Alain Ollier &
Christophe Leclercq


No. of Players:
2 - 10



I have always been quite fond of Um Reifenbreite, winner of the Spiel des Jahres awards of the year 1992. I have been looking for a good game about a cycling race ever since, and in 2008 I heard that finally the Italian publisher GHENOS GAMES has made a new bid to publish a cycling game. At the SPIEL 08 convention I visited the booth of GHENOS and I found a rather eyecatching diorama-version of Leader 1 on display, but the playing components in the gamebox actually do look very nice as well. A total of 21 big hexagonal spaces is included for the players to build up their own racing tracks, and the border of each of the street sections actually depicts whether it is a road on a flat plain, a moderate ground rise, a mountain pass or a downhill section. Also included is a set of 15 small painted plastic bikers (three figures for each team), and several tokens, cards, tiles and other items which will be used during the game.

When setting up the hexagon tiles for the present race the track layout needs to follow certain conditions, so that a mountain pass actually must be preceded by a ground rise and that the track must be begun and ended with start and finish hexagons. Next to the beginning of each mountain pass section a token for the category of this mountain must be placed, and also one or more feeded areas where the players will get new waterbottles will be spread fairly evenly among the track.

Normally each player will receive a team of three bikers, and the character of these figures can be distinguished by the colour of their stands. So, a figure with a yellow base will be the leader of the team, whereas a red base identifies a climber and a green base a rouleur (specialist for flat terrain). However, if a higher number of players participated the players actually may be forced to use less bikers so that enough figures will be available for everybody. According to the games author who stood by and explained the game this is going to created somewhat faster races, but the temporary alliances which will be formed also will lead to some disagreements around the table.

However, the figures of the bikers will not be placed on the Start-board at the beginning of the game, but instead one special standup figure for the Peloton (the main body of bikers) will be placed at the start. During each round of play one player will be in control of the Peloton, rolling a special dice to see how far the Peloton will be moved forwards. In addition, this player also may determine that the Peloton speeds up, meaning that it will move one step more than indicated by the dice roll and all bikers still present in the Peloton will have to spend an energy-point. Energy points for each of a player's bikers are recorded on a special record sheet, and at the beginning each of a player's figures has a starting energy reserve of 50 points. In addition, the players also are allowed to make one of their figures a downhill specialist at the beginning of the game, and another one may become a sprinter.

Before the Peloton is moved all players will be asked whether one or more of their figures will try to break away from the Peloton, and to make a breakaway a figure needs to be moved to a position at least four steps ahead of the Peloton. The regular movement of a figure depends on the type of road occupied at the beginning, and all figures will get two free moves on a moderate ground rise. Differences apply to plains and mountain passes, and a climber moves three free moves on a mountain pass and one on the plains, whereas a rouleur moves three steps on the plains and one on the mountain pass. The team leader actually is a fairly even character, and so he receives two free moves on any terrain. However, one more exception applies to all figures, in this is a downhill section where four free moves may be made.

Usually the number of free moves will not be sufficient for a player to get away from the Peloton or to keep up with the leading figures, so he will need to spend one or more of the biker's energy points to move the figure some additional steps. One additional step may be moved for each point of energy spent, but this kind of forced movement will quickly drain a biker's resources. However, some further possibilities for free moves exist, and so a biker with the downhill ability receives an additional free move on a downhill section and a sprinter gets a free move on the final section leading to the finish. Furthermore, there is a slipstream effect if a biker starts was positioned directly behind another biker after its previous move, and the slipstream also will give the biker one free move for his current move.

However, a cycling race would not be complete without some hazards, and thus there are certain situations in which a danger may arise. So, the players should be awards of the category of each mountain pass their bikers are ascending, since the category of the pass actually defines how many energy tokens a biker may spend each turn without the risk of a breakdown. If the biker spends more energy he will have to make a risk-roll (with the risk factor being increased for each risk taken in the race), and if the risk roll is a failure the biker will suffer a breakdown and the move will cost him thrice the required energy points. There also exist some possible fall-spaces on the downhill sections, and if a biker passes such a fall-space when spending energy points for movements he will need to make a risk roll as well. Here the risk roll also results in the loss of energy, but the biker also must skip one turn to get back onto his bike.

Waterbottle-cards with new energy can be gained at feed zones along the track, and these cards may be kept secret till later in the race to make a possible surprise movement with secret energy reserves. However, it is also possible that a biker cannot (or does not wantt o) stay ahead of the Peloton any longer, and if a biker is captured by the Peloton his figure once again will be removed from the track. And as said earlier, the player who currently leads the Peloton actually may speed it up for one step, forcing all bikers in the Peloton to lose an energy point. If a biker cannot even pay this one point, his figure will fall out of the Peloton and he will go behind.

The game ends when the end of the track is reached, and here the players actually may decide whether they want to create something like a scoring table for the different positions in the final classment. The rules of the game make no suggestions here, so that the final classment rules from Um Reifenbreite actually might fit quite well. Speaking more general, up to this point I did not see much of a difference concerning playing quality between Leader 1 and Um Reifenbreite, because the rules of both games may differ, but at the same time they are comparatively even in terms of complexity and realism. To my mind the slipstream rules and team management are more pronounced in Um Reifenbreite, but Leader 1 actually has a lead in terms of normal movement and hazard rules.

However, the final section of the rulebook actually features some rules which make Leader 1 finish the race first, and this section of the rules is actually concerned with a race over multiple stages. Here a token for each biker is placed on a circular "general classification" scoretrack, and each of the bikers actually will win or lose points depening on his current classment. So, the token of a biker who wins a race is moved two steps forwards, whereas the tokens of all bikers who arrive after the winner will be moved backwards for as many spaces as it took them turns to arrive at the finish behind the winner. Only bikers who finish in the same turn as the winner will avoid this penalty. Additional bonus time tokens may be collected among the track (representing mountain points or a sprint), but some factors also may lead to a removal of a biker from the game. Thus, a biker who finishes more than three turns after the Peloton will be disqualified, and likewise a biker whose token on the classification is overtaken by the leading player will be removed. As a final touch, bikers also may transfer up to 15 remaining energy as a bonus into the next race, and in the end the winner will be the leader in the classment after the agreed number of races.

To my mind Leader 1 will present its full flavour if played in this "Stage Race" mode, since here the players can use different tracks for each stage of the race and strategic planning becomes more important in order not to lose a biker due to a disqualification and to (possibly) save energy points for the next race. This playing modus actually will require quite a bit more playing time than a single race, but players who have gotten a general grip on the game's mechanics should find this prolonged challenge rather tempting. Myself, I rather enjoy the fact that I finally have a new, nicely designed cycling race game with flexible tracks after spending years and years on the rather fixed track of Um Reifenbreite. Allez les coureurs !!!

Looking for this game? Visit Funagain Games!

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Copyright © 2008 Frank Schulte-Kulkmann, Essen, Germany