I’ll confess that I don’t think I’ve ever managed to finish a complete game of the Milton Bradley board game the Game of Life — but maybe I will now: The newly released Game Of Life: Pets Edition includes all the hallmarks of the classic game, while adding — what else? — pets to the equation. In this version, each player starts with one car, a “Spin to Win” token, one pink or blue peg, one pet peg, and $200,000. The pet pegs come in two varieties, Cat and Dog pegs; while the downside about that is that people who would prefer, say, an iguana as a pet are out of luck, on the plus side, the pegs actually look like cats and dogs. It’s adorable, and I am here for it.
As in the standard version of the Game Of Life, you spend the Pets Edition going to school (or not), having a career (or not), getting married, and having a family; this time, though, you can also adopt a pet as you go. The decks of cards that help determine your fate now cover five categories: House cards, Action cards, College Career cards, regular Career cards, and Pet cards. Drawing a Pet card could yield anything from “passing obedience school” to “eating homework” — and, as one image of the game illustrates, a Pet card might even result in your pets having offspring of their own:
Why the bank would give you $20,000 because your cat had kittens continues to be a headache for the more logical among us; in real life, we don't automatically get money when we have human children (we're lucky if we get a week or two of paid parental leave), let alone fur children, so… why does this game mechanic exist? It’s anyone’s guess.
But I digress.
The end of the game is “retirement”; once everyone gets there, they pay their debts, add up their wealth, and see who’s got the most money. The Pet cards come into play again here; they’re worth additional money, and could be the difference between paying all your debts off or staying in the red. The player with the most money after everything’s been tallied wins.
The Game Of Life goes back much further than most people probably think: Milton Bradley — the person, not the company that would later bear his name — came up with the first iteration of Life in 1860, according to The Atlantic’s thorough history of the game. Called the Checkered Game Of Life, it looked more like… well, checkers than anything else: The board consisted of alternating black and white squares, with players starting in the lower left hand corner at the square marked Infancy.
Players moved their game tokens along the board according to the spins of a teetotum — a multi-sided top that functioned similarly to how we use dice (dice were rejected for the Checkered Game Of Life because they were considered too closely connected to gambling) — and hopefully, although not necessarily, ended up in the upper right hand corner, at Happy Old Age. At the time “Happy Old Age” was classified as 50; people live a lot longer these days than they did back then.
The Checkered Game Of Life was also much darker than today’s versions of the game tend to be — something that took a good, long while to change. The first edition of the Game Of Life as we know it now was produced in 1960 to commemorate the 100th anniversary of Bradley’s original invention, and as each new iteration has come along in the decades since, the game has lightened up its tone. As Board Game Geek notes, the newer the version of the game you play, the gentler the rules tend to be, writing, “The 1960s [version] can be quite brutal if the players choose to act on all the options made available to them. The most recent versions are suitable for young children without parental supervision.”
And honestly? I’m not mad about that. The function of board games has changed dramatically throughout human history; we don’t rely on them to teach us about morality anymore (hi there, Virtue and Vice), but rather simply to have fun. And that’s fine. If I’m going to drive a little plastic car around a game board for hours on end, I may as well bring along my cats, right?
Look at those pegs. They are SO CUTE I can barely stand it.
The Game Of Life: Pets Edition retails for around $20; it’s available at Amazon right now and will be arriving at most major retailers soon. Best of luck with your imaginary future!