Friedemann Friese ('FF') is both a prolific and versatile game designer and has produced such diverse offerings as Friday (2F-Spiele), the single-play deck builder, all the way up to Power Grid (Rio Grande). Futuropia is an economic euro, engine-builder style game which offers a level of simplicity and far less interaction than FF’s classic Power Grid.
Have you ever wanted to live in a commune, getting government subsidies and trying to make the perfect self-sustaining community? No, probably not. Me neither. Futuropia has all the quirkiness of a dystopian setting but attempts to play with a very straight bat, which makes the whole experience feel slightly off-kilter. Your Futuropia community needs to be self-sufficient, producing enough food to feed the people and enough energy to run the robots and the living spaces. The idea is that people can choose to do what they want; sure they can work but they can also choose fishing, fencing, farming, flying or, well you get the idea so let’s leave it there shall we? How does the game represent this 'pursuit of happiness'? Well it doesn’t, you just stand little wooden meeples in their living space rather than working at a generator. So far so abstract.
The game is a point salad of sorts but the main way you score is by growing your community and 'gaining' people. Wherever possible you'll want to ensure that your generators are powered by your robots so your people can live that hedonistic lifestyle of the millionaire’s spoilt teenage son or daughter. You do score for other factors: some living spaces have positive and negative victory points; excess production over that required and unused actions all get you a handful of points. However, typically 70% to 80% of points come from letting your people live the highlife.
The components, graphic design and artwork by Harald Lieske are solid. The components include good-quality wooden meeples and thick shiny tiles. The resources are functional tokens, if a tad dull. However, the paper money makes Monopoly money look exciting! Now, I don’t hate paper money, but if you are going to use paper money, please make it interesting, make us want to own the money; otherwise go for coins, hell go with tokens. In a modern board game, boring paper money isn’t functional, familiar or fun (see what I did there, FF?)
The graphic design works. It’s clean and, because there are only three resources in the game and only five actions a player can take, the iconography is also minimal and easy to get to grips with, so the overhead to get into the game is low, and that’s a good thing. However, Futuropia is not about to win any prizes for beauty or originality. The artwork is cleanly drawn, bright colours and simple. It is not the sort of game that will have everyone crowding around, taking photos and asking what you’re playing.
The game mechanics are straightforward and easy to teach yet they generate interesting decisions and gameplay and there are some unique twists that you might expect from the iconic FF. You start the game with three generators, two of which generate 1 and 2 food respectively, and a third that generates 1 energy. The three food produced is sufficient to feed your three starting members of your community and the 1 energy is enough to 'keep the lights on' so to speak, in your starting living quarters. Each generator has one or more spaces, all of which must be filled with people or robots for the generator to function. Some of those spaces, however, must have a person rather than one of their automaton colleagues. In addition, your living spaces must have enough spaces to house all of your people, even if some of them are actually occupying spaces on your generators. The game then gives you some money and asks you to purchase better generators. You have two actions allowing you to purchase generators and a further two actions to bring in more workers; one to bring in people and the other to hire robots. The final fifth action gives you more money. Once you have taken all five actions, then you can flip all the actions over and take them again, or if you desperately want to take an action that has already been flipped then you can pay resources to make all the action tiles available.
When you take an action to purchase a generator, you move your workers to maximise your production of one of the two resources and produce the amount of the resource shown on all functioning generators. When taking one of the worker actions you can purchase more living space if you are bringing in people or you can replace people with robots so that your people can just hang out in the living space and chill. However, you then have to consume resources to either feed your people or to power your robots and living spaces, so make sure you’ve stocked up on resources before taking one of these actions.
There is no way to make money in the game. The assumption seems to be that you live in some odd Marxist or Star Trek Next Generation utopia where robots do the work and the people get paid for hanging out in their house and having fun. If you need loans, you can simply take them - just make sure you pay them back before the end of the game - and you have your fifth action that allows the player to take a subsidy. Each time a player takes this action a cube is moved up on one of the two most bland-looking tracks I have ever seen in a board game. These tracks slowly ratchet up the amount of the subsidy received, which doesn’t seem to make a great deal of thematic sense.
However, it is in the generator market where there is some simple, elegant innovation. The market always has two types of each generator offered: a cheaper and a more expensive option. If a player takes the more expensive model then you move a cube on a track up one space, which makes the more expensive generator cost $1 more and the less expensive model $1 cheaper, and this tweaking of the value of the generators makes for interesting economic decisions. When the less expensive generator stack is exhausted you reset the track and bring out the next most expensive stack of generators. You rinse and repeat, taking turns building your engine, buying generators bringing in more workers until either someone has 25 people, or the market for generators is depleted.
This is a solid simple gateway game with some crunchy decisions, but can I recommend it? Well, I would strongly suggest trying before you buy. If you are looking for straightforward economic euros there are arguably better options out there, including the classic Chicago Express (Queen Games) or the more recent Pan Am (Funko). Futuropia is easy to pick up and to teach but as you get into the later stages of the game you start to encounter some of the maths that you see at the end of a game of Power Grid... Although Futuropia is not as much of a brain burner as Power Grid, for some players it may feel too much like work. And shouldn't we have robots for that?
Futuropia is also somewhat fiddly, both in terms of the mechanics and set up. Trying to make sure you have sufficient living space to house your people and calculating how much you are producing requires you to constantly do addition in your head and if you knock anything over in the reasonably tightly packed play area, the meeples can go all over the place! This game plays solo but with 2–4 players it feels like multiplayer solitaire, with the only interaction coming from purchasing generators in the market. On the plus side, that means you can focus on building your own points-scoring engine without worrying about an opponent chucking a spanner in the works. However, if you like your economic euros with a bit more 'take that' competition then this is probably not the game for you. In summary, this is a solid game from Stronghold but not everyone's idea of utopia.
(Review by Jason Keeping)