Jones in the Fast Lane is a virtual board game that simulates real life, with the player as an ordinary person with ordinary life goals. They have to buy food, pay their rent, go to work, and still find ways to become happy.
The first thing you do is pick one of four characters, all of whom are the same apart from aesthetic differences. They are represented on the game board by a marble; the game pokes fun at this by suggesting that people use marbles instead of cars as the primary method of transport in the world. Then you set your life goals, which are represented by four sliders: Wealth, Happiness, Education, and Career.
- Wealth is the most straightforward attribute, and simply represents how much money you have.
- Happiness is more nebulous, and represents how content you are with your lot in life. You can increase Happiness by taking time off work and by relaxing at home.
- Education represents how much higher learning you have studied for; the only way to increase your Education is by taking classes at Hi-Tech University.
- Career represents how high up the corporate ladder you have climbed; you increase Career by getting classier, higher-paying jobs.
Each of these Goal sliders can be individually set, and you win the game by reaching all of your Goals. You could, for example, set Wealth and Career high and Happiness low; in that case, you'd focus on improving your career at all costs, as you wouldn't need to be very happy to win the game. On the other hand, if you set Career low and Education and Happiness high, you would be wise to put emphasis on going to class and relaxing at home over working to get a swanky job. For the ultimate challenge, set all four sliders to max; you'll need to earn the perfect life to succeed.
A game of Jones in the Fast Lane is played in rounds, which represents a week of the player's life. Nearly every action, from going to work to moving between locations to applying for new jobs, subtracts time from the timer, with the week (and the round) automatically ending when the timer empties. If it is a multiplayer game, they take turns; first player one plays round one, then player two plays their round one, and so on until looping back around to player one taking their second round.
At the beginning of every round after the first, you will be given an update on how you spent the weekend, ranging from the mundane ("You did absolutely nothing this weekend.") to the amusing ("One of your fillings came loose this weekend. It's a good thing you're handy with a soldering iron."). Some weekend events are related to things you own, such as spending all weekend playing on your computer, watching TV, or reading your atlas. (Fun!) In addition, you can sometimes purchase tickets to baseball games, rock concerts, or plays from Z-Mart; the following weekend will describe your experience there. These descriptions are just flavour text and have no impact on the game, although you will usually lose a random amount of money to represent having spent it on the weekend.
The game can be played with one to four players. Each player can set their goals individually, which means you can easily balance a game between a beginner and a seasoned player. If you play the game by yourself you have the option to play against a computer-controlled character named Jones.
While you can of course be beaten by another player to the win scenario, you cannot 'lose' Jones in the Fast Lane. If you get into a hopeless situation, for example if your clothes wear out so you cannot work to earn money, but you have no money to buy clothes so you can work, the game will be merciful; after a couple of rounds you will receive money "from a relative" to help you get back on your feet. There is no upper limit to the number of turns, play simply continues until all players have reached their goals or quit.
These are the standard apartments of the game. This is also where all players start the game.
At the start of the game, an apartment here costs $325 a month (four rounds). Rent can increase and decrease a lot between rounds, so make sure you keep an eye on the rent for a new apartment every time rent is due.
There are no jobs available at Low-Cost Housing. You can, however, relax there to increase your happiness. The amount of happiness gained each time you relax increases with each nice thing you own (TV, stereo, computer, etc.), but the more nice things you own, the higher the chance that Wild Willy, the game's resident burglar and criminal, will break into your place and steal it all. If you want to keep your stuff safe, you'll have to move to Le Security.
The Pawn Shop
"I may look cruel on the outside, but trust me, inside, I've got a heart of stone."
If you’re ever in need of some fast cash, you can pawn things you own at the Pawn Shop. When you pawn something, you have two rounds to redeem it before other players can buy whatever you pawned. Only things sold by players are available for purchase, so the Pawn Shop isn't exactly a hotbed of activity.
There are no jobs available at the Pawn Shop.
"We're having a sale on dented and scratched floppy disks!"
If you’re looking for a good buy, Z-Mart Discount Store is the place to visit. Here you’ll find a wide array of different items, some of which are only available from Z-Mart. Other items, such as clothes and electronics, can also be bought at the specialty stores, but will cost less money at Z-Mart. Exactly what’s for sale at Z-Mart varies between rounds, as they have new sales every week.
