Euphoria: War is peace, Freedom is slavery, Worker oppression is victory

Brutus Rating: 3/10 daggers in the back
Pairs well with: A high dose of soma and a full complement of your water rations, you lucky worker, you! 

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Euphoria represents the misery farmers’ first expedition into the exciting world of Kickstarting board games, and it’s pretty clear why this board game was so successful at getting funded. Dystopian theme? Say no more, we’re sold. Fetch the people-zapper and the keys to The Courthouse of Hasty Judgment, it’s time to oppress some workers. Or ‘liberate’ them or something (we need to work on our spin, guys).

Before we dive in head-first to a review, allow us five minutes of just drooling over these gold bricks:

Oh yeah. Check out this fancy business.
Oh yeah. Check out this fancy business.

Having the beautiful Kickstarter edition of the game has definitely proved to be a good idea. It gets us these super-neat, extra-nice resources, amongst other things. The gold bricks are really shiny, and satisfyingly weighty! For a while when our friends came over we would literally just drag them over to the board game cupboard to show them how nice the pieces were. Our fellow board-gaming friends, that is, obviously not our normal friends. Board games? What? Us? Nah! Let’s all uh, grab a beer and watch a sport, woo!

In a move which makes you think “why didn’t I think of this first and make my millions this way?”, the game designers also sell these and a bunch of other neat-looking resources separately to spruce up some of your board game collection. They know their audience, and it’s people who are fascinated by weighty gold bricks. (Us!)

Hubba hubba
Hubba hubba

Right! Enough showing-off about the really nice game pieces. Wait …

(That's not actually where they go, we just kind of stacked them there while we were fiddling)
(That’s not actually where they go, we just kind of stacked them there while we were fiddling)

…ok, now that’s enough guys.

Lizzy:  Hey guys, do I look more dystopian with a mask?
Lizzy: Hey guys, do I look more dystopian with a mask?

Whatever level of the game you buy, Euphoria has some really alluring qualities. Mostly, of course, there’s the theme, which is both inspired and well-executed. Also let’s face it, when you’re trying to convince your novice game buddies that board games really are super-cool and that they should totally play with you then you’re more likely to have some luck with “this really cool dystopian-themed worker placement game, in which you oppress your workers and can’t let them get too smart or they’ll realise what you’re doing them and escape” than “this worker placement game in which you … run a farm! Yeah no really guys, farming board games are great fun, I have like six… hey, where are you going? Guys?”

Apples or goldfish?
Apples or goldfish?

I mean, it’s not that a lot of people aren’t going to love that kind of thing, it’s just that those aren’t really the people who you need to put effort in to lure into the board gaming world. Those are the kinds of friends who are already excited to queue for the latest Uwe Rosenberg game with you or the ones who keep trying to trick you into playing 1853 again. (EIGHT HOURS! EIGHT. SODDING. HOURS. We love an eight hour game in principle but waiting twenty minutes between turns is… aaaaah!)

Workers are a-workin'
Workers are a-workin’

So yeah, Euphoria’s theme will make it stand out from some of your other games.  The afore-mentioned feature of worker intelligence being bad for you is a particularly good expression of it. Your workers are dice, and the number on the dice will have some limited effect on how you can use that worker. The general idea is that a six is pretty canny but a one is quite a few apples short of a wasteland farm. Your overall worker intelligence is tracked elsewhere on the board by numbers 1-6, and if you’re retrieving all your workers and roll their total (plus that number) to be higher than 16? Uh oh! Your workers have been colluding! THAT SMART ONE IS ESCAPING! THEY’VE LEARNED TO THINK FOR THEMSELVES! GET THE ZAPPER!

6D-37-137In real (game) terms this means you get one less worker and one unhappy Lizzy, who has only just saved up enough lightning bolts to zap that worker into activation in the first place! Who let all these workers at the books? Don’t they know that freedom lies in slavery?

Another way in which the game beautifully manifests its theme is the randomized set of buildings that you’ll be able to construct. It’s amazing how much more fun you can have building ‘The Center for Reduced Literacy’ or ‘The Free Press of Harsh Reality’ rather than just ‘another flipping corn farm’. The same goes for your recruits (different from your workers), with names such as Curtis the Propagandist, Julia the Thought Inspector and Jefferson the Shock Artist.

