If you’ve followed my reviews over the years, you know that I love life simulation games like The Pursuit of Happiness and CV. (Heck, I’ll even still play The Game of LIFE on occasion if people ask for it.) In fact CV, the big brother to CV: Pocket, was the first game I ever reviewed here on the ‘Dragon.
CV is great in its own right (I love the storytelling aspect), but it sometimes feels a little long and fiddly for what the game really is: A simple dice rolling affair. So when the designer announced a smaller, quicker, card-only “pocket” version, I knew I had to try it. Could it be possible to have all the fun in less time, with less setup and “stuff?” I hoped so.
How It Plays
CV: Pocket is a set collection card game with an interesting draft/grid mechanism for choosing cards. The goal of the game is to earn the most points by collecting sets and completing “missions.”
Gameplay is as simple as can be. At the beginning of the game, cards are laid out randomly on the table in a 3×5 grid. (Cards have icons to indicate which ones are used depending on the number of players in the game.)
On your turn, you take a card from the grid and add it to your personal stack, AKA your CV. (It’s helpful to lay your cards so that the icons of earlier cards remain visible as you place new cards on top.) On each player’s first turn, you are limited to taking a card from the bottom row of the card grid. On future turns, you can only choose a card from the row indicated on your last chosen card. So, for example, if your last card has the number three on it, you must choose your next card from the third row.
You are allowed to pass your turn without taking a card. Play simply passes to the next player and you remain in the game. You must pass if there is no card in the row that you must choose from, given the number on your last card. So if your last card shows a two and the second row is empty, you must pass.
After each player’s turn, any cards above the one which was taken slide down to fill in the available space in the column. (Think of Tetris when you clear a line and the blocks drop down to fill in the space left behind.) The grid is only refilled when there are four cards left at the start of a player’s turn. When this happens, add cards to the top of each column so that each column has five cards again.
Why are you taking cards? What’s the point of building this stack in front of yourself? You’re building your life, of course, and gaining points. Cards have several different icons on them indicating money, knowledge, relationships, good and bad luck, and missions. Each of these scores you points when gathered in specific ways.
- Money. Points increase the more money icons you have. For example, one money icon is worth one point, but five money icons are worth thirteen points.
- Knowledge. For every set of three knowledge icons you have, you gain 7 points. Any extra symbols that won’t fit into a set of three cost you points.
- Relationships. There are four different relationship icons in the game. You get five points for every identical pair of relationship symbols you have. Single symbols award no points.
- Good Luck. The player with the most good luck symbols gets two points per symbol. If there are three or more players, the second place player gets one point for each good luck symbol.
- Bad Luck. The player with the fewest bad luck symbols receives two points per symbol. If there are three or more players, the second place player gets one point for each bad luck symbol.
Some cards in the deck allow you to double the effects of adjacent cards, or to duplicate any one symbol on an adjacent card. There are also cards that let you choose a card from any row, rather than being limited by the number on your prior card. These special cards can allow you to pull off some nice point-earning combos if you use them wisely.
In addition to collecting the basic sets, you can work on missions for more points. Missions are special cards that reward you for completing extra objectives, such as having a set of specified transportation symbols, having Vacation and Relocation cards in your CV, having complete sets of all the different icons, or having many different relationship symbols. They are worth various points, depending on the mission(s) you manage to complete.
The game ends when all players pass in a row. Scores are tallied and the player with the most points wins. Ties go to the player with the fewest cards in their CV.
You’re Still Gonna Die. Only Faster, Now.
The beauty of the original CV for me was the storytelling that went along with it. When you got a group of like-minded people together who were all willing to spell out what was happening with the cards in order to create “lives,” it could be a lot of fun. When people weren’t willing to do that, the game could devolve into a tedious affair of random dice rolling, AP, and overly long playtime. The greatness of the game was hugely dependent upon your play group’s willingness to “play along” with the simulation the game was trying to create.
What I hoped for in CV: Pocket was a game that retained the charm of the original (when played with a good group), but stripped away some of the randomness and overly long playtime. Did I get it? Let’s discuss.
CV: Pocket is definitely quicker than CV. By a wide margin. The original typically lasted anywhere from one to two hours, depending on the number and type of players. Pocket is over in 20 – 30 minutes. And thirty is stretching things. With two players, a lot of our games were over in fifteen minutes.
Unfortunately, with such a quick playtime and simple gameplay, it’s much more difficult to create anything that feels like a life. The original has enough cards and time to guide you from childhood to your golden years, allowing you to feel like you’ve really been on a journey by game’s end. CV: Pocket doesn’t really offer this feeling.
There aren’t enough cards in the game, for starters, and many of them are repeats. You’ll see them all in every game. (And since only certain cards are used at certain player counts, if you only play two players, you’ll never get to use the cards for three and four players.)
