LEADERS: The Combined Strategy Game from RUDY GAMES is a 2-6 player wargame that plays anywhere from 60 minutes until 180 minutes depending on the number of players and the scenario chosen. Found online just under £35.00 this is a lot of game for not a lot of an initial layout. This review is of a game recently received in 2019, though investigation shows that this was originally a 2013 release. As I never played LEADERS before now I cannot say whether there have been any updates made in the six years since its original launch.
Combined means that you are using the combined forces of Infantry, Armour and Air Force. Strategy means that you are working towards a victorious campaign according to the rules of the current Mission, which may be Military, Research or Scenario based.
The six armed (Nations) forces are not determined by colour as they are in some games, i.e. Blue is not specified as the USA, Red as Great Britain etc. Each player can select the colour they are happiest with and use it as the forces for their selected, or dealt, Nation; it is up to the players how they determine which LEADER they follow. Each Nation has the same 31 Infantry, 10 Planes and 10 Tanks in six sets of different colour moulded plastic; all pieces are the same, just different colour plastic.
The choices are The Republic of China/Chairman Mai Zedung. Germany/Konrad Adenauer. French Republic/Charles De Gaulle. Soviet Union/Nikita Khrushchev. United Kingdon/Harold MacMillan or United States/John F Kennedy; each of these Leaders has their own special ability.
China: People's Liberation Army. Germany: Economics. France: Defensive. Soviet Union: KGB Spies. Great Britain: Naval experience. USA: Fast Troop Movement.
Players each have a Home Base board with cut-out spaces where you get to place cubes to show achievements reached - the App will control when you receive an award. The App does a lot of the work for you, though you do have the Production Point Track where you keep up to date records of your PPs. The App will ask you how many PPs you have and then ask if you are sure you have given the correct information. It does not disagree with youthough it does know what you have spent any PPs on. It does know and control what you can spend. After inputting the PP number and confirming it you may use those PPs to purchase Troops and other things via the App. It will not let you overspend and at times it will curb your spending if you reach the currently available limit, it's very clever. Each player that wishes to use the App must register their own account as only one appliance can be used per account. All Apps will act indepentently of each other but the information they give each separate player will tie in with the game. Using more than one App saves passing the Phone/Tablet around and speeds up play by allowing each player to spend their Production Points at the same time, and thus, obviously, in secret.
Unlike many board war games LEADERS is not card driven, in fact there are no decks of cards, just the six Leader cards and the player reference cards. The game is not quite unique, it is one of the slowly growing number of games that are using Apps for various aspects (Appspects?) of the play. LEADERS: The Combined Strategy Game goes one step further than having an App with 'various aspects' of the rules; the APP is the Rules! There are no rules in the box. If you don't have a Smart Phone or a Tablet then you cannot play the game. If you only have a regular sized Smart phone, like my Samsung S8, then the App's representation of the rules is in extremely small text, only legible if you have very good eyesight, short-sightedness being very helpful if you haven't a magnifying glass to hand. I will say that I appreciate the way the rules pages stay on the screen for as long as necessary - you have as long as you need for each page and have to actually click on the page to move on.
I was quite disappointed with the YouTube video on how to play as it is in the German language with a stream of poorly spelled translation text bars. It is not the poor spelling or bad grammar or the mis-typing though, it is the speed at which the video flows; it isn't at all easy to follow, and virtually impossible to learn how to play the game from watching it. Of course part of that is having to look at what you are doing whilst trying to read the text at the same time, it just doesn't work for me. I openly admit that I am not great with Apps so if there is a way of listening to the 'How To Play' in English I haven't found it.
Any old-school board-game players will almost certainly look at the World map (which is difficult to do much with) and see that each Continent has a Victory Point value, which in turn will remind them of RISK™. In RISK the players add up the number of their territories, divide the result by 3 (rounded down) and add that number to the value of any Continents you have full control of. This gives you an amount of Production Points to spend on Infantry, Cavalry and Artillery, each having its own specific cost. In LEADERS players add up the value of the territories they own (each territory has its own specific value) and the extra value of any Continents wholly controlled. These points are also Production Points that can also be used for the production Infantry (9), Armoured Tanks (12) or AirForce (15) units.
In RISK you use the Production Points immediately to build up your army for the current turn. In LEADERS you store up your Production Points which are garnered towards the end of your turn and used in your next turn/s. I am comparing LEADERS to RISK because having played it several times its Production and Combat mechanics are somewhat similar, although there is a lot more involvement and complexities in LEADERS than there is in RISK.
Each of the Cold War, post WWII Leaders are major historical figures. People who I wish I had learned about at school rather than spend hours on the Romans (fascinating as they were). When I went to school in the sixties these people were just names' Chairman mao was known for his 'little red book', De Gaulle for continually saying 'Non!' to the UK joining the Common Market, Kennedy was charismatic, Adenauer wasn't mentioned and Khrushchev was Russian; I couldn't have told you a thing about them then, but I wish their history and their Countries history had been taught, knowledge may have helped me understand the premise of LEADERS as more than just a board war game.
