There is clearly something excellent tucked away behind Euphoria: Build a Better Dystopia’s many tracks and tokens. From the disparate tunnels dug by the citizens of the Wasteland, Subterran, and Euphoria itself, to the floating markets of the Icarites, a vivid image of a new, ugly, world emerges. Back alley deals recruit new workers to your cause, collaboration breeds understanding better left ignored, and digging reveals artifacts of a world now lost. A world of balloons and books. Euphoria is an excellent example of a heavy Euro game that manages to proudly display its thematic chrome, though it may do so unevenly.
Knowledge is Power
A worker placement game for 2-6, Euphoria tasks players with rising above the mediocrity assigned to them as citizens of the futuristic dystopia of Euphoria. The veil has been lifted, and the bemused acceptance with which everyone lives their daily life is no longer adequate for the player characters. They decide to use their newfound knowledge to lift up/exploit their fellows in a bid to better their own station in Euphoria.
In Euphoria workers are represented by dice, and their individual knowledge of the inner workings of the Euphorian dystopia is represented by the pips shown on each die. The more pips, the more effective a worker can be, but too many can drive up your group’s overall knowledge, prompting individuals to leave as they learn how the world really works.
To win Euphoria, players must place 10 authority tokens across the board and on cards. There are a few ways players can accomplish this. They can hire the right recruits to advance a collective track on the board. However, other players may profit from this, so care must be taken. They can also attempt to participate in the construction of different buildings. Erecting buildings will build influence in different regions, and can be used to fulfill their own secret objective, all of which result in the placement of additional authority tokens.
Straight Forward, Just Like an Efficient Cog Should Be.
There’s a lot to keep in mind, but each turn is relatively simple. Generally players may either place workers on the board or take any or all their workers back from the board and reroll them (reassessing knowledge). Placing workers on the board is how players accomplish almost everything. Placing them on factories gathers commodities. Sending them to help dig tunnels grants more resources. Placing them on construction sites contributes to buildings. And placing them on completed buildings, or in the Icarite’s domain, allows them to conduct trades.
For a game about rolling dice to represent a worker’s knowledge, I was a little disappointed to see knowledge only really matters in a few spaces. Namely, knowledge only matters in commodity gathering spaces, as the total knowledge of all workers is added together to determine what level the player gathers commodities from. Placing a worker with 1-4 knowledge, for example, grants a player 1 commodity and advances the loyalty track for the associated faction. Place a worker that brings the total above 6, however, and the player gathers two commodities but also increases their knowledge track.
The knowledge track can really come back and bite players who don’t take care to keep their workers’ knowledge down. Every time any or all workers are removed from the board, they’re rolled to see their new knowledge level. If this, coupled with the knowledge track, reaches or exceeds 16, a worker is lost. In a game as tight as Euphoria, losing a worker can be a significant setback, so the tug of war over how far to push your workers is always an integral part of the decision-making process. However, no other locations really take the individual die’s knowledge into account. It felt like a missed opportunity to push the game’s best feature.
Dystopia is Rough on Small Parties
Another concern is player count. While Euphoria advertises 2-6 players, it really feels like a game that would shine at higher player counts. For this review,I was only able to play with 2 players. From the first game we could both tell that the pressure brought on by additional players was sorely missing. Euphoria tries to limit how much a single player can gain authority in different regions by limiting the total number of slots to equal the number of players. This is fine but does nothing to address the true problem with a small player count.
There are enough spaces on the board for two players, even with a full complement of workers, to place them without really interfering with each other. There were very few times that either player felt compelled to risk raising knowledge by placing their worker alongside another in a specific resource. They could always go after a different resource given that so many were in such demand. When more players are involved, real estate becomes a much more prevalent issue and player strategies will have to evolve to handle the risks that come with placing workers alongside others.
Since that mechanic also engages with the dice-pips-as-knowledge mechanic in Euphoria, it was a shame that it was really hidden behind an increased player count.
Better on Soma, But Still Good As Is
Overall there is a lot to like about Euphoria. The components are beautiful and sturdy, the art and mechanics work with the theme to help in creating fun narratives of dystopian social climbers, and the worker placement mechanic encourages players to strategize for the long term. It’s a fun game, and I firmly believe that it will be more fun with a larger player count. For now, it will stay shelved until we can get back together with our gaming group, where I believe it will be a hit. For two players though, there are better worker placement games. Just don’t tell Big Brother I said that.