It is almost three and a half years since I first saw Rudy Games demoing Leaders: A Combined Game, at Essen Spiel. From the initial glance at the booth as I was walking by, I noted it was some sort of version of Risk, and that was not too much of a surprise. Risk has been reinvented numerous times, and around the same time there had been the Kickstarter for Cthulhuwars. But, as I nosed in, given the look of the game seem rather modern, it was apparent something else was going on. It was a smart tech enabled game.
Leaders, like Risk, has the world board divided into zones which more or less represent countries or geographic regions. Like Risk, you have three types of units to use in the game, which are increasingly more powerful. And like Risk, regions are captured by invading with your forces and rolling dice vs your opponents defending forces. But that is where the similarities end. That is because Leaders uses a tablet and a more dynamic approach to how armies are deployed.
Let's begin with that latter part. While in Risk, unit pieces persist on the board from turn to turn, moving from region to region as an when needed, at the start of each player turn in Leaders, all excess units are returned to the base camp part of your game tile, and only 1 unit remains in a region you control. So, when you wish to attack, you deploy troops from this pool to you regions from which you are moving in from to attack. Furthermore, to limit this, you can only deploy into one of your zones a limited number of troops, determined by the resources points that zone generates for you. But, if you can, you can have troops deployed into zones, and have them attack a single zone. An attacked zone doesn't limit the number of attacking units that can enter. The defender of course can deploy from their pool troops to the attacked region, following the limitations that the attacker has had to follow with how they deploy troops. In this way, it is design to prevent "steamroller" type attacks that can happen in Risk, and it is unlikely for a player to wiped off the board before the very end game.
Leaders is also a smart enabled game, and that has massive implications. Leaders has a cold war theme, and so to represent that best, the tablet manages resources and secret actions. A player has the tablet and inputs the total resource points generated for each region they control, while the tablet is seen by all players. Then they have the tablet seen just by themselves, and begin to allocate the resource points they have, and perform actions. A turn begins with the results of what they did the last turn. Troops paid for arrive (and then are lost due to sabotage), and the results of research and diplomacy happens, and then the player is free to spent their remaining resource points (they may have lost some due to embargoes). New troops are paid for which will arrive the next turn. Tech is paid for, which can take a number of turns to be created. This can cover all manner of things like improvements to your army like having a die reroll, or improvements to resource points generation. You may also spend points to create diplomats and spies. Spies can be sent to perform espionage and sabotage, while diplomats can be used to cause embargoes, or to initiate secret alliances. And that there is the key point of the tablet in this stage. The other players have no idea how you are spending your points or the actions you are taking. This adds a whole new aspect to a game like Risk, an aspect that is more typical of a computer game like Civilisation.
Winning the game is not as simple as taking over the world, and that is unlikely. Leaders supports multiple ways to win the game. Depending on the number of players that there are, the winner needs to save up a certain amount of resource points, or reach the rank of "Leader" through completing missions (such as espionage, sabotage etc), or perform or research upgrades. This makes the game such that winning through total elimination of all player unlikely, and in fact most players will remain in the game until the very end.
A final point to note is that the game supports up to 6 players, with each playing as one of the following countries; USA, UK, France, Germany, USSR and China. Each faction has its own special rules, which adds a level of asymmetry to the gameplay.
I would highly recommend this game to players who are board of Risk, and want some that adds a new dimension to social gameplay.