Root: What’s the Hype About
I want to give an overview and review today of Root. Root is almost two years old now, but it has been difficult to get through distribution until recently when Leder Games released a reprint along with some new expansions. So you may have only recently heard about this masterpiece of asynchronous are control, or this might be your first encounter with the cutesy art by Kyle Ferrin. Either way, here are my thoughts on the game!
The object of Root is deceptively simple: reach 30 victory points and you win! The intricacies and elegance of the game come with how each faction gains those victory points. Root is a area control game with four different asynchronous factions in the base box. Each faction is going to have different rules for how they take their turns, how they recruit more troops and move about the board, and how they gain victory points. All factions draw cards from a shared deck, but each faction uses these cards in slightly different ways. Let me give a brief overview of each faction.
The Marquise de Cat are the current ruling faction of the woodland realm of Root. They start the game with a strong but spread out board presence. Their goal is to expand their buildings and machinery to as many clearings as possible, and they do this by generating and using wood tokens from one of their building types: sawmills. Their other two building types are the recruiters, which recruit more cats to the board, and the workshops, which help them play cards from their hand to gain victory points. They gain victory points with each building that they build, so it is important for them to continue to expand their empire while not losing hold on what they already have.
The Eyrie Dynasties
The Eyrie Dynasties are the old rulers of the woods, and they are seeking to regain their former glory! They score points at the end of each turn depending on how many roosts they have managed to place. The catch to the Eyrie Dynasties are that they must add one or two cards to their “decree” each turn, which dictates what actions they must perform and what type of clearing (mouse, fox, or rabbit) they must perform that action in. If they ever fail to perform any one action in their decree, they fall into disarray and must lose victory points, choose a new leader, and reset their decree. This makes the choice of which cards to place in the decree vitally important, and they also require careful attention to the map at all times. They are one of my personal favorites to play.
The Woodland Alliance are the faction to play if you want to be the underdog. They start with nothing on the board, and have to work to gather support with each of the three subfactions (mice, foxes, and rabbits) to establish bases in matching clearings where they can start to muster troops and take the fight back to the ruling factions. Once they start to establish their military presence, they have an amazing ability in combat that allows them to stand up to the superior forces of the Eyrie and the Marquise. Combat in Root is simple. The attacker rolls two dice numbered with 0-3, and the high number is how many pieces the attacker removes while the low number is how many pieces the defender removes. This number is also limited by how many warriors you have in the combat. However, the Woodland Alliance gets to take the high number when they are defenders! This makes them difficult to get rid of once they start their engine rolling. If the Marquise or Eyrie get out of control too quickly, however, it is hard for the Alliance to catch up.
The final “faction” is not really a faction at all. The Vagabond is a single model that gets to move throughout the forest, gathering equipment to help the factions he chooses to and hinder the other factions. The Vagabond gets to play all sides of the conflict and tries to benefit from finding opportunities to take advantage of positive or negative situations that the other factions find themselves in. He can complete tasks for each faction that will award him victory points, and he can also take a turn to slip into a clearing and heal himself up if he gets into trouble with a hostile factions. He feels like a Robin Hood character, scavenging for supplies and trying to trick the richer factions into giving this poor raccoon some victory points. He is arguably the most difficult faction to figure out how to play in the base box, but he is rewarding and fun once you figure him out.
In short, I think Root is a masterpiece. The interplay between factions is so interesting because there are moments where you will need to help a player that was your mortal enemy the turn before. I love that the victory condition is the same for all factions but that each faction has different ways to gain those victory points. It makes the game much easier to teach than Leder Games’s previous title, Vast: The Crystal Caverns, which I also enjoy but which is a nightmare to teach to new players.
The playtime is just right for Root as well, with the box accurately listing 60-90 minutes. It will definitely take a bit longer when playing with new players, but the player boards included for each faction are great at helping players walk through their turns with ease.
Some people may find the factions unbalanced, with the Marquise starting out too powerful or the Alliance too weak, but that is purposeful and intentional design that keeps the tension of the game going from beginning to end. A bad combat can cause big problems for a player, but the different item cards that you can craft from the deck, and the ambush cards that defenders can use help to balance out the luck of the combat dice rolls with the opportunity to plan for contingencies from a bad combat.
I would recommend Root to many different types of gamers. It is strategic enough to help scratch the itch of a strategy gamer in a shorter time period than other area control games but simple enough to play with medium-weight gamers who might just agree to a game because of the darling art that reminds them of the Redwall books they used to read when they were younger. And if you need more than the four base factions, there are expansions now that add a total of four more factions and a cooperative mode where you can fight against mechanical version of the factions!
I hope this overview and review was helpful if you wanted to know more about Root or are looking for a fun new game to spice up your game nights!