Creating and Using Leaders

Leaders appear infrequently but can have a very large impact on the game. They have the unique abilities to rush wonders and to create armies.

This article describes rules which affect the appearance of leaders, techniques which can increase your chances of getting a leader, ways to use leaders, and some game strategies based on leaders.

Rules Affecting Leader Production

You can only have one leader at a time. If you have a leader who hasn’t been used for anything yet, there is nothing you can do to produce a second leader at the same time. You must use the existing leader first, to rush something in a city or to build an army. You can check whether you currently have a leader by seeing whether one is displayed in the F3 display under “available leader.”

You can however produce more than one leader in one game turn. If you get a leader, then move him to a nearby town and use him immediately, afterward you can get another leader in the same turn.

Each time one of your elite units wins a fight against a rival, there is a 1 in 16 chance that a leader will appear.

If one of your cities has built the small wonder “Heroic Epic” then your chance of getting a leader improves to 1 in 12 when you win a fight with an elite.

You can not get a leader by fighting a barbarian. Only fights won against rival Civs have a chance of producing a leader.

You can get a leader when an elite wins while defending as well as from attacking. The chances of getting a leader from a successful defense are 1/2 the chances while attacking, i.e. 1 in 32 without Heroic Epic, 1 in 24 with Heroic Epic.

When one of your elite units produces a leader, the game asks you for a new name for the unit. There’s no need to give a name if you don’t want to, you can just hit Escape. (Escape is better than hitting Enter because this way the unit’s name will still be updated if you later upgrade the unit.) What is important is to remember which of your elite units have produced a leader. This is easy to check because every elite unit which has produced a leader has its experience level changed from “Elite” to “Elite*”.

“Elite*” units, i.e. those which have produced a leader, are “used”. No matter how many more fights that unit wins it will not produce another leader.

When you upgrade an “Elite*” unit, e.g. upgrade an Elite* Horseman to a Knight, the unit’s experience level is reduced to veteran and it can produce a leader after it wins a promotion to become elite again.

Techniques to Improve Chances for Leaders

First a bit of background about unit experience levels. At any time each of your units is at one of the following experience levels:
Conscript: 2 health points, popped from a hut or drafted
Regular: 3 health points, built by a city without barracks
Veteran: 4 health points, built by a city with barracks
Elite: 5 health points
Elite*: 5 health points and has produced a leader

Each time a unit wins a battle it has a chance of being promoted to the next higher experience level.

To get leaders you need to win many battles with elite units. On average you will get one leader for every 16 battles won by an elite.

There are a limited number of battles you can fight in any given turn. Your enemies will only produce a certain number of units, and there are only so many barbarians available to fight. For the best chance of getting leaders you want to maximize your chances from the available battles.

Your first priority should be to avoid building regular units. You want to build barracks first and then build veterans. The early part of the game is an exception – it is usually more important to get units out exploring, and perhaps even to hit an enemy with an early rush attack. But after the early stages, never build units without first building a barracks. You don’t want to waste fights getting your regular units promoted to veteran – it is better to use those same fighting opportunities to get veterans promoted to elite or to get elite wins to try for leaders.

The following notes describe when to use units according to their experience level. These are just general guidelines. In any given situation there may be over-riding priorities such as a crucial defense or a high priority target. But often these guidelines can be applied while pursuing your other goals:

Conscript & Regular:

As soon as you have some veteran units, stop using Conscripts and Regulars in fights. In Despotism or Monarchy use these inexperienced units at home as military police. In later governments disband them or save them for quick production boosts in cities when you want to rush a build. Don’t fight with them, they waste promotion opportunities better used by your more experienced units.


1) Use them against barbarians to try for promotions to elite.

2) Use them against rivals after any available fights which can use elites (see notes below.)

3) When attacking a strong defense with a stack you may want to use veterans before using elites. This is a tradeoff. If you don’t have good odds of winning with an elite, of course your odds are even worse with a veteran. Nonetheless, if you are producing new veteran units at a good rate back home, I suggest using veterans first when the odds aren’t good. You’ll lose some of them but you’ll weaken the target, and that creates opportunities for your elites to finish off the defenders with less risk. I prefer to lose a few more veterans when it gives me more chances to safely use elites and get chances for leaders.


1) If possible don’t fight barbarians, use a veteran instead. An elite can’t produce a leader from this fight but a veteran can get promoted.

2) If you have an unused leader try to avoid fighting with your elites at all. Use veterans instead. Depending on the overall game situation, consider slowing your advance on the enemy (due to not using your elites) until your leader has been used to build something. The reason for this is that every time you use an elite while you have an unused leader, you are “wasting” a fight which might have upgraded a veteran to elite (if a veteran were used) or which might have produced a leader (if the elite were used after the current leader has built something.)

