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Euphoria – Build a Better Dystopia Review

Or ‘How I learned to stop worrying and become The Overseer’

I’m sure a lot of people reading this will already have heard of Euphoria, the newest worker placement game from Jamey Stegmaier & Alan Stone, well known for their previous worker placement game, Viticulture.

Viticulture, was an excellent example of the genre, check out Luke’s review for more details on how it plays. But from my perspective it’s very well constructed with good art work and it’s fun to play. However, it’s not particularly strong in the flavour department and not particularly original in its implementation of the mechanics.

I’m very pleased to say that Euphoria is just as enjoyable as Viticulture but has much more flavour and more interesting new mechanics that meld together to create an incredibly evocative dystopian future board game. Honestly, for a dystopian future, what better genre of game could there be than worker placement?

Euphoria

The first step to Power!! Errr I mean Freedom!

So in Euphoria you play the role of the hero of the masses, the courageous one who has learnt that the society you live in is not the utopia to which you were led to believe. Actually it’s a dystopia, ruled over by the horrible oppressors who keep the masses in line to ensure their comfortable continuation in power. You choose to do the right thing and change the world, to make the dystopia better, for the populace. However, so does every other player in the game and you can’t let their silly ideas get in the way of your true master plan!

To help the people, you obviously need to do the moral thing – wrest control away from the current oppressors so you can show them the light. So, of course, victory is achieved when you successfully place all 10 of your authority stars on the board to show them all who their true master is!!! Errr I mean, liberate them from their current oppression.

There are several ways to do this:

  • Exchange a certain number of artifacts (cards) to place an authority star in a territory.
  • Construct a market to place an authority star on a market.
  • Use a constructed market to place an authority star in a territory.
  •  Advance the allegiance track with one of the four factions to maximum to place an authority star on any members of that faction which you have as a recruit.

Authority

Step 2 – The Control of the workers! Urmm I mean their Liberation!

Now obviously, as this is a worker placement game, the way you achieve anything is through worker placement. There’s all the standard locations – such as spots to:

  • Get resources.
  • Exchange resources for a different type of resource.
  • Pay some resources to get more workers.
  •  Advance a factions allegiance track.
  •  Build a market then, once its built, go here to use the market.

It’s all pretty standard stuff to be honest.

The interesting switch is that rather than your traditional worker meeples, your workers in Euphoria are actually dice, and may I add, dice with a beautiful gear design that does nothing but continue to reinforce the industrial dystopian future in which this game is set, great stuff.

Whenever you receive workers you must immediately roll them to determine that workers knowledge. This is important because it affects what you get from the resource spaces on the board. These spaces are shared between all players and what exactly you get when you place a worker there depends on the collective knowledge of all the workers there. Even if they belong to other players.

The other way in which knowledge matters is that if the collective knowledge amongst your unplaced workers and your player knowledge stat ever equals 16 or higher – one of your workers realises the horrible future in which they live and takes it upon themselves to flee for their lives. Even from you, their most glorious master!!!! Ermm… I mean kindly liberator.

This is a beautiful mechanic to me, normally I am not too big of a fan of stuff like this where a bad roll can screw you out of a worker, which is a big deal, but it adds an element to the game of managing when your workers are on the board or not, how many workers you should have, and is so wonderfully flavourful that I can’t not just love it.

Knowledge and Morale Tracks

So yeah, first you keep your workers dumb so that they do as they are told! Oops I mean so that they don’t have to endure the same stressful knowledge as your kind self. Then you need to keep them happy, which is where your morale stat comes into play. The higher the morale, the more cards you get to hold in hand. The way you buff morale is that when you recall workers from the board you can feed them (or feed them happy drugs – still a dystopia) to get your morale stat up.

That’s right, in Euphoria the workers don’t come back at the end of the round, they stay out there until you choose to take a turn off to retrieve them, or, and this is a big one, until you or another player ‘bump’ a die on the board by choosing to use the space it is on. Even though workers can stay out, you don’t receive space benefits every turn, only when you place the worker. The dice staying out there and the bumping mechanic make the game interesting by giving it two new dimensions that most worker placement games don’t have, the first is that since players dice stay out for very variable amount of times, who the first player was very quickly becomes lost and unimportant, which I quite like because I never like the first player being so coveted. When I play I just want to do as much as I can without having to worry about sacrificing a worker to the holy first player spot so my next turn is better.

The bumping mechanic also means that Euphoria has tons more player interaction than a normal worker placement game, and I mean tons. Sometimes each player will just be acting out their own plan, but with careful timing you could bump a players die and add it to their unplaced workers, which could cause their collective knowledge to go over 16 and cause them to lose a worker – a huge blow. With certain powers giving players a boost when they bump another players die it is actively encouraged to try and screw over each other when possible. It serves them right really for trying to outshine your glorious might!!! Or rather, I mean, to try and lead the masses down the wrong path.

Step 3 – Extending your Domination over the dissenters! Umm I mean showing them the Truth

So, in continuing to break the trend of worker placement games, Euphoria also has asymmetrical player powers, and not just one but multiple powers. Each player begins with two recruit cards, with the option to gain a third. One starts active and the other two have to be activated over the course of the game. The active ones give you powers and mean you count as aligned to the faction they belong to. This matters as it affects what you get from certain spaces on the board. The board is divided into spaces belonging to the 4 different factions, and if you have a recruit from one faction the spaces that belong to that faction work better for you.

