Friday, January 10, 2014

Sweet Relief: "Euphoria: Build a Better Dystopia"

As a freelance writer, it's always a constant struggle to find work. One of the earliest gigs I encountered was a possible assignment writing movie reviews.

As soon as I saw this I jumped at the opportunity: 'Perfect!' I though to myself. 'I already host an entertainment-related blog where I do reviews, so this works out well!'

But then I took a closer look at the fine print. My potential employer actually had the cojones to set the following stipulation:

"Positive reviews only, please."

When I read this I just sat there and blinked for awhile. Sorry, but if the last movie I saw was Resident Evil there's no way in God's green earth I'm gonna give that piece of shit a good review. I'd rather starve to death.

So what does this preamble have to do with Euphoria: Build a Better Dystopia? Welp, for the sake of full disclosure, Stonemaier Games sent me a free copy to review.

Well, in my mind, this sets me up for the same sort of Ethical Dilemma you face in the game itself. What if it sucks, bites and/or blows? I'll be forced to pan it and then I'll look like an asshole.

Mercifully, designers Jamey Stegmaier and Alan Stone have spared me from this awkward conundrum. Euphoria: Build a Better Dystopia moves quickly, provides plenty of gregarious in-game choices and practically begs to be played again as soon as that tenth Authority Star drops.

Now, I don't often get a chance to play a game several times before I review it but this was a pleasant exception. I first gave it a whirl during the Christmas holidays with my considerably better half. Although I goofed up a few rules and the game seemed to suffer from "follow the leader" syndrome a little bit, we could both tell that there was considerable promise here.

I wanted to have another bash at Euphoria while it was still reasonably fresh in my mind but this time with more players. As such, I tabled the game again this past Wednesday for the usual gang of idiots.

When I first cracked open the shipping box I was immediately impressed. For a Kickstarter project, Euphoria looked pretty friggin' slick. Even though the colorful, Art Deco-inspired artwork seemed a tad incongruous I was really intrigued by the game's bleak premise:

"In Euphoria, you lead a team of workers (dice) and recruits (cards) to claim ownership of the dystopian world. You will generate commodities, dig tunnels to infiltrate opposing areas, construct markets, collect artifacts, strengthen allegiances, and fulfill secret agendas.

"Euphoria is a worker-placement game where dice are your workers. The number on each die represents a worker’s knowledge–that is, their level of awareness that they’re in a dystopia. Worker knowledge enables various bonuses and impacts player interaction. If the collective knowledge of all of your workers gets too high, one of them might desert you.

"You also have 2 elite recruit cards at your disposal. One has pledged allegiance to you, but the other needs some convincing. You can reveal and use the reticent recruit by reaching certain milestones in the game…or by letting other players unwittingly reach those milestones for you.

"Your path to victory is paved with the sweat of your workers, the strength of your allegiances, and the tunnels you dig to infiltrate other areas of the world, but the destination is a land grab in the form of area control. You accomplish this by constructing markets that impose harsh restrictions of personal freedoms upon other players, changing the face of the game and opening new paths to victory. You can also focus on gathering artifacts from the old world, objects of leisure that are extremely rare in this utilitarian society. The dystopian elite covet these artifacts—especially matching pairs—and are willing to give you tracts of land in exchange for them.

"Three distinct societies, each of them waiting for you to rewrite history. What are you willing to sacrifice to build a better dystopia?"

Looking to gobble the red pill of reality and reveal all that Matrix-y goodness underneath? To see just how deep the rabbit hole goes, click on the game's full rules right here.


After a several-week hiatus we were all pretty anxious to get back into our regular routine of Wednesday night gaming. While Andrew, Kris, Matt and Mike busied themselves with another diversion, I led four of my compatriots though the motions of building a better dystopia®.



After I did my best to impart some wisdom regarding Recruit selection, Chad began the game with an active Wastelander named Nick the Understudy. This gave him the option to increase Morale whenever he was forced to gain Knowledge, which allowed him to hold onto more Artifact Cards.

