Joy and Pain – Euphoria review

Emma returns with another finely crafted review, combining her passion for games with her love of high quality Scandi-pop. Yup, it’s time for her to check out Euphoria!

So this is Euphoria, a game so good it won the Eurovision Song Contest in 2012, despite a) not being a song and b) not coming out until the end of 2013, and that’s calibre you’ve got to respect.

…What? A different Euphoria, you say?

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Well. Anyway.

Despite not actually having any connection to record-breaking Swedish dance-pop, Euphoria: Build a Better Dystopia has done pretty well – launched on Kickstarter by Stonemaier Games following the modest success of their debut ViticultureEuphoria immediately went on to raise eleventy bajillion dollars[citation needed] and force the creators to desperately create new stretch goals until they officially ran out of ways to improve the game. Since actually hitting the market (in a manner of speaking – it’s still massively tricky to actually get your hands on a copy) in December, it’s received glowing reviews all over the internet and pretty much immediately sold out everywhere. But is it any good?

The answer to that, as those of you who listened to the three of us rambling on in the latest podcast (and if you didn’t, maybe go do that?), is ‘yes’. Or, to be more accurate, ‘holy crap yes everybody come play this game with me’. It easily cruised into the hotly contested position of my game of 2013, despite my copy turning up with like a fortnight left of the year, (seriously, I played like ten games of it in that fortnight) and I can’t see myself stopping wanting to play it any time soon.

So anyway, now that I’ve finished fangirling/sucking up to the creators (hi Jamey!), what even is Euphoria? To answer this, I turn to the Laslett Dictionary of StuffTM which reads, “euphoria /juːˈfɔəriə/ n. 1. A state of intense well-being. 2. Winning song of the 2012 Eurovision Song Contest. (See?) 3. Dice-based worker-placement game where players are low-ranking officials in a retro-futuristic dystopia (think 50’s pulp sci-fi) trying to gain enough influence and property with four different factions to become the new leader of the semi-free world.” Wow. Someone needs to talk to their style editors, that’s a really long definition. But yes, Euphoria sees you manipulating your workers (represented by really awesome custom dice) in a bid to gain control of a dystopia inspired by classic pulp sci-fi, and I just want to talk about that theme first. As has been alluded to in my previous reviews, I like games with a decent amount of theme, and Euphoria is loaded with it, and in particular a theme I love, since I grew up on Alfred Bester and Frederik Pohl books. I know I’ve complained before about every other game being either based on zombies or Cthulhu, but if this could be the new fashionable theme after those two are finally exhausted, I would be a very happy person. The aesthetic, both in the quality of the art and the brilliant use of colour (all pinks and golds in the titular kitschly totalitarian city, dull browns and oranges in the poverty-stricken wastelands, blues and gunmental for the underground (literally) resistance, and sleek green and white plastic for the zeppelin-dwelling Icarites) is fantastic, and gets you immersed in the theme as soon as you look at the board. The mechanics of the game also do a wonderful job of conveying theme, as you are in a constant struggle to keep your workers happy but ignorant – as your overall morale rises, so does your hand size, but as your workers’ intelligence (represented by the number on the dies) goes up, they become more productive but more likely to run away from the horrific situation they have discovered. This seems a little hard to keep hold of at first, but within a few turns you too will be cackling evilly as you give your workers all the drugs and electroshock therapy you can get your hands on in order to keep your army of contented, mindless drones.

Around this point, I feel like I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention the components, but I do so at the risk of alienating anybody who got this on the retail market. See, I got the Kickstarter version of the game, which replaces the perfectly serviceable, if fairly standard, wooden cubes and cardboard components of the retail edition with, simply put, the nicest things I’ve ever seen in a Ziploc bag. Sure, these include your usual customised meeples and nicely-tooled wooden versions of the original cardboard token, but the thing everyone notices immediately (and they’re ludicrously fun to play with) are the realistic resource tokens. These replace the gold, brown and grey cubes of the original’s gold, wood and stone resources with grey-painted glass beads, tiny resin housebricks, and gold-plated metal ingots, each individually stamped with the name of the game. And if you don’t think that’s pretty much the coolest thing ever, you’re all kinds of wrong.

Don’t let all this component talk fool you though – sure, it wouldn’t be quite as cool, but I would still play the hell out of the retail version, cardboard or no. Even under all the flashy components, Euphoria is a hell of a game, full of interesting decisions and interactions of mechanics, which flows surprisingly quickly given how complicated the board looks at first glance, that stays tight till the very end – with games being the first to 10 points, I don’t think I’ve had a session that hasn’t had at least two people on 9 fighting it out for the last shred of influence. So if you like worker placement, old-school sci-fi, or just an hour and a half spent fighting your friends over who can produce the biggest idiots, give Euphoria a go. And if you don’t, give it a go anyway, and then go read some Bester when you find out you did after all.

While the Kickstarter versions of Euphoria are no longer available, the retail version is now on general release with copies costing around £50 (if you can find it – Gameslore do it for £45 when they have it in). Designed by Jamey Stegmaier and Alan Stone, it’s a Stonemaier Games production that plays with between two and six in around 90-120 minutes. I’ve also played it and stand by everything Emma’s said here – it’s a great game and thoroughly deserves a few plays!