New Board Game Brings Life To Life
by Thomas MacMillan | Jul 30, 2012 2:32 pm
Posted to: Sports
Born into a middle-class family, United Way staffer Josh Mamis amassed a huge fortune as a successful entrepreneur, bought a presidential election to consolidate his power, then had a change of heart in his twilight years and helped redistribute society’s wealth—all on his lunch break.
Mamis (at right in photo) didn’t do all that in real life. His alter-ego accomplished it in a new board game called “Generations.” In a trial run the other day, Mamis, a former New Haven Advocate publisher and current community engagement head at United Way, emerged as a champion.
It’s like the board game “Life” “on crack,” 32-year-old inventor J.R. Logan (at left in photo) explained to a curious co-worker during a test run of the game on Thursday.
Generations was born out of Logan’s frustration with “Life,” the board game which takes players on a carefree journey from college to retirement. He felt it just wasn’t realistic enough.
In Generations, players start out at birth, born into a life of privilege or hard knocks, and proceed through 100 years of ups and downs, if they don’t get killed along the way.
If participants play their cards right, they can hit their life goals—getting married, becoming a scholar or a business owner, getting famous, or getting health insurance—and wind up the winner. Along the way, periodic elections change the game by altering the economy, education level, and health care of the imaginary society the players inhabit.
The game centers on three factors for a successful life: income, education, and health. Those also happen to be factors that Logan’s employer, United Way, the national charitable organization, focuses on. (Logan is the Greater New Haven chapter’s head of “new media strategies.”) Players gain and lose in those three areas as they proceed through the game; their levels afford them different opportunities to achieve life goals.
In the eight months since Logan first conceived of the game, he has brought Generations to “beta” testing, with custom-made playing cards printed out on notecards and a winding path of squares printed out on a cardboard playing surface.
Logan said he doesn’t have concrete plans for the game—like marketing it or selling it for mass production—beyond making it fun and easy to play. He said he may post it online as an “open source” game that people can print out and tweak as they like. To that end, he has already reserved the domain name “OpenBoardGames.com.”
Starting At Zero
This past Thursday, Logan laid out his latest draft of the board game during a noon lunch break at the United Way offices on James Street. He sat down to play with Mamis, external affairs officer Cara Baruzzi (at center in photo), and your correspondent.
He first gave us each a kind of score sheet showing our health, education, and income levels. Not yet being born, we all started at zero on all three. Below those indicators on the score sheet were listed “Achievements,” different badges players can earn for things like having children, becoming “cultured,” or being “productive.”
We first rolled dice to see which of three life situations we’d be born into. The board begins with three separate paths that merge into one as the players reach age 18.
Logan, Baruzzi, and I were lucky enough to be born into wealthy families, setting us on a path with greater possibility for increased health and education in our early years. Mamis rolled into a middle-class existence.
After selecting player tokens that Logan borrowed from a model-train set, we set off on our journeys. Advancing by rolls of a die, we landed on squares that indicated childhood gains or losses to our health, education, and occasionally to income.
“I had a paper route, I think,” said Mamis as he picked up a point of income while still a child in the game.
Childhood in Generations is essentially choice-less; players are shaped by the path they rolled into.
As we reached 18 years old, the choices emerged. After that point of the game, at each roll of the die, players pick up a pair of health, income, or education “Choice Cards.” Each card presents a fork in life’s path, an opportunity to earn an achievement or pick up or lose some health, education, or income.
For instance, one card offers the chance to get married, if you’re willing to give up one income point to woo your prospective spouse. Another card allows you to try to become a movie star, but you have to give up a point of income, have a health rating of at least six, and roll at least a 10.
“I guess I’ll go back to waiting tables,” Baruzzi sighed after failing to make it in Hollywood.
As we passed out of adolescence, Mamis rolled past an “election” square, triggering one of the game’s periodic campaign cycles. He randomly selected four “candidate cards.” We considered their platforms.
Elections change the “Social Investments” of the game’s imaginary society. A candidate might, for instance, run on a platform of improving the economy at the expense of health care and education. The cards also list more specific platform planks, like extra health points players for players with fewer income points, or extra income points for people who have achieved entrepreneur status.
The elections are designed to at times pit players’ interests against each other, Logan said. They can show how political choices can often depend on personal situations.
After a primary and a general election, we had a new leader: President Jack. He improved education and the economy, but reduced our society’s health care system by three points. We had started with the “Social Investments” in the same place that the last “generation” of players had left them at the end of the previous game—high education levels, a crappy economy, and excellent health care.
We were a bit like Cuba, Mamis pointed out.
Over the next hour, our lives unfolded with the roll of dice.
The Wedding Tab
Logan pulled a card giving him the option to get married at 18 for one income point, but decided he was too young to settle down. He never got a second chance and died a bachelor, perhaps still dreaming of his spurned teenage love.
I luckily pulled a card offering me to get married for free. “True love is free,” it read.
“You’ve obviously never been married,” Mamis said to Logan. “Who’s paying for the wedding?”
Baruzzi pulled a card allowing her to pursue a Ph.D., as long as she had a certain level of education and was willing to skip ahead 10 spaces—essentially giving up a decade of her life in which she could otherwise pursuing different goals.
“I’ll go for it,” she said, becoming a scholar and rocketing ahead of the pack. She rolled six on her next turn.
