It’s a mad-dash scramble: Root Review

Every Wednesday night five hardcore gamers gather at my place for two-and-a-half to four hours of intense boardgame play. We are the Anarchist Mountain Goats – or AMGs.

The AMGs are not that interested in family games, party games or co-ops. We prefer meaty-thinky Euros. Our favourite games include Terra Mystica, Gaia Project, Tzolk’in, Terra Mystica, Dominant Species, Terra Mystica, The Voyages of Marco Polo, Terra Mystica, Clans of Caledonia, Through The Ages, Terra Mystica and … okay I admit it… we play Terra Mystica every Wednesday without fail. I had to add a Saturday session just so I could put some other boxes on the table.

Recently, I purchased Cole Wehrle’s ROOT from Seriously Board.

After two Saturday games (a four-player and a three-player, some AMGs obviously being less hardcore than I previously intimated) the response was…well… mixed. Two liked it, two didn’t, one was on the fence. Now I thought this game would be a sure-fire hit with the AMGs, so I thought I’d natter a bit about Root to help you decide if the game was right for your group. As life is short I won’t explain much in the way of rules or strategy, but rather the ‘feel’ of the game.

ROOT looks cutesy. The cartoony artwork! The factions are cats, birds, mice and a racoon – all gathering in a beautiful woodland setting. But… Root plays deadly serious. It’s not for kids. While it is fun, it’s not ‘funny.’

ROOT plays in a zippy 60-90 mins. Even our learning games were only 120-ish. And we definitely have some AP prone players! But… Root has deep strategy and tactics. (According to BGG.)

ROOT is a war game. Your faction’s job is to get out there and burn the other factions to the ground so you can rule over their ashes. Root features direct conflict and unit destruction. But… Root avoids problems like player elimination and ganging up.

ROOT is also a euro. There is resource conversion, engine building and the ubiquitous Victory Points Track. But… Your engine will get wrecked if it looks like you’re winning. Don’t take it personally. You have to attack to win. You score points regardless and the winner is (usually) the first to reach 30 VP. It’s a mad-dash scramble.

ROOT has a learning curve. But… Actually, there is no ‘but’ to this. There is definitely a learning curve. In our first game, no one could help anyone else as they were too busy concentrating on their own faction; also, players were often surprised by the actions of others. “Can we do that?” “Well you can’t, but I can.” Despite all the AMGs being experience euro players it wasn’t until the end of the second game that we’d sorted the rules out.

ROOT has highly asymmetrical factions. You have to play to your faction’s strengths. The jackbooted cat army oppresses and builds. The old-skul bird army ‘liberates’ clearings and tragically fails to adapt to new challenges. The glorious people’s mouse army hides out amongst the general populace spreading the word of outrages until the woodland critters rise up in revolution. And then there’s the unkillable lone anarchist racoon. He can be friend or foe, often both at once, but however much he aids you he’s always working on his own agenda. All factions feel paranoid and vulnerable. (Side-note: Expect the mice to win your first couple of games. Their VP engine is amazing.) But… See learning curve.

ROOT controls battles with dice. Okay so, if you and dice share a mutual hatred, then stay clear. But… Personally, I think the dice are elegantly handled. Basically, attacker rolls a pair of d12 (range 0 – 3) – attacker gets the higher number. It’s quick, clean and not overly swingy.

ROOT controls special rule-breaking opportunities with cards. Getting a card engine going is important. Crafting the right cards is important. But… You can always look through the discard pile to see what’s still in the deck. Also, see learning curve. 

As I mentioned, two AMGs don’t like Root so far. For the record their problems are:

  • Yuck, there’s dice
  • My faction feels scripted
  • I hate direct aggression (Perhaps we’re a bunch of softies after all.)

The AMG who is ambivalent is reserving judgement until we play with the correct rules, but I suspect this will never be his favourite game as he much prefers perfect information games like, er, perchance like Terra Mystica. The two AMGs who like the game mentioned:

  • It’s so tense especially at the end!
  • It’s just like a euro
  • I think there are multiple strategies per faction
  • Tons of replayability

Personally, I’m looking forward to more games of Root. I have the expansion on order. And I even harbour dreams of converting the doubters.

That’s all from the Anarchist Mountain Goats.

Happy headbutting!

~ Michael Switzer

Buy Root the Board Game

David and Helen