Also, there’s no sense of progression as there was in CV. The original game controlled your progression through the years with a “market” in which cards came out in life order: Young adulthood, adulthood, old age. In Pocket, the cards are dumped into the grid randomly, so you lose this sense of working through the years. Most cards aren’t specific to any life stage, anyway. They’re much more generic than the cards in CV.
At the end of the game, instead of having a whole life spread before you, you have a stack of cards that may read like this: “Big Family, Bon Vivant, Vacation, Big Family, Online Dating, Bookworm, Online Dating, Studies.” It’s challenging to create any kind of life narrative from this. Even the best role player is going to be stumped, although it’s hilarious to watch people try.
What Pocket shares with its big brother is the same cute artwork and sense of humor. It’s also very clean and positive. There are no real negative events and nothing suggestive. Like CV, Pocket offers a very sanitized life that’s appropriate for all audiences.
So if you’re thinking of buying CV: Pocket, my advice would be to forget that it is based off of CV. The similarities just aren’t there. This isn’t a miniature version of the larger game. It’s simply a (very simple) set collection card game that happens to use “life” as the theme. You could honestly be collecting sets of anything and the game would feel the same.
If you strip away the link to the original, is there a decent game there? I think so, yes. In my mind, the card grid is one of the best parts about the game. Instead of being allowed to take any card, or being given a card randomly, you get some agency in your choice, but it’s limited. You have to take a card from the row indicated on your prior card.
This means that you want to choose your current card with the card you might want next in mind. Of course, the way the cards drop down after one is taken means that your desired card might not be in the correct row when your turn comes around again. And someone else may simply take it, as well, if they are allowed. Bummer. In games with more players, you can be pretty sure your card will move or disappear. Your planning amounts to more of a hopeful wish. Most turns are going to come down to making the most of what you can get.
But that changes at two players. Since your opponent is only going to get one card, there’s a much better chance that “your” card will still be in place when your turn comes around again. It’s much easier to plan ahead and have those strategies work out. With two players, you can also apply some forethought to manipulate the grid in your favor. “If I take this card now, this one will drop down into its place and I can take it next turn.”
Astute players can also manipulate the grid to hamper an opponent. All cards are visible, so you can see if your opponent is gathering lots of a certain set and which row they’ll be choosing from next. If you have the card to work it, you can take a card below the one you know they want and force it to drop down a row, removing it from their clutches.
You’ll also want to pay special attention to the cards in the deck that enable you to double or copy adjacent card effects. If you can snag a few of those, you can pull off some powerful combos. So there is some strategy to be employed in CV: Pocket, especially with fewer players.
The missions give you a little something extra to aim for as well. In addition to collecting simple sets of icons, the missions reward you for collecting “sets on top of sets.” For example, regular play gives you points for pairs of relationship icons. But the “Housewife” mission also gives you points for every different type of relationship icon you have. If you have one of each, you can gain a maximum of ten points. There are also missions that enable you to make use of the transportation icons, which do not score points on their own during regular play. So while you’re watching your basic sets, you want to stay aware of any missions you can complete for extra points.
This doesn’t mean that CV:Pocket is a deep game. It’s not. It’s very simple and sometimes almost feels too simple. The theme isn’t terribly strong so you’re sometimes left feeling like it’s just a game of grabbing cards and counting points. Yes, there is strategy, but it’s limited and light. Hardcore gamers aren’t going to find much here to engage them for long.
Going back to the “Housewife” mission, this brings up a gripe with the game. I really wish they’d called this mission anything else. I think I get where the designer was going with this: The mission rewards you for developing a broad array of relationships (family, friendships, love, and business), something that “housewives” are traditionally good at. But men are good at it, too. They could have called the card “Ally,” “Teammate,” “Partner,” or “Companion,” and avoided the 1950’s cringeworthy stereotype.
(Note that there is both a housewife and househusband card in the game, so at least there the designers were being fair. The househusband gives you two relationship icons and a bad luck symbol. It’s only the housewife card that’s tied to the mission.)
That gripe aside, I do enjoy CV: Pocket on those days when I want a fast card game with some light strategy. However, it doesn’t replace CV for me. Not by a long shot. This little card game just doesn’t deliver the same life-building experience that I love in CV. But it is a decent game in its own right and offers something of the same “flavor” of CV through the artwork and humor, just not the whole life experience. Get CV if you want a more strategic, robust, and complex life sim game.
CV: Pocket is easy to learn, fast to play, and it really is pocket size if you ditch the box and toss the cards and score pad in a baggie. The grid takes up a fair amount of table space, so it likely won’t fit on an airplane tray table, but anything larger than that and you could probably make it work. (Or you could spread it across a couple of tray tables.)
If you’re looking for a light card game for travel purposes or for use as a quick filler, CV: Pocket would be a good choice. It’s also good to entice people who like standard card games into other games. Just be sure to shelve any expectations about it being a true “life sim” or a game with any kind of deep strategy and you’ll find it enjoyable as a set collection card game.