3) Try to pick off the easiest enemy targets first with elites. There are two reasons:
(a) You increase the chance of a win. Which means you reduce your chances of losing. And you don’t want to lose elites. It takes a lot of elite wins (on average) to produce a leader. You want them to survive to keep winning and winning until a leader pops up.
(b) Sometimes you’ll win easy fights without even losing a health point. Then the elite can try again on the next turn vs. having to sit on the sidelines for a while to heal.


1) If the unit can be upgraded later in the game try to avoid using it at all, just set it aside for later upgrading.

2) If the unit cannot be upgraded later (e.g. Cavalry), or if you have urgent need of it, use it as your first attacker when attacking a strong defense. Maybe it will win. If it loses hopefully it will at least weaken the defender for your subsequent veteran and elite attackers.

Other factors (subjects other than fighting):

I think it is often advantageous to not upgrade elite units to a newer unit. E.g. if I’ve just learned Military Tradition, I will upgrade veteran and elite* Knights as quickly as possible, but I’ll hang on to some elite Knights. They can wander around near the battle front looking for opportunities against weak or injured enemies. Any easy fight they find is a “free” leader chance, vs. an upgraded Knight (Cavalry) who will have to earn a promotion to elite before it can generate a leader.

“Militaristic” civilizations are slightly better for generating leaders. Their veteran units have a better chance of being promoted to elite in each fight. So they get more elites from the same number of fights, which results in more chances to generate leaders.

The Luck Factor

Each time that you try for a leader there is only a small chance of getting one. So game strategies which rely on getting a leader quickly at a particular time should be avoided – there’s too much risk that it will take a long time to get one when you need it.

But it is entirely reasonable to plan on getting a number of leaders over a period of time. In the long run probabilities will work out and you can expect to get some leaders.

Because of the low odds in each fight there can be a great variance in how long it takes to get a leader:

1) Without Heroic Epic there is a 1 in 16 chance of getting a leader.

2) The best of luck is when a leader pops up on your very first fight with an elite unit. This will happen, but on average just one time out of every 16 times you try it.

3) There will also be runs of bad luck. There is a 1 in 16 chance ( for those who want the math, (15/16) ^ 43 ~= 1/16 ) that you’ll have a run of 43 elite wins in a row before you get a single leader.

To get a feel for what can be expected in real play, suppose that we play a large number of games and that on average in each game we win 64 elite fights. If we look over a hypothetical average set of four of these games we’d see that:
1) There were a total of 16 leaders produced in the four games.
2) There was a wide variation in the number of elite wins between successive leaders. Sometimes it took just a few wins, sometimes a lot.
3) Once a leader appeared immediately, on the first try after the previous leader.
4) Once it took about 40 elite wins between one leader and the next.

Of course there’s no rule which says that a particular set of four games with sixteen leaders would work out that way. But by the time you look at a larger number of games (say 20 or so) this overall picture will be reasonably close to the pattern you’ll experience. It is a useful enough pattern to form a basis for your expectations and planning, i.e.:

1) Don’t count on getting a leader quickly. A run of 50 elite wins without getting a leader is to be expected once in a while. Longer runs are possible but the odds do diminish. For example, a run of 40 is about a 1 in 13 chance. A run of 80 is about a 1 in 170 chance.

2) Do make plans which assume you’ll get a leader eventually, as long as you are prepared for a long run when necessary. E.g. I think it is a reasonable strategy to plan on using a leader to rush a Forbidden Palace in captured territory, given that you are ready to keep on fighting for a while until you get the leader.

Heroic Epic

Building the small wonder “Heroic Epic” increases your chances of getting leaders to 1 in 12 elite wins (instead of 1 in 16.)

So why not build Heroic Epic as a matter of course in every game? There is a tricky tradeoff – you must have a victorious army before you can build Heroic Epic. And the only way to get your first army is to use a leader to create it.

I feel that early in the game armies are not worth having for their own sake. So I won’t use an early leader to create an army unless the Heroic Epic more than compensates for the lost leader.

To work that out let’s consider two cases for using a leader:

1) Create an army and build Heroic Epic. After doing this we expect a leader to appear on average every 12 elite wins. So 48 elite wins after this time we expect to have had 4 more leaders which we could use to rush wonders.

2) Don’t create army, don’t build Heroic Epic. The first leader rushes a wonder. In the next 48 elite wins we expect to get 3 more leaders. At the end of that period we’ll have had a total of 4 leaders used to rush wonders.

So 48 elite wins after the first leader the two cases come to the same thing – at that point four “useful” leaders (i.e. not counting the leader used for the army) have been produced.

At any time before producing those four leaders we’re further ahead to not build Heroic Epic. The first three useful leaders come sooner without it.

At any time after producing those four leaders we’re further ahead by having built Heroic Epic. We’ll average one leader per 12 elite wins after that instead of one per 16.

