The progression from childhood through the mid-life crisis and into old age is never an easy one. You have to get an education and a decent job with “career prospects.” Then you have to make the big decisions. Marriage or the single life? Kids or no kids? Eventually you’ll get old, retire in comfort, and travel the world. Oh, and hopefully you’ll find some meaning and fulfillment along the way.
Or, you can do none of the above, sponge off of your parents, live in a basement, and write Wikipedia articles for the rest of your life until you realize that you have no money saved for retirement. Then you can go work at Wal-Mart until you die. The choice is yours and CV gives you the cards and dice with which you can craft your perfect life. Or not.
How It Plays
CV is a simple dice rolling and set collection game where you’re using dice to buy cards from the common marketplace and build your “life.” At the beginning of the game, each player is dealt one life goal card. This is your personal goal for the game. Communal life goal cards (determined by the number of players) are placed on the board in view of everyone. A card draft determines your “childhood memories.” You will end up with three childhood cards, each of which is beneficial to you in some way. (Because in CV, no one ever has a bad childhood!) After your childhood is sorted, you’re ready to play.
The custom dice each have six different symbols on their faces. Each symbol represents an aspect of life. There’s a cross (health), a light bulb (knowledge), a couple (relationships), a dollar sign (money), a smiley face (good luck), and a sad face (misfortune). As in Yahtzee, you begin your turn with an initial roll and can then choose which dice, if any, to re-roll. Dice with sad faces are frozen and cannot be re-rolled unless you have an active card that negates misfortune. Each player begins the game rolling four dice and having two allowed re-rolls, but various cards and events give you more dice and re-rolls.
There are five types of cards in the game: Health, CV (job/career cards), Relationships, Knowledge, and Money. Cards grant various benefits on each turn including extra income, more dice to roll, victory points, and tokens (which act as an extra die symbol). There’s also a sixth type of card for events. Event cards are used one time and then discarded; they do not become part of your CV. Instead, they offer some benefit such as extra dice, income, or negation of misfortune.
Each card has a cost. You must match the symbols on your dice to the symbols on the card in order to purchase it. If, you are lucky enough to roll three smiley faces, you can buy any card you want from the marketplace. If you roll three sad faces, you must discard one card from your CV. You can buy a maximum of two cards per turn. As cards are purchased, new ones come out, eventually working through young-adulthood, adulthood, and old age. Cards get more expensive (i.e., require more dice/tokens to buy) as the game progresses.
Only the topmost card of each type on your CV is active. So, while you may have six relationship cards (for example), you will only receive the benefit granted by the one on top. That card is usually the most recently acquired card, but it can also be a card revealed after you’ve discarded a card due to misfortune. Inactive cards still count for end-game scoring.
At the end of the game, players calculate their points and whoever has the most points is the winner. Points are awarded for possession cards (which award victory points) and the number of cards of each type that you have. You also get points for achieving your personal life goal and/or any of the common life goals.
A Beautiful Life Or A Mid-life Crisis?
The first thing you’ll notice about CV when you open the box is the smell. I really hate to start a review off with a negative, but the smell is bad. It’s a damp, musty smell but it isn’t caused by damp. It seems to be a combination of the ink and paper choices used for the components. It will go away after a thorough airing out (setting it outside on my covered porch for two days cured the problem), but the first couple of plays can be rough, especially if you have any kind of sensitivity to damp/musty/moldy smells. It’s a fixable problem and shouldn’t turn you away from the game, just be prepared to deal with it.
Okay, so you’ve gotten past the smell. The box is functional, but overly large. This game could comfortably fit in a box half the size. Since there are no extra openings for expansions (and none planned), much of the box is just wasted space. It’s a pretty box, just way too big. I’m planning to toss my insert and use the box to house CV plus two or three small games. Shelf space is a premium in my house!
Two negatives out of the way, so on to some positives. The components are well done, if nothing exceptional. The cards are good stock and since shuffling is minimal (only at the beginning of the game), sleeving isn’t necessary. In addition to the dice and cards, you get some cardboard tokens which are used to more easily visualize the effects granted by your cards. While the tokens are cardboard, they’ve got a coating on them that makes them feel almost like plastic. They’re a bit more durable than your average cardboard token.
CV’s theme is real selling point of the game. The theme of life simulation appeals to a wide range of people and is appropriate for almost any gaming group. From The Game of LIFE to The Sims, people have enjoyed playing God for years. There’s an immediate familiarity with the theme that makes CV interesting to most people. You don’t have to sell them on the merits of fantasy, dungeon crawling, or horror. Just say, “It’s like The Sims,” or, “It’s kind of like LIFE,” and most people will already have some basic understanding of what to expect.
The artwork on the cards is cute and funny. It’s also family friendly. There are no dirty words, sexual situations, or half-clothed people in this game. There’s not even death or suffering. The life situations you’ll find yourself constructing are tame and normative. Marriage is depicted as between a man and a woman (there’s no divorce), the jobs tend toward the white collar end of the spectrum, and the focus on accumulating possessions nicely mirrors the consumptive lifestyle depicted in advertising.
This inoffensiveness is both a strength and a weakness of the game. It makes CV appropriate for almost everyone, but it removes “real life” from the game. If you’re familiar with The Sims computer game, you know that part of the fun of that game is watching your Sims suffer. Their houses burn down, their relationships go bust, or they get fired from their jobs. Even The Game of LIFE has some suffering. You can go bankrupt, have an auto accident, lose your job, or see your house destroyed by a tornado. CV, on the other hand, is a relentless accumulation of mostly-positive events.
