Since the mid-2000s it has become common, although far from universal, to characterise the world as ‘multipolar’. There has, however, been scant attention to how the key protagonists view the changing distribution of power. This article sets the stage for this special issue of POLITICS, which begins to address that lacuna. It introduces the significance of a change in the global balance of power and explores how power in the international context is understood and assessed. It then makes the case for which actors are the key protagonists in the current global distribution of power and contextualises the subsequent articles by providing comparative indicators of power across a range of dimensions. Drawing on the contributions, this article concludes that while the ‘rules of the game’ of international politics probably will change, they are unlikely to do so beyond all recognition.