Clothes bought at Z-Mart Discount don’t last as long as clothes bought at QT Clothing, and electronics and home appliances bought here tend to break and need repair more often than those bought at Socket City.
Jobs available at Z-Mart Discount are:
- Clerk (available from the start of the game)
- Assistant Manager
"If it's a six pound beef burger, it MUST be a Monolith!"
Monolith Burger serves fast food. The name is taken from a fictitious fast food restaurant found in the Space Quest series. Eating at Monolith Burger once a turn will stave off hunger for that week, but in the long run, it saves travel time to buy a refrigerator and several weeks worth of food from Black's Market.
The chicken nuggets served at Monolith Burger -- Astro Chicken -- got their name from a minigame found in Space Quest III: The Pirates of Pestulon, also made by Sierra.
Jobs available at Monolith Burger are:
- Cook (available from the start of the game)
- Clerk (available from the start of the game)
- Assistant Manager
"Welcome to QT Clothing. Try our latest fashions, and you can be a QT too!"
QT Clothing is the place where all fashion aware people shop for clothes. The prices here are about twice as high as those at Z-Mart Discount, but they last a little longer. They say clothes make the man, well, clothes make the job in Jones. There are three levels of clothing; casual, dress, and business wear. If your clothes aren't classy enough for your job, you will not be allowed to work. Clothes also wear out over time, and if you don't replace them, you'll find yourself wandering the streets naked until you do replace them.
Jobs available at QT Clothing are:
- Assistant Manager
Socket City sells electronics and home appliances. The name is a spoof of Circuit City. Items bought here don’t break down as often as those bought at Z-Mart, but they do break occasionally.
Jobs available at Socket City are:
- Electronics Repair
In order to get most of the better jobs in the game, you will need higher education. Hi-Tech U is the place for that. It's also the only way to increase your Education stat, so unless you've bottomed that slider out, you'll want to come here eventually.
There are a total of eleven courses available, and they are:
- Trade School
- Electronics (requires Trade School)
- Pre-Engineering (requires Trade School)
- Engineering (requires Pre-Engineering)
- Junior College
- Business Administration (requires Junior College)
- Academic (requires Junior College)
- Graduate School (requires Academic)
- Post Doctoral (requires Graduate School)
- Research (requires Post Doctoral)
- Publishing (requires Research)
To take one of the courses, you’ll have to pay the enrolment fee, then you'll have to spend a certain amount of time going to classes before you graduate and earn the diploma.
Jobs available at Hi-Tech University are:
- Janitor (available from the start of the game)
Acne Employment Office
"Welcome to Acne Employment. We'll either find you a job... or we won't."
The Employment Office is where you apply for the various jobs found in the game. This should be the very first place you visit when you start a new game.
Applying for a job consumes time, and as such it’s not recommended to apply for jobs you aren’t likely to get. If you do apply for a job that you do not qualify for, you will be told what you need to improve in order to get that specific job. It's recommended that you come back every once in a while; as the economy changes, your job might be worth more money, so it's possible to earn a raise.
There are no jobs available at the Employment Office, amusingly enough.
"Welcome to the Factory! Where the work is hard, the pay is low, and the conditions are miserable!"
The Factory does not offer any goods or services; it’s only a place to work. Naturally, the Factory offers more positions than any other workplace in the game.
Jobs available are:
- Assembly Worker
- Machinist's Helper
- Executive Secretary
- Department Manager
- General Manager
The position as General Manager of the Factory is the best paid job in the game, and one of the hardest to get. If you've maxed out your Career slider, that is your target.
"Welcome to Pacific International Grand Gradual-Yield Bank. P.I.G.G.Y. for short."
At the Bank you can deposit money, which keeps it safe from Wild Willy. You can also take out a loan, and invest in one of several different markets. Investing money when the economy is down can be a very wise move if the economy turns.
Markets available for investing are:
- Pork Bellies
- Blue Chip Stock
- Penny Stock
Jobs available at the Bank are:
- Assistant Manager
- Investment Broker
Whenever you do anything at the Bank, it is possible that Wild Willy will appear to rob the place. If you are present when this happens, he will make off with all the money you are currently carrying (although oddly enough, the money you've deposited will be fine). As a result, it is generally not a good idea to work at the Bank, as he can clear out your savings after an entire week of work, rendering that round a waste of time.
