Designer: Cole Wehrle
Published: Leder Games
Players: 2-4 Players
Playtime: 60-90 Minutes
Play Type: Asymmetric War Game
You are a member of a proud faction of folk who dwell in the wilderness. Your goal is to capture the wilderness and take control before the other factions can get a hold on the space. Using your unique strengths, work the system to come out on top!
Root is a highly asymmetric war game in which 2-4 players will be taking on the role of one of the various woodland factions to take control of the board. Each of the factions has very different play styles and mechanics, but follows the same structure of turn. I will give a brief overview of each of the play styles of the game, but I will not go into depth on how to play each faction in this review.
The first thing players will do will set up the board and their player mats. Players will take turns setting up the board, starting with the Marquise de Cat Faction, then followed in order by the Eryie Dynasties, Woodland Alliance and finally the Vagabond. Each faction’s set up may have an effect on the others so it is important to follow that order. There is a handy guide on the back of the player mats that will walk players through the steps of set up. Once all players are set up, the play will shift to a turn cycle.
Regardless of the faction that is played, all players will follow the same basic turn structure. Each player’s turn will have three phases: Birdsong, Daylight and Evening. Players will do all three phases before the next player begins their turn. The goal of the game at the beginning of game play is to be the first to gain 30 Victory Points, but this this can be changed by playing Dominance Cards. Once a player has 10 Victory Points, they are able to play a Dominance Card, after which they will remove their score marker and their goal for the game will be whatever is stated on the card.
Let’s take a closer look at each of the factions:
Marquise de Cat: This faction focuses on two things mainly. first they want to build buildings and stretch their influence around the board. Second, the Marquise Faction focuses on military strength around the board. In order to do well, this player must focus on having a strong focus on gaining and maintaining a strong production of wood. This will help the player continue to build new buildings. During Birdsong, this player only adds wood to the board. Next, during Daylight the player will be able to take actions to craft, build, recruit and battle. In the Evening phase, this player will be drawing and discarding cards. They get points for their buildings, crafting and attacking.
Eryie Dynasties: This faction focuses on creating Roosts around the board to gain points. The Eryie faction tends to be a faction that requires heavy planning, and tends to be fairly aggressive. This faction has a special mechanic called a decree. This involves playing cards into four different spaces on their board: Recruit, Move, Battle and Build. Those cards will stay between turns and those actions must be completed each turn. If for any reason the player is unable to complete those on a given turn, the faction goes into turmoil. This causes the player to lose points and have to reset their decree and faction leader. The decree resetting gives the player less actions in their turn, while the faction leader gives them a different special ability. During the Birdsong Phase, the player will place either one or two cards into their decree. During the Daylight Phase, the Eryie player will complete their Decree or go into turmoil. During Evening, the player will score points for their Roosts, draw cards and discard down to five cards in hand.
Woodland Alliance: The Woodland Alliance focuses heavily on aggressive interactions with other players. This player will be focusing on gaining supporters which is a separate hand of cards that can be used to do a variety of tasks. When using Supporter Cards, players must use them only for their suit, they do not give any actions or benefits beyond being a supporter. Supports are used to gain Sympathy Tokens, the main way in which the Woodland Alliance gains points. These tokens can also cause other players to have to give cards to the Woodland Alliance’s Supporter Card Deck.
During Birdsong, the Woodland Alliance can spend supporters to Revolt, getting rid of enemy pieces and placing their own base. Additionally they may place Sympathy Tokens during Birdsong by spending Supporter Cards equal to the number on the player mat tracker. During Daylight, Woodland Alliance may use their regular hand to Craft, Mobilize cards to their Supporter Deck, and Train Officers. Finally during the Evening Phase, they can take as many military operations as they have Officers. These include moving, battling, recruiting and organizing their warriors to place more sympathy.
Vagabond: The Vagabond is the most interactive faction, as they can create and break alliances to meet their needs. They can also go on quests to increase their renown throughout the wilderness. Being the only faction with only one pawn, their rules work differently than many of the other factions. They are unable to control or dominate clearings, but their movement is not impacted by others either. The most important thing for a Vagabond is to manage their item stores well. Players will be balancing when to exhaust items and unexhaust them, which requires plenty of planning.