The Recruits

The best mechanic in Euphoria, without a doubt, is the markets. The markets start face down and can be constructed collaboratively between the players. The trick is, whoever helps build it gets to place one of their authority stars on it when its built BUT whoever didn’t help gets screwed with a harsh rule. For example, one of the rules is that you may not gain new workers which, among other rules, can be really nasty. You can get around this rule by using a space to trade in artifact cards to place an authority star on the market. However, until that point, it can make the game really tough. The best part though, is that the number of spaces needed to build a market is always one less than the number of players (except in a 2 player game) so one of the players is always getting screwed when a market is built! Ah, the wonders of the Euphoria dystopia, where we’re all equal but some of us are more equal than others.

A Market

Step 4 – Keeping them in line with party propaganda! Oh wait.. I mean showing them a flavourful masterpiece

These are all great examples of how Euphoria reinforces its flavour through its mechanics, and sets itself apart from other worker placement games. It forces inequality between the players so that everyone has to play a different game and react to their own situation, instead of everybody trying to play the same game in the best way with very little interaction. You can really force someone into uncomfortable positions by getting the ball rolling on market construction, people will very quickly join in for fear of being left out, and having the harsh restrictions placed on them. So, if you time the beginning of the construction when one player cannot take part due to a lack of resources, you can very easily screw them over. It’s about as interactive as a worker placement game can get and that makes it a blast to play.

Step 5 – Hide the failings of your rule!! Wait what I meant to say was how to not worry the people

It’s not all bliss in Euphoria though, there are some things I don’t like.

The artifact cards you draw are pretty bland and there are only six different types of cards. Plus, you can only use each type to place authority stars in an areas territory which usually fills up very fast because it can also be done by using markets. This means the cards fulfil a much smaller role than it feels they should, especially since in-hand cards usually mean in-hand powers and are pretty important in most games. This subsequently makes the morale stat, which measures how many cards you can have in hand, feel pretty unimportant and lacklustre, especially compared to the knowledge stat. In fact, when I played, I never found it a high priority to maintain a high morale, and I feel like that should have mattered more.

It’s really not much of a stretch to imagine the artifact cards giving you special powers and then you having to make a choice whether to spend the card for its power, or hoard them up to spend them to place authority stars. That would have made them significantly more interesting and I hope that it’s something the designers are considering for an expansion because they were easily the most underwhelming part of the game.

The Artifact Cards

Euphoria also has some balance issues if the recruits are randomly given out at the start of the game. If you’re the lone player with a recruit from a particular faction, it can make the game quite difficult for you because no one, except you, is interested in helping that faction and you succeed much better at the game if you can profit from other peoples work (cough – dystopia – cough). However, the manual comes with rules for drafting recruits before staring the game so it’s definitely addressed!

Step 6 – Take your place as the glorious new ruler!!!

While I’m talking about Euphoria’s rulebook – I would like to give an overwhelmingly positive review to whoever put it together, because it is almost certainly the best rulebook I have ever read. It was clear, concise, superb image placement to help you understand the rules being explained and the back page even has some backstory for Euphoria and tips for learning or teaching Euphoria. Tips on how to teach people the game! That is genius and something all games should do from now on! Seriously, as someone who has demonstrated a lot of games to a lot of people, a rulebook this good is all I ever wanted from a game.

As well as the recruit draft in the rulebook, it also has the market draft rules and the morale and knowledge draft rules. So you can really moderate the amount of randomness you want in a game of Euphoria. This really is a nice touch because I like some randomness in my games to keep it fresh but I understand that’s not for everyone. Worker placement games are often a lot more set than Euphoria is, so the ability to moderate it is a nice touch and allows the game to accommodate players who do, and don’t, like randomness.

The Rulebook

Lastly, the component quality of this game is through the roof. Like I said earlier, the dice have special gear designs on them to set them apart from any old d6s, but you also get:

  • Authority stars that are actual little wooden stars.
  • Wooden heads and hearts for each player to monitor their knowledge and morale.
  • Resources that have their own, different, wooden shapes for water, food, gold, clay etc.
  • Tunnel spaces that there are little miner style meeples.
  • Cards made from great quality card stock and the art, man the art is great.
  • A board covered in sweeping vistas that show off the societies of the new world.
  • Recruit cards that have incredibly detailed portraits.
  • Market tiles with almost cinematic scenes on them.

Euphoria isn’t overly dark, but it’s not overly happy either. It just is… There’s the presence of what Euphoria’s world is like in this future but you get to make up the details for yourself, it is very well done in my opinion.

You do get the subtle sense of the wrongness of the dystopia in the names of places and recruits, for example:

  • ‘The incinerator of historical accuracy’
  • ‘The disassemble-a-teddy-bear-shop’
  • ‘Dr. Sheppard the lobotomist’ – who allows you to sacrifice workers for one of the games resources, bliss (perfectly happy game really).

The subtle approach is exactly what Euphoria needed and it definitely puts across the game in this casual sense of subtle uneasiness which is how all the best dystopias are done.

Euphoria Full Game

In Conclusion…

All in all, Euphoria has fantastic artwork, some of the best flavour and flavour to mechanics tie-in I have seen all year. It has a superb rulebook (seriously I’m in love with how good Euphoria’s rulebook is) and despite a little bit of a dip here and there, some really fun innovative mechanics that just show that you can have a fun worker placement game with a good bit of interaction without total randomness. I’ve raved about Euphoria throughout this entire review and I wouldn’t be surprised if this game is in my top 10 at the end of this year. I cannot recommend Euphoria highly enough and I will be watching closely for more games from Jamey Stegmaier & Alan Stone as they really made a genuinely euphoric board game here.

5 (100%) 2 votes
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Dan Thompson

I’m Dan and I spend my life gaming. When I’m not writing about games or recording the Order of the Dan Podcast I’m either working with games, demonstrating games to people, competing in Magic the Gathering Tournaments or just playing board / card / video and role play games with friends. Originally hailing from Teesside I now live in Leeds but often find myself about the country attending tournaments and conventions and gaming at them so if you see me around please do come and say hi.

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