a bit of an evergreen title for board game stores.

You Might Like...
  • The real-life theme of The Pursuit of Happiness offers lots of opportunity for light roleplaying and building a character during the game is very fun.
  • The theme and mechanisms blend really well - synergies are as you would expect them to be and different things cost exactly the resources you would expect.
You Might Not Like...
  • Theme really carries the game, the mechanisms are basic and perhaps showing some age.
  • Healthy lifestyle choices feel very hard to find, especially in a two-player game with less cards cycling. Most games end on the same round for all players as a result.

The Verdict
6.5/10 In terms of thematic games, The Pursuit of Happiness is one the best you can find. While the gameplay itself is quite a standard worker placement - the theme really makes it stand out and makes you want to come back for more. The tableau building and synergies can make for a tight and satisfying resource management experience, that is what really adds the gamer feel to the game, perhaps making it a tiny bit more complex than the gateway game it could otherwise be.

The Pursuit of Happiness was a review copy kindly provided to us by Aritpia Games.

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