Previewing: Leaders of Euphoria

In the not-too-distant future, the world as we know it has crumbled. Society is in shambles, the environment is a mess, and the collective advancement of civilization has regressed to one of paranoia and xenophobic control of the masses.

Let’s just hope that this isn’t a case of art imitating life.

leaders-of-euphoria-coverSuch is the landscape of Euphoria, a bleak dystopian future in which rival factions fight for the hearts and minds of the last great human city. In one camp are the Euphorans themselves, the leaders and rulers of the city, doing a bang-up job keeping the masses happy, content, and blissfully ignorant. In the other camp are the Subterrans, the resistance group operating in the shadows around and beneath the city, trying to go all Morpheus on freeing the citizens from their collective obliviousness. These two factions vie for nothing short of control over the destiny of the city’s denizens by trying to eliminate one another’s leaders.

This process of unknown allegiances and obfuscated power bosses is precisely what you will play out in Leaders of Euphoria, a social deduction game for 4-8 players and the latest title by…Overworld Games?

Yes, before the ray guns even start pew-pewing, this game has a tendency to catches people’s attention solely on the name itself. Those familiar with the dice allocation game Euphoria by Stonemaier Games often come into this one thinking – justifiably – that Leaders of Euphoria is expansion or standalone game in the Euphoria franchise. As it happens, that’s not actually the case. Blame it on the propaganda pamphlets. While Leaders of Euphoria exists in the same universe as its thematic parent, this is very much its own enterprise. Most of the confusion stems from the fact that Stonemaier has licensed its intellectual property to Overworld. That alone makes the campaign a bit interesting, as it’s not something normally seen in the board game world.

Yet while this bilateral business venture is interesting to watch from an industry standpoint, digging into the gameplay reveals plenty more of why this new titles is worth paying attention to.

Leaders of Euphoria is a card-driven game whose singular purpose is to root out and eliminate the opposing side’s boss. If this sounds recognizable, it should. This game largely uses the same fundamental mechanics as Overworld’s previous hit social deduction game, Good Cop Bad Cop, albeit with two small but pivotal changes. It is on these two changes alone which makes Leaders of Euphoria stand out as a separate title, offering a slightly different experience than rounding up crooked beat cops. So you’re not going crazy. Or at least not any more than the Department of Municipal Welfare wants you to. But, well…we’ve said too much already.

At the start of each game, every player is given Recruit cards that are placed face down. Cards like these:

Looks like your a scurrilous Subterran. We thought we knew you... Prototype Shown

Looks like your a scurrilous Subterran. We thought we knew you…
Prototype Shown

Most Recruit cards depict either a Euphoran supporter or a Subterran supporter. Whichever side you have more cards of determines your allegiances in the game. If you have more Subterran cards, your goal is to take down the corrupt Euphoran ruler and free your fellow citizens. If you have more Euphoran cards, then it’s your sworn duty to put an end to the dangerous rebel anarchists spreading lies about your wondrous and idyllic city. Hidden among the dealt Recruits will include the Euphoran and Subterran Leader cards. Possessing a Leader guarantees which side you’re on regardless of your other cards. It is their job to stay alive and stay hidden. Consider it deep cover.

Turns in Leaders of Euphoria are both quick and simple, as you only can take a single action. The most common of these is to Interrogate someone by peeking at one of a player’s three cards, slowly cluing you in to whether they’re on your side or not. Ideally you’re trying to find the other team’s Leader in order to attack them, but in this game, it’s nearly as useful to know where someone’s allegiances are. Something about keeping friends close and enemies closer.

Lasers make everything better... Prototype Shown

Lasers make everything better…
Prototype Shown

Once you’ve gathered enough intel – or you simply want to cause havoc – another action is to Arm yourself. Arming requires you reveal one of your Recruits before taking one of the game’s oversized and impressive-looking ray guns. At the end of any turn while you have a gun, you must point it at someone, indicating that you mean business.

Shooting the gun, however, is a separate action, which means it takes a full two turns to actually pull the trigger. Doing so forces you to drop it, but it also forces the opponent to drop their hidden identity. When someone is shot, they reveal all three of their cards. If that player is one of the Leaders, that card stays revealed while their remaining Recruits are shuffled and turned face down again. If an exposed Leader is shot, then they die. The game is over, and the opposing faction wins.

