“NEW CARS, EXPENSIVE HOMES, EXOTIC VACATIONS! THIS COULD BE YOUR LUCKY YEAR!”
The back of the Go For It! board game box promises that in “the game where you can have it all,” “you’ll have lots of chances to go for the good life. Earn big bucks, buy new cars and homes, take off on exciting trips, and get the things you’ve always dreamed of.” But, the box warns, “there’s only so much fame and fortune to go around. And your opponents want it, too!”
Santa Claus brought a Go For It! game for my family in 1986, the year the game was produced by Parker Brothers. We were heavily into board games, and Go For It! was just one more box in our full-to-bursting game closet; we played it as much as any other game, but what I most remember about playing Go For It! was that we’d always remember we’d received the game on the one Christmas we’d had a short-needle (as opposed to long-needle) tree: for years, the box contained a lingering few of the short pine needles that our parents had correctly predicted would get everywhere.
Looking at the game again, though, decades later, I realized what’s really most distinctive about it: Go For It! is an absolutely quintessential product of the ’80s — more so even than the E.T. board game or the Cabbage Patch Kids board game or the Gremlins board game, all of which we also owned.
Go For It! unapologetically celebrates the acquisition of status symbols. The winner of the game is the first player to acquire the requisite number of expensive consumer items, each represented by a card with an illustration of the item and a prominent price tag. “Be the first to GO FOR IT! with the right amount of Status cards,” notes the box, “and you’re the winner!”
The board is marked with the months of the year; each player gets paid once a year, on Labor Day. Your salary is determined by the position of a slider on your career card, which you choose at the beginning of the game. You get promoted in your chosen career as you acquire status cards — so buying a hot tub, for example, can mean promotion from a music teacher ($20,000 salary) to a band roadie ($30,000 salary) if you’re in the music profession; or moving from a team player ($35K) to a star athlete ($45K) if you’re in sports.
Thus, the more you buy, the more money you make, and the more things you can buy: a geometric progression of acquisition where the only way to stumble backwards is by losing status symbols. Fortunately, there’s little danger of that happening: almost all the spaces provide opportunities to buy status cards, and the only time you have to sell a status card to another player or to the bank is to finance the immediate purchase of another status card.
All you have to fear, really, is getting bad news via one of the news cards players are occasionally prompted to draw. One news card, for example, declares that “your opponent’s car turns out to be a real lemon” and compels one of your opponents to return a car to the Wheels deck. The news deck also provides regular chances to Go For It! by risking a status card for the opportunity to win two additional cards, depending on the outcome of a dice roll.
The status cards — the heart of the game — are divided into four categories, placed in a tray in the center of the board in ascending order of spendiness. The winner of the game is the first player to have at least three status cards — at three different price points — in each category, at the end of a self-declared “going for it” round.
The most affordable category is the travel deck, “Goin’ Places.” For a couple grand you can go skiing in New England, surfing in California, or weekending in New York. An “Orient cruse” (wince) will set you back $4,000, and for a cool ten thousand dollars you can take a European tour or an Australian camping trip.
When you’re working as, say, an advertising account executive ($40,000 every Labor Day), you have a little more cash to flash and you’re ready to start buying items in the “Feelin’ Good” category, featuring such lifestyle accoutrements as a VCR and stereo TV ($12,000), a new wardrobe ($4,000), a jet ski (also $4,000), a health club membership ($8,000, leg warmers included), and horses with riding stables (a bargain $16,000, the same price as a hot tub).
It wouldn’t be the ’80s without some sweet rides — thus the second-priciest category, the Wheels deck. There’s a red Corvette, of course, for $30,000. For the same amount, you can buy a car from the then-favorite nostalgia decade: a ’57 Chevy. For the more practical-minded, there are $25,000 Volvos (the deck contains both a station wagon and a sedan) and $20,000 VWs (choose red or green). At the bottom of the heap ($10,000) there’s a Jeep and a very unsexy-looking Pontiac.
Finally, you can’t successfully Go For It! without a minimum of three homes. You can kick it like the Cosbys in a renovated brownstone for just $100,000, a price that seems surprisingly affordable even for 1986 until you realize that the neighborhood is not specified. A townhouse, strangely, costs four times as much — the same price as a Tudor estate or a seaside mansion that looks like it might have directly inspired this huffy New York Times critique. Other housing options include a ski chalet ($200K), a tri-level contemporary ($200K), a house boat ($100K), a penthouse condo ($300K, axe and sheets of plastic not included), and a ranch ($400K, but you’re going to want those horses and stables to go with it).
It’s a pretty charmed life you lead in Go For It! Maybe kids like a little adversity, though, since Go For It! went out of production after a single year, while the mortgage-ridden Monopoly and LIFE, with its promissory notes, continue to go gangbusters. Go For It! was a pure product of the Reagan era, when yuppie acquisitiveness was at its frenzied, unapologetic peak. It’s hard to imagine a board game being produced today with such a conspicuous absence of a social or environmental conscience. Really, though, what seems most dated about Go For It! is the card indicating that it was possible to move up a lucrative career ladder in the field of publishing. Those were the days!