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The two PhD students studying ethics at the table question the 'ethical dilemma' description of the ethical dilemma cards.
The two PhD students studying ethics at the table question the ‘ethical dilemma’ description of the ethical dilemma cards.

Victory in the game is earned by getting rid of all ten of your star tokens and spreading your delicious influence all across the metaphorical dystopian toast. (Dys…toastpia? Or is that spreading it a bit thin?) This can be done a number of ways including building these exciting buildings, playing your ‘ethical dilemma’ cards a certain way (“ ‘Help a friend escape or turn in a friend?’ I don’t think this game understands what an ethical dilemma is”) and just generally spurting your workers and resources at the sections of the board which have a nice handy star on them.

The different range of options for your workers can be a little overwhelming at first, particularly for newer players, and it can take a while to get the hang of what it is you’re supposed to be doing. There are four areas of the dystopia and most of them are fairly symmetrical but with different resources (except the bloody Icarites, they do whatever the shit they like. LET’S MINE A CLOUD FOR HAPPINESS!)

Cloud-mining
Cloud-mining

Basically you want to vacuum up some regular resources and then pump them up into being relics or bigger, shinier resources, both of which you can then end up splashing on some delicious victory star-spurting. It’s not a game with a lot of different paths to victory, so it doesn’t have that same rush of different possibilities opening up in front of you like other games can, but it’s still good.

It’s also mildly difficult at times to keep track of all of the things you’re supposed to be keeping track of:

“Oh, balls! Wasn’t I supposed to be paying some penalty every time I roll a one now because I didn’t contribute to building that diss-assemble a teddy bear factory?”
“Err, how long have I had four cards in my hand? My workers’ morale is far too low for this… you saw nothing, guys.”
“DAMMIT GUYS WHEN WAS THE LAST TIME WE REMEMBERED TO LOSE MORALE FOR RETRIEVING WORKERS?”

Although we’re not necessarily saying that this is a criticism of the game rather than just a criticism of our own competence.

“Why do my workers hate me?”

One more neat and unusual point of the game is the aforementioned worker retrieval method, which differs from most other worker-placements. There’s no set ‘end of a round’ where everyone scoops back their dice at the same time. Instead, you can choose to lower your worker’s morale (morale, unlike intelligence, is something you actually want your workers to have) or pay a penalty to increase it, and then retrieve as many of your dice as you like on your turn. It makes the turns more fluid than a trip to the Subterran Aquifer.

6D-37-147The game earns a ‘brutus rating’ of 3/10, because there’s not too much in the way of screwing over of the other players, which can be refreshing, particularly if you’re playing with us. Having said that, there’s still a little space to gang up on someone *cough Lizzy cough* by all building a shiny building without her, meaning she has to suffer some penalties for a while until she fixes it.

In today’s adventure Dr Photographer won the game. About time too, probably. Lizzy was stunted pretty early on by some damn smart workers, and the other participants just couldn’t wrangle enough shiny things.

The real winner is oppression. DOWN WITH THE PEOPLE! Ahem.

Dr Photographer getting a bit carried away with the dystopian theme there
Dr Photographer getting a bit carried away with the dystopian theme there

Credit to our fellow oppressor Dr Photographer for the photos!

Sanssouci: Aristocratic Meeples and Fancy Gardens

By Bob and Lizzy

Dicks in ears: 2/10
Pairs well with: Tiny glasses of sherry or gin, fine wines, BBC radio 3’s evening concert.

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 Here’s a weird little story for you. For a year I lived in Germany, in a hideous Soviet-style concrete block on the edge of a beautiful eighteenth-century baroque palace and gardens. Built as a summer house in the style of the palace of Versailles by Frederick the Great, the villa is a sprawling arrangement of Roman baths, fountains, and glorified sheds covered in filigree. As a further nod to the Frenchness that was sadly popular at the time, the palace’s name, Sanssouci, translates as ‘no worries’.

