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Tabletop Game / Game of Life

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SO... you wanna go to college first, or hop straight into a career?

The Game of Life, originally known as The Checkered Game of Life, informally known as just Life, is a game created by Milton Bradley in which you literally go through your life, from college to retirement. Along the way, you start a career, get married, and even have children, if you're lucky. The game has evolved drastically over the years; while play pretty much remained the same from the 1960s through 1990, dollar values were occasionally adjusted for inflation, with the biggest change to the game coming in 1991. In 1998, a CD-ROM version of the game was created for PC, as well as PlayStation, and in 2005, the game was re-released with even further changes. As many as six (sometimes eight or ten) people can play the game, depending on how many game pieces Milton Bradley felt like putting into your copy of the game that day.

A typical turn of the game is as follows: Spin the multicolored wheel (numbered 1-10) in the middle of the gameboard, advance that number of spaces, and do what the space you land on tells you to (usually collect or pay money). Along the way, there are "Pay Day" spaces which give you a salary whether you land on or pass them, as well as spaces at which you must stop while participating in a major life event such as buying a house. You begin the game with two choices: go to college, which puts you at a financial disadvantage at first but gives you more career options; or go immediately into a job, but have fewer career options (in the original game, a flat salary lower than ANY job available on the "college" route.) Soon after that, you travel a bit before getting married. Then, you own a house. After that, it's pretty much free-for-all. You can land on spaces that cause you to lose your job, collect or pay money, have children, and more. The game ends with your retirement, the manner in which you do so determined by how quickly you ended the game, as well as how much money you think you ended with in comparison to the other players.

In the 1960-1990 version, milestones such as getting married and having children were celebrated by that player "collecting presents", small amounts of money from each of the other players. This was Retooled in 1991 to the collection of LIFE Tiles, which had a much more significant impact at the end of the game (awarding large amounts of money for "notable events" you were a part of during your life).

In the current version of the game, upon retirement you can choose to live in Countryside Acres (more or less a "safe zone") or Millionaire Estates (a route that offers more chances to score large amounts of cash, provided you arrive there first). In the classic version, all cars ended at the Millionaire space unless a player who was knowingly significantly behind attempted to force a Non Standard Game Over by risking everything on one spin of the wheel. Going for broke and failing resulted in that player being placed on the "Bankrupt" space, which would become the more forgiving Countryside Acres in the Retool.

This game was America's first popular parlor game. It shouldn't be confused with the cellular automaton "game" created by John Horton Conway. For stories about your everyday world suddenly taking on these rules, see Life Is a Game.

Special editions of the board games have been created for various franchises, such as Star Wars (2010), Pirates of the Caribbean (2004), Pokémon (Japan only), SpongeBob SquarePants (2005) and Family Guy (2008). Video game versions have been created for the Game Boy Advance and the Nintendo Wii, and bundles with the game Hasbro Family Game Night, which is available for PlayStation 3 and Xbox 360. There's also an iPhone app. A Game Show based on the board game, hosted by Frank Nicotero on Hasbro-owned The Hub, premiered on September 17, 2011, but was canceled in May 2012.

The board game provides the following franchise tropesnote :