During Birdsong, allows the Vagabond to refresh some of their items, and then move into an adjacent clearing. During Daylight, the player has the opportunity to do the following actions by exhausting the appropriate item: Move, Battle, Strike, Explore, Aid, Quest, Craft, Repair and Special Character Action. During the Evening, if the player has finished their turn in the woods, the player can repair any damaged items (which can be damaged by battling with other players). Then if the player has too many items in their Satchel, they must remove the additional items to the box. Additionally, they will draw cards equal to the number of card draw symbols on their player mat.
Throughout these phases, The Vagabond will also be balancing their relationships with the other characters. Either scoring points for assisting them by giving Aid or scoring points for removing hostile enemies by removing their Warriors.
This was a brief overview of the different factions. While it may seem overwhelming, the game includes a variety of great player aids to help players not only understand their faction but the others as well.
Root is a stunning game with a lot of character. The wooden pieces that come with are some of my favorite meeples in any game, as each has a great expression and stands out compared to other games. While all of the components work well for what they do, the part that stands out to me the most is the organized use of player aids throughout game play.
Root can be a complex game. There are a lot of moving parts to consider, but there are great player aids and guides to help teach players each of the factions. From the set up listed on the back of the player board, to the well laid out instructions on the front, to the player aid cards handed out to each player, all of these structured aids help players understand the game fully. It is so well thought out, I appreciate it!
- Beautiful Artwork
- Deep, Thoughtful Strategy
- High Player Interaction
- Different Strategies for Different Player Strengths
- Dominance Cards Act as a Catch Up Mechanic
- Player Aids Help Make Teaching Game to Experienced Gamers Smooth
- Difficult to Teach New Players
- Complexity Level can be Confusing
- Each Faction has a Different Learning Curve
- Theme doesn’t Match Level of Take That
- Combat is Fairly Random
I will be honest, I put off learning Root because I heard it was difficult to teach and almost too complex for it’s own good. I am so happy I did not let that turn me completely away from it. It has quickly become one of my favorite games, even so much as to be one of my top five favorite games I have played. I love the level of asymmetry between the different factions. Each faction plays very differently, and it keeps me coming back to develop my skills in each faction.
They all provide a different level of difficulty, and have a significantly different learning curve. This may be frustrating, especially for first time players. Some of the factions are much easier to understand, but are more difficult to win with. It is also easy for a player, especially a more experienced player, to make a runaway lead. If a player does start to get ahead of others significantly, it can be frustrating and difficult to catch up. I really like the inclusion of the Dominance Cards for this reason. It provides additional ways for players to win, helping players who are behind in points still have the opportunity to win. This review only looks at the four base game factions, but the expansions add even more complexity and more of a learning curve.
However, with that complexity comes a challenge to adapt strategy to a new style of game play. The challenge behind changing your style of gameplay to fit your faction’s goals make the game compelling to play time after time. That being said, the first few play throughs of Root can have a high learning curve. It may take players several times playing the game to fully understand all the mechanics. I did not even consider doing a review of the game until after around 10 play throughs so I could play each faction twice and at different player counts.
While the game plays well at any player count, it does become a more interesting at higher player counts with more factions interacting. It is disappointing that at lower player counts not all factions are functional or available.
Another large strength of the game is the aesthic appeal. Root is a truely unique game, with beautiful pieces. The meeples included are some of my favorites, because they each have so much personality. While I love the theme and the artwork for the game, I do worry that someone who may not have done their research could mistake the mechanics of the game based on the cute theme. There are high levels of take that and direct combat, which may surprise someone who purchase the game based on looks alone.
For players who enjoy a lot of direct player interaction though, Root is a perfect match. The player interaction is a key part of gameplay. Oftentimes, combat and interactions between players end up benefiting both players and is highly encouraged for a successful game.
Overall, I would suggest Root for experienced gamers who enjoy assymetrical aspects of gameplay. While teaching the game can be difficult, I found that the depth of strategy and replayability made Root one of my favorite games I have played. I would suggest it for players who enjoy game like Vast, Scythe, or Spirit Island. All of these games feel similar in weight to Root, and encourage planning ahead to work around each player’s abilities.