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Board Game Review – Euphoria

euphoriaEuropean-style games are not often known for having the most fascinating or involved backstories. It is rare, after a rousing German game about cooking vegetables, that you’ll hear someone say, ‘oh, man, when you had that rutabaga and I had the carrot, I was freaking out!’ Stories are not generally the high points of European games. That’s fine – I can think of several games I like that are all about farming – but they don’t exactly tell a thrilling tale.

And that’s what makes Euphoria so special. It is clearly a very European game, at least in play-style. You’ll place your workers to manage your resources and maximize efficient output. And yet, you will pay those workers in drugs to keep them happy while forcing them to dig tunnels in order to steal from the Wastelanders, and then you will electrocute them to make them dumber so that they don’t realize how crappy their lives are. This is a very cheerful dystopia, and it’s a blast.

Your workers, the ones you send out to build things or gather fruit or push your agenda in the various regions of the post-apocalyptic world of Euphoria, are represented by dice. The number on each die indicates how much knowledge that worker has gained. When the cumulative knowledge of all your workers gets high enough, one of them will start noticing how green the grass is on the other side and leave your employ, forcing you to revisit the worker deployment vats and shock a couple more into submission. This element of keeping your employees ignorant enough to stay at work is represented brilliantly by the mechanic that represents it, and is just one example of Euphoria delivering rules that make the story work.

And it is a seriously messed-up story. You’ve got four different regions – the city of Euphoria, the Wastelands outside the gate, the Subterran caverns, and the sky cities of the Icarites. Every region generates a specific resource – the Subterrans run the aquifer that will let you gather water, while the Euphorians generate power and the Wastelanders grow food. But the Icarites have it all figured out – they will sell you bliss, which you can give to your workers to keep them happy. Bliss, in this case, is obviously pharmaceutical-grade heroin.

Your goal is to establish your authority, which you do in a variety of ways. Elevate a region so that its workers are more loyal. Build edifices to corruption that will establish you as a world leader. Directly influence local governments. But do it well, and do it quickly, because the entire contest is a race, and there’s no prize for second place.

Euphoria might sound like a cutthroat game where you’re constantly undermining your opponents, and while there is a huge amount of interaction, most of it takes the form of helping your opponents help you. You might be able to build the Spa of Fleeting Pleasure on your own, but it will be easier if your opponents will help. Making the Wastelanders particularly loyal to your cause is a good way to increase your personal power base – but it helps everyone else at the same time. Bump an opponent’s worker out of the farms, and you might think you’re hurting him, but you’re actually freeing up his worker to go work somewhere else.

Which is not to say everything is friendly all the time. When you bump that worker, you might ‘accidentally’ educate your opponent’s workforce and send them into open revolt. Team up with two other players to build the Bemusement Park, and anyone who didn’t help gets to lose resources every time their workers learn too much. Elevating the Subterrans might be a great help, but it doesn’t do any good for the guy whose only followers are Euphorians. There are plenty of mildly underhanded ways to hurt your foes. They’re just not the focus, so while Euphoria is definitely a game with a lot of interaction between players, it’s not mean-spirited or nasty.

Part of the beauty of Euphoria is how many different ways there are to win the game. Instilling loyalty in your followers is a good way to get closer to the win, but you might just ignore that route and focus on building. You might capitalize on the bliss market and take advantage of the power you get when you control the drugs, or search for artifacts of the forgotten age and trade them for power. Every game will turn out different, because different strategies will develop among different players and the winner will be the one who stays flexible enough to take advantage of the changing landscape.

Euphoria is the second game from Stonemaier Games, and it shows that this upstart indie publisher has some serious chops. Euphoria is an outstanding game, better than most titles that came out of big-time publishers last year. It’s exceptionally deep, ridiculously fun, and as the game approaches the last few turns, the tension will be thick enough to set your heart to pounding. Pick up a copy of Euphoria, and keep an eye out for their next Kickstarter. I have no idea what it will be, but I am confident it will be worth owning.

Summary

2-6 players

Pros:
Great art-deco look
Outstanding components
Perfect blend of Euro-style mechanics and kick-ass theme
Lovely interaction without being mean

Cons:
I’ll have to get back to you

If you want a copy of Euphoria, you can get it direct from the publisher, right here:

DRUG YOUR WORKERS. THEY WILL LIKE IT.

2 Responses to “Board Game Review – Euphoria”

  1. Tim says:

    Hey Matt. Great review, as always. Any chance you could drop a mobile theme on this site to make it a little cleaner for those of us who read your reviews on the move?

    You could take this to mean I don’t care enough about your writing to spend actual time at my desk, or that I love it so much I can’t wait until I’m back at my desk for a fix. Your call.

  2. Matt Drake says:

    I could look into improving the presentation on a phone. Might be a while, though – I have an enormous project kicking off in a few weeks, and I doubt I will have time for much else for a while.

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