Chad wasn't the first player to activate a new Worker, but whenever it happened he had a nasty habit of rolling high and exceeding his Knowledge checks. It certainly didn't help that his Knowledge Chart standing always seemed to be over three. More then once his smartest peon had a sudden epiphany, stripped naked, started screaming "WOOP-WOOP-WOOP!" and then dashed off into the woods. In fact, he only had one active Worker remaining at the end of the game.

By the time Chad set his plebes to the task of procuring Artifact Cards, every available Territory Space in Icarus had already been snapped up by his rivals. Instead he used those cards to fuel several Worker excursions to the Ark of Fractured Memories, placing two of his Authority Tokens in Wastelander Territory.

About around the same time, the Aquifer's Allegiance Progress was nudged up into the third tier, giving Chad the authority to activate his secret Recruit Josiah the Hacker. By placing a Worker on either the Generator, the Farm or the Cloud Mine, Chad could use this dude to earn a Morale kickback while saddling others with explosive levels of Knowledge if they also had serfs in that same space.

Taking note of all the value that Dean, Jeremy and I were wringing out of building construction, Chad also invested in the the Cafeteria of Nameless Meat ("Nummie!") and the notably-grim "Disassemble-A-Teddy-Bear Shop". He was also the first player to confront his Ethical Dilemma Card, opting to rail against the dystopia. This allowed him to introduce Icarite Recruit Lee the Gossip for an eleventh-hour Authority Token play.

Having already played a two-player match-up, I decided to tackle the game with a three-pronged assault:
  1. Get a new Recruit as soon as possible. 
  2. Acquire Artifacts in order to drop Authority Tokens in highly-contested Territories before space runs out.
  3. Invest in as many new Market tiles as possible.
I started the game with Gary the Euphorian Electrician. This turned out to be a solid choice since I had plenty of opportunities to place matching Workers on the Generator and score bonus Energy. Within a few short turns the Progress Token broke into the the first tier on the Generator Allegiance Track, meaning that I could now collect three Energy per placement. As great as this was I wish I'd opted for the Morale increase a few times since I probably would have avoided a game-altering setback later on.

Armed with my quick surplus of Energy I quickly activated a new Worker die. Even though I struggled later on with chronic Knowledge creep I'm proud to say that I didn't lose a single worker all game! The first time I played Euphoria I fell prey to the instinctual habit of taking back all of my dice back from the board, even the ones that were working away on Market Tile constructions sites. This time I was a lot more strategic about my retrieval actions.

Given my hastily-acquired stockpile of Commodities and Resources, I set about acquiring as many Artifact Cards as possible. This allowed me to place the first Authority Star of the game in Icarite Territory. Those precious relics from a bygone era continued to pile up, especially when the Generator Progress Token cracked that second tier, giving me Gold and an Artifact Card every time I sent a worker down into the Euphorian Tunnel. Not long after I dropped another Star in the same Territory.

After an early spurt of Icarus-based activities I activated my second Recruit: Kaden the Infiltrator. In retrospect, this elitist snot wasn't a particularly wise selection since only the Euphorian Tunnel Exclusive Action Space was revealed during the game and it wasn't particularly useful to me. Still, he ended up carrying an Authority Token for me when the Icarite Progress Token hit the top tier of the Allegiance Track.

Just as I was about to place a second Star in Icarus, Jeremy and I both realized that our Morale wasn't high enough to support the number of Artifact Cards that we currently had in hand, which prompted a small flurry of discards. Thwarted my this critical oversight, I decided to side with my dystopia via my Ethical Dilemma Card, earning a super-cheap consolation prize Star as a result.