  • All or Nothing: Going for "Millionaire Tycoon" at the end of the game, when it was clear you had no other chance to win. You selected one number and spun. Landing on that number resulted in an Instant-Win Condition; any other number resulted in an instant loss.
  • Alternate Universe: This game is family friendly, with a recommended minimum age of 9 years old - the future for kids playing the game is still wide open to anything. That being said, your children may be a little confused digesting the abstract concept of their "parent" ending up with no kids, or a different combination of genders, or more or less children than they actually have. It may be a good chance to explain the fictional idea of an Alternate Universe to the child, or simply say the person you are playing is not you.
  • An Aesop: The LIFE tiles added in 1991 seem to be an attempt to add these to the otherwise random gameplay; most of their spaces (besides the ones where players get married or have kids) contain messages such as "Don't Drink And Drive" or "Plant a Tree."
  • Big First Choice: A rare non-video game example: going to college affects how much money you start with, your career options, and your earning potential (which will in turn affect your likelihood of retiring well-off). Currently, going to college puts you $40,000 in debt from the start of the game.
  • Bonus Space:
    • Any space that awards you $75,000 or more. Most notably, the original version gives you $480,000 for striking oil.
    • The LIFE Tiles in the current version. In the original, "Lucky Day", "Revenge", and landing on a Pay Day.
    • "Stock market zooms!" allows you to pick a stock for free.
    • The last space before retiring is "Pension". Land on that and you spin the wheel, collecting $20,000 times the number you hit.
  • Boring, but Practical: The spinner.
    • The $90,000 Salary card as opposed to the $100,000 Salary card. Yeah, it wasn't as much but you're not killing each other over getting it unless nobody drew up the $100,000 Salary card.
  • But Thou Must!: You gotta get married at the "Marriage" space. It's the rules. Of course you can come up with whatever justification for this relationship that you want. Take the Gay Option and get a same-gender spouse, or maybe the person is your Heterosexual Life-Partner. Maybe the person is your paid secretary/servant. Any kids you have could be adopted or children forced onto you by fate.
  • Call-Back: The 50th Anniversary edition of the game, which retains the LIFE Tiles and other elements of the 1991 reboot, while resurrecting and in places expanding on elements of the classic game such as Share the Wealth cards.
  • Calling Your Shots: "Lucky Day" and going for broke in the original. The original rules also allowed for one to place side bets on the wheel, which paid off 10 to 1 if the player spun the number you called.
  • Celebrity Endorsement: Art Linkletter appears on the cover and the $100,000 bills in the original 1960 edition.
  • Chuck Cunningham Syndrome: Several examples of things taken out with the 1991 Retool:
    • "Share the Wealth" cards, which were earned by landing on Pay Day. "Collect" cards entitled the bearer to half of what an opponent received on a "collect" space; "Pay" cards forced an opponent to pay half of what one was penalized on a "pay" space, and "Exemption Cards" nullified a Share the Wealth card played against the bearer.
    • REVENGE spaces, which when landed on allowed a player to take $200,000 from an opponent or send them back 10 spaces.
    • The Toll Bridge, which entitled the first one to cross it the right to charge a $24,000 "toll" to any opponents crossing it thereafter, unless he was sent back over it via Revenge.
  • Cloneopoly: Even when it was made separately of Monopoly and with a different theme, this game can be considered as this, where the final goal is to get as much money as posible to win, but with the difference of make a life of it (with studies, jobs and decisions as to be married and get a family) instead of just make the typical buy-sell-rent decisions.
  • Double Unlock: Many of the highest-paying spaces in the original, which required you to own stock; therefore, you had to first buy stock, then land on said spaces.
  • Exact Words: "Split-level", the cheapest home; it's been through an earthquake. The PC "split-level", still the cheapest, is an adobe house.
  • Extra Turn:
    • After you land on one of the three "stop" squares (Career Choice, Get Married, Buy a House) and follow its instructions, you spin again immediately.
    • Landing on "Spin again if not in the lead" allows you to do just that if you have at least one opponent ahead of you.
  • Fictional Currency: Ranging from $1,000 ($500 pre-inflation) to $100,000 bills.
  • Gay Option: There has never been anything at all stopping you from choosing a same-sex partner peg when you get married in the game. Only the personal feelings of your fellow players could have any effect on that.
  • Hurricane of Puns: The Tudor house deed, bearing Added Alliterative Appeal: "Tufloors, tubaths, tucar garage. Perfect for tupeople with tukids or more!"
  • Instant-Win Condition: Becoming a "Millionaire Tycoon" in the classic version; see below.
  • Junior Variant: Game of Life Junior is all about adventure and going to places such as a zoo or the beach. The main goal is to be the first player to collect 10 stars and the game has a smaller dial.
  • Life Simulation Game: Possibly the Ur-Example. It's a board game based around living life.
  • Luck-Based Mission: On par with Candy Land, but with less room for house rules that add strategy.
    • When it's time to buy a house, you draw just one card. It can be anything from the aforementioned "split-level" shack to a Victorian mansion.
    • You get children only if you land on certain spaces, which are distributed more frequently toward the first half of the game.
  • Min-Maxing: While there's little opportunity to exploit the rules of the game, from a purely mathematical standpoint...
    • The accountant is the highest-paying job. It has the most spaces where players must pay you, and you never pay taxes.
      • On the flip side, the police officer is the worst job. It has exactly one space on an optional path. Its primary source of income is from "speeding tickets"; anyone that spins a 10 must pay $5,000 to the police officer. It's a glorified stock option, but even those pay twice as much.