“The years are flying by,” she murmured as she picked up a “cultured” achievement, perhaps making her an art history professor.
Mamis pulled a card allowing him to risk death for a career in “extreme sports.”
“I’m still young,” he shrugged, before rolling the dice to see if he would die trying to, say, jump the Grand Canyon. He didn’t, and picked up an achievement and some income.
Logan could have picked up health insurance, but his income was too low. “My job isn’t good enough to qualify,” he groused. “I’m going to miss that health care down the line.”
Other elections came and went, shifting our fortunes with them. Somehow I managed to become very rich by late middle age, despite being hit by a bus—twice—and battling off cancer without health insurance.
Koch Bros. Redux
As we entered late middle age, the dangers to our health levels increased and opportunities diminished. A decisive election arrived, one in which a candidate named “Munster” promised to decrease economic strength by one point and gut health care; but anyone in the “rich” level of income points would never lose income during his reign.
“That’s George Bush,” said Mamis, who happened, like me, to have reached an income level of “rich.” Mamis suggested he and I team up like the Koch brothers and buy the election.
In Generations, people with higher incomes have more voting power in the primary, to simulate the role of money in elections. And income level acts as the tie-breaker in the general election. Bolstered by Mamis and me, the two wealthiest players, Munster easily beat Logan and Baruzzi’s candidate and ushered in a new era of plutocracy.
The society’s health care system was shot, and I didn’t have health insurance, but I didn’t worry about disease. I could pay for expensive health care and my income wouldn’t diminish under Munster.
“When the third bus comes, you’ll be set,” said Baruzzi.
“We’re almost in the death spiral,” Logan said, as we entered the final turns of the board, where nearly every square promises a blow to your health. The blows are often worse if your income is lower.
Baruzzi didn’t make it to 100, the last square of the game. She gave up the ghost in her 80s, and died a pauper despite her silver-spoon beginnings.
“Just walk over my body,” she said as Logan reached the square she died on, passing by the toppled woman who had been her game piece.
“This is just too real at the end. It’s depressing,” Mamis said, as his health faded and death neared.
Then, a final election. The primary candidates included a recently-added handmade candidate card for “Justin Elicker” (which, coincidentally, is the name of a real-life East Rock aldermen who has played the game with Logan). His opponent, Catharina, won out. She increased education, health, and the economy, and pulled both the poor and the rich into the middle class by adjusting all players’ incomes.
In a deathbed change of heart, Mamis and I—two rich fat cats—voted against our economic interests and backed Catharina, our first female president.
One by one, we died or made it to the last square, turning 100 and finishing the game.
A tally of the points—one point for each year you lived, five points for each achievement, doubled if you accomplished one of three “life goals"you selected—revealed that Mamis was the winner.
He raised his fists triumphantly. “I haven’t won a game since Barbie: Queen Of The Prom!” he crowed.
In our wake, we had transformed society. The economy was now a strong 8 out of 12, the education system was maxed out, but health care had plummeted to four.
“I think it’s got potential,” Mamis said of Generations. He said the game should have more haphazard outcomes, more negatives. Maybe players should sometimes lose achievements, he suggested.
“Marriages end,” he said, for example. There could be a lottery, taxes.
“It’s not dark enough?” Logan said.
“It’s not real enough,” Mamis said.
Is that the point? To be an accurate representation of life?
The point of the game is to be a “medium” to describe life choices and their effects, and public versus private interests, Logan said. He said he has struggled with how to include more choices without making the game too long and complex.
Logan, a member of MakeHaven, said he hopes to work with some of the crafty people there to fabricate better game pieces and a fancier board. In the meantime, he’s going to continue testing the game, taking people on journeys from the cradle to the grave.
Tags: board games, J.R. Logan, Josh Mamis, United Way, Life, MakeHaven.
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Fascinating. I’d love to see this come to fruition. I remember Mr. Mamis from the Advocate days, with respect for his insight. I’d buy/support it. But, having said that, maybe he might have put in a “you didn’t built that” square to set one back a few paces. Bit of realism, just saying. In any case, Mr. M, hope you develop this further, I’d buy.
posted by: streever on July 31, 2012 8:51am
“You didn’t build that” wouldn’t set you back—it’d just be an acknowledgment of the benefit you realized from living in a modern developed nation that invests in infrastructure to help one succeed ;-)
Now, if the card said, “You criticize your political opponent for saying ‘You didn’t build that’ and then make a similar gaff while at the Olympics”, it would be a set back ;-)
Just FYI Dead Moriarty… Mamis didn’t make this game, Logan did. (Way to go J.R.!)
Rumors of my death have been greatly exaggerated.
No problem, IIII, I thought it funny!
And thanks for clarifying that it was Logan. I misread that.
posted by: Toys and Games on August 2, 2012 9:08am
Excellent idea for a game. This appears to be fun, and also educational. Life is full of “choices”. The game is luck of the draw, but it educates by allowing players to see what could happen if those choices had been made and not simply a role of the dice.
I have invented an educational game recently (actually still in the process), and I understand the hard work that Mr. Logan has put into the games development. I wish this game has great success.
I see his game uses dice. If he uses a 12 sided dice, he could possibly mark them with a United Way Logo to remind people of charitable giving. My toy invention provides a location on dice for a graphic logo (patent pending).
Again, great looking game. I would love to play.
By the way, very well written article. Nice use of photos, etc.