Euphoria

Euphoria

I just noticed the picture on the box front has plebes rolling walking-wheels around like little hamsters. Whether or not it’s an allusion to the dice you roll as your workers or not, I’m taking it as such. Well done.

Euphoria is a worker placement game where your dice are your workers and your soul is a liability. Workers are rolled and then placed with one of the factions (Euphorian, Subterran, Wastelander, or Icarite); if you roll doubles, those dice can be placed on the same turn. You start with two dice and can get up to four. That’s pretty normal for worker placement games. What’s less normal is the fact you can lose those workers, and especially how—if they get too smart, they might run away.

The basic breakdown is this: Euphorians make energy, Subterrans make water, Wastelanders make Food, and Icarites make all the drugs. The first three groups are stationed on the ground, and can construct buildings (contributing your workers and resources to these buildings let you earn points and avoid their negative effects immediately). The Icarites are in the sky and do things totally differently, because hey man, that’s what they do, and it’s cool man, it’s so cool, get blissed out man. You can take resources from the factions, and what you get depends on the total of the dice in that area (yours and others). If there are enough, you can get an extra of their main resource, but your workers get smarter.

With regards to worker smarts: When you pull dice off the board and roll them, if they total sixteen or more, you lose one. At the start of the game, that’s impossible. However, if you roll three or more dice, it becomes possible, and if the intelligence of your workers has risen too far, it’s possible to lose one even when you just roll two dice. Fortunately, when you remove workers, you choose how many to take off; unfortunately, those you leave on can often be bumped out of their spots by opposing workers. Since you always roll all available dice together, this can leave you rolling a risky number of dice (3+) even when your plan involved rolling a safe number (two or less).

It’s a neat tactic, a way to create strategic play against opponents without a mechanism of direct conflict (appropriate dystopian theme). In fact, much of the game involves playing “with” opponents while still trying to beat them. You nearly always team up with others to make buildings, construct tunnels, and push the power of each faction ahead so you earn more resources and get access to your backup recruit (assistant character). There’s almost never a reason to cut deals with people, but you have to be aware of what they’re doing and figure out how to turn it to your advantage, such as finding locations other people will need and getting a worker there first so they bump it off the board and you get to reroll it for free (rather than paying in food or morale to take it off the board).

However, this aspect also leads to the main downside. You largely have to go along to get along in this game. If you refuse to help make buildings, other players will, and you’ll be left with repercussions and no points. If you don’t work to improve the power of the faction your main recruit (and later the secondary) belongs to, other players eventually might, but there’s value in pumping it up sooner rather than later, especially if someone else is helping. Winning is a matter of working with people while finding edges before they do.

The issue is this: working together is necessary enough that people whose recruits don’t belong to the same faction as anyone else’s are at a disadvantage against multiple players whose recruits do faction-match. The game is relatively good at not letting anyone really snowball out of control, but being part of the group activities is so important that if you’re shut out by unfortunate turn order (e.g. buildings keep going from zero to built before you get a turn, or you get one turn but don’t have a worker/necessary resource), or you have to put all the work into raising up one faction while other players can split the effort, you end up falling behind for reasons you had little control over.

Once you play a few games, you start to see the time to go for buildings, which buildings might get people on board sooner, etc., which helps. The recruit faction issue is always potentially present, and while it should be less of an issue in larger games, if you find yourself the only representative of a faction despite having six players, it hurts even more.

Euphoria is pretty good, but it’s not good throughout the 2-6 player range. Board Game Geek suggests 4-5; I don’t know how it plays on the lower end of the spectrum, but I agree that six players seems to throw the game out of whack.

3.4 out of 5 stars (3.4 / 5)
Bruges

Bruges

The thing about games set in places like fifteenth-century Belgium is that they glorify these beacons of the medieval era without acknowledging all the f’d up places that people had to poop.

Bruges is a decently heavy strategy game based on two of the most random pieces of game design—dice and cards. At a glance, it’s like, “Hey, game! Why you do this? This no good!” But it works out.

Let me explain.

The thing to understand about Bruges is that its strategy is not nearly as much of the plan-ahead variety as it is of the react-to-circumstances variety. You start each round with five cards, drawing (usually) four and having one left over from the previous round. You don’t know what the cards are, but you do know their color from the back. There are five colors and five dice (one of each color). Each card has a person on it, but the people are frequently irrelevant. Not only is this OK, it’s actually quite a good thing—since most of the cards you draw will only be used for their color, you can wait until you find people you really need to fill the houses you build, which dramatically lessons how luck of the draw affects you.

