The Emperor is dead! Long live the emperor! Or at least, a new emperor must first claim the throne, but there are several suitable candidates. After the death of the Emperor, the island of Oshra went into turmoil. The conflict between the Mountain Tribes and the Imperial Army escalates. Meanwhile, the Water People are trying to maintain balance while the Undead want to escalate the war for their own gain. Fortunately, the Emperor has not been idle and has fathered two children each with divergent interests with three different lovers. All hope is pinned on these six children of the Emperor. Players assume the role of the potential heirs to the throne, but the battle that takes place in the shadows is shrouded: Which of the Hidden Leaders will claim the throne?
In Hidden Leaders each player is secretly assigned the role of one of six leaders. Each leader is affiliated with two of the factions/colors competing for Osha. If one of these factions manages to win the battle, the affiliated leader (possibly) also wins. By playing hero cards during the game, players can influence the battle between the factions to ensure that one of these factions emerges victorious. The influence of the factions is indicated by two pawns on the game board.
At the end of the game, the factions win as follows (in order):
- The Undead (black) win if their pawns (the green and the red) are both in the dark part of the game board;
- The Water People (blue) win if both pawns are on the same square or only 1 square apart (and both pawns are not in the dark area); and
- The Hill Tribes (green) or the Imperial Army (red) win if the corresponding pawn is two spaces further on the game board (and both pawns are not in the dark area).
Any player who has a leader who belongs to the winning faction can potentially claim victory. If more than one player has a leader who also belongs to the winning faction, then there is a tie and the player who has played more heroes of the winning color before wins. If no player has a leader belonging to the winning faction, then the players share the loss and no new leader is chosen.
Hidden Leaders has easy to understand game play, but with plenty of tactical choices, bluffing and deduction. Each turn, a player can play a hero card from their hand or place 1, 2 or 3 cards from their hand (hoping to draw some better cards into their hand at the end of the turn). All of the hero cards in the game are unique and the hero cards have a variety of uses and effects. Hero cards can usually be used to move the two pawns on the game board forward and/or backward in hopes of influencing the battle between the factions for your victory. Other players do not know which faction(s) you support, but can draw a conclusion based on your choices.
In addition to moving pawns, card effects can also allow you to send cards from teams to the graveyard, steal cards, place cards closed in front of you, or, for example, take certain cards from one of the two discard piles (the graveyard or the wilderness) in your hand. There are almost countless different effects and thus different tactics that players can use. You don’t want to show your ‘play’ out in the open, since opponents may then know which faction you support and could then thwart your victory, you try to cleverly manipulate the battlefield. Although, sometimes hiding in plain sight might divert attention… Playing cards face down may not contribute (directly) to the conflict, since you cannot apply the effects of these cards, but these cards do count at the end of the game and can potentially claim your victory.
At the end of your turn, you take cards in hand (either from the face-down draw pile or one of the three face-up cards), but must also discard cards that other players may be able to appropriate with special effects activated by their cards. In Hidden Leaders you are constantly thinking about how you can pull the victory towards you. The game is a literal tug of war between different factions. Since each leader supports two different factions, you can still change strategies drastically during the game. Hidden Leaders is a fast, light, interactive and highly strategic card game full of deduction and bluff. Hidden Leaders very elegantly and sparingly combines a game of hidden roles, deduction and bullying that remains exciting until the end of a game. The illustrations and design are fantastically done. A must-have.
What do the others think?
In Hidden Leaders, you try to tactically position yourself so that your secret agenda succeeds, thus outsmarting your fellow players. Easy to pick up with delightful artwork, making it interesting for players of different levels.
Simple rules, but surprisingly tactical with a fun theme. Very replayable!Rick
If the breathtaking drawings can’t win you over, play it for the tremendously exciting situations this game creates between the players!