I then started to parley my ample resources into construction. By the end of the game, I had my finger in every single Market-based pie: the two aforementioned sites as well as the Apothecary of Productive Dreams and the Theater of Revelatory Propaganda. This left me with just one measly Authority Star left to place. I then joined Dean and Jeremy on our fourth Market collaboration, knowing that I'd be able to drop  my tenth and final Token there within a few turns.

Thanks to his starting Recruit, Maggie the Outlaw, Dean spent his first few turns wringing bonus Water and Stone out of the Aquifer. He then set about producing new Workers as quickly as possible. This approach paid off rather nicely for him since he kept his Knowledge tamped down to a manageable level and was also very selective about how many dice he retrieved from the board at a time. By the end of the game he was the only player who was rocking all four Workers.  

Dean then started to spend a lot of his hard-earned resources on the pre-constructed floating Markets of Icarus. This led to a hefty collection of Artifacts, which he then used to patronize the Wind Saloon. As one might expect, Dean quickly tagged the corresponding Territory with two Authority Tokens. Another benefit of this was the early introduction of his second Recruit, Amanda the Broker, who gave him an immediate Star placement as well as more Worker flexibility whenever his dice got Bumped.

Dean then put on his hard hat, rolled up his sleeves and joined Jeremy and I in a spate of Market construction. This also served him well in the long run, since, by the end of the game, he'd helped to build the Theater, the Apothecary, and the Teddy Bear Rip-A-Partery Barn. In fact, the only structure he didn't have a hand in building was the Cafeteria, mainly because Chad "Yoinked!" the last spot away from him right at the last second. The commissary's revealed penalty ("lose an extra Morale whenever you retrieved Workers for free") seemed to irritate him to no ends and he immediately set about earning another regional Star in order to nullify its effects.

For his first game, Jeremy turned in a bravura performance. His starting Recruit, Jefferson the Shock Artist ("Oh my God, where is he putting that banana?!?"), turned out to be a stellar starting selection. By paying Energy instead of Bliss or Food to retrieve his dice, Jeremy had the ability to prop up his Worker Morale whilst keeping them all blissfully ignorant. This was the perfect arrangement since it also allowed him to keep a mittful of Artifact Cards and not risk losing his nosier Workers.

Like Dean and I, Jeremy invested early and heavily in Artifact Cards, which gave him an opportunity to dump two Stars in Icarus whist driving up the Icarite Allegiance Track. Although he also got penalized for harboring one too many Artifact Cards, he managed to rebound by drawing two of a kind at least once, giving him a quicker and more efficient trade. As a result, he gained the initiative on me and sealed up the final Icarite Territory spot. Not long after he snagged some valuable Euphorian real estate by visiting the Incinerator of Historical Accuracy.

As it turned out, Jeremy was also harboring a green Recruit Card. So, when we collectively knocked the bell off of the Icarite Allegiance Track, Jeremy was quick to roll out Maxime the Ambassador who came complete with a shiny purple Star pre-pinned to his puffed-out chest. Although Maxime got him in Morale trouble a few times, Jeremy couldn't resist Bumping many of his rival's Workers off the board in order to drive up their Knowledge and snag some free Artifact Cards. Of all the Icarite Recruits revealed during the game, I'd wager that Maxime was probably the best.

Unlike Dean, Jeremy managed to eke out a piece of the action in every single completed Market. This alone earned him the right to place four Authority Tokens on the board. Towards the end of the game he got a tad sloppy in tamping down his Worker's collective Knowledge, which resulted in a few of his more willful peeps going AWOL. Nevertheless, he managed to re-acquire a total of three dice before the final whistle blew.

And then there's poor Jonathan. He started out promising enough with a Recruit that seemed to scream       "synchonicity": Jonathan the Gambler. Although this guy's power was sort of interesting it was also kinda crap-shooty. Here's exactly what his game text says:

"When you draw an Artifact Card you may draw three instead and gain one Knowledge. If you do, reveal those cards. Keep only matching cards from that draw and discard the rest. You may use this ability once per turn."  

