Euphoria: Ignorance Is Bliss review

What price, knowledge? The attraction of Stonemaier Games’ new games each year is the insanely beautiful artwork and components and the buzz that surrounds each release. Yes, they also have a reputation for needing minor — and sometimes major — revisions after the fact, but tweaks to the gameplay are a given when the games aren’t simple little 30 minute euros, or one hour wonders. Each game generally has interlocking recipes that can get a little haywire if the stove isn’t watched carefully.

Euphoria, one of Stonemaier’s earliest releases from way back in 2013, is one such example. One of my nephews absolutely adores this game; it’s easily his favorite Stonemaier release, while his twin brother says the original left the Icarites area much too powerful for repeated plays.

Where do I fit on the Wavelength scale for Euphoria? We never wrote a formal review of the original game, but color me a fan of the first release, probably because I never realized the strength of those Icarites spaces or needed to figure out how to combat them effectively. But when Stonemaier Games sent out review copies of the Ignorance Is Bliss expansion and promised that it not only provided new content but also improved the original gameplay, I was happy to jump back into this dystopian world.

OVERVIEW:

Euphoria: Ignorance Is Bliss is a 2019 expansion designed by Morten Monrad Pederson (who designs all of the automa — i.e. solo — games for Stonemaier, Nick Shaw and David J. Studley, with art by the always reliable Jaqui Davis (Stockpile).

The expansion adds a few elements, and they are all important:

  1. More card stuff (alternate cards, new recruits);
  2. More table stuff (new artifact market, stickers for the board, bigger resource pieces);
  3. Rules changes (new starting rules, stickers for the board); and
  4. More player counts (Automa for solo and 2p play)

GAMEPLAY:

Bradly from the Gumbo can explain everything you need to know about how the original game played right here, plus a look inside the box of the new expansion:

I’ll grab a cup of Subterran water and wait for you to watch the video…

Hey, you’re back pretty quickly. Great, that saved me a lot of typing. I’ll just give a quick overview.

In Euphoria, up to six players race to put out stars on the board by using their dice based workers to grab resources for their ‘faction’, convert those resources into better stuff (and trade a few bats and teddy bears while doing it), move city workers down tracks, and claim market spaces. Stonemaier Games releases have that “race to do something” mechanic, and it’s worked well for them in Viticulture and Scythe. Euphoria always felt like the median between those two releases — it’s got the worker placement aspects of Viticulture and the “I’m In Your Face, What Are You Going To Do About” player interaction of Scythe.

Let’s talk about what the new expansion brings to this subterran world.

First, Ignorance Is Bliss brings new goodies to your game table. The original market tiles were fun, but there is a whole new set to use. I liken them to the way that the cards in the Rhine Valley or Moor Visitors expansions added depth to Viticulture — the new market tiles are expected to substitute what you have in the base box. That’s because there are also new recruits for you to play, and some of them purposefully have no faction — these factionless recruits are more powerful but don’t have the synergy the faction recruits have. Since you will be collecting and trading a lot of resources, Stonemaier helpfully threw in bigger resource markers that signify five in any category, a nice touch.

Second, the release adds a cool new artifact board to the mix. I hate when games give you a limited market to purchase cards. Euphoria the base game suffers from that aspect, but the new expansion provides a board for trading for artifact cards — the stuff that post-apocalyptical societies didn’t want like eyeglasses and board games (clever touch, there) but in declining costs style a la Concordia. If I really want a card, I can pay extra or just wait for it to slide down. I love that mechanism. And let’s not forget that Stonemaier has provided player boards that allow you to track your own stuff, instead of waving your big paws across the giant game board to track it in the corner. That works for some games, but there’s so much change here that it’s much better to do in on your own cardboard.

Third, the game has a wider range for the play counts. Euphoria, like Viticulture before it, plays up to six players and does it well. Yes, I’ve read and heard other reviewers dog their six player experiences in those games, and it just reminds me that there are some play groups that I should probably decline an invitation if asked. Seriously, I’ve played both games dozens of times with every play count, and have not found any issues with playing the max count. (In fact, I love playing Viticulture with six because it makes the bidding for turn order that much more fun.) But the new additions for Euphoria ensure that a good solo game is included (I’ve tried it and it is well done and easy to use) and also adds an interesting two player variant using the automa rules to simulate more people.

