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Subject: Review by a Non-Cycling Fan rss

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There has been much praise of Leader 1 as an excellent simulation, but for those of us who aren't cycling fans is there a game worth playing here? The answer is a resounding yes, at least in my view.

I have always been looking for a great racing game, one that truly engages me and makes me want to pull it out often. Sadly, most of the popular racing games have been disappointing- Formula De struck me as just plain boring; Turfmaster was engaging for the first hour but then went on too long for its own good. Ave Caesar, Top Race, and Mississippi Queen all struck me as too simplistic and uninteresting. Hare and Tortoise I liked but it lacks the spatial interest of a "real" track and thus doesn't feel like a racing game, at least not the type I was looking for.

I had been interested in trying out Breaking Away or Um Reifenbreite, but being that they were both OOP and had unattractive components, I never really put in much effort into hunting them down. When I heard of Leader 1, with its beautiful components, modular board, and which was being touted as even better than those other cycling games, my interest was piqued.

Once I actually played, I was hooked. Now I own a copy and it has become one of my favorite games (not just racing games). It's become a hit in my group, played at every one of our sessions this year.

At heart, Leader 1 is a game about energy management. Every rider is allotted an amount of energy at the beginning of the race based on the length and composition of the track, and whoever manages their energy most efficiently will be the first to cross the finish line. Leader 1 takes a cue from Hare and Tortoise, in that moving additional spaces costs an increasing amount of energy. Unlike H&T however, there are other factors that prevent the game from being predominantly computational.

With 5 or fewer players each player gets 2-3 riders to manage. I'm not discrediting the game with 6+ as I've never tried it, but for me much of the interest comes from best managing your team, using the riders' different abilities to help each other. The various types of rider differ in how much base movement they get in the different terrains. Your climber moves well in the mountains, but poorly on plains, while your rouleur is the opposite. Importantly, a rider will get an additional free movement for being behind another rider (slipstreaming), but you can prevent the rider behind you from getting a slipstream bonus by moving a lot of spaces on your next turn.

One aspect of Leader 1 that is very unique and interesting is the peloton mechanic. Basically, all riders start in the peloton, which is a figure representing all cyclists riding together in a group. A player spends very little energy when inside the peloton, which itself generally moves faster than an individual rider can without exerting himself. Thus, a player must carefully judge exactly when to break away from the peloton. This is interesting because a player that breaks away earlier risks running out of energy too soon, but a player that breaks away too late may not be able to catch up to the riders that broke away earlier. What adds considerable excitement to the affair is that once riders have broken away the peloton can move faster, attempting to absorb players back into it. Much hooting and hollering has occurred while awaiting the die roll that determines peloton movement (a die that has values 3,4,5).

The modular board is one thing that makes the game so great- there are 21 double sided tiles to choose from that allow you to construct tracks of differing lengths and topography. Generally I build tracks that are 8-9 tiles long, which make for a 60-90 minute game. A game where riders must ride along twisting plains and then rise a mountain to reach the finish line versus one where there are several hills and a long downhill finish are completely different games, completely different strategic problems to analyze. Replayability is clearly not an issue...

Luck plays a role, but generally a minor one. Players can take risks to get advantages in certain situations by rolling a die, but since the consequences of failure are so dire this should generally only be used as a last ditch effort to catch up towards the end. What impresses me about Leader 1 is that it is pleasantly analytical yet also rambunctiously FUN, a trait that few games have. The thematic feel doesn't hurt either. My friend said that not since Twilight Struggle has he played a game that is dripping so much theme. Thus Leader 1 has been elevated from just the ideal racing game I was looking for to genuinely one of my favorite games, period.

Do yourself a favor and pick this one up.
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Thies Kolln
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Thanks for the review. I'm been in the same position you were in -- looking for a race game, considering Um Reifenbreite or Breaking Away, intrigued by Leader 1. And I am a cycling fan, so I think I'll have to move this up to the top of my wishlist.
 
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Graham Dean
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Thanks for the review - this sounds like a very interesting game.

If you're still looking for a good racing game I can recommend 'Snow Tails' (soon to be reissued under the awful name 'Too Mush', which is a really good husky sled racing game. I've played that myself and it's good.

you also don't mention Powerboats in your list of candidates, which I don't own but looks interesting.
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Brian Bankler
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verandi wrote:
One aspect of Leader 1 that is very unique and interesting is the peloton mechanic.


Do you think it's possible for a rider (or team) to break away from the Peleton early and win (or have one of the team win)? Early being the first quarter of a race, say?
 
