Thursday, September 17, 2009

Careers- Classic, Revolutionary, and Fun

I was feeling like the game writeups were beginning to stray a bit towards the older kids and then I stumbled across a great classic game for younger players. I didn't play Careers as a child but now I wish I had. The game of Careers is superficially a classic American boardgame in which players circle a board by rolling dice and moving a token. Upon closer examination it's a very clever game design with huge replay value and speaks volumes about the directions chosen by game designers in the 1950's and 1960's.

Players begin a game of Careers by deciding their "formula for success." This is an amount of fame, happiness, and money which they will be aiming to achieve. Each quality is given a number and the total must add up to sixty. For example, the Phish band music lover might seek a happiness of forty, fame of fifteen, and money of five. The formula for success is kept secret. Each player will have a different formula and will thus play the game slightly differently. And in future games might choose a different formula and have a completely different strategy.

The gameplay is fairly simple. Players roll dice and move along the outside track of a gameboard in a way similar to Monopoly. In Careers, however, you have much more control over your token and extra places to take it. If you land on an Opportunity space you can turn and move along a short inside track simulating some career- "Explorer" for example. Completing a career path may give you points of fame, happiness, or money. Different careers will give different proportions of these, "big business" for example yielding more money.

The game expands on this basic concept. Players keep track of their careers. Some can only be started if you have completed other simpler vocations. For example, you can be an Explorer for $600, or for free if you have been an Engineer or gone Prospecting. If you "go to college" you have access to medicine and law careers, plus a salary bump on any career. A simple score sheet allows players to track their experiences.

Finally, players can accumulate "experience cards." These cards allow you to move an exact number of spaces rather than rolling the dice. Imagine in Monopoly when you desperately need to roll a four. In Careers you can choose to use a card to do just that, but then that card is gone until you earn another.

Briefly, Careers is an amazing game. Players can simply enjoy amassing careers and money and laugh about going into Hollywood or on a Florida Vacation. At a deeper level players can use the cards they accumulate to control where they land or when. Players can buy these cards from each other at whatever price they feel is fair. Players can spend money to "buy into" certain careers or try and get in through accumulating experience. There are a huge number of strategies possible for this game and the ability to choose a different formula for success in following games adds vast replay value. Again, Careers can be played simply if desired but players seeking a deeper game will absolutely find it here.

Better writers that I have expanded on how groundbreaking Careers was in 1955. The game designer, James Cooke Brown, took the square game board and literally thought outside the box by creating inner tracks and adding player control over movement. He then added a secret victory condition which the players choose, multiple ways to accomplish goals, "unlockable" areas, and a system for trading between players during the game. I had thought Barbie Queen of the Prom to be clever (which it is) but Careers takes clever to a whole new level. It's sad that designers chose to dumb down boardgames during the next few decades. It's not that they didn't have examples to work from, they simply chose to set the bar as low as possible.

Careers is released by Winning Moves, based out of Danvers, Massachusetts! Their web site lists several local toystores as stocking their items. I might call ahead and if it isn't in stock, ask them to order it. I don't think you can keep it more local than buy ordering a locally produced game at a small local toystore.

Pros: complex and satisfying, great replay value

Cons: may be too complex for some younger kids, probably Monopoly age and up at least.

Beyond the Basics: great replay value

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