Finally, we get some rules tweaks. Remember when I said one of the twins complained about the “brokenness” of the game? I’m never a fan of saying something is broken (unless I say it in jest on the first play) but I recognize that there are games that have issues with the rules as written. I am not an expert on Euphoria strategy, but the two biggest rule tweaks we saw were (a) players who start with a faction in the minority get a boost at the start of the game, which balances out the fact that the other players will get to the end of the faction track faster; and (b) the starting spot for players’ miners has also changed, to make it easier for lower play counts to reach the end of the mining tracks.

BUT IS IT ANY FUN?

When I review expansions, it’s usally from the perspective of whether you should get it, or even whether it is a NECESSITY to get it. Hey, I wouldn’t be covering an expansion if I didn’t like the game, because life’s too short to write 1500 words about an expansion for a game I hate.

So, you can translate that paragraph into “I like Euphoria”. But what about its expansion?

For me, Ignorance Is Bliss leaps over the line straight into the “necessity” category. There’s just so much to like about what the expansion adds that if you like the base game at all, you will want to add the expanded materials right in. The additional content seamlessly integrates into your base game, and in fact, it comes with some stickers that will change the starting set up of the mines and balance the game out even further than the rest of the materials.

What parts did I really enjoy? I love the new factionless recruits. They feel a little stealthy in my opinion, sneakily more powerful than the rest of the recruits even if they don’t have the synergy of the base recruits. I’ve only gotten a chance to play one of the factionless once, as that has been the luck of the draw, but I’m always hoping I have a choice when the factions are dealt.

The new artifact bazaar is a welcome edition. I never cared for the “flip the card” mechanic in the base game, and the ability to see what’s in the market and pay extra to get what you want is a welcome addition. Every little chance I get to mitigate luck, and every opportunity to feel like I’m in control, makes for a better game experience for me.

Plus, even though these seem like minor tweaks, I appreciate the new starting set up rules. Again, with thousands of plays under players’ belts, and lots of homebrewed suggestions on the BGG forums, the developers of the expansion seem to have taken these suggestions to heart and smoothed out the rough edges of the different starting possibilities. The way that each player drafts cards at the start of the game gives plenty enough variability, so no need to give too much of a benefit to those players who can gang up on one of the factions and speed the the bits to the end of the track. That’s just too much of a head start, and I am glad they saw it and tweaked both the factions and the mining tracks.

The bigger resource bits and player boards (with player aids) are a small but welcome addition. Tracking your own advancement and playing with the wooden bits beats using those 1-2-3 multipliers or reaching across the board anytime. It’s a small addition, but shows again that the developers are paying attention.

Finally, the market tiles are an upgrade, too. I’d like to hear from other players, but it seems that the viciousness of the original market tiles has been sanded away just a bit, just enough that it does not feel as cruelly punishing if you do not join in on building the tile. Sure, there’s still a pretty significant penalty, and yes, you will probably waste a turn or two trying to get back into that building, but at least in our few player it seems like the new tiles are not as draconian as the original tiles. I’d love to hear your experiences in that regard.

CONCLUSION:

As I said earlier, Ignorance Is Bliss to me is a “must have” expansion, especially if you play solo or two players. The Automa deck alone is worth the cost of the release, but the changes to the rules, new bits and bobs, stickers on the board, and factionless cards all are worthy plusses to the base game.

I feel like I have lots more to explore in Euphoria. I am noticing something about myself — games like this, where the dice become workers, and there are consequences for playing them that affect not only me but the other players too, are games that really attract my attention. The fact that Stonemaier saw the issues in the base game, and attempted to put a fresh coat of varnish on the game means that it will stay on the “to play” shelves of most games a little longer.

Until next time, laissez les bon temps rouler!

— BJ

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