Theme is a funny beast in boardgames, as it does add greatly to a game but sometimes can feel very generic. Many a comment and a joke has been made about the stern gentlemen on the cover of many a euro game, trying to look very much the part of a merchant or a trader. To stand out, you need to have a truly unique theme, but even better, have a theme that is somewhat supported by the gameplay of the game. It helps both in the immersion and if done correctly, in the understanding/retention of the rules.
I love Worker Placement games (or is that Action Selection games? Perhaps that’s an entirely different topic…) but for a lot of them, the theme is not only pasted on (Lords of Waterdeep, anyone?) but also quite generic (too many medieval games about traders to list). Sometimes, out of nowhere comes a truly thematic, truly wonderfully game and this is what Euphoria: Building a Better Dystopia is to me.
In Euphoria: Building a Better Dystopia (Stonemaier Games) by Jamey Stegmaier and Alan Stone, the player lead a group of workers in an attempt to overthrow the current order by getting them to dig tunnels, build markets and generally using them to grab land. But if your workers get too smart, they might realize that the dream you’re selling them isn’t real and they will leave you.
If you were to strip the theme and look at what the players are doing, you would see the players placing their dice, which represents their workers, to gain various resources and used these resources to either build new markets (which will impose limitations on anyone who hasn’t participated) or grab territories in one of the four faction’s enclaves. But be careful to keep the Intelligence of your workers low, because when they come back home, you’ll roll all of them and if the total plus their current collective Intelligence is too high, you will lose your highest dice/worker. The first one who places their 10 stars will win the game.
This is one gorgeous game, or at least the Kickstarter and the pre-order copies are. Lots of stuff in the box, including 7 types of wooden resource markers (which I understand will actually be cardboard tokens in the mass market version), a nicely illustrated main board, 3 different decks of cards (Recruits, Artifacts and Dilemmas/Player aids), 24 dice in the 6 player colors, and finally lots of various nicely thick cardboard pieces (star-shaped authority markers, Market tiles, etc).
The artwork is phenomenal, invoking the movie Metropolis and the German avant-garde, or at very least the turn of the 19th century science fiction movement, which fits the theme perfectly. The cards have a nice linen finish and the custom dices are nice, with the only problem being the 2 and 3 faces looking very similar, but that’s a very minor quibble. The rulebook is fairly clear and well organized, making it easy to teach from and refer to during the game. I would have liked a few larger player aid cards that detail some of the main rule points, but as usual, the ‘geek comes to the rescue here.
The aim of the game is to be the first one to place your 10 Stars (or Authority tokens). You will be able to do this by placing your workers (dice) on various action spaces on the board, which will in turn provide various resources or Artifact cards, advance various tracks or place your Stars. At first glance, there’s a lot going on, but once you break it down a bit, it is fairly straightforward.
Set up is quick and easy: Each player takes two of their four worker dices (the other two will be acquired during the game) and place their Intelligence and their Morale markers on the respective tracks. Shuffle the Recruit cards and give each player 4 of them. Each player will then secretly select two, return the other two. Of the two Recruits that they kept, one of them will be turned over and thus activated immediately, while the other one will remain face down. It will (hopefully) be activated during the game. Shuffle and deal each player one Ethical Dilemma/Player Aid card. Place all the resources on their respective spaces, the Progress tokens on the various Faction tracks and place the Miner meeples at the top of the mines. Shuffle all the Market tiles and place one in each of the Construction Sites. Pick a first player and you’re now ready to start.
The turn sequence is pretty simple. On your turn, you can:
- Place one of your worker on a space, pay the cost if there is one and do what the space dictates
- Take all of your workers back and roll them, adding their face values to your Intelligence score and see if any of your workers leave
- Resolve your ethical dilemma
One the player has taking one of the above actions, it is the next player’s turn. Game ends as soon as one player has placed all 10 of their Stars.
Euphoria is a Worker Placement game and as such, the key action you will be taking is placing one of your worker, or more specifically in this game, one of your dice. On your turn you can place one dice, or if you have unplaced dice with matching faces, several dice.
The board is divided into several areas and tracks. The four main areas represent the four Factions of the world, with each faction have specific resources associated with them. Each of the Recruits in the game also belongs to a specific faction, but more on that later. You will also find the Allegiance tracks, which progress forward when specific areas are activated and will change the game slightly by giving bonuses to different areas, activating all Recruits of that faction and eventually allow the players to put a Star onto the Recruits of that faction should the track reach the end. At the top left, you’ll find the players’ Morale and Intelligence tracks, which dictate how many Artifact cards each player can hold and how smart their Workers are. Remember when I talked about having to roll your workers when they come off the board? Well, when you do so, you add up all their faces and add your Intelligence score. If that value is 16 or higher, you lose your highest dice. This means that you have to be careful when you claim back your dice since it becomes increasingly easier to roll over 16 with 3 or 4 dice. Luckily, there are ways to reduce your Intelligence or to gain new workers.
