A Life in the Dice
So, I played a fun little game the other day.
I don’t often review boardgames on this blog despite the amount that I play. I’m hardly a board game aficionado so I hardly feel like the most authoritative voice on the matter. But, hey, there’s not much else to discuss so here we go.
It’s a little game called CV that has you, shockingly, create a fictional curriculum vitae. To accomplish this, you roll dice and try to match up your results with targets on the cards. Of these Yahtzee like games, I’m a big fan of Elder Signs if only because it has the best thematic element of the ones I’ve played. However, CV is a fun and light little number that, while not as challenging as Elder Signs, is still fun in of itself. There’s quite a few differences between the games, however, that make a direct comparison between these two a little less useful. For one, CV is more competitive (oddly enough) while Elder Signs is entirely cooperative. But CV feels competitive in the sense that The Game of Life is competitive. You’re competing against your fellow players in order to accrue the most “points” throughout your life. But there aren’t a lot of avenues for you to actually interact with your opponents on the board.
There are a bunch of interesting ideas wrapped in the game’s mechanics that I do enjoy, however. Particularly, I’m a fan of how the random elements of our lives are tied intimately into the randomness of the game itself. For starters, each player begins the game with three “childhood” cards. These are small bonuses you can use at any point in your turn. Most of them either provide you a specific die result that you can use if you really want a card but can’t seem to quite roll what you need or allow you to purchase a card for one die less than it costs (essentially the same effect). These small advantages have their own little theme, of course. So a free knowledge result is titled Top of the Class. A cheaper purchase of a relationship card is called First Love. In fact, all these “action” cards have some flavour that lets you build a little story to explain all the elements of your CV that you accrue.
But this isn’t a resume and you’re not looking to just land a whole bunch of jobs. In fact, the game splits most the cards over three categories: Relationships, Health and Activities. The more of a category you obtain throughout your life, the more they are worth at the end of the game. So there’s a touch of strategy to the game, between randomized “game goals” that give extra victory points for certain achievements (the game I played included bonus victory points for each extra job you had and for each pair of relationships and activities you obtained) plus a hidden random goal unique to each player (I got additional victory points for collecting more items at the end of the game).
Thus, there’s lots of ways to achieve victory points so even if one player is constantly buying up all the items when they appear, you can still get more jobs or relationships than him to potentially make up the difference.
Course, life isn’t that simple and there’s a number of things that can stop you from obtaining the goals you want. We all know we should take up running as a healthy activity. However, many of us often find we simply lack the time or motivation to do so. On your turn, you get four dice to roll and each side has a different symbol to correspond with an item’s requirements. You have the aforementioned health, relationship and knowledge but you also have good luck, bad luck and money. Money, obviously, is used to buy items. Good luck and bad luck, however, work slightly different. Few cards actually interact with those results. Instead, if you manage to get sets of three of them then something special happens in the game. Get three good luck results and you can buy any card on available without having to match any of the symbols. Get three bad luck, however, and some misfortune strikes your life and you lose one of your top cards in your CV. Thematically, this is fantastic as we are naturally able to come up with reasons why a double major magician/scientist might have lost their child in some tragic misfortune.
Misfortunes are doubly worse, however, because when you roll them they’re removed from that turn’s dice pool. See, while you start with four dice to roll, some of the cards you can purchase will increase the number of dice that you roll. This is important as the cards later in life require more results in order to purchase and since there’s no downside to having as many cards as possible, you want to buy your max two per turn. However, the more dice you roll, the higher the chance that you get a misfortune. It’s a fun, if minor, little cost-benefit analysis as you consider whether you really want to roll your leftover two dice to try and qualify for starting your business at the risk of getting two more bad luck results and losing your precious bike in pursuit of your dream startup.
Unfortunately, while I love how a story of your life is woven through the random interaction of your dice results and card purchases, I’m really disappointed with how passive the game feels overall. I would have really liked if there were a greater thematic tie between the players in the game. If there were some sort of mechanical way to incorporate each player into each other’s lives, I think the game would have really shone. For example, there’s one card called Friend from Work that lets you “borrow” a result produced by another player’s job. Clearly, if they keep taking your money, then the explanation is that they’re that mooching friend that you’re constantly buying things for. I would have liked even more cards that “crossed boards” so to speak and for the game to have the premise that all the players were childhood friends charting how their lives diverge and intersect over the three phases of the game.
As it stands, without that interaction between players, the game does come across as being a bit simplistic and shallow. While it’s really fun for that first game, I can see how it would get boring after a few more. The strategy doesn’t truly grow beyond “get what’s valuable” and balancing whether you want to roll more dice or buy more result producing cards. The best part is building a story of your life but once you’ve really seen all the cards and a lot of the combinations, it would probably become very “samey”.
It’s cute and lends to good stories though. My life ended up being a little generic though oddly consistent. I was a young athlete who excelled at running and fitness training who married my first love. Sadly, that devotion to physical activity left me a little unknowledgeable about the world (with my only knowledge card purchased at the end being a little blog when I was a senior citizen). However, I was gregarious and made lots of connections which let me later snag a lucrative managerial position at the presumably fitness centre I worked at. From there, I was able to create a valuable pension fund for my later years as well as financially support the twins which I had shortly after my promotion. After that, I spent the rest of my life pursuing my materialistic goals while sailing the world to hike the tallest mountains. I can only assume I produced a fitness line of videos with my acquisition of a factory that turned out to be a huge success and I got a mansion so I didn’t have to live in my friend’s apartment anymore.
My God, I lived Tony Horton’s life.