Furthermore, a big chunk of the strategy is dependent on having sufficient cash, which itself depends on the dice. Although some cards earn you money (and if you can get a good money-making engine going, it’s often worth the effort), quite frequently you’ll discard a card for some coins. The money you receive depends on the number on the die. There’s more luck involved here—dice are rolled after cards are drawn, so you don’t know what will be worth the most—but even so, there are enough action options that you can generally wait until cards are worth the most (five or six coins each) before using them for cash. Get some workers, build some canals with the cash you already have, build some houses for the new folk… if you have to take one or two coins with a card, it’s rare that bad luck truly left you with no other option. It’s much more common for it to happen to someone who takes a risk that doesn’t pan out.

Mostly the complexity of Bruges revolves around how to get the points you need to win. Spend your money on reputation? If there are some cheap hits early, it’s a good plan, but you might price yourself into getting the higher levels of rep when you need the money for other things. Hire high-VP people? That’s straight cash, homie. Build canals? That’s a lot of cash too. Build majorities? Not so hard early if you focus it, since you only need to have the majority in people, canal sections built, or reputation points once during the game. But if you have to catch up, or if you’re trying to stay ahead to deny one or more opponents a chance at those points, it can get pricey. Given how clear most of the point options are to your opponents, it’s often finding synergy among the point bonuses some people hand out that can be the difference, which means getting those synergistic hires and then finding more people who work with them. There are a lot of options, but that goes further still towards reducing the luck factor.

Bruges is out of print right now, but if you get a chance to play it—or better yet, find it cheap at a garage or estate sale—go for it. Very much worth the time for the hour-long strategy game fan.

4.3 out of 5 stars (4.3 / 5)


Lost Cities

Lost Cities

I don’t know why I always assume games with the ‘South American explorer’ vibe revolve around Mayans. The Incas were pretty legit.

Screw the Aztecs, though. Stupid Eagle Warriors.

Wait, which game are we playing?

Lost Cities is a Reiner Knizia game, which is good! Reiner makes good games! So Lost Cities is… it must be…

Ok, look. This is a 2008 reprint of a 1999 game. Less was expected of the industry back then. It’s useful to go back and look at games like this so we see where our hobby came from while also looking towards where it’s going.

So.

In Lost Cities, you have five explorers and five tracks for them to go down. Each track has a randomized set of bonuses on certain spaces, and are worth a certain number of points at the end of the round depending on how far your explorer moves. There’s also a huge deck of cards, with cards numbered zero through ten and corresponding to the color of one of the tracks. If you want to put an explorer on a track, you play a card of that color. Easy.

However, if you want to move the explorer further along, you have to play a card of the same value or higher. Therefore, in order to move the explorer a decent distance (hopefully all the way to the end), you need to start with low value cards and work your way up as slowly as you can. You can discard a card and draw a new one rather than play a trash card; however, you can’t take too long, because as soon as a certain number of total explorers reach the break line on their tracks, the round ends, and explorers who haven’t moved very far are actually worth negative points.

The points get kind of stratospheric, which is neat—many games don’t go above fifty, and most don’t go above one hundred. If you’re not getting triple digits in a single Lost Cities round, that wasn’t a very good round.

But there’s not much strategy here. As the round draws nearer to a close, you may need to decide whether it’s worth the risk to start an explorer down a new trail when they could be worth negative points. It can be a consequential choice, but it’s about the only intellectual decision you’ll need to make. If you can go down a track and you have a low card, you play the card and go down the track. If you can hit bonuses that give you extra moves, you link them together as best you can. Maybe you play a 2 on one track rather than a 0 on another because you like the bonuses on that first track more, but you still have the 0 and you’ll still play it pretty soon.

I imagine that people looking for games that weren’t Twilight Imperium-sized but more friendly than Monopoly and less mindless than Chutes & Ladders were probably happy with this in 1999. Today, it’s quite possibly a good tool for teaching game basics to kids. Beyond that, it’s just a casual game that can kill an hour. Don’t avoid it like the plague, but it’s not much more than a thrift store purchase.

3 out of 5 stars (3 / 5)

Lords of Xidit

Lords of Xidit

The fantasy land of Xidit cries out for a champion, a leader that will save it from the terrible monsters which traverse the realm! Someone noble, someone grand of vision, someone who will conscript farmers to the cause before actual trained warriors!

 

In Lords of Xidit, you play the role of an army commander who is identical to all other commanders except for how sweet they look (hell yeah, ninja lady). It’s a programming game in the vein of Robo Rally; you select six actions, your commander does each of them in turn, and if someone ninjas in to take whatever you wanted to get, well, too bad. At least you can’t drop into a bottomless pit.

 

The possible actions are few, but they’re enough. Each location has three roads leading away from it: blue, red, and black. If you choose one of those roads as your action, you travel that road from whatever location you’re in, whether you want to anymore or not. You can conscript the lowest-level unit type available in the location, assuming it’s a city; once all the possible conscripts are gone, this action does nothing. You can also do battle with a monster in a location. Or pass the move, if you think a delay will get you what you want.