6D-31- 247Depressed, bored, and fat from a diet consisting predominantly of German pastries, I spent a lot of time strolling around the gardens so I’ll give you a run-down of the highlights. Firstly, the Chinese House. It’s a little bandstand thing covered in statues of the most Western-looking Chinese people you’ve ever seen in your life. Pretty much second only to the Brighton Pavilion in terms of shameless, state-preserved Orientalism. Secondly, Frederick the Great’s grave (and the surrounding graves, which belong to his dogs). Germans absolutely love Freddy, he’s the dude who introduced the exotic potato to the Mutterland (which for Germans is a Big Deal). Initially the locals ate the plant instead of the root and subsequently6D-31- 241 died, but they soon got over that little hiccup and came to develop the delicate stodge-based Prussian cuisine we all enjoy today. They leave potatoes on Fred’s grave instead of flowers. Finally, the mosquitoes. Now I am a fairly well-travelled lady, hell I grew up in Africa; the sight of inch-long blood-engorged mozzies will barely raise an eyebrow. But these things. These fucking things. See, Frederick the Great, in a hilarious Pythonesque twist of history, built his bloody palace on a bloody swamp. The local mosquitoes are tiny and utterly vicious, to the extent that I could barely walk after one particularly ill-advised spring day spent wearing a skirt in the park,* and spent many a summer evening McGuyvering flame throwers out of aerosol deodorants.

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ANYWAY, to make a short story unnecessarily long, the moment I saw a game called Sanssouci in a discount pile at this year’s Essen it precipitated such a flood of nostalgia that I knew I had to have it. The blurb, entirely in German and describing a garden-building tile-placement game, did not put me off. Would I like to compete to create beautiful flower beds, scented herbaceous borders, and cooling fountains for aristocrats to enjoy? Hell fucking yeah I would.

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The instructions were also in German, and it became a point of pride for me to be able to understand and play the game without looking up the translation. As a result the first game, played some time later with Lizzy over tiny 6D-31- 243aristocratic glasses of  sherry (naturally), was a little… bumpy. We muddled through fairly successfully in the end, thanks to the game’s copiousillustrated rules examples, and Lizzy’s understanding of how a game should work. (“Bob! Do you think maybe the different sets of coloured cards might be for different players? Wouldn’t that be a neat idea Bob?”) Later, I looked up an English translation and you’ll all be pleased to know I got it mostly almost right. Undergraduate degree totally not wasted.

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Ugh. The rabble.

The game is Tokaido-esque in its chilled-outness, if not nearly as pretty. It does have adorable aristocratic meeples with tiny aristocratic meeple hats, which is a point in its favour, and it’s almost as simple as Tokaido. Each player has an empty garden grid in front of them, and in a turn will play a card and pick a tile to place in their garden. One of their noble meeples may then go for a lovely little walk around the garden to score points. Gardens gain points for their size (longer walks for the aristocrats) as well as their layout (you have a full set of pavilions? Spectacular). If you are unable to play a garden feature tile you may play a gardener tile. These do not contribute to your garden, but may bridge two garden tiles. This means that an aristocrat can walk across a gardener tile to reach the inviting vineyard tile that lies beyond. One cannot stay on a gardener tile because, let’s face it, the land workers are plebs and not to be associated with.

We’ve decided to give the game a two-dicks-in-ear rating because you need to pick up your 6D-31- 221gardening tiles from a communal tile-pool. Particularly savvy estate-managers can get a feel for what others are trying to collect and nab the exact water-fountain they need right before they get the chance. Of course, it’s far more likely that most dickery will be accidental and you will unwittingly and unjustly incur Bob’s wrath for the rest of the game anyway, through no fault of your own. I just wanted to extend my vineyard, is that too much to ask?

This game has some good roleplaying potential, particularly to the extent that you enjoy6D-31- 232
pretending to be snobby aristocrats. One recommends pretending to talk to the other aristocrats as you walk you meeples through the garden and sip on your generous helpings of sherry. “Lady Snobbington! I didn’t expect to see you here by the shrubberies today. Have you seen the new bandstand? Splendid isn’t it. *shlurp*”

It’s a fun little game, with decent replayability thanks to its included expansions. I also found it quite absorbing, as the garden grids approximately match the Orangerie garden layout at Sanssouci. If you like your games particularly action-packed or combative then I’d give it a miss though. It’s more like a programme of rehabilitation for combat game addicts, who need to be supervised with the secateurs when they’re trimming the ornamental rose bushes in case they get twitchy.

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*This episode even caused horrible bullseye-shaped rashes to appear on my legs. The local German docs were less than sympathetic to my panicked enquiry regarding Lyme disease, and told me to stop being an idiot and wear trousers next time.