While plumbing the depths of the Euphorian Tunnel, Jonathan had several opportunities to use this power. Unfortunately, every time he tried to use The Gambler's special ability it completely fizzled. In fact, I think it only worked once after five or more attempts and only right at the end of the game.

Which begs the question, if you patronize a spot where you can draw two Artifact Cards, say, at the Breeze Bar for instance, could the Gambler's ability be used to draw six cards in total? I assume this is legal but I'm not a hundred percent sure. Let's face it, folks, there's just enough different items in the Artifact Deck to make drawing two of a kind from three cards pretty improbable.

In addition: two other aspects of this power make it pretty harsh. Namely:
  1. You're forced to gain Knowledge.
  2. If nothing matches then you don't get to keep anything.      
By inflating his Knowledge almost immediately, Jonathan became the first player to have a worker tell him to "cram it with walnuts". Compounding his woes in the HR department, Jeremy got into the habit of bumping Jonathan's dice with Maxime the Ambassador. Every time this happened, Jonathan's Knowledge level went up and his Workers began to commiserate. More then anyone else, Jonathan suffered a brutal amount of dice-related turnover.

Mercifully, when the Progress token crossed into the third level of the Euphorian Allegiance Track, Jonathan was able to table (?) the marginally-less-useless Esme the Fireman. Notwithstanding the fact that she looks a tad young to be fighting backdrafts, Esme gave Jonathan a fighting chance to increase his Morale or decrease his Knowledge whenever his played a Star and had an Artifact to discard. Unfortunately this just didn't happen often enough, but at least Esme took on a Star for him when we reached the apex of the Euphorian Allegiance Track moments later.  

Between his single-minded gambling addiction and his staffing woes, Jonathan quickly fell to the back of the pack. This continued to snowball because he couldn't keep enough building materials on hand to assist the rest of us in Market construction. As you might expect, all of the negative modifiers that came from this completely hobbled his end game as well.

Above and beyond placing Stars on his two Recruits and in Euphorian Territory via the Incinerator of Historical Accuracy, Jonathan ended the game with only two Worker Dice and a hefty backlog of unplaced Authority Tokens.

Even though I only had one Star left to place, I started to get a sinking feeling. Between my Morale oversight and Jeremy's smart Recruit selections and penchant for drawing matching Artifact Cards, I knew that I was in trouble. Indeed, all Jeremy had to do on his next turn was "Serve The Oppressor" on his Ethical Dilemma Card, drop his tenth and final Authority Token and claim the win!