"You're just in time to meet our freezer technicians, Sam n' Ella! "
At Black’s Market you can buy groceries, the newspaper, and lottery tickets. Buying groceries means you don’t have to eat at Monolith Burger to stave off hunger. Before buying groceries, however, you should make sure you have a fridge or the food will spoil. Food that spoils gives you an added expense in the form of a bill from the doctor’s office. The newspaper, available for one dollar, will give you vague hints about the way the game might go, for example predicting that the economy is in for a downturn and cluing the player in to save up money. It's equally possible, however, that the headline you get will be a randomly-selected gag with no bearing on the game. Lottery tickets work the same way they do in real life; if you win, you'll get a nice cash bonus at the beginning of your next turn. If you lose, nothing happens.
Jobs available at Black’s Market are:
- Assistant Manager
Wild Willy likes to rob Black's Market, too, and he does it a lot more frequently since it's easier to knock over a convenience store than it is to rob a bank. In addition, most of the jobs at the Market don't pay as well as those at the Bank. As a result, it is never a good idea to work at Black's Market, or you'll find yourself losing more money than you make.
Le Security Apartments
When you start making more money, or if rent goes down, you may want to live someplace a little nicer. Then Le Security is just what you’re looking for! Living at Le Security gives a substantial Happiness bonus compared to living at the Low-Cost Housing. As the name implies, when you live at Le Security you don’t have to worry about Wild Willy breaking into your home and stealing your stuff, meaning you can stock up on awesome possessions.
There are no jobs available at Le Security, but you can relax there to increase your Happiness; just as at Low-Cost Housing, the more nice things you own, the more relaxing increases your Happiness.
"Don't forget to tell your rich friends about m- I mean us."
Although you can work at the Rent Office at any time, you can only do business with them personally every fourth turn. Apart from working here, you can pay your rent, apply for an extension, or rent a new apartment. If you don't pay your rent on time, the Rent Office will garnish your wages, and you'll need to pay your back rent to get your money back.
Jobs available at the Rent Office are:
- Apartment Manager
The most efficient way to win a game of Jones in the Fast Lane depends on the goals set at the beginning of the game. A good strategy for the default settings is to take the job as clerk at Monolith Burger, work about four times each week, vary between eating fries and hamburger, and study the rest of the time. Every fourth week, when rent is due, work eight times, eat and then pay rent. Spend the last fraction of the round relaxing.
To get a decent job quickly, take Junior College and Business Administration at the university, then apply for the job as assistant manager at Monolith Burger. After working as assistant manager for a round, you can apply for the job as teller at the bank. After a few rounds there, you’re eligible for the position as manager of QT Clothing, and after spending some time there you can apply for the job as assistant manager of the bank. That job will pretty soon qualify you for the managing position.
After you have secured a decent job, move to Le Security and buy a fridge. You can now buy two or four weeks worth of groceries at a time at Black’s Market, which will save you time. From here on out, you should focus on making money, and filling your apartment with stuff. Z-Mart Discount offers a few exclusive items, such as books. If you see the news headline between rounds that the economy is on the decline, invest in some markets at the bank. Also, make sure to deposit some money in case Wild Willy comes by and robs you.
Hints & Tips
- Keep an eye on the economy. Sometimes you can get the luxury apartment for almost the same price as the low-cost apartment. If you want to save money, which means you have to work less, get the luxury apartment and then switch back to the low-cost apartment at the lower rate.
- If you take the job at Monolith Burger, you can work and study up to nine times per week. This is just one less than the maximum ten events per round.
- The casual clothes at QT Clothing are almost twice as expensive as the ones sold at Z-Mart Discount, and they only last one round longer. However, they don't always have clothes in stock at Z-Mart.
- Walking between different locations consumes time, so plan your route and be efficient.
- Eating does not consume any time, which is especially handy if you work at Monolith Burger. Just make sure there's some time left on the clock; even though it doesn't actually cost any time, you can't eat with zero time left.
- You score more if you don't eat the same thing every round. Eating healthier gives a bonus over eating junk food.
- If you buy a lot of the home appliances when you live in the low-cost apartment, there's a big risk you'll lose it all in a break-in. The luxury apartments are never broken into.