Euphoria Review (Board Game) – Build a Better Dystopia
Back in 2017, game designer Jamey Stegmaier released Scythe, a game that really helped put his company Stonemaier Games on the map. It was an instant success, currently rated at #8 in the Board Game Geek Top 100, and was universally heralded as a masterpiece in modern gaming. It is an amazing game, with a strong grounding in territory control, worker placement, and story telling. On this blog, we’ve been working our way through the Scythe factions, releasing a strategy article every few weeks, and we even recommended it as one of our top games of the year in 2017.
Since discovering the joy of Scythe, we have made it our goal to play every Stonemaier Games game, so when we saw Euphoria at a local Forbidden Planet, we just had to buy it. Euphoria is a game designed by Jamey Stegmaier and Alan Stone, with awesome artwork by Jacqui Davis, for 2-6 players. This is going to be a Euphoria review, because we’ll undoubtedly be talking about strategy in future. Euphoria was designed pre-Scythe and it is easy to see where some of the inspiration for Scythe came from.
Euphoria Review: The Premise
We’re going to break this review down a little bit more than usual. For this section, let’s just talk about the story behind the game – the reason to play from a thematic perspective.
Euphoria is a city in which the citizens are trapped in a modern dystopia. The Palace of Euphoria has risen to create a new world order, the likes of which the world has never seen before. The people of Euphoria live in a haze, mindless drones subject to the constabulary.
Of course, Euphoria is only 1/4 of the map, with Subterra the underground city, the Wastelands, and Icarus – the city in the clouds. It is up to you whether you want to play a game where you further the dystopia, or where you liberate the people to live a life of the free and just. It is up to you to build a better dystopia, how you see fit.
The Rules to Euphoria
Like Scythe, Euphoria is a relatively complicated game. There are a lot of small, yet simple, rules. Here we will talk about a few of those rules, the mechanics in some detail and the general concept of the game.
Euphoria is, at its heart, a resource management game that uses dice as workers. Each player will begin the game being dealt four recruits. These are cards with special people on them (for instance “Jonathan the Artist”), where the player chooses two and puts the other two back in the deck. The chosen two will offer special bonuses throughout the game, and make the game asymmetrical. One will start face up, and one will start face down. Later on in the game you will get the option to flip the second one face up, upon which you will liberate its ability.
Ultimately, resource management is the core mechanic of Euphoria with players using dice to collect resources. Dice represent workers’ knowledge, and more knowledge generally means more resources. The more resources you have, the more you can do – from building monuments to getting more workers.
Of course, it’s a dystopia, so doing things in Euphoria are not without their downside. If you build a market, for example, it will benefit you and any player who helped you build it, but it will cause a permanent in-game disadvantage to any player who didn’t contribute to the construction. Some actions will cause you to increase loyalty to one of the four factions, benefiting everyone with a recruit from that faction – whether you have one or not. Finally, where knowledge is good, too much knowledge can cause you to lose workers. They get smarter and decide to leave.
Like with Scythe there are a couple of elements that require moral decisions, in this case every player is dealt a choice at the start of the game. Being good will generally give you more workers and resources. Being evil will tip you closer towards the end of the game. One example may be to write a liberal essay, or to distribute propaganda. Writing the essay is good and gets you resources, distributing the propaganda gives you victory points.
Another similarity the game has to Scythe is that there are tracks for popularity and (a) another resource. In Scythe the popularity track leant towards the end game scoring, whereas in Euphoria it is to do with hand limit for artefacts (artefacts can help with moral decisions and building, or they can be traded for resources). The second track is knowledge, which gets added to your worker dice. At the start of the game you begin with two worker knowledge dice, and these are added to your knowledge score (which goes from 1-6). If the score ever goes above 16 after a roll then you lose a worker. The more dice you have, the more workers you have, but the more likely they are to educate themselves. The more educated they are, the more likely they are to try and leave.
The worker dice reminded us of Castles of Burgundy when we played, where rolling two dice each turn would determine the actions that player could take. In Euphoria, having dice does not only determine that you can go, but placing a die means that you are committing that knowledge to a task. This may be committing 5 knowledge to farming because you don’t want to generate loyalty (1-4) or make your workers smarter (9+) when generating food. Instead, committing 5-8 knowledge will give you resources and make your workers lose knowledge. It’s a win-win…unless you are a worker…in which case it kind of sucks…
It costs food or popularity to retrieve dice from the table, but this creates a really interesting form of gameplay that is continuous. It isn’t “roll dice, pick up dice, reset the board, begin with a different player” but rather a more fluid form of gameplay where the board doesn’t reset after each turn. It just continues.