There are basically two type of spaces where you can put your workers in Euphoria: the first one is Temporary use, and as such a worker placed there can be “bumped off” and returned to its owner if someone else wants to use that space. The other is the Unlimited space, where workers simply accumulate, meaning that the only way to get those workers back is by taking back all your workers. Most spaces have a cost associated with them which must be paid upon placing your workers, either in resources or in Artifact cards. Placing your workers will usually reward you with resources, Artifact cards, increase in Allegiance on the Faction’s track or with the placement of one of your Stars on the Territory area. It is also possible to lose or gain Intelligence points, gain or lose some Moral.
Note that it is possible to trade or give resources to other players and this, combined with the bumping mechanic, can help a player insure that it will take a long time before they need to claim back all their workers. This has two side effect: 1) you don’t lose a turn simply taking back your workers; and 2) it helps you not lose a worker due to their intelligence score, since you only total the value of the unplaced workers.
The last space that need a little bit more explanation is the Mines. They act as a regular Temporary space that give one of two resources (both if the Allegiance track is advanced enough) and trigger two different effect as the little miner meeple advances: the first is that they allow the activation of all Recruits of the faction with which the Mine is activated (in the same way as the Allegiance track) and when the miner finally breaks through, it gives players who have at least one Recruit of the matching Faction an extra space where they can go to gather lots of resources that are usually produced in a different Faction.
There are two elements that bring some diversity to the game and that need some particular attention: the Recruits, which give the players a specific way to tweak the game to their advantage and the Markets, that once build bring a disadvantage to all players who did not participate. The Recruits are quite neat and remind me of the great RPG Paranoia: they all have weird back stories but more importantly, they give you some small tweak to the game, such as being able to gain extra resources when bumping/being bumped; gaining or losing Morale/Intelligence; giving Intelligence to other players when they bump you, etc. They give the players an extra little edge and since you get a few to chose from at the start of the game, they help steer your game in one direction or another. Markets on the other hand can be a pain for those who did not participate in their construction since they bring about penalties such as: lose a Morale when retrieving; lose a resource when rolling a specific number when retrieving; can’t gain any more worker if you have 2 or 3; can’t place in a specific Faction; can’t bump your own workers, etc. The only way to shake that penalty is to be able to place a Star on the corresponding Market, which can only be done when placing a start in the Territory space of that Faction is no longer possible.
The Dilemma card gives the player an option: pay some Artifact card to either be able to gain an extra Recruit or immediately place a Star on the card. It’s an interesting idea, even if it doesn’t quite work.
First off, I love the theme of this game and the art treatment. It’s not often that we get this theme in a game, let alone this treatment of the theme. Usually, in a science fiction game, especially one about a dystopian future, what we get is street gangs, lasers and the like. The route chosen here is very interesting, with touches of early science fiction and some beautiful illustrations. Stonemaier Games must be given some kudos for the final look and feel of the game.
The rules are not overly complicated and will come quickly to anyone who has played a few Worker Placement games, especially games like The Manhattan Project, with its two-beat gameplay, challenging the player to gauge the correct time to retrieve their workers from the board. Add to this the possibility of bribing other players to bump off your workers so that you can keep playing workers instead of losing a turn to retrieve them and you have a simple twist that makes for some very deep decisions.
While the rules are not themselves complex, what is complex is the sheer amount of different choices and avenues that are open at any given time to the players. This is perhaps the main reason that I would not recommend this game to beginners: they will be easily overwhelmed by the choices in front of them. However, if they persist and push forward, they will discover one of the best Worker Placement games out there.
For my money, the best new mechanic and what really brings the replay to the forefront are the Markets/Construction sites and the Recruits. Both are simple mechanics that can change your strategy greatly and that cannot be underestimated by the players. You need to keep an eye on what the other players are doing and exactly how they can use their Recruits, as well as what faction they are pushing forward on the Faction track and in the tunnel. Get your second Recruit activated as soon as possible since they should (if you chose correctly at the start of the game) make your live easier or the life of your opponents harder.
The only real weak part of the game is the Dilemma card. Although it sounds really cool (after all, the decision of siding with the establishment or going against it sounds very defining), it is most of the time a fairly easy choice to make: do you want to place a star right away (and possibly win the game) or do you want to get an extra Recruit (and depending on how late in the game this is, place a star anyway). I really wished they had found a slightly better, more thematic way of implementing this idea, but seeing how strong the rest of the game is, it is more of a minor nitpick rather than a game breaker for me.
I love this game and it is perhaps my game of the year 2013. For those who follow this blog, it is also on my 10X10in2014 challenge list, one of the game that should really not be a challenge to get to the table 10 times.