Published on January 17th, 2014 | by Luke Turpeinen
Building a Better Dystopia
Euphoria first came on my radar during the initial Kickstarter campaign. I was writing what would be our first Kickstarter Preview article for the site and ran across this gem from the creator of Viticulture. I had not yet played Viticulture, but I’d heard a lot of good things about both it and Jamey Stegmaier, one of the creators of the game and a prolific blogger. We backed the game, put it in our article and have been
euphoric excited about playing it ever since.
Normally I’d talk about the idea behind the game or the history of its production, but as Euphoria was a Kickstarter project, all of that info is available on the project page. Anything that isn’t discussed there is available on Jamey’s website, including many wonderful tips on game design, marketing and production. If you ever think about maybe making a real board game and Kickstarting it, do yourself a favor and read every single article on his blog. It’s value as a resource to amateur game designers is incalculable.
Euphoria’s production values are in every way exquisite. The game came with a unique slip case that echoed art elements in some of the cards. The board is double-sided, one side with loads of amazing color artwork, the other side a grayscale version of that same artwork. One of our color blind friends said that this addition made seeing the elements of the game much easier, and another commented how he even liked the aesthetics of the board better in black and white. The cards, manual and tokens are of top quality and I really like that the tokens are in graphic shapes instead of just simple cubes. Because we have a Kickstarter copy of the game, ours came with upgraded secondary resource components (including heavy, real metal pieces for the gold bars). Between the great production value and the amazing art, I was never disappointed with Euphoria.
As a kickstarted game, it’s important to not only talk about the art assets and the physical components of Euphoria, but to also talk about its production cycle as a game that we backed. Euphoria backers were consistently updated throughout the entire production cycle of the game. We always had a good idea of which phase of publishing the game was in, and we knew from Jamey that the game would be delivered on time, which it was. So many other Kickstarter projects just don’t send out updates, even when they are running behind, that I thought it was worth it to mention that Euphoria didn’t fall into either of those traps. The whole Kickstarter experience was pleasant and rewarding.
As far as the mechanics of the game are concerned, Euphoria feels familiar but it has many unique elements that set it apart from the rest of the worker placement (and even dice placement) games. Thematically, Euphoria is a game about despotic rulers of a futuristic dystopian world. The people of the world are so well indoctrinated that they aren’t aware that it’s a horribly authoritarian environment where human life isn’t sacred. As part of the game you’ll be placing workers (per definition, really) but doing so sometimes comes at a price- make them work too much or delve too deep and they may discover that your society is actually horrible and stop working for you. In game terms this means that you have a “knowledge” track that, when added with the the pips on your dice, exceeds 13 then you must destroy one of your workers. To make this a more likely scenario, there are special abilities available to players that increase your knowledge track in order to give you short term benefits. This kind of a risk/reward scenario is something that I’m not used to seeing in the worker placement world and I was really excited to find such a thematically interesting mechanic in a eurogame.
Apart from my facination with workers who rebel against their tyrannical overlords, Euphoria also simply delivers a very approchable eurogame. On any given turn you have the option to: 1) Place a worker, or, 2) Remove up to all of your workers. By keeping all actions based completely on placing workers, and by only allowing one action per turn, Euphoria moves at a very good pace. The game is designed so that you are always planning a couple moves ahead, but your immediate actions are so clear that turns usually don’t take long. Both of these design decisions also make it easier for newer players, or players who don’t normally play worker placement games, to approach the game. Any design elements that make games more approachable are welcome at my table!
Another quirk of the game that makes it endearing is its casual reversal of the common elements of dice placement games. In most dice placement games, a player rolls dice and then places them based on the numbers that appear; whereas in Euphoria the dice are only rolled when you take them off of the board and their pips add to your knowledge track. Usually games have you complete buildings to give you an advantage versus the other players, but Euphoria has multiple players contribute to communal buildings and if you didn’t help build it you get a disadvantage. The changes don’t drastically upset gameplay, but they do offer a different feel to the normal cadence of the game, something that is refreshing to people who make a habit of playing a ton of board games.
Over all I have had a lovely experience with Euphoria- the components are solid, the game is fun and fresh, and the art and theme are perfect. Our first time playing, the game went over very well, much better than I thought it would with the critical group we were playing with. Even the most discerning members of that first play through were very interested in playing again and trying out different strategies. This urge to replay the game has been the biggest indicator to me that the game is great. If you have a chance, don’t pass up the opportunity to play this instant classic.