Before there was Scythe or Wingspan, before Tapestry and waaay before Pendulum, there was Euphoria. Euphoria is a game designed by Jamey Stegmaier and Alan Stone back in 2013. In dog years, that makes it roughly middle aged; in board game years it’s positively ancient! Back before Jamey wrote the book on Kickstarter (literally) when he crowdfunded all of his designs, Euphoria was the most successful Euro game campaign up to that time, raising over $300,000! But has it aged well like a bottle of fine Tuscan Chianti, or poorly like a rusted mech wallowing in the Danube? I lifted the lid (and the custom component trays) on this unique dice placement game to give you the full picture.
Big Brother from Another Mother
In Euphoria, you find yourself in a dystopian futurescape where mankind is busily recovering from an undescribed apocalypse. Trouble is they’re doing so at the expense of such niceties as basic freedoms and individuality. You’re fairly sure that along with your workers (dice) and recruits (cards) you could build a better dystopia, but at what cost, friends, at what cost? Yes, Euphoria is the game that George Orwell would craft, if he were one of the most successful board game designers of the last decade... and still alive!
There are 2 shared tracks in Euphoria, the morale track and the knowledge track. The morale track determines your hand size. Your hand consists of artefact cards, which are a resource used to pay for certain key actions. The knowledge track affects your current knowledge level. Knowledge is the sum of all dice pips in your personal pool plus your position on the track. If this number exceeds 16 then your highest value die worker gets wise to his not-exactly-utopian existence and legs it. Typical! Workers are fickle like that, but no worries, you can always get more, up to your 4 dice max anyway.
Recruits on the other hand will always stick with you. These cards give asymmetric bonuses; each player starts with 1 active (face up) and one inactive (face down), and you can gain more through the game. Now each recruit is allied to 1 of the 4 factions. Each faction in turn has its own allegiance track. Certain actions increase the strength of each faction, bringing added bonuses for players with recruits of that faction. When the marker meets a certain point on each track, any inactive recruits from that faction become active, giving more bonuses to their players.
The mainstay of Euphoria is dice placement and there are 3 types of action spaces. Accumulative, where the sum of all dice dictate the reward. Building, where you’ll only gain the reward when that market is completed. Or, my personal favourite, bumpy spots (I think the official term is Temporary use locations)! Bumpy spots are awesome because if that spot is used by a new die it bumps the incumbent one back to its player. Hence, bumpy spots!
The other important thing to note about Euphoria is that it’s a racing game! Bet you weren’t expecting that. Yes, it’s a euro game entirely devoid of victory points! To win you must place out your ten authority tokens. The first player to do so... has built a better dystopia I guess.
Dystopia of the Pops
Euphoria is typical Stonemaier quality, which is to say, superb. It has a stack of wooden components which are lovely and the custom dice with little cogs on them are pretty special. The art on the board and box is an interesting choice. While it seems to fit pretty well with the futuristic faux utopian theme, it’s also not the most attractive board game art I’ve ever seen. There’s no doubt that Euphoria is one of the less popular Stonemaier titles compared to the likes of Scythe and Viticulture. I do wonder if part of the problem is with the yellow and orange cubist cover art and the unusual theme, leading to a lack of shelf appeal. It’s a shame if so, because the gameplay is solid and the components are great. In later printings like mine, the game even includes 4 incredibly swanky Gametrayz inserts.
The bottom insert holds the cards and stays in the box. It has a whole lot of empty space, so I’m guessing it’s designed to hold all the expansion stuff too. The other 3 trays hold all the resources and player components and have useful click-on lids to keep everything in place for storage. These 3 trays sit on the table during play, keeping all the bits nice and tidy, saving precious minutes of setup and tear down. There are two identical resource holders, so they can go at opposite ends of the table and give everyone easy access. It’s a really nice touch including the inserts. They do an excellent job and are very much appreciated by this particular dystopian dictator!
Primus Inter Pares
Worker placement games with dice as workers are ten a penny. In most W.P. games, player interaction on the board comes in the form of pesky action blocking. i.e I can’t go there anymore because Gertrude already has a worker there. The interaction between workers in Euphoria is unique, more interesting and leaves much wider scope for strategising. You can use your opponents' dice to get greater rewards from a spot. You can bump their workers out of your way or even bump your own mindless minions back to yourself.
Now, if all your workers are on the board you’ll have to spend a turn and resources returning them to your pool and doing a knowledge check. By bumping them back one at a time, you can put off this wasted turn AND control your knowledge level by keeping your available dice pool small. It’s a really cool mechanism and every time I play I find more ways of using it to my advantage.
The artefact cards are fairly bland and really only function as another resource, albeit with an efficient set collection element. The recruits are fun though and their humble bonuses give a pleasant asymmetrical twist to gameplay. It’s an interesting factor that you don’t know if you're helping your opponent by increasing the strength of a faction until they’ve flipped their inactive recruit or recruits too. This can be a fairly big deal as, when a faction track is maxed out, all recruits allied to it get a authority token placed on them.
Building a Better Dystopia
The race aspect was unexpected for me. In fact, I think I was 2 moves into my first game before realising there were no victory points! It's fairly unusual for a euro game like Euphoria to be a straight up race. You know what, though? It works! Yes, there’s no secret scoring so it’s blatantly obvious to see who’s doing well and who’s, well, not. But it’s a quick game with a tight focus that has a pleasant arc in tension as it reaches its conclusion.
The market's construction is another thing that makes Euphoria tight and tricky and fun. Each market tile has a penalty printed on it. If you contributed to that market building, you can place an authority token on it and ignore the penalty, if not you’d better lump it. These penalties are not game breaking, but they certainly affect your efficiency, and Euphoria is all about efficiency. It’s a race game after all, so a little advantage goes a long way. You can place your tokens on these markets later, negating the penalty, but it’s definitely something else to think about and even perhaps use to your advantage. Plus all the tongue in cheek market titles are giggle worthy.
Knowledge is the Key
Speaking of efficiency, there’s a rule whereby all dice that roll the same value can be placed out in the same turn. This can effectively give a player 2-4 free goes, multiple times. In a game that rewards efficiency like Euphoria does, that's a fairly big advantage to be entirely luck-dependent. Now, in my games, getting these lucky rolls hasn’t been the winning factor but it is something to mention to the more luck-averse.
Stonemaier games these days are known for their 1-5 player range. Euphoria came along before the company's central tenets were cast in stone. As a result, it plays up to 6, which is cool. Less cool is that it lacks a solo mode from the Automa factory. For some, this won’t make a blind bit of difference; for others it’s an important factor and worth noting.
Final Thoughts - Euphoria
If you’re looking for a game that takes well-trodden mechanisms in novel and intriguing directions, then you’ve found it in Euphoria. I’ll admit I like my Euros with a stink load of V.P. from a variety of sources and a generous dollop of secret scoring on top. But now and then something will surprise you by subverting your expectations. Euphoria did that for me and it’s all the better for it.
It’s a solid and unique euro game that I think deserves more attention than it gets. It has a simple rule set and is in the light-mid weight category, but it crams an awful lot of strategic and tactical gameplay into its few mechanisms. Euphoria may not be the prettiest game in the world, but the iconography is clear, the components are good, and the Gametrayz inserts are excellent. It’s a game that ramps up in speed and there are just enough twists and turns to maintain that pleasant tension right up until the last move. It’s a thinky euro-style race game with a brilliant twist on dice placement. If that sounds as good to you as it did to me, you’ll really enjoy Euphoria.