Retro Review - Careers By Waddingtons (1957)
Antony Brown is a games analyst and inventor who writes regularly on board games. His Retro Reviews take a nostalgic look at games of the past. This article looks at Careers, which was first published in the UK in 1957 by Waddingtons. Like many games of the 1950s, the first edition was published as separates (i.e. the board was not boxed).
Douglas Adams was wrong: the Ultimate Answer to the Ultimate Question is not 42 but 60. Well, it is in the universe of Careers because every player's Success Formula must sum to this number. Choosing your own victory conditions is one of the hallmark features of this original game, which has been a fond favourite of many gamers ever since it was first published in the 1950s, perhaps more so in the US than the UK.
The object of the game is simple: to be successful in life. This is lofty goal is realized by fulfilling your Success Formula, which has three components: money, fame and happiness. Each player decides their own winning conditions by specifying the amount of money (in thousands of dollars), fame (number of stars) and happiness (number of hearts) they will collect. Any combination is permitted so long as it sums to that number of 60. So while each player has the same overall goal each individual formula is likely to be different.
Not only does the game have variable winning conditions but they are specified by the players themselves. This contrasts with, say, Risk in which the variable winning conditions are stipulated by the mission cards and are distributed randomly. This alone makes Careers unusual and highly innovative, especially when it was first published.
The unusual board has an outer perimeter of 32 squares, of which eight are professions such as big business, politics and Hollywood. A player landing on one of these squares can decide whether to enter the profession and follow the occupation path of smaller squares that loops into the centre of the board and back out again. The occupation paths are where players can gain or lose money, fame and happiness. In total the game has over a hundred individual squares but its iconic layout is masterful in its clarity and appearance.
The occupational paths have changed over the years. "Hollywood", "Farming", "Going to Sea", "Uranium Prospecting in Peru" and "Expedition to the Moon" were all found in the original edition and reflected the mood and aspirations of 1950s America. The entire game is a microcosm of 1950s American optimism - setting goals in life and then achieving them is surely the essence of the American Dream, which probably explains the game's greater popularity in America.
In "Uranium Prospecting in Peru" you could gain hearts for seeing rare butterflies, climbing a famous peak and finding Inca ruins as well as uranium ore, which would net you the biggest cash prize on the board. In "Expedition to the Moon" you could be the first person to land on the moon. When the game was first published Sputnik had not even sent its faint signals back to earth so being the first person to walk on the moon was still a distant dream even for Neil Armstrong. In "Hollywood" you could grab tons of fame by winning an Oscar or getting embroiled in a scandal. Some things don't change.
But changes were made to the board over the following decades. The graphic design changed in the 1970 along with some of the careers: "Ecology", "Teaching" and "Sports" were introduced, reflecting the greater social consciousness and the growing dominance of sports culture. "Expedition to the Moon" was replaced by "Space" with "First man on Mars" the square now yielding the most fame. While this remains an aspiration four decades later, "Fist woman in space" looks anachronistic and even a little sexist. No doubt today we would see "Celebrity", a career for acquiring and losing fame quite cheaply, and "Internet", an occupational path in which you can gain ridiculous amounts of money if you happen to land on the right square.
Back to the game play. Players move around the outer board by rolling two dice but only one to follow an occupation path in the inner board. However, players do not have to use dice to land on an occupation entrance square. Many of the squares of the outer board allow a player to pick up an "opportunity knocks" card and these direct a player to a certain occupation either immediately or in lieu of throwing dice on a subsequent turn.
Another appealing feature of the game play is the deck of experience cards. Each card displays a number from 1 to 4. A player may use an experience card instead of rolling the die or dice and move his counter the appropriate number of spaces, on either the outer of inner board. This is particularly useful in trying to avoid some of the unpleasant effects on the occupation paths such as the "Lose Your Nerve" square in "Expedition to the Moon" ("Space", 1971 edition) where the player loses all his or her stars so far collected. Some of the squares on the occupation paths let the players take one or two experience cards, but they are also picked when a player finishes an occupation and exits onto the outer track.
The game ends when a player meets or exceeds the totals of cash, hearts and stars stipulated by his Success Formula. Often the endgame will be close and in the final rounds tension is ratcheted each time a player collects more hearts, stars or money. The tension is broken when a player reveals his formula and wins the game.
Not only is Careers a game that can be appreciated by all ages and by the casual and the more sophisticated gamer alike, it also exhibits some innovative and interesting features that were unique when it was first published. Had there been greater scope for player interaction, especially to thwart your opponents' plans, Careers would have boxed-up the secret of a perfect game.
I guess one question remains: is there a success formula that is likely to be more successful than any other? No. Successful strategies can be executed for different formulas. This is the great appeal of Careers. However, there are one or two details players should take into account when setting their formulas. There are more opportunities on the board to pick up happiness than fame but fame tends to come in larger amounts. Therefore, stipulating more hearts than stars is lower risk so long as you steer clear of "Hollywood" ("The Arts", 1971 edition) because of the heart-breaking "lose all your happiness" square along its occupational path.
There are also some opportunities to buy hearts and stars so it probably makes sense to opt for higher hearts and stars than money. In this way money becomes more of a means to obtaining your ends of fame and happiness. There's a philosophical point here. However, as a kid, I can remember feeling cheated when I lost to a friend who had opted for an all-money formula. A portent of things to come, perhaps.
Verdict: The first edition is an absolute gem of gamecraft. One of the best-ever retro games.