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Scott Nelson
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I found the game rather lack-luster in waiting for the time to break away - it was slow...
When someone broke away they never got linked back to the peleton, and never looked back. The management of energy was not there, it failed to be fun. I thought that I would break out with each cyclist at a certain time that they were good in that terrain, and then get sucked back in until the end break away point. That didn't work. Trying to stay out of the peleton while broken away is rather fruitless as you can save up till the end and break away and have a bunch of energy ready for the final stretch. So the 2nd game came down to a boring peleton roll continuously until someone broke away and then we tried to suck them back in, and always could after the energy got low. The final break away was the only one that counted. Gaining energy was very difficult, so leaving the peleton proved again fruitless.
2 games - then traded it away. Formula De has a non-theme to it, but your choices of when to move into gears and such mechanically plays and is more fun - race games seem to be needing that lighter element. You don't see many wargamers with their minis out there trying to race each other. A race game needs that fun-factor, not a dryness factor. Too much theme might have hurt this game for me.
my .02 on race games.
PS Mississippi Queen and Hare and Tortoise didn't have the greatest fun-factor either. Kept Formula De and traded the rest (or trying to).
PPS I am an avid cyclist, but moreso the BMX direction than the road bikes jsyk.
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Bankler wrote:

Do you think it's possible for a rider (or team) to break away from the Peleton early and win (or have one of the team win)? Early being the first quarter of a race, say?


Based on my experience I'd say 1/4 is pushing it, but I'm no expert. We usually play with 8-9 tiles, and typically the first breakout will be around tile 3. This of course depends on the terrain: if there's a steep mountain early on then it is perhaps best to stay in the peloton, whereas if there's a lengthy downhill portion I would consider breaking out earlier.

The fun part is that occasionally there is a particular section (like a sharp curve) that everyone is looking at as the obvious best place to break, but then you might want to break a little earlier, in order to avoid getting stuck in a bottleneck behind other riders next turn when they all break first (turn order for breaking away is determined by the peloton marker, which moves to the left each turn; incidentally, the person with the peloton marker also chooses whether to move the peloton faster in order to pursue riders who have broken away- another interesting layer that adds considerations to your timing)

In general, I have seen people break early and win and I have seen people hang back for 40-50% of the race and win, and usually these disparate strategies end up neck and neck approaching the finish line, which is neat.

In terms of gameplay, waiting for the peloton to cover the first 1/3 of the track before riders start breaking away only takes a minute or two, as players alternate rolling the peloton die. I imagine that if you made a race much longer than 10 tiles then this might take a little longer.
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ropearoni4 wrote:
Trying to stay out of the peleton while broken away is rather fruitless as you can save up till the end and break away and have a bunch of energy ready for the final stretch. So the 2nd game came down to a boring peleton roll continuously until someone broke away and then we tried to suck them back in, and always could after the energy got low. The final break away was the only one that counted.


How long was the track you played? I can't imagine waiting for the first riders to "fruitfully" break taking more than 3-4 minutes if you are playing with a track shorter than 12 tiles.

In my games, there are always riders who successfully break away about a 1/3 of the way through the race, i.e. they don't get sucked back in. It usually ends up being close between those riders and others that chose to stay in the peloton until 1/2 to 3/5 of the way through. There is a limit to how much a rider can move in a turn, and moving that max. limit is prohibitively expensive, so I don't see how waiting till the final 1/4 of the race to break is feasible- the peloton is usually well behind the leaders by then.

Difficult to say without being there what might have happened in your games. I agree on the point about a race game needing a lighter element and not bogging down in calculation (which can happen in Hare and Tortoise). My personal experience with Leader 1 though was that it struck a nice balance between the two, as I mentioned in the review. I suppose tastes will vary, so thanks for your $0.02!
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nice review! Yes, Leader 1 is a fun game even for non-cycling fans!

Our group consists of non-cycling fans. In our first two games using the beginner track we did not have any winners. We broke away from the peloton too soon and our riders ran out of energy and ended up being reabsorbed by the peloton before they could cross the finish line. We learned some valuable lessons from these races and after that we have had winners in every race.

Players may also want to try some of oobydoooby and Garf's optional rules!



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Luke Morris
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In proper cycling a long break very very rarely succeeds but cyclists enter into it to have a go anyway, cos they're feeling fresh, to get some coverage, to make sure their sponsor is showing in the leading group or to prevent other teams from breaking in order to protect their own team leader....
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HamsterOfFury wrote:
In proper cycling a long break very very rarely succeeds but cyclists enter into it to have a go anyway, cos they're feeling fresh, to get some coverage, to make sure their sponsor is showing in the leading group or to prevent other teams from breaking in order to protect their own team leader....


yeah, our group of noncyclers is having fun discovering some of the reasons above!
 
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