 

Each monster requires a specific set of unit types to defeat it. You cannot use higher-level unit types in place of whatever’s necessary. Beating monsters earns you two of three possible rewards: lyre points, towers, or gold. There’s a different balance of these rewards on each monster, such that most of them have a pretty obvious ‘two best’ rewards, but in some cases you can’t choose those (most likely because someone has a tower built in that location, forcing you to take the other two rewards). One curious mechanic is that tiles have a monster on one side and a city in the other, which means when a city runs out of conscripts, it flips into the monster pile, to be drawn when you run low on monsters, and so on forever. (There are titans you can fight in any location, with any set of troops, if no monsters are available to be drawn.)

 

That’s all of the mechanics. Your goal is to score the most points in… well… it changes. And it’s not exactly the most points.

 

The win condition is intriguing but takes a bit of getting used to. There are three ways of scoring, based on the aforementioned monster-smash rewards: lyre points (gained from having the most lyre tokens in a territory), the most levels of towers (height is irrelevant; nine one-story towers is better than two four-stories), and straight cash. These scoring methods are chosen randomly at the start of the game into the first, second, and third scoring slots.

 

Scoring for each of these is straightforward—count the appropriate item. How they apply to winning, however, is pretty different from most games. For the first scoring metric, being first does not matter; you only need to be in the top three. (In a three player game, an NPC gains points in each metric slowly as the game progresses so there’s someone to eliminate in the first round.) For the second metric, you need to be in the top two. Having the highest score only matters with regards to the final metric, and you only need to beat the other person who has made it that far.

 

Since gold is hidden, and lyre points in the center are as well (they go into a strongbox), each game plays different in part around how readily available information is on the first two metrics. A game that counts towers first, where all info is open, plays differently than one where gold is first and everyone’s just taking their best guess.

 

So, there are two main aspects to the game outside of the theme that will determine if you like it: the programming gameplay and the shifting win conditions. Programming requires some forethought, but if everyone is experienced, the “I know what you know, but you know that I know what you know” shenanigans can run deep. If you’re into that, it’s great. Likewise, some people are more comfortable going into a game knowing what their goal will be, and even those who are fine with a shifting win condition may struggle with some setups (ie. gold -> lyres -> towers) while excelling with others (towers -> gold -> lyres). It’s a real challenge to be good at the game no matter the set of win conditions.

 

Short version: Lords of Xidit a game that’s hard to broadly recommend, as there are a lot of speed bumps any given player may not like, but it’s very good for the people who would enjoy the game that it is.

 

4 out of 5 stars (4 / 5)

Metropolys

Metropolys

Metropolys brings an old-school, semi-steampunk look to a tower placement game, which is like worker placement except with towers.

This is high-level analysis, folks. Feel the rush.

The city board is split up into several districts, each of which has a various number of smaller sections. Each player has a set of towers numbered one through fifteen. Players can hide the numbers of their remaining towers, but they’re in three sizes according to value (1-5, 6-10, 11-15), so opponents can always get at least a rough idea of what you have remaining. This is probably the most interesting aspect of the game, the way they’ve made what is effectively card-counting something you can use to get an edge but also a manageable task.

The first player chooses one of the small sections of the city and places a tower on it. From there, play continues with players either placing a higher number tower on an adjacent spot or passing, until all but one player has passed or no one else can make a legal play (this includes not having a space on which to play another tower because all adjacent ones have been taken). On all subsequent turns, the player who chooses the section is the one who won the previous auction.

Different tokens are placed on the city sections as bonuses or, in the case of one token type, penalties. Forcing players away from (or towards) these tokens is useful, although the secret objective each player gets may make them perfectly willing to absorb a small penalty in order to win a bigger bonus at the end of the game.

The main strategy of the game is figuring out which sections you want to target and how to ensure you get them. If you need to chain sections along a lake for your secret objective, there’s a section in the middle of the board where it might be worth dropping your biggest towers early because there are two lakes touching the same areas, so you’ll get double the bonuses. If you wait and try to finagle your way into them without committing as many resources, there’s an excellent chance you’ll lose them; should it work, however, you could end up with a major advantage. Likewise, cornering areas so you can take them with your smallest tower (by making sure there are no free adjacent areas) is a big part of winning.

As a game, it’s… fine. It’s adequate. You’ll probably play, finish, and say, “Yeah, that was alright.” It’s the type of game more likely to sway you after your first run based on how you finished, because it’s not so bad that you’ll feel like it was a waste of time even if you win, and it’s not so good that you’ll be dying to try again even if you get smashed.

Of course, it’s not my place to say how you’ll feel. That’s rude. I’m running on probabilities. This is an older game, so telling you to find a friend with it isn’t a suggestion to save your money; it may be the only way to see it. It used to be playable online, but that’s apparently no longer the case. It’s worth one playthrough, at the very least. You might adore the game. Just don’t set your expectations excessively high.

Score: The most mundane 7/10.

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