Euphoria: Build a Better Worker Placement
It might surprise you to learn that I’m a huge fan of dystopian fiction. Or it might not, who knows. Maybe it’s such a critical component of my being that it bleeds into the open, and upon our first meeting, a stranger will instantly feel the tug of intuition whispering, “This guy likes dystopian fiction.”
Regardless, it was the subtitle of Euphoria: Build a Better Dystopia that first drew my attention, because I would love very much to do that. Yes indeed. For pretend, of course. Ahem.
In the distant and dismal future, you happily inhabit a “utopia” by the name of Euphoria. At some point, however, you begin to figure out that perhaps your society isn’t as wonderful as you’ve been taught to believe. For one thing, although spending hours in a hamster wheel generating the city’s electricity is loads of fun, you discover that there are other societies beyond the immense wall that separates Euphoria from the irradiated wilderness. Just outside the walls, Wastelanders toil in the dirt to grow food. Beneath your feet, the city of Subterra stockpiles water. And above you in the sky, the Icarites peddle their worker-numbing drugs from their hot green semi-rigid airships. Armed with this knowledge, you set out to reforge your society to to build a better dystopia — though “better” might hold different meanings, whether a friendlier government or just a more effective one is up to you. You wouldn’t want anyone else figuring out the existence of other cultures, after all.
And you’ll do this by placing workers.
Yep. As in games like Stone Age and Lords of Waterdeep, you’ll seize control of your dystopia by sending workers to the far reaches of these four societies, gathering commodities, resources, artifacts, and followers. With some clever assignments, the right plans, and a dash of luck, you’ll forge a better dystopia!
Okay, so the story is kind of goofy. It’s more 12 Monkeys than 1984 — though that’s totally fine, and not only because 12 Monkeys is one of my favorite films. This isn’t the torture-Winston-in-Room-101 simulator the sadists were hoping for, and thank goodness for that. Instead, it’s a solid worker placement game with a colorful theme pasted over the top and a few cool ideas up its sleeve.
At first glance, the board is busy. More than busy. It’s like staring into a rainbow circuit board buffet, and if that sounds confusing, it’s supposed to. You’ve got four complete cultures, each with their own commodity centers, markets waiting to be built, tunnels in need of excavation, and special shops. There are additional tracks to account for morale and knowledge. Buying workers. Re-acquiring workers. Faction loyalty. It’s a lot to take in.
So we’ll start at the end. The goal of Euphoria is to be the first to place all ten of your “authority stars,” representing your control over the various societies of this apocalyptic future. The problem is, placing them is never as easy as you’d hope.
For instance, you might work with the markets. Each society has a pair waiting to be built, things like the Stadium of Guaranteed Home Runs or the Cafeteria of Nameless Meat. You can’t be sure which markets will appear or where, because they’re flipped face down until they’re built. Which of course means you need building materials like stone, clay, and gold, and getting those requires commodities like water and energy, and you’ll have to pay attention to the food and drug needs of your workers to keep them motivated, and perhaps force new recruits to join your cause with electroshock therapy or a blast of water, and… let’s just say the path from Point A to Point Victory isn’t always a straight line, and it takes about half a game to really see how the economy works. Nobody said life in a dystopia would be easy. And I mean nobody said that.
Suffice it to say, everyone who helps build a market gets a star. Hooray for you! Also, anyone who didn’t contribute incurs a penalty, so hooray again! For example, if you didn’t help erect the Arena of Peaceful Conflict, now you can’t place more than a single worker in each commodity area, making it that much harder to collect all the fruit you need to keep your workers happy.
Once a market is up, you can use it to place more stars into that society’s little star receptacle area. So the Disassemble-a-Teddy-Bear Shop will let you place a star whenever you get rid of a Teddy Bear artifact (plus an extra commodity of your choosing, just to keep it from being too easy). Simple, huh?
Okay, so it isn’t exactly simple. It really does take a game or two before that ah-ha moment makes you realize how all the moving parts work together, but once it does it’s a thing of beauty. If you want a picture, imagine a boot stamping on its competition’s face. Forever. Which is a self-indulgent way of saying that there’s a lot more going on than in your average worker placement game.
Another way to place your authority stars highlights some of Euphoria’s best mechanics. See, each player has a pair of recruits who align with one of the game’s four factions and bring a host of benefits. Beginning with an Icarite recruit will give you some sort of bonus — like Gidget the Hypnotist, who lets you use doses of bliss to decrease your workers’ knowledge, which is a very good thing, as we’ll see in a moment. These recruits also let you curry favor with their faction over time, so that Icarite would let you harvest extra bliss, but a Subterran recruit would help you stockpile more water and more effectively work in the Subterran tunnels, which they’re digging to steal fruit from the Wastelanders. Enough favor with a faction will let you place a star on that faction’s recruits, so working to create special relationships is a good idea. So long as you don’t neglect all the other markets, commodities, and artifacts that are laying around for the taking.
Each player also has an “ethical dilemma,” which they can either use to place a star immediately or to gain a third recruit, who will probably yield a star later on. I haven’t seen anyone bother using their dilemma to gain the star, but maybe my group is composed of a bunch of softies, since the star-giving option is universally the “meaner” of the two. Either way, it’s just one more gear in the middle of this clockwork of options.
Perhaps most interestingly, each of your workers is represented by a die, and when you pull them off the board, you roll to determine whether they’ve gained too much knowledge. Having extra workers means they have a higher chance of collating their findings, so you’re engaged in a constant tug-of-war: recruit more and risk some workers abandoning you, or work with fewer and ignore the knowledge track altogether? It’s an interesting dichotomy, one of Euphoria’s many.
Euphoria: Build a Better Dystopia is one of the better “pure” worker placement games I’ve played — by which I mean I’m not counting hybrid stuff like Archipelago, City of Remnants, or Legacy: The Testament of Duke de Crecy, all of which use simple worker placement as the foundation for very different types of games. Instead, Euphoria is worker placement through and through, though with so many twists that it’s hardly recognizable at first. In place of the boring (and instantly comprehensible) resources of other games of its ilk, it has its own unique economy where the drugs that placate your workers are every bit as helpful as the food you use to feed them. Instead of letting you block locations, only removing your pieces during an end-of-round bookkeeping phase, the game is constantly moving, and you’re free to “bump” your opposition’s workers off of spaces — though of course, then you’ve just saved them the time they would have spent opting to pick up that worker, and made it less likely that their worker would generate enough knowledge to run away. Tradeoffs: Euphoria’s got ’em.
All in all, it’s a fascinating experience, with a theme as colorful as its board, loads of options to exploit or ignore, and dudes dangling from zeppelins.