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LEADER 1

Reviewed by Chris Kovac

LEADER 1 (Ghenos Games/Rio Grande Games, 2-10 players, ages 14 and up; 60 minutes; $59.95)

 

Leader 1 is a bicycle racing game by Alain Ollier and Christophe Leclercg simulating the stages of the Tour De France Bicycle races. This can be played with up to ten players using one bicycle per person but seems to work best with four when you can use a full team of three bicyclists. Playing one stage can take about an hour to an hour and a half depending how long the track is for a section and how many players are playing.leader1box

The game comes in a long thin rectangular box similar to Homas Tour. In the game you get a number of nicely drawn, thick terrain tiles showing various segments of the course (flatland – green track, hill – orange track, mountains – red track and downhill – black track) which allow you to build various courses of the stage and three sets of riders per team colour. The riders are climber (extra moves in mountain spaces), sprinter (extra moves on flatland space) and leader (average move in both types of terrain). Each of these riders performs better in certain terrain. For example the mountain rider moves three spaces in the mountains but only one in the flatlands in a normal move. Also you have some hill difficulty markers, the peloton marker, refreshment draw tokens, players aids (only two in English) and team sheets. Finally you get a nicely illustrated but poorly worded rule book. I recommend you downloading Paul Jeffries’ much better rules from BoardgameGeek or be prepared to suffer through a lot second-guessing of the rules.

In designing a stage, you can build it any way you like but you require a start tile, end tile, some refreshment points (number depends on length) and a difficulty level marker for mountains. Also you must have a hill section before a mountain section. After you build the track, you choose a team for each player (or decide which players will share a team if playing with more than four) and take a team tracking sheet where you will record the energy spent for each rider. On this sheet mark one rider of your choice to be the downhill specialist (getting a one space bonus going downhill) and to another rider the sprinter bonus (receiving a one space bonus when on a sprint space). Next you add up the total of all the mileage markers on the terrain tiles which compose the course. This number is the start energy for each rider in the team.leader1pcs

All the riders start at the start line in the peleton (bicycle pack) and can break away or be absorbed back into the peleton as the game progresses. The racing figures, while nicely sculpted, tend to be somewhat fragile with the riders often falling off their bases requiring you to then spend a number of frustrating minutes putting them back on (glue is strongly suggested).

During a turn, all riders ahead of the peleton move. Then, riders who decide to break away from the peleton must move four or more spaces, then the peleton and finally, any riders who have fallen behind the peleton. The team that gets the most points for passing the finish line wins. Now onto how a turn works for an individual cyclist.

A basic move depends on the terrain and type of rider moving as listed on a movement chart. If you move less than the basic move you get to add this to your energy score (you cannot exceed the start energy). You may decide to do extra movement demanding you spend extra energy. You can move up to six extra spaces per turn but the more extra movement you take, the more expensive it gets. (One space costs one energy, while six spaces cost fifteen!) If you start immediately behind another player, you get a one space movement bonus due to drafting. In mountains, if you exceed the mountain rating inmovement, you have to take a risk roll. You can take up to three risk rolls in a race (each can only be used once). They are listed on the rider sheet and get progressively easier to fail. If you roll more than the number, you succeed and can do the movement. However if you fail, you ‘crack” (injure yourself) and must pay triple the cost of the movement. (You cannot do extra moves if you cannot pay this triple cost.) As mentioned earlier, players in front of the peleton move first, followed by those breaking away from the pelaton, the pelaton itself and the riders behind the peloton. The peloton is moved by rolling the peloton dice. This rotates between players and the player, before rolling, must decide whether he is going to “push” the peloton. If he does push the peloton, it moves one extra space and the riders within it pay one or two energy points depending on how far the peleton moves (between four and seven spaces). If you do not have enough energy to pay for this cost, you drop out of the peleton and move your rider only after the peleton moves. The peloton follows the centre lane in the straightaway and the peloton spaces in the corner. On a roll of four, all riders within it have to check for a flat tire which will cause the rider to lose a turn and drop out of the peloton on a roll of one. The only other hazard in the game are black oil spaces on the downhill sections where the rider can fall if he ends his turn on the space and misses his risk roll. If he fails, he misses a turn and pays double the movement cost in energy. The only way to get back energy is, as mentioned, either moving less than your basic movement or when you pass a refreshment station where you draw the appropriately coloured refreshment chit and get back the energy listed on its back (usually between one and five). There are some rules for playing a series of stages together by keeping track of how well your rider does over the course of a number of stages but I was so dissatisfied with the basic game I did not even try them out.

This is an interesting but flawed game. In terms of strategy, the game seems to break down to when you wish to break away from the peleton. Since the peleton moves faster on average than your flatland rider on both the flatlands and the hills, you very rarely move him out of the peleton. The same thing happens with your leader. The only time the rider does better than the peleton is in the mountains where you use your mountain rider to get ahead of the peleton. If you make him your downhill specialist, you rarely have to use your other riders. So you are often playing with only one or at most two of your riders at any one time. This problem when coupled with the poor rules and fiddly rider pieces made the game fairly dull. I think the older games like Homas Tour are still by far better games than this one. I would only recommend this game to die hard bicycling racing game enthusiasts. – – – – – – – – – Chris Kovac


 

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