|Life is pain.|
I consider myself both an optimist and a cynic. Many people think these traits are mutually exclusive, but I don't agree. Essentially, I always hope for the best (and even assume it), but somewhere in the back of my head I know that the worst will happen. This combination leads to bitterness quite easily, as I am not only frequently disappointed, but I also typically see it coming. This is the attitude with which I approach this game, which has been brash enough to call itself "Life." I will attempt to divide this review into two sections: the technical and the philosophical. First, the technical part.
Essentially, the way this game works is you start out by selecting a gender for yourself and a color for your minivan/SUV looking vehicle. You then choose whether or not to go to college. If you elect not to pursue higher education, then you get right into working, otherwise it takes you a little longer. You select a job and a salary at random (the benefit of attending college is that you have more choices available to you) and set forth on your life. Your goal is to make as much money as possible, and whoever has the most money for their "retirement" at the end of the game wins. Ways to collect money include passing by or landing on Pay Day spaces, landing on milestone squares which provide you with tokens called Life Tiles which contain an arbitrary amount of money you're not allowed to look at until the end of the game, and other assorted methods.
These other methods are the game's greatest strength. One way to earn money is by purchasing "stock" in one of the ten numbers the spinner which dictates your movement contains. Any time anyone spins that number, you get $10,000. (Keep in mind it costs $50,000 to buy it, and you can lose stock.) But the most interesting is the effect careers have on the gameplay. There are several spaces that require a player to pay for a certain service. Some kind of surgery, for example. If there is no doctor in the game, that money goes to the bank...but if there is a doctor, you have to pay him or her the money...and if you are the doctor, you don't have to pay at all. There are also several opportunities on the board (if you land on them) to change your career if yours isn't going so hot. This dynamic adds quite a bit to the replayability factor, which is always a good thing with fixed-board games such as this one.
Having said that, the flaws in the gameplay are apparent from the first time you attempt to spin the crudely made spinner. I hope they fixed this with newer editions, as my board is about 10-15 years old, but they designed it to be three-dimensional, including a built-in spinner and a few hills containing spaces (which are strictly decorative). Although this makes the game more aesthetically pleasing, it also makes the box harder to close, so they made it easily disassemblable. This is why the spinner doesn't work well; because it's designed to come off. And come off it will. The biggest failing of the game, though, is its arbitrary nature. Aside from a few decisions you can make along the way, you're mostly at the mercy of the spinner, and she is a cruel mistress indeed. How well you do in the game is directly proportional to the goodness of the spaces you land on, and all the strategy in the world can't save you if you hit a string of bad luck.
But this begs the question: does this game truly encapsulate this thing we call life? Is it all just arbitrary, with our circumstances almost universally dictating where we end up and what we have?
And if so, is Life imitating life or vice versa?
It's no secret that this game is marketed to families, and I know very few people who have played it without small children. Personally, I played it recently for the first time since I was about 10. (Were this review not getting long already, I would tell you about the harrowing experience it was trying to retrieve it from the depths of my closet...) I was in an especially bitter mood that night, so naturally I decided to (over)analyze the theory behind which the game is based, and I realized that it is really training our nation's youth to be good little capitalists and have all of the values we Americans are supposed to...well, value.
There are three spaces on the board where you must stop and take action. If one is to look at this game as a microcosm for life, then these must be the three universal constants for life. The first is getting a job. OK, that's reasonable. The second is getting married. Being the perpetually single online reviewer that I am, I resented this implication. Since I've never been in a solid relationship, there exists a real possibility that I will never be in one. Does that mean that I'm a failure? What would Mr. Bradley, were he still with us today, label my existence as? Will my life be that much less significant if I don't get married? Society tells me on a daily basis that is the case. I don't need my board games judging me as well. Anyway, the third is buying a house, which leads me to the larger beef I have with this game: that the underlying motivation is greed.
Your sole purpose in Life is to make money. Anything else you amass is irrelevant to the game. Particularly children. There is no benefit that I can see to having kids in this game, other than that you get a Life Tile for landing on a space with them. There's a lot of potential for them to cost you money later, and after that initial tile they offer you no further benefit. Personally, I think that human life is worth far more than a few thousand dollars, but apparently I know nothing about Life.
For lack of a better place to put this, I'll also note here that, since much of my bitter sentiment that night was regarding college, I elected to forgo schooling in the game. Although I did end up with the lowest salary of the four of us who played, I still amassed the second most cash during my lifetime. I ended up in last place due to Life Tiles, but that had nothing to do with not going to college. Interestingly, I was the last to retire of the group (everyone else started in college), but that, too, was a coincidence.
I suck at Life. And, if Life has taught me anything, it looks like I'm on pace to suck at life as well. The optimist in me is looking forward to the future so I can prove the game wrong. But the cynic is still trying to figure out if the game is right about what life is...
Mr. Rhythm Says:
An arbitrary game of chance which doubles as a thinly veiled attempt to infuse our children with the economic ideals of the haves in this country and the joys of a childless marriage. Fun for the whole family.
Written by Mr. Rhythm, 2005-10-30 22:19:27