    • Children are bad. Their only purpose is to make you pay money on some spaces, and they give no benefits in return except for the LIFE Tile you gain on having one.
      • They had a more significant impact in the classic version, as each one was worth a significant amount of money ($48,000 post-inflation) at retirement.
    • The best house to get is the "split-level", because it is the cheapest. The worst house to have is the luxurious Victorian, because it is the most expensive. There are no in-game benefits to living in comfort - although which house you get is entirely up to luck of the draw. An "Enhanced Game" mode on the PC game remedies this somewhat, with the house gaining or losing value by the end of the game.
    • Never get auto or house insurance, because there are very few spaces which penalize you for being uninsured, and you have a better-than-even chance of avoiding all of them in any given playthrough.
  • Minigame Game: The Classic version had TONS of mini-games, each involving the wheel (the PC "Enhanced Game" retains some of these and even adds a few):
    • "Playing the Market" if you owned Stock; depending on your spin, your stock would go down, forcing you to pay; break even; or go up, allowing you to collect money.
    • The variant of "collecting presents" for getting married; the wheel spin dictated how much money the other players gave you for your "honeymoon".
    • "Lucky Day"; landing on one of these spaces allowed you to take a flat $20,000 or give it up for a chance to call two numbers and spin; landing on one of the two numbers awarded you $300,000.
  • Multiple Game Openings: Before you begin your first turn, you must choose whether to start on the College path or the Career (formerly Business) path.
    • If you choose College, you begin $40,000 in debtMath! , although this is peanuts compared to what you'll earn later. The College path is nearly three times the length of the Career path, and has two "lose a turn" spaces, but there are no disadvantages to lagging behind the other players. About three turns in, you can then choose from three randomly drawn Careers and three randomly drawn salaries.
    • If you choose Career, you do not start in debt, you get your career and salary right away, and you earn an extra paycheck right away. However, the career and salary you get will likely be worse than if you choose the College path. You are locked out of the potentially most profitable jobs, and you must take the first career and salary you draw.
    • It is FAR more advantageous in the classic version to go to College. It costs only $2,000 thanks to two back to back "scholarship" and "tuition" spaces. The Business salary is a flat $12,000 (post-inflation) with the jobs along the College route ranging from $20,000 to $50,000. If you fail to land on one of the career spaces, your salary is only $16,000, but is still higher than what you would have earned going the shorter Business route.
    • The two paths merge less than 10% into the game.
  • Nobody Can Die: The game ends at retirement. The worst final fate that can await you is going Bankrupt.
  • No Good Deed Goes Unpunished: Civic duties in the original version come at a price. You lose a turn for serving jury duty, helping homeless children requires you to donate $120,000 to an orphanage and cleaning up a polluted lake costs $240,000.
  • Non Standard Game Over: Going for "Millionaire Tycoon" in the classic version and losing, or falling victim to someone who goes for Tycoon and wins.
  • Pink Girl, Blue Boy: Men and boys are represented by blue pegs, and women and girls are pink.
    • That said, the colors don't actually mean anything in practical terms; the rules don't care which colors your pegs are, only how many you have, so you're free to visualize your fictional family however you like, or not at all.
  • Retool: The game's rules were significantly overhauled in 1991 to allow for the collection of LIFE Tiles. They also discontinued "Share the Wealth" cards, severely lessened the impact of the Stock Certificate, and removed many of the classic version's mini-games.
    • Around 1999, the Travel Agent career was replaced with the Computer Consultant career, with the associated tiles rewritten accordingly.
  • Ridiculous Future Inflation: The prices had to be readjusted during the 1970's to account for inflation.
  • Roll-and-Move: The game has a wheel divided into ten sections, each numbered one to ten. In each player's turn, the player spins the wheel and moves their playing piece (a small car) along a track around the map a number of spaces equal to their spin. Each player can take actions depending on which spaces they land on along the track.
  • Spin-Off: The Game of Life: Twists & Turns
  • Variable Player Goals: Averted. Every player's goal is to get the most money at the end of the game. This is in stark contrast to "Careers", a more obscure board game with a similar premise, where every player can define their own winning conditions.
  • Whammy:
    • The "Save Polluted Lake" space in the original; landing on it cost a player a whopping $240,000 (over four Pay Days even if your salary was the maximum $50,000). Probably out of growing public emphasis on environmental awareness, changed to collecting a LIFE Tile in the reboot.
    • "You're Fired!" or "Mid-Life Crisis" in the current version, if you have a high-paying job; you must go through the job selection process again without the possibility of picking your old job or salary card again. Averted with "Night School", in which case the re-selection is optional but costs you $20,000 should you choose to do so.
    • Some of the bigger "pay" spaces. In most cases, you pay directly to the bank, but if you land say on "Sponsor an Art Exhibit" in the original and one of your opponents is the Artist, you pay that player $125,000. Averted if you land on a big-money space while you are that occupation; you don't owe any money and you aren't owed any either.
    • The spaces early in the game that have "Lose next turn" on them. Two of them are exclusive to College and there are two others before the "Get Married" space.
    • The two "Stock market slumps" spaces; land on either and you lose your stock if you have one.
  • Zonk: "Aunt Leaves You 50 Cats" and "Uncle Leaves You a Skunk Farm" in the classic version; both cost you $20,000.