  • The game's production values are exemplary. The sheer number of die-cut wooden Commodities and Resources is just phenomenal. Just take one look at those Miner Meeples and you know they weren't easy to produce! Also the cards, the board, the chits, the Market Tiles, Multiplier Markers and the customized six-sided dice are all of the highest quality.  
  • I liked the game a lot more with five players. When one person claims one of the two Territory Spaces in a two-player game, the impulse is to drop everything you're doing and concentrate on snapping up the last remaining space. Even though there's still only one space per player, having five open slots just feels a lot less restrictive.    
  • The strategy here is ridiculously deep. I had no clue what I was doing in my first game, but after applying what I learned from Game One I actually acquitted myself rather well. In fact, if I maintained my Morale, held onto those Artifacts and captured that last Icarite Territory Space, I think I had a pretty good shot at winning.  
  • As per my example, anyone foolish enough to ignore the Morale and Knowledge charts will be doomed to failure. I love how these tracks contribute to the game's theme, subtly reenforcing all of those "Strength Through Joy" / "Joy Through Labor" World War II-era propaganda posters. 
  • Resources, Commodities, Artifact Cards, Knowledge, Morale and Authority Tokens can be lost or gained from so many different sources (Worker Activation Tanks, Commodity Areas, the Allegiance Tracks, Tunnels, Construction Sites, Artifact Markets and regular Markets) that the game practically begs for strategic experimentation. 
  • Placing just one Worker at a time keeps the game moving at a lively clip. By the time your turn comes back around, you've had more then enough time to ponder your next die placement. Ergo, the game barely suffers from analysis paralysis.    
  • Not only do the Ethical Dilemma Cards contribute to the theme, they also provide a very interesting decision point in the game. If you want to switch gears early, you can "Fight the Establishment" and table a new Recruit. If you want to do a Mortal Kombat-style finishing move, just "Contribute to the Dystopia" to drop your tenth and final Star for the win! 
  • You really need to select Recruits that will dove-tail with your strategy, otherwise they'll end up doing absolutely nothing for you while your opponent's more insightful picks continue to pay dividends. By specializing in a certain faction you can really create some synergy between your chosen Recruit and the Allegiance Track in order to maximize production and reel in even more lucrative rewards. Next time I'll try the Advanced "Recruit Draft" rules which grant players more flexibility and control over their available minions. 
  • The cumulative effect of stacking Workers in the Commodity Areas is nothing short of brilliant. As a side note: you may want to avoid leaving your Workers in these spaces during a Retrieve action otherwise you may inadvertently end up giving your opponents a free lunch!      
  • I love how the pace of the game continues to pick up and then races to a climax.  
  • Rolling dice to determine your Worker's level of awareness is also a pretty cool mechanic. Some people seem to think that the Knowledge Chart *slash* 16 point cut-off is bit too harsh but I don't agree. Remember: you don't have to take all of your dice back and Workers left pounding away at an  under-construction Market are still serving you well.
  • We all thought that the board's graphic design was a bit too busy. Even at the end of the game, people were still struggling to remember where to place Workers in order to score certain resources. Sorry, but I like my dystopias the way I like my women: dark and gritty. I wanted more 1984 and less 1930's Flash Gordon serial. Yes, I know the whole point of the game is to conceal the dark heart beating just underneath that motley facade, but if I'm gonna stare at a game board for several hours I want my dystopia to look like Brazil, not Buck freakin' Rogers. It's my understanding that some copies of the game come with a flip side to the board which is more monochromatic, but mine only has the "riot of color" side. I'd bitch about this but then I remember the old adage: "never look a gift board game in, board."  Yeah, whatever.   
  • While I was playing it didn't seem as if the "follow the leader" tendencies inherent in my first two player game carried over to this one but the session report I just wrote up would seem to indicate otherwise. In many ways, Dean, Jeremy and I ended up doing a lot of the same things. Frankly, if everyone takes a similar path and the winner is determined by a single oversight or whoever gets the luckier Artifact Card draws then this could be problematic. I'll try to pay close attention to this in future games and adjust my rating accordingly if need be. 
  • The game can be a bear to teach to new players and there are a few vagaries in the rulebook, particularly where it relates to exactly where you can place Authority Tokens. As if in response to this deficit, the wonderful denizens of Board Game Geek have stepped up and provided plenty of awesome printable resources, like this one for example.     

We had a lot of fun with Euphoria. Trashy table talk was rampant and people were practically chomping at the bit to whip their next Worker back into the salt mines. Like a good movie, the game started off slow but then built up to frantic crescendo. Over the course of an hour-and-a-half we were faced with plenty of interesting and agonizing decisions that made for a compulsively playable and engaging experience.

I give Euphoria: Build a Better Dystopia five pips outta six, with a sniper-scope tilt up towards those Icarite zeppelins.

Wanna sneak preview of Canada if Stephen Harper gets another term? Click on the following image to buy a copy of Euphoria: Build a Better Dystopia and help this blog fight the good fight!


  1. David, thanks so much for taking the time to play Euphoria and post this review. I'm glad you felt just as comfortable posting the cons as you were the pros--I like blunt, honest reviews, especially when we give a reviewer a free copy. This was a joy to read.

  2. You're welcome, Jamey!

    Thanks for producing a game that's clearly the product of a lot of creative thought and concerted effort.