There are so many small aspects of Euphoria that are delightful. For instance, tunnels may be built to open more spaces/resource options, markets built to monumentally mess up your opponent’s game, and additional areas can be unlocked for play. I want to talk about them all, but we’ll be here all night explaining abstract game terms if I do – so let’s talk about how you win the game.
Once again, like with Scythe (Euphoria actually pre-dates Scythe but so many aspects of Euphoria carry over), stars are used in Euphoria to determine a winner. Unlike with Scythe, however, it does not trigger the end game. Instead, the first person to get 10 stars wins. There are loads of different ways of getting stars from fulfilling resource requests to gaining loyalty to building markets. It really is a versatile game.
It lasts around 60 minutes.
What are the components in Euphoria like?
Euphoria is a Jamey Stegmaier game. It is a Stonemaier Games game. Need I say more?
Euphoria, like with Scythe and Viticulture is absolutely beautiful. There are so many small things that make it a pleasure to play and components are one. There are no miniatures, like with Scythe, but there are custom wooden tokens and they are brilliant.
The game is such high quality that it puts other games to shame. Euphoria is stunning, with seven different types of resource token, each with its own unique shape. The dice have a cog effect that can occasionally be a bit difficult to read, but everything else is fantastic. The cards are of the highest quality, and you have to respect that. The box even comes with baggies for all the tokens, and spares. No corners were cut with Euphoria and it shows.
What is playing Euphoria like?
Okay, so those who know what the reviews are like on this blog, this is usually the part where I relax into the review and take the gloves off. So, let me make a cup of tea and tell you what playing Euphoria is like.
Playing Euphoria is like a well-choreographed dance. The game is a fluid, slick, and well-made experience that has a lot of variety within it. Where the narrative may seem a bit flaky at times (and it is unclear whether you are for or against dystopia), the gameplay more than makes up for any shortfalls and, interestingly, rather than being a game with one major component it seems to be made up of many. There isn’t one big goal, but rather around 15 small ones.
There are so many good ideas in Euphoria that all come together like ingredients in a fine cake. There is a bit of resource management, a bit of construction or tile purchase, a bit of worker placement (only with dice), a bit of randomness, a bit of everything and that works well to its strength.
Euphoria is a strategy-heavy game, and with the continuous gameplay, this can be intensive. There is often a lot of swearing and slapping your forehead as you want to do six different things with your turn; however, it can also have that wonderful moment where everything just slots into place. The game has strategic cascades, where things just work, and that is a marvel to behold.
I’m starting to become a bit of a Stonemaier Games fanboy; however, that is not the reason I love this game. This Euphoria review is not biased, but instead a fair review of a very well made and well thought through game.
Is Euphoria as good as Scythe?
The obvious comparison here is to Scythe as, throughout both games, it is possible to see several mechanics evolve between the two games. There is ultimately one question – is Euphoria as good as Scythe?
Well…no. I don’t believe it is but please do not take that as Euphoria being bad. Making the comparison of Euphoria to Scythe is like saying – which is better, gold or platinum? Both are equally awesome, but, when one is near perfection, the scale gets a bit tainted. Euphoria is a really amazing game. If Scythe is a 9/10 then Euphoria is a solid 8/10 on the same scale. It is really really good, and that is why I will be recommending Euphoria at the end of this review.
Is Euphoria as good as Castles of Burgundy?
The other comparison to make is actually, weirdly, Castles of Burgundy due to the dice mechanic. They are still very different games (as are Euphoria and Scythe – I probably should have mentioned that in the previous section) but similar enough that I think there is a relatively clear comparison.
Personally, I prefer Euphoria to Castles of Burgundy. It is a cleaner game and has more strategic options, but both are still very good.
Euphoria Review: Summary
Okay, so I’ve been thinking about these reviews for a while, which is arguably why I haven’t done a long review in a while, and I think some kind of conclusion is in order. This is the summary –
- Beautiful design.
- Fluid gameplay.
- Lots of strategic options.
- Unique ways to create asymmetry.
- Malleable gameplay.
- Moral choices.
- Complex mechanics that make the game smooth.
- Easy to get the hang of.
Areas for Potential Improvement
- Theme is hit and miss.
- Dice can be hard to read.
The Bottom Line on Euphoria
The bottom line – you should probably get this game for your collection and let me know what you think. If you already have it or have played it, then also let me know your thoughts in the comments below. If you haven’t already got the game, is this the kind of game you would like to play?