The 1998 PC game provides the following tropesnote :

  • Minigame Game: "Enhanced Game" adds several of those to the game:
    • The "collecting presents" mechanic was brought back from the pre-1991 editions and was expanded to include child births (twin births and adoptions allow you to spin twice).
    • "Revenge" was also brought back. When you land on a "Pay Day" square, you get to steal your salary from another player.
    • On LIFE spaces, instead of collecting LIFE tiles, you spin again to determine whether you'll play one of "Life's Little Games" or collect a flat fee — the numbers are randomized, but spinning 10 multiplies your payout and, oftentimes, spinning 5 allows you to enact "revenge" with the payout (in those cases, you spin again). The mini-games include:
      • Cannonball: Two bills of each denomination are hidden on the board. You have four chances to get as many pairs of those bills as you can; their denomination is added to your winnings.
      • Crane Dump: Somewhat reminiscent of Plinko, this game has you dump up to six balls with a crane into five slots, each worth a certain amount of money. Each slot can only contain one ball at once: if another falls into the slot, both are destroyed, leaving the slot empty. You can quit before you use up your six balls. This game is not in the PS1 version.
      • Get a LIFE: Three tiles of each letter that spells that word are hidden on the board. You have up to six chances to spell L-I-F-E entirely by finding those tiles. Getting it in six clicks wins you $50,000, in five $75,000 and in four $100,000.
      • Safe Crackers: Twelve bills are hidden on the board. You have four chances to unveil the highest amount you can; you keep the last amount you reveal. You can quit when you want.
      • Skunk Money: Among the twelve bills hidden are two "skunk" bills, as well as a "double your winnings" bill. You must try to find as much money as you can without getting a skunk, in which case you'd lose all your winnings. You can quit when you want.
      • Trash Can: Crane Dump in reverse — the crane is locked in the middle of the field and you must move a trash can in the slots to try and collect as much of the six balls as you can. Each collected ball wins you $50,000. This game is not in the PS1 version.
      • Treasure Chest: Two bills of each denomination are hidden on the board. You uncover each bill one by one. The game ends when you get a pair (whose denomination is the prize you win) or when you have revealed six bills without getting a pair, in which case you get nothing.
      • Up or Down: In addition to one of each denomination, a color-inverted negative equivalent of each are also hidden on the board. Unveiling the positive bills adds to your winnings while finding the negative bills reduces them. You can quit when you want.
  • Stock Sound Effects: On several of "Life's Little Games", the "B.O. foghorn" plays when you lose.
  • Whammy: Finding a Skunk in the mini-game "Skunk Money".

Alternative Title(s): The Game Of Life