With a chin like that, it's all the more impressive he can hide. Prototype Shown

With a chin like that, it’s all the more impressive he can hide.
Prototype Shown

If that player isn’t a Leader, then you get to see one of the two unique changes from its predecessor. In Good Cop, Bad Cop, if a non-Leader is shot, you die. Dead. Eliminated. Out of the game. With Leaders of Euphoria, that’s no longer true. Although playthroughs are quite short at around 15-20 minutes, Leaders of Euphoria removes player elimination in favor of a more dynamic – and thematic – gaming experience. As any fan of the Euphoria world can tell you, there aren’t just two factions to contend with. In this version, if you are non-Leader who is shot, you become disillusioned with the fight and become a Wastelander.

Wastelanders operate in the world outside of the city and mostly wish to be left alone. They’re sort of like agrarian mercenaries. They care not for your petty conflict and above all don’t want it spilling into their lands. Playing as a Wastelander works exactly the same as the other two factions, with one major difference: they don’t care which side gets killed. If a Wastelander kills either Leader, the Wastelanders win.

This adds an appealing multifaceted angle to the duality of the traditional fight, as who you shoot matters even more now. In Good Cop, Bad Cop, arbitrarily killing someone was entirely possible, even if there was no strategic advantage of doing so. In Leaders of Euphoria, there’s a bit more more gravity to using your gun. This isn’t just a welcomed change from a player participation standpoint, but it also forces players to be slightly more tactical in their decision-making. The last thing you want to do is turn an ally into an enemy.

Wastelanders care not for your foolish squabbles. But they will end it. Prototype Shown

Wastelanders care not for your foolish squabbles. But they will end it.
Prototype Shown

And an enemy who doesn’t go away at that. Technically, Wastelanders can be shot repeatedly, which is admittedly weird flavor-wise – making for the only hiccup in this new thematic iteration. Yet it proves to be largely moot because there’s little reason to do so in such a short game. It’s the post-apocalyptic equivalent of shooting a vampire: it’s not going to be very productive and will ultimately just get you killed.

Beyond this Third Way inclusion, Leaders of Euphoria has also heavily upgraded how it uses its utility cards. At the beginning of the game each player receives two Artifact cards. Throughout the game, players have the option at the beginning of their turn to either give away an Artifact to another player or to discard all of them and draw a new one. This alone is a huge improvement over how Equipment worked in Good Cop, where you were dealt a single card to start the game and the only guaranteed way to draw more was to reveal one of your Recruits as an action. This, coupled with the wide range of situational Equipment the game contains, often made using them a bit random and unbalanced.

New weapons, new options. Prototype Shown

New weapons, new options.
Prototype Shown

Leaders of Euphoria’s Artifacts are overall far more strategic, providing a healthy spread of offensive and defensive possibilities while making it much easier to attain new ones. This makes Leaders slightly more cerebral than its predecessor, making this lightweight title slightly more appealing to the strategy-focused fans of hidden role games. The catch is that using Artifacts requires revealing a Recruit instead, so you still must be mindful when to use them – even if they often are worth the exposure. Moreover, because the game affords players more opportunity to use Artifacts, Leaders of Euphoria also introduces a new action unique to this version: the ability to Hide and turn one of your cards face down. This potentially gives you repeated access to using Artifacts and Guns, and is a small but important new turn option.

Leaders of Euphoria may be about 85% identical to Overworld’s flagship game, but this successor is no mere re-skin. It’s an improvement. Fans of the original Good Cop game will enjoy that Leaders of Euphoria maintains the same level of lighthearted-but-structured anarchy that made it so appealing in the first place while improving on areas where many players could get frustrated. What’s more, the combination of streamlining the usefulness of Artifacts and removing player elimination simultaneously provides a deeper and more engaging experience overall. All of this is tied up nicely within the same Euphoria theme and artwork style that fans of the Stonemaier setting will appreciate. All told, Leaders of Euphoria provides a quick and amusing social game of hidden roles, duplicity, and deduction, that is fully capable of standing on its own merits, free from the historical trappings of its origins.

It’s a dystopian dream, really.

If you think you’re up for control of Euphoria in less time than it takes to consume some state-run propaganda, then head on over to its Kickstarter and join the revolution today!

No, not revolution. Pssh. What a silly thing to say.

Erm..everything is fine. Euphoria is great.

No need to rebel whatsoever…carry on.

In unrelated news, we have a thing…to…gotta run!

Photo Credits: Leaders of Euphoria cover and artwork by Overworld Games.