What do you get when you mix improv with a human rights disaster? Dear Leader, a new Kickstarted board game by Tim Hutchings, who was kind enough to provide an early edition to us at Echo Base.
The game is easy to learn and asks its players to be on top of their creative game. One player serves as the Wise, Brilliant, Unique, and Great Chairman of the Workers’ Party of Korea (all real titles, both here and to follow). The other players serve as the Father of the People’s advisors.
Gameplay begins with the advisors presenting the Sun of the Communist Future with a policy card containing a dilemma, such as the failure of crops to produce the demanded amount of food, and then they take turns offering possible solutions.
The Beloved and Respected General must then reject all of the proffered remedies, insult his foolish advisors for their lack of vision, and pronounce a completely unique solution to be implemented. The advisors must then all clap and take turns applauding The Great Sun of Life for his wisdom and lauding his soon-to-be accomplishment.
There isn’t much of a point system in Dear Leader. Instead, the World Leader of the 21st Century is allowed to insult his advisors and award or rescind demerits at his leisure. Once all of the advisors have appropriately licked the Invincible and Triumphant General’s boots, he awards the policy card to the advisor that displeased him least. That player now becomes the Amazing Politician in the next round and a new policy card is drawn and announced. The game ends either when everyone has run out of ideas or each player has taken a turn serving as the Highest Incarnation of the Revolutionary Comradeship.
As in the real North Korea, there are no true winners.
Dear Leader is recommended for 5-9+ players and works as a party game in the spirit of Cards Against Humanity. It encourages off-colored comments and horrific policy solutions to everyday problems. In our test group, for instance, we had one player who seemed especially blood-thirsty, calling for mass killings and/or nuclear strikes no matter the ailment (be it corrupt western radio signals reaching the borders or a failure of the people to stand attentively enough during speeches).
Another player slipped far too easily into the role of the Eternal General Secretary of the Party. We’re going to have to keep an eye on that guy.
As Echo Base was given an advance copy of Dear Leader, we did not have the final product and so cannot comment on the physical quality of the game materials. The writing, however, was clever and inspired many riotous moments. The game does demand some fairly clever improvisation on the part of its players, so be prepared to think outside the box and in a darker way. Again, think Cards Against Humanity.
The game could easily be replayed, as the policy prescriptions will necessarily change each time. The set we were provided contained 11 policy cards, but more could easily be added (or included in the final production) to expand the absurd (yet horribly realistic) mayhem.
On that note, there is an effort to instill Dear Leader with a gentle reminder that, while it is fun to step into the shoes of the all-powerful figurehead in an absurd cult of personality (the one title in this review that is not real), this is the actual plight of the people of North Korea. In the final production there will be real and sobering factoids printed on the backs of the policy cards, such as “In North Korea jail punishments are often meted out to the entire family of the criminal!” Be mindful of your buzz, because it might get lost.
Dear Leader is a fun party game with a sobering undercurrent of truth.
Conceived at the conjunction of the absurd and the real, it asks players to step into the shoes of both the all-powerful and the cowering to come up with more and more ridiculous solutions to common problems until any real progress is lost in bootlicking one-upmanship. Welcome to North Korea.
Dear Leader can be purchased through Kickstarter for as low as $30.00 or as high as $60.00 including hand-stenciled art by creator Tim Hutchings.