Ever since I read 1984 in school, I have fallen in love with speculation and dystopian themes. Therefore, when I first heard about Euphoria, I knew that I just had to have it. I was a little late to the party, as the Kickstarter campaign had already happened. I love dystopian themed books, movies or tv series such as 1984, Brave New World or Black Mirror. For me, Euphoria: Building a Better Dystopia is an absolute treat. In a world full of dumb workers in treadmills and drugs, your task is to build the best dystopia. Will you be able to trick your people into thinking you are the best leader for them?
So how does this dystopia thing work?
Euphoria is a 2 to 6 player game, designed by Jamey Stegmaier and Alan Stone, published by Stonemaier Games. In this game you rule over a dystopian empire, where you have several workers at your disposal. You roll dice that represent these workers and whichever number you roll will indicate the intelligence of that specific worker. The higher the number, the smarter the worker and the bigger the chance that they will rebel and leave your following. Your world is divided into four different allegiances, each with their own goals and resources. You win by being the first to place your ten stars on the board. You can place your stars through various actions, each action is based in one of the specific allegiances.
At the start of the game you recruit two special workers from these factions, who will grant you special abilities throughout the game. One of the fun elements of the game is that one of these special workers will remain unknown (and unusable) until it is uncovered through one of the special actions. Although your special workers come from specific factions, you are free to take actions in all factions on the board. Each turn, you take an action by placing one of your workers into one of the many action fields. These actions include gathering resources, digging tunnels to steal resources from another faction and helping construct specific buildings. At the beginning of the game, this is still very kind as everyone minds their own business but soon players will get in each others way.
What makes this game unique?
What I like so much about Euphoria are the simple but unique game mechanics that have been woven into the game. This is most obvious with the “bumping” mechanic. To “bump” someones die means that you place your die in a spot that their die was previously in. This seems very beneficial, as you get to take any action, regardless of what other players do. Rather than sending the other player’s die to a discard pile, you immediately return it to the rightful owner. This player can then use it on their next turn. This gives them a slight advantage over you, as they will have an extra turn before recollecting their die from the playing area. Fun fact: you can also bump your own die to keep using the same action over and over again.
Another fun mechanic hides in the use of the special workers you recruit at the beginning of the game. As I mentioned, one of these remains secret for the first rounds of the game. By advancing the faction tracker for the faction that this secret worker belongs to, you can unlock their special skill. As nobody knows which faction your second worker belongs to, they might even help you in the process! What makes the game highly replay-able is the high amount of possibilities for both these cards and the buildings that can be constructed.
Sadly, after playing Euphoria a couple of times, we did find a tactic that was a little bit broken. Whenever anyone picks two recruit cards from the Icarites, the track advances so quickly that they nearly always end up winning the game. I don’t know if this only applies for a 2-player game (which is how we have often played it) but I presume it works with any amount of players.
Seriously though, the theme is what makes Euphoria
While some people might not care for a game’s theme at all, I am a big sucker for games with immersive themes. The artwork for Euphoria is wonderful, portraying shiny and colourful world that seems incredibly nice to live in. However, there is a second layer to the game when you look at the details in the artwork. In all the drawings, you will find your little men running in treadmills and getting high on so-called bliss. The game comes with loads of custom wooden pieces and dice that add to refined look of the game. The names on the buildings you construct are also thoughtful and full of puns. For instance, you might encounter the Fountain of Wishful Thinking or the Academy of Mandatory Equality.
Euphoria plays rather quickly. Although it requires some time for set-up and explaining, Euphoria is a game that is accessible to those who are just a little bit less into board games than you are. As it contains some elements of luck, new players won’t be at a big disadvantage. Additionally, as most of the game is played open on the table, many elements of the game can be taught while playing.
Quite honestly, I have to admit that there might be worker-placement games out there that are more balanced. After playing it about half a dozen times, we have found small discrepancies. I am hoping the already-announced expansion will add more balance. However, this game is still one of our go-to’s when we are looking for a slightly lighter worker placement game. Since we became familiar with the rules, our 2-player games are played in under an hour. On that note, I should add that this is one of those games that gets better with more players. The thought that has been put into some of the nifty mechanics simply gets drawn out better with multiple people battling for the same spot on the board. Euphoria still ends up high on my list when I’m standing in front of our board game collection and deciding which board game to pick!