Jan. 25th, 2014

quarrel: (gaming)

We dug into something crunchier than usual this week: Euphoria. It’s a Euro-style boardgame of — let me know if this shocks you — worker placement and resource management, set in a retro-futuristic post-collapse dystopia.

The turn structure of the game is simple. Each player takes only one move per turn: either assign a free worker to some task or call any number of committed workers back. A task will do some combination of: produce resources for you, raise one faction’s influence level (which may improve some tasks, activate some players’ assistant cards, or give some players victory points), work toward opening a new market, work toward unlocking new tasks, gives you an artifact card, give you a victory point, affect your hand size, or affect your knowledge penalty.

One interesting mechanic is that workers are 6-sided dice, and the pips represent knowledge. A few tasks produce different effects based on worker knowledge, but more importantly, every time your workers come off-duty, you reroll all of them, and if the total knowledge of your unoccupied workers exceeds a certain threshold, some of them leave permanently. This is both thematic, representing them assembling and realizing that the world is in a horrible state, and a balancing factor to keep players with more workers from outpacing ones with fewer.

Another is the markets. Markets are randomized and unknown until built, and each has a penalty (sometimes significant) that applies to everyone who didn’t help build it.

The game is listed as taking 60 minutes, but it took five of us two and a half hours, not counting setup and rules preview. (And the setup is significant; there are close to a dozen different token types.) None of us had played it before. Despite the duration, play went smoothly. We never stalled, and it didn’t feel like we’d played that long. Simple turns, clear iconography, and a lack of hidden information make it easy to plan your next move while others are playing.

Like many other rules, scoring is mechanically simple: everyone begins with 10 VP markers, and whoever places all of them first wins. Scoring was tight all game. No one ever felt or looked hopelessly behind, and until the top scores approached the 8-9 range, there was never a gap of more than 1 point between any two players. The final scores were something like 10, 8, 8, 7, and 7. I’ve since read comments criticizing this feature of the game, but response to it last night was positive, and we considered it a better design than many other eurogames where suboptimal play in the first few turns can permanently place you in an irredeemably unwinnable position.

It wasn’t a flawless game. Market penalties vary noticeably in severity, and there is likewise a large variance in the strength of assistant cards — both bad features for cards that come out randomly and all have equivalent costs. Also, a player who rolls duplicates on his workers can place all of them in a single turn, which felt like too strong a random benefit (although the one player who rolled duplicates significantly more often than average didn’t noticeably outperform the rest of us).

After this brain-consuming exercise, we cleaned our palates on Zombie Dice. It’s a lightweight push-your-luck game about consuming brains. On your turn, you pick three random people dice from a central pool, roll them, and set aside any that show a brain or a shotgun blast. If you’ve accumulated three blasts, your turn ends and you score no points, otherwise you can choose either to eat the brains you’ve got and end your turn or refill your hand up to three dice and roll again. First player to eat thirteen brains wins. As an added wrinkle to keep decisions from being too predictable, some dice are high in brains, others are high in shotguns, and they’re all color-coded.

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