The war is raging in the forest. The Eyrie Dynasty has come back to claim what was theirs from the omnipresent usurping Marquise de Cat. The forest is waking up and building the resistance Woodland Alliance, while the killer warrior Vagabond is walking around, listening to no-one. And that’s how you start the game of Root.
What is it about?
Despite the cute looks and animal theme, Root is a heavy asymmetrical wargame for up to 4 (6 with expansions) players. This game was the most anticipated release back in 2018, gaining a whole bunch of awards, love of board game community and a proud #34 place among all board games on the BoardGameGeek. No wonder, it’s constantly sold out! Poromagia has pre-orders open for the next print run due to arrive this fall.
In Root, you’ll take the role of one of the warring bodies (tribes, companies) and aim for domination.
The game takes asymmetry to the new level, where each of the parties has a completely new set of rules to play. That makes the game hard to learn, yet very fresh.
As we started playing Root on quarantine (thus, we were just 2 players) it took us many games to master all the 4 basic factions (haven’t even unpacked my Riverfolk expansion yet). There’s a lot of content and each game played with new factions is a completely new board game. So it’s like you get 1 Root but 4 board games inside of it.
Marquise de Cat, the ruler of the forest as you set up the game, is the closest the game comes to typical strategy and engine building. You recruit warriors, build supporting buildings and, generally, win by maintaining control of the most area.
The Eyrie Dynasty are the kings of the past, returning to recapture the forest from the cats. The birds start with almost no territory, but can quickly amass the troops to take Marquise down. Here, you have to conquer and conquer fast.
The Woodland Alliance is the resistance behind, the forest animals fighting back. The forest is tired of the never-ending war between the cats and the birds and wants to claim their right to freedom. You’ll be playing as a partizan, seducing the forest join you in the resistance, and setting up traps for the other factions.
The Vagabond is the weirdest of the batch and is the closest you get to an RPG game. It’s only one character who walks around the forest, completes quests, collects equipment, and watches over the forest war, helping of disarming whoever comes on the road.
What I enjoyed
- Asymmetry. I dedicated a large part of the article describing how each of the factions works and you probably noticed how different each player would go around Root. Yet, for me, it’s the most exciting part of the game. If you ever played Vast, you will know what I mean.
- Conflicts. Peace is impossible. None of the factions have enough territory to win without conflict. You will constantly fight for territory and strive to conquer and protect your piece of the forest. Even the Vagabond can’t stay indifferent and often join to fight the oppressor, whoever is the oppressor at any given time.
- Cuteness and art. Have you seen those amazing pictures? When I think of wargames, I imagine a huge serious thing based on real-life war (take Twilight Struggle, for example). Root is nothing like that. It’s always a pleasure to get it out of the shelf. To be fair, many of my friends asked to play it just because of how cute it is.
- Strategy. As strategical a wargame might get, this game requires you to think about every single move. You have to read your opponents’ minds and predict their next steps.
- Expansions! The only this better than Root is more Root! Luckily, three new expansions and lots of extra content will help you expand your Root-universe. The expansions add new mechanics, new factions (capitalistic otters or religious lizards, for example), new cards, and many more games of Root.
What could be better
- Many many rules. As you can find from the BoardgameGeek, Root’s weight, or complexity, is 3.63 out of 5. That is a heavy game and as soon as you start learning the rules you will see why. As each faction has a different playstyle, they all have completely different rules and exceptions from the rules. It’s hard to learn how to play it and remember the little details, but that’s the rewarding part of board gaming, isn’t it?
- Learning curve. I found it also difficult to introduce new players to the game. As I’ve become acquainted with the tribes and their strategies, it’s hard for a new player to grasp their own faction, let alone understand what is going on on the board, how to stop other players, and how to keep on moving. The mix of players who know how to play and those who don’t, will not kick off right away till everyone knows (at least approximately) how each person plays. Ideally, each player should have played with each faction at least once, until the game gets competitive.
Is this game for you?
I do love Root and I really wish I could play more of it. Unfortunately, it’s complexity often scares new players. Good thing is that you can start learning it slowly, just playing with 2 factions, like the cats and the birds, and you will already get a very good game. The game flowers with 3 players, as the action is set up and there’s often an “unaccounted force” each of players can pull off.
If you’re considering getting Root, watch a how-to-play video like this one. It’ll give you a good overview of how the game works and if it’ll be a good match for your gaming group. Obviously, if you love heavier games and enjoy battling with each other, Root is a great catch!
So, who will rule your forest?
I’ve been playing as long as I remember myself. When I was a kid I dreamt of building my own games, and now I’m trying to make it a reality. Board games carry me away into a different world where I can be a knight, a researcher, a kingdom builder, or a zombie fighter. Love semi-coop and engine building games. Favorite game of all times: Dead of Winter.