Stonemaier Games' Euphoria: Build a Better Dystopia is a surprising, and surprisingly fun, game. Cast as a member of the Dystopian elite, each player will be racing to spread their authority throughout a dystopian city, the surrounding country side, the tunnels beneath the streets and even in the skies above. The game mechanics themselves are deceptively simple while the game-play is anything but. Euphoria certainly comes across as a game specifically geared towards experienced board gamers but it is simple enough to learn and teach that it could easily hook new players.
The core mechanics of the game are very simple and straightforward. On each player's turn they either place a worker die on to the board or take any or all of their worker dice back off of the board and roll them. The depth and complexity (and maybe even a touch of intimidation) of the game come from the sheer volume of things that you can do with your workers when you place them. There are other games that successfully use limitations and constraints to add strategic depth whereas Euphoria offers choice upon choice and leaves it to the players to suss out a winning strategy.
[caption id="attachment_36689" align="aligncenter" width="980"] The board looks great, if not a bit busy, on the table. Nearly every option is available to players from the beginning of the game which can feel a touch overwhelming.[/caption]
In many worker placement games the theme feels pasted on, as if it could be just about anything and still make sense. Euphoria's dystopian theme comes through in nearly every aspect of the game, especially the dice-as-workers mechanic and feels not only unique and satisfying but it feels as if the game-play and the theme were developed together and are intertwined. The number that is rolled on each die represents that worker's knowledge.
Various spaces on the board change effect based on not only the knowledge of the worker that is placed there but the total knowledge of all workers that are currently on that space. This means that players need to maneuver around each other in an attempt to make the most of their worker placement and also allows players to attempt to force the other players to take actions that may be less desirable based on the knowledge of workers on a space.
[caption id="attachment_36690" align="aligncenter" width="440"] Players need to pay attention to what their opponents are up to. Multiple different spaces on the board change function based on the total knowledge of all workers placed there.[/caption]
In addition to granting strategic depth to the game, the workers' knowledge also has an effect on a player's total worker pool. Each player can have a maximum of four workers at any one time. When the player takes their workers off of the board they roll them, totaling the numbers rolled on each die and adding it to their overall knowledge which is tracked on the board. If the total rolled ever meets or exceeds 16, then that player's smartest worker wises up to the situation and runs away.
This lends a neat risk vs reward aspect to the game as players will not only need to balance their workers' total knowledge but also consider whether pulling all of their workers off the board at once is worth the risk of potentially losing one of them. In this dystopian world it really pays to try to keep your workers as blissfully unaware as possible.
With so many options available from the very beginning of the game, Euphoria can feel overwhelming to first time players, even more-so to players who aren't already experienced board gamers. The sheer number of available choices is daunting and it can be difficult to decide where to even begin. Thankfully the pace of the game moves very quickly with very little downtime as players take only one action per turn, and while it is possible to force players into less desirable placement choices based on worker knowledge, there are very few ways to fully block other players. Euphoria is very friendly to players who learn-by-doing which means that new players can place their dice around the board and get a feel for the game-play without really needing a plan and can learn how different spaces interact on the fly.
While players cannot block their opponents from most of the spaces on the board, there is one huge exception to this in the form of Markets. When the game begins there are 6 random face-down Market tokens on the board that players can build over the course of the game. Building a Market not only allows players to place an authority star on it if they contributed to the construction but also imposes a penalty on any players that did not help build it. While the penalties are generally not insurmountable and players can negate them, albeit expensively, they can still cause problems for the players who are hit with them.
It is extremely satisfying to cut your opponents out when building a market and can be equally gut-wrenching to see other players build a Market and know that you will be hit with a penalty because you cannot contribute to its construction. Combined with the rapid speed of play and plethora of options available, Euphoria feels exciting and tense as players attempt to determine their opponents' strategies and outmaneuver them while accomplishing their own goals and managing their workforce to ensure that their workers don't gain too much knowledge.
[caption id="attachment_36685" align="aligncenter" width="1028"] The Markets not only open up a new space for players to place workers but also force a penalty on any player who did not assist in building it.[/caption]
A note on player count: Euphoria plays 2-6 players with game-time increasing directly proportionally to player count. The game still plays rapidly as player turns are short, but as player count increases so too does the game's tension as well as the need to plan and maneuver strategically. I recommend new players play the game for the first time with a lower player count to get a feel for the game before wading in and competing against a full compliment of players.
A note on “chrome”: Euphoria has absolutely incredible components. The card stock and cardboard are all good quality. Components that could easily have been made as cardboard chits are beautiful wooden tokens instead. The custom dice are really cool and the art is consistently excellent throughout the game. The top notch components and beautiful art make Euphoria feel like a premium experience.
The bottom line:
Euphoria: Build a Better Dystopia is an absolute blast to play. The game uses simple, straightforward worker placement mechanics to facilitate interesting and complex game-play while throwing in neat little tweaks to the standard worker placement formula. The theme comes through in nearly every aspect of the game-play. Racing to be the first to place 10 authority stars is fun and engaging thanks to the rapid speed of play and the game remains tense and exciting from start to finish.
Get this game if:
You enjoy the dystopian theme.
You enjoy worker placement games.
You enjoy finding your own path to victory.
You like games that go all-out with their production values.
Avoid this game if:
You dislike worker placement games.
Rules for Euphoria can be found here.
Euphoria can be purchased via Amazon here.
The copy of Euphoria used for review was provided by Stonemaier Games.