In a typical game I’d expect to get from 3 to 5 leaders before the mid-Industrial Age (they’re most useful before that time I think.) I often want to use them as quickly as possible. E.g. I might feel that Great Lighthouse would be helpful and that a rival is closer to completing it. So I don’t usually go for Heroic Epic. It won’t gain much in the long run with just 3 to 5 leaders, and in the short run I’d rather seize the opportunity to rush something right away.

OTOH, in a game where I plan to go for a lot of leaders (e.g. if going for 20K culture in one city and planning to rush a lot of wonders there with leaders) Heroic Epic seems well worth building. With Heroic Epic you can expect to get 12 useful leaders from the same number of elite wins as would produce 10 useful leaders without Heroic Epic.

Another factor: With Heroic Epic, the “luck factor” becomes a bit more predictable. As noted earlier, without Heroic Epic there’s a 1 in 170 chance of needing 80 elite wins in a row before a leader appears. With Heroic Epic the risk of 80 elite wins in a row not producing a leader is reduced to 1 in 1050. There’s still a lot of variability but the chance of long leaderless streaks is considerably reduced. That’s helpful in a game where you are trying for a somewhat regular supply of leaders.

A special case: Suppose you get a leader at a time when you have no particular use for one. If you expect you’ll be saving the leader for a long time before using it, it can be a good gamble to create an army, build Heroic Epic, and hope to get a new leader before you next have a use for one.

If you do go for Heroic Epic, don’t take chances with your army’s first fight! I recommend stacking the deck heavily. E.g. load two veteran Knights into the army and then have it attack a wounded archer on grassland. (Imagine losing that first army attack – you’ve used the leader and you still can’t build Heroic Epic, not a result to be contemplated.)

Using Leaders

What’s the best way to use a leader? It depends on your long term strategy and the situation in the game. The following notes describe possible uses, with the ones I feel are most important first:

Palace or Forbidden Palace:

Having two separate productive regions, one around a Palace and one around a Forbidden Palace, can double your empire’s productivity and is a high priority. There are three ways to accomplish this:
1) The “Palace jump” technique. This can be highly effective but takes planning and often involves some compromises (e.g. keeping all other towns small at the time of the jump, and stuffing workers into the target city.)
2) Build a Forbidden Palace. This compromises speed vs. overlap – if the Forbidden Palace is close to the capital its effect is less, if far from the capital it takes a very long time to build.
3) Rush a Forbidden Palace (or a new Palace if Forbidden Palace has already been built near the original capital) with a leader.

I think this is often the best way to use the first leader. Sometimes the first leader will appear before you have a productive region ready and it may be better to use the leader for something else, gambling on getting another leader for the Palace/FP.


There are so many useful ones! Which wonder to rush depends on the map and your overall plans. I find the following wonders especially powerful, depending on the game circumstances: Pyramids, Great Lighthouse, Great Library, Sun Tzu’s, Leonardo’s, JS Bach’s, Hoover Dam, United Nations. In some games the science producing wonders are also particularly good to have.

If you are building a particular wonder and you get a leader, it can be nice to use the leader to rush the wonder in another city and to shift your existing production to a new wonder which is less urgent.

It is of course best to use leaders to rush wonders in cities which can benefit most from them (for example with science improving wonders or continent-based wonders), and also to use them in cities where not many shields have been invested in the city’s current build. The leader can as easily rush the wonder from a starting point of zero shields as from 90% built. Whatever shields the city has invested in its current build are essentially wasted when you rush production with a leader.

Save Leader For Later:

Often you’ll be in a position where there’s something urgent coming in a while but you can’t build it yet. E.g. there might be a place you want to rush Forbidden Palace but you haven’t yet taken it from a rival, or you might be 10 turns from learning Literature and rushing Great Library is a high priority for your game plan.

It is a judgement call whether to hold the leader for the upcoming priority vs. using it for something else now and hoping for another leader to appear in the meantime. If you save the leader you’ll be wasting chances to get another during that time, but you’ll be sure of getting your priority build. If you use the leader you’re taking a chance that a long leaderless run follows and you won’t have a leader when you really want one. You’ll just have to decide in each situation, balancing the odds of getting another leader against the urgency of the build. E.g. you might work it out like this: “It will be 5 turns before I learn Literature; I’m averaging about five wins with elite units per turn, 25 such wins without a leader would be about a 1 in 5 chance, so it is about 80% odds I’ll get another leader in time if I use this leader. But if I don’t get the Great Library my whole plan is toast because I’m so far behind in tech. And I know France is close to it. So I’ll hold the leader, it is not worth the risk.” Or you might apply the same reasoning in a situation where no one else has a significant build started and come to the opposite conclusion, you might figure you can build the Library the hard way if necessary, or that you can afford a low chance risk of missing it, and therefore at 80% odds you might as well use the current leader now and go for another leader.