When you first open the box and are preparing to play your first action is to download and install the App. I tried by using the QR Code, scanning it with my phone and going to the URL suggested, but this led me to a screen I couldn't get away from - the 'skip' button is so tiny and in very light text that I could never gat enough fingertip on it to activate it, so I went to the App Store and installed it from there. Having done this I never received notification of installation being completed, but the icon simply arrived on my phone and I could then access the game rules.
Now it is time to choose your campaign; the Cold War, which uses the Politicians and Nations on the LEADERS cards, and is part of the game you have bought, or the Modern Campaign where other politicians for whom you have no cards are introduced. The Modern Campaign will cost you an additional £8.99. This isn't the only additional cost you will find in LEADERS. There are many games where you can purchase expansions, extra pieces, new scenarios etc, although in the majority of these you are already aware of additional charges beforehand.
One of the first and better known scenarios you will be offered, freely, is 'Capture the Flag'; it is also a game with no timer and a Victory that can be obtained through Military, Research or Missions.
Combat, the crux of all war games is handled very simply (unless we have misread the rules). The units that have moved into an enemy territory engage in a winner takes all fight. If you are losing there is an option to retreat if you can legally do so (join an adjacent friendly territory) and there is the option to move into an area just won as long as you can leave a unit behind in the area you are moving from - same goes when moving in to attack
There is an extraordinary scenario; 'Race to the Moon' which has a 60-90 minute timer on it, dependant on the number of players. I say extraordinary because it has a £1.79 rental fee for 24 hours, buy it, play it, lose it. Among the other free scenarios available are 'Lead you Nation to Victory' and 'Nuclear Threat'; these have timers of 90 minutes to 180 minutes. "Capture the Flag" is the quickest and easiest scenario to play, especially as most wargame players already know the basics of this well known and used, adventure.
Non-Free Scenarios - listed below - cost £2.69 each to buy (not rent as far as I can make out)
German Democratic Republic with Glasnost, Perestroika / Argentine Republic / State of Japan / Republic of South Africa / Australia / Republic of Cuba.
So you can see there is a lot of scope available to you once you have learnt the basic game. As for water separating Nations, all ocean going Naval conflicts, and sea travel are structured within the game rules, even though there are no miniatures used to display this.
To get started quickly use the Random Setup. Then like in RISK you place your pieces on the territories given to you according to the App. This obviously speeds up the process of players choosing one territory each at a turn but it can give out some weird situations. For example in the last game I played, it was just Mike and I running through it again to brush up my notes and allow me to take some photos as we played. He selected to play United Kingdom (Great Britain) and took the Yellow troop units, while I, liking Black pieces when I play, chose the Black army but the Chinese Republic. These details were locked into the App prior to the placement of our figures. I, as China, began with Greenland, Iceland, Great Britain and all of Europe. I also had all of South America and most of Australasia. Mike's forces were not as condensed, in fact they were spread far and wide across all Continents, so much so that he had a major problem from the beginning as to where to place his Base Camp, and thus the Flag I was out to grab. The App gave him First Player but also left him one unit less than me on the board.
One of the first things that occur on your turn is a Random Event. Mike received one additional Infantry unit on his first turn, I received 1 Infantry 3 Tanks and 3 Planes when I took my first turn. Random really can screw you over, but although it looks/is tough it is actually quite a fun challenge battling an opponent when the App seems so very much against you.
Generally whenever you move your troops into an enemy occupied area combat will occur, though there are certain times when this can be/is bypassed. Combat is until last man (not literally) is standing or one side has retreated. Combat is a case of rolling dice and scoring hits. There are three colours of dice; White, Grey and Black. Infantry use White dice, Tanks use Grey dice and Planes use Black dice. Each die, by colour, has more (or less) chance of hitting (there are varying number of blank sides (misses) and sides with symbols (hits) - only the Black dice have a Double-Hit symbol and the White dice are less likely to roll hits; leaving the Grey dice in the position of being more likely to hit than Infantry but less likely to than Aircraft. One hit takes out one unit, but combat is simultaneous with 'dead' units being removed by their owning player at the end of each combat round. If there are still opposing units in the area then another round of combat ensues
Hasbro's RISK can be found online for around £30.00, just £5.00 less than LEADERS. RISK is a classic family strategy wargame, that is true, but it is over 62 years old. LEADERS is a quality reinvisioning of RISK, there is no doubting that, and it deserves to be the go-to game for the future for whenever 2-6 players fancy a RISK - type game. The one thing it shares with RISK that I don't like, and never have, is that players can be (will be) knocked out of the game when their armies are obliterated. As the game is likely to be up to, and possibly over, 3 hours of play-time, it is a good idea to have another game capable of keeping 1 or 2 to 4 players happily engaged - it can be pretty boring just sitting and watching your friends play after you have been eliminated. On the good side the App's end-of-game statistic screen shows how well each player has done.
Well worth paying the extra £5.00 for over RISK, in fact at £35.00 it is one of the best value miniatures based wargame currently available.