I think Root may be one of the most creative games in existence today. The level of asymmetry involved is mind boggling, but it works so smoothly and it’s so much fun!
Kara & Jeremiah Clark
Theme and What is it?
In Root players control one of four factions of woodland warriors with a motive for war.
The Cat de Marquis wants to keep the forest residents under their tyrannical paws, but the Eyrie Dynasty (Birds) are doing everything they can to take control back from the cats. The Woodland Alliance is a ragtag group of critters who are tired of being oppressed and have taken it upon themselves to start a revolution for freedom. The Vagabond just goes around doing what he likes, which is collecting junk and going on his own little quests.
By successfully using their faction’s abilities, managing their forces, and crafting items to help them along the way, one player will skitter their way to woodland domination!… Or just a happy victory in the Vagabond’s case.
Root is first and foremost an area control game, but it’s so much more than just pushing plastic pieces around on a map. Players can build little buildings in the areas they’ve conquered, and then they can use those buildings to create items, score points, or convince more poor saps to join their cause. Each faction has a drastically different play style as well.
The Cat de Marquis generates wood each turn and uses it to build buildings all over the forest.
The Eyrie Dynasty adds action cards to an ever expanding agenda and those actions MUST be carried out each round. Otherwise the bird citizens will fly into an outrage, overthrow their leader and appoint some new birdbrain to lead them to victory.
The Woodland Alliance uses cards to spread and strengthen their forces. To do this effectively the player must think very carefully, very far in advance.
The Vagabond’s actions depend on which items he’s managed to dig out of the ground, or snatch from his opponents; if he doesn’t have any available items, he doesn’t get to take any actions.
When our game group said, “Hey, we should play Root next time,” I groaned inside and thought “I’ll just call in sick next time”. I was not excited. Not even interested. War games are not my thing. But I wanted to be a good friend, so I went and we played, and… I fell in love.
Root isn’t just a war game! It’s not just marching into a clearing and decimating your opponents, (though that’s definitely part of it), there is so much strategy—so much planning that goes into playing well. If you expand your forces too quickly and spread them too thin, it’ll be easy for your opponents to move in and pick them off.
On the other hand, if you don’t expand quickly enough you’ll be boxed into a corner as your opponents take over the surrounding forest. Throughout the game there are a lot of things that you can do. It’s deciding what you should do to advance your faction without putting them in danger that makes the game such a thrill to play.
Game Build Quality
The contents of Root are well designed and practical without having excessive flash or flair. Each faction has a unique set of adorably fierce meeple warriors, an incredibly useful player board, and a number of cards to start with.
All the cardboard used in the game is of really high quality, and the cards have that nice linen finish that everyone loves.
The main board is beautifully illustrated on both sides and made of a nice thick cardboard. The box is also thick and durable feeling and comes with a custom insert into which everything fits perfectly.
The only drawbacks to the components are that the player boards have a tendency to curl, and the game board is so stiff that it has trouble laying flat. Still, neither of these issues have interfered with actual gameplay.
The artwork in Root has an almost cartoonish feel to it, so even though you’re slaughtering adorable woodland creatures, you feel okay about it because the artwork is so fun. Each card is illustrated and includes a thematic title and ability that matches whatever is going on in the picture.
This is a really nice touch because it brings to life whatever you’re doing in the game. The colors chosen for the game are mostly woodsy greens and oranges, which also add to the theme of tiny forest critters getting their autumnal war on.
One thing that sticks out to me is that the artist of Root didn’t sacrifice any utility for art, which means that although everything is beautifully and thematically illustrated, the components are still extremely easy to see, read, and understand.
One artistic decision I really want to draw attention to is the faction boards, because they are sheer genius. When playing Root, each player gets a board that corresponds to their chosen faction. Each board has designated spaces for faction specific tokens and pieces, as well as pieces that may be acquired during the game.
However, the greatest aspect of the faction boards is that the left half of each board contains a detailed yet concise turn sequence summary for that player. What I mean is, the turn sequence is literally spelled out for that player, on their own board! This is a genius idea because each faction operates by completely different rules than the others, and this small yet brilliant design keeps the players from having to refer to the rulebook too often, while helping gameplay move steadily forward.
I think Root is extremely fun—there’s just so much you can do! You can expand your forces, build a building, attack your opponents, or craft items for points. There’s never a turn where you’re left with nothing to do. Every turn feels important, and there isn’t much room for mistakes.
Every faction is so different, and it’s fascinating to watch them interact with each other. Your opponent will do something and you’ll think, “Oh that’s so cool, I wish I could do that!” and your opponent is probably thinking the same thing about whatever faction you’re playing.
One great thing is that since gameplay only takes 60-90 minutes, you could play again immediately after with a different faction if you wanted to. Also, there are enough setup variations (which factions you play and which side of the board you play on) that the game will be a different experience every time you play.
Age Range & Weight
The box says that the recommended age is 10+. Personally, I feel that Root requires too much planning and strategy for someone that young to handle. But hey, you know your kids and what they’re capable of better than I do!
With four factions playing together that each have an entirely different play style, the game is bound to be complex. However, since the turn sequence for each player is literally spelled out on their player board, the complexity is mitigated significantly. I think anyone 14+ would be able to understand this game and play it well.
I think Root may be one of the most creative games in existence today. The level of asymmetry involved is mind-boggling, but it works so smoothly and it’s so much fun!
I really don’t have any complaints about this game: The components are great, the gameplay is fantastic, and the replay value is high enough to keep the game from ever feeling repetitive. This is one that will be staying in my collection for a long time.
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