The priority of using a leader this way depends on how important you consider armies to be. I seldom consider armies worthwhile before well into the Industrial Age, so up to that time I only use a leader to create one if I want Heroic Epic.

Late in the game, if there are no wonders to be rushed, I often use leaders to create armies. At this point armies can be useful in attacking Infantry defended cities. Might as well create some when there isn’t a more urgent use for the leader.

City Improvement:

In some games it can happen that you have massive forces in the Industrial Age or Modern Times, with many elite units, and during a war at this point you get a lot of leaders. Sometimes you even get more than one per turn. By this time leaders aren’t very valuable. You’ve got all the wonders you can, you have as many armies as you want. In the occasional game where this happens I use the leaders to rush city improvements. Might as well save some money and rush expensive builds such as Universities, Mass Transit, Battleships, whatever seems most desirable.

Leader Farming

It is possible to take extreme measures to increase leader production, trading off other game elements such as rapid expansion to improve the chances for more leaders.

I think of leader farming not as a single technique but as a combination of things where the overriding emphasis is on getting leaders, even at the expense of other factors.

In many games this can be a useful technique for some short period(s). For instance at a time when a few wonders are available and you can’t build them all before your rivals. At that time it may be worth putting extra effort into leader production to see if you can get one or two extra wonders that way.

In some games it can be useful to go much further, leader farming through most of the game. For example this can be helpful in getting an early 20K culture city victory.

The first part of leader farming is, of course, to use all of the techniques described so far. In addition to those techniques, here are some ways to leader farm more aggressively:

1) To carry this approach to the maximum you’d like an appropriate map. Ideally you’d play as a Militaristic Civ, on a Pangaea map (or at least a map where you can easily reach a good number of rivals), and you want to reach a position where you have a few large rivals who are nonetheless not as strong as you are. A technology lead or a resource advantage, resulting in you having stronger attackers than your rivals’ defenders, is helpful.

2) Attack your opponents slowly. You don’t want to cripple their production, you want them to keep producing units (preferably weaker than your own) so that you can keep fighting.

3) At any time when you do not have a leader, attack your rivals’ exposed units aggressively with your elite units, trying to produce a leader. If you feel you don’t have enough elite units then also attack with veterans to get some of them promoted. The right number of elites is hard to say, it depends on circumstances and your style. Generally I’d like to have at least 5 to 10 elites attacking each turn. After attacking exposed enemy units, if you still have elites who can attack this turn then consider attacking some enemy cities with them. You’ll have to balance between reducing their territory (and thus their long term ability to produce new cannon fodder for your troops) vs. getting a leader quickly by continuing to attack. This balance depends on your long term goals and the number of other rivals available after the current ones. Where possible without over-killing them, attack with all of your available (i.e. healed) elite units each turn until you get a leader. Don’t use veterans during this phase unless you feel that you need to promote more of them to elites.

4) As soon as you get a leader, rush him to the city where he’ll be used. Every turn he takes to get home slows you down. Try to have shortest routes set up in advance from the warfronts to home, including having ships ready at water crossings. If you produce a leader while taking an enemy town, consider finishing off that town with veteran units before moving the leader – capturing the town before moving the leader might let your leader use roads to shorten his trip home by a turn.

5) During the turns your unused leader is moving to where he’s going to be used, fight only a holding action. Pull your troops back from the battlefront and fight only any enemy units which come after you into your territory. Use only veteran units to fight those invaders – any fights you win with elites while your leader is heading home are wasted, these fights can’t produce a new leader. Instead use veterans to get some of them promoted to elites.

6) Plan ahead for the turn when your leader reaches home. On the turn before that, move your elite units into positions ready to attack. On the turn when the leader gets home, use him and start attacking with elites right away, repeating the whole cycle until you get your next leader.

7) Use one of your early leaders for an army and build Heroic Epic. If you’re planning to farm a lot of leaders Heroic Epic is definitely helpful.

8) Look for chances to cripple your rivals’ ability to produce advanced units. For instance if you are at the Chivalry/Feudalism stage of the game, try to pillage your rivals’ sources of iron and horses. This will help you in two ways: a) Your rival can only produce weaker units, resulting in a higher rate of success for your units, and b) Your rival will produce cheaper units and will thus produce more of them – you’ll get more leader chances by killing three enemy archers than by killing two swordsmen!


I think that producing leaders is not an exact science. Techniques to improve your chances must be adapted to circumstances to fit with your overall strategy. And leader production remains at heart a matter of luck. Sometimes they may seem to fall from the sky. At other times you may want to curse the random number generator. I wish you more of the former!

I hope you enjoyed reading this and found some useful tips in it.

May your leaders appear often and at the best of times!

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