Welcome back to the fourth installment in my new series on board games about the Cold War! Today, our game will be LEADERS: The Combined Strategy Game (Reinhard Kern/Gertrude Kurzmann/Manfred Lamplmair, rudy games). As usual, we’ll look at it in both game and academic terms.
What kind of Cold War is this game?
Leaders is a pretty liberal interpretation of the Cold War: Instead of passive-aggressive bipolarity without direct military confrontations, up to six players are busy throwing tanks and planes at each other. Still, the technology used and the eponymous leaders of the nations mark the game as set in the early 1960s. Its base feel is like risk, but more sophisticated with military, economic, scientific, and diplomatic subsystems. The big change, however, is that Leaders uses an app for bookkeeping and some private-knowledge aspects of diplomacy and espionage.
What’s Noteworthy About the Game?
Leaders does not refer to specific Cold War events, and as I’ve outlined before, its basic mechanics are not quite tied to the Cold War either (the game could just as well be set in the age of imperialism with Queen Victoria, Kaiser Wilhelm, and Theodore Roosevelt as “leaders”). And yet, it uses the Cold War era for thematic flavor. A rare choice! While there is a plethora of games about trading in the Mediterranean which could just as well be about city-building in medieval England and vice versa, Cold War games are few and far between. Deterrence 2X62 even went the opposite way and re-themed a game originally set in the historic Cold War to a mech-armed future.
The visual design of Leaders is noteworthy for taking up a lot of cinematic (and other) topoi – for example in the info screens about the success or failure of espionage missions which allude to common imagery of TV news and “war rooms” in movies.
Some images, however, are more complex than that. They might offer a rich blend of cinematic, Cold War, and even contemporary topical imagery. Let’s have a look at the info screen for recruiting a new spy when you’re playing the Soviet Union.
The basic image composition and many details are borrowed from spy or action movies: A woman in a dynamic pose who’s got her weapon raised and ready, wearing a sleeveless, low-neckline shirt, which might not be the most practical garment considering the heavy snowfall. The snow leads us to the stereotypical depictions of Russia (as a country of intense winter) and Communism (our spy is so discreet as to wear a little red star as jewelry). Finally, the lush mane of red hair, piercing blue-green eyes, and sexualized depiction do not only evoke James Bond movies, but also agent Anna Chapman and the media coverage she got after she was exposed as a Russian spy (in 2010).
Among the Cold War board games, I bestow on it the title of The Most Cinematic.