The only bad thing that can happen to you is that you have to discard a card from your CV if you roll three sad faces, but even this isn’t always terrible. Sometimes you get stuck with an active card that isn’t contributing to your engine or which is costing you a valuable resource each turn, so even misfortune can work in your favor. All this positivity makes for a happy game, but you may find yourself craving a bit of mayhem to sour the sweetness just a bit.
CV’s rules are simple (the rulebook has only three pages of actual rules, plus a card reference page and the set-up instructions). The rules are complete, although there are a couple of things that could have been better explained or more thoroughly filled in. These are minor, though, and can be figured out during gameplay with little trouble. The card reference guide and symbol reference cards help to clarify any rule issues. The scoring table is printed both on the board and in the rulebook, making end game scoring easier.
Just because it’s easy to learn doesn’t mean that CV is a simple game, however. While it relies on dice rolling as the main mechanic, there is some strategy required to do well. You need to plan your card buying so that you’re building an engine of cards, tokens, and dice that generates enough of everything to keep you buying cards until the end of the game.You’re also trying to make sure that you’re buying cards that will help you achieve your personal life goal, as well as some of the communal goals. While you’re doing all of this, you also want to keep tabs on what your opponents are doing because you may spot an opportunity to snag a card that they badly need to complete their own goals. It’s not an easy balancing act.
You probably won’t see much of this strategy on your first play, though. You’ll be so busy trying to keep track of the cards, dice, symbols, and tokens that you might well forget to track the life goals and not have any attention to spare for what your opponents are doing. But get a game or two under your belt and CV’s strategy begins to shine through. It’ll never be a brain-burner, but it’s more than just chucking dice.
The best way to enjoy CV is with a group of people who enjoy telling the stories that are developing on their CV’s. If you can make jokes about that job at Dad’s company leading to psychotherapy and how your kids are costing you too much money, you’ll enjoy the game much more than if you treat it as simply a card-buying exercise. There are a limited number of cards in the game and you’ll see all of them every game. This can quickly lead to burnout unless you add your own flavor to the games. If you’re not willing to tell the stories and jokes, you’re merely accumulating a pile of cards and maximizing points. This will get old once you’ve memorized all of the cards and you may find replayability lacking.
CV is as social and interactive as you make it. There is no real “take that” in the gameplay, other than possibly taking a card that someone else covets. You cannot steal cards from other players and none of the event cards affect other players. This makes CV ideal for people who resent being stabbed in the back during gameplay or being forced to do the same to others. However, if your group isn’t into the storytelling aspect and isn’t interested in what the other players are building, the game can devolve into multiplayer solitaire with each person just building their own little engine. You can safely go get a snack until your turn comes around again.
The player count makes a big difference in your gaming experience. The game is fully functional at all counts, but the experience is very different. With two players you have more opportunities for planning and strategizing. With just two of you, cards stay in the marketplace longer so there’s a decent chance that the card you couldn’t get on this turn will still be available on your next turn. You might miss out on a lot of the banter that makes the game fun, though. With more players, the cards turn over much faster so it’s harder to plan your moves in advance. You’ll likely never know what will be available by the time your turn comes around again so your ability to strategize is limited. However, if the larger group gets into the theme, you’ll get a lot more storytelling silliness than you will with just two players.
There is a lot to keep track of on your turn and this can lead to some serious analysis paralysis in those prone to the disease. Keeping track of the dice, re-rolls, cards, tokens, and special benefits granted by each active card is time consuming and makes it hard to quickly spot the optimum choices. This can lead to significant downtime and the problem can get worse with more players. The box states a sixty minute playtime but with four AP prone players, two hours isn’t out of the question.
Which brings me to the biggest negative of CV. It is a long game for such a light game. Most dice-rollers are thirty-minute affairs, over and done with before the tedium and randomness can wear on you too much. This is not the case with CV. Unless you’re willing to play a quick game just for the stories and laughs, it’s going to take at least an hour and probably longer. You may find yourself hoping you’ll get old and die just to end the game.
The problem isn’t helped by the fact that the mid/end game can bog down with turns where nothing happens. Cards that no one wants or can afford can clutter the marketplace, particularly in two-player games. If your engine is performing poorly, there may be no way to gather enough resources to purchase anything. You’ll roll just for the heck of it and then hand the dice to the next player, essentially passing your turn. This doesn’t happen often, but if the dice are unkind in the early part of the game, it can leave you with nothing to do on later turns.
None of this is to say that CV is a bad game. There is a lot of fun in the box. You do have to approach it with the right mindset and a fun-loving group, though. It’s also best played in small doses. Playing it too often in a short period of time can kill the fun as the cards become too familiar and the jokes get stale.
If you’re looking for a serious, high-strategy, brain burning game, CV isn’t for you. The randomness of the dice, relentless positivity, long play time, and the issues with AP will suck some of the fun out of it for you. Even though the two-player experience offers more strategic opportunities than higher player counts, this likely won’t be enough to outweigh the negatives for hard-core gamers seeking a tough experience. If, however, you’re looking for a lighter, family-friendly game that provides a chance to make some bad jokes and tell some funny stories while lightly strategizing your moves, CV may be a winner.