This is a Reaction to Root, not a review. Reactions are our way of helping set your expectations for your first play of a game. Every game has to be played a first time and knowing what to expect may help you have a better first experience with it.

The idea of Root is what first grabbed me: a conflict game with four completely asymmetric factions that have completely different starting positions. It is a type of game I have wanted to design myself so I was really excited to see it work on the table.

THE GAME

The Marquis (cats) start in control of the Woodlands. But they are spread thin and can take limited actions. The Eyrie (birds) were the former rulers of the Woodland and want to take it back. They build a series of actions each round so as the game progresses they get stronger and stronger – until their plan falls apart which resets them a bit (which is not necessarily a bad thing). The Alliance is tired of being oppressed by the rulers of the Woodland. They start nowhere but can grow explosively as they build support. And lastly, we have the Vagabond. This racoon rogue is just trying to make the best of the conflict skittering about making deals with the other factions. The Vagabond also has the option to form a coalition with the faction in last place and helping them win.

Each faction starts differently and plays differently and this sounds like a lot of fun right? Let’s get into my first play to help you know what to expect in your first.

THOUGHTS ON MY FIRST PLAY

In the end, I really enjoyed my first play of Root but this is not a game that should be played only once. The depth of strategy that I feel is there won’t be uncovered in that first play – simply because you aren’t paying that much attention to the other factions. I believe this is a game that can really shine with multiple plays. Once you know your faction you can really be watching the others and responding to them. In this first play, I felt like I was really just responding to my own situation. I realize many games are like this but, in a more symmetric game, if you know your situation you know your opponent’s situations as well since they are similar.

Your first play of Root might leave you feeling a bit conflicted.

All that to say, your first play of Root might leave you feeling a bit conflicted. You want to be excited about it but you aren’t sure because you have only seen a small piece of the game.

The other elephant in the room with a first play of Root is the teaching and learning. For the teacher, it is a particular challenge to teach what amounts to four different sets of rules. I’ll give some tips for doing this below. For the learner, you are so focused on learning your faction that you may end the game and not even know how the other factions really work. That was our experience. Expect this going into your first game and, if you are planning to play this multiple times, don’t let it deter you from doing so.

Root is surely a game that is at its best when played multiple times with other players that know it. Expect this going into your first game. Don’t be disappointed if you feel like you only got part of a game in your first play. I am confident it will open up in subsequent plays.

Is Root the game for you? If you are willing and able to invest multiple plays to get the most out of it – yes. If you want to see a truly asymmetric conflict game – yes. If you want a completely rewarding first play and don’t plan on playing again – no.

TEACHING TIPS FOR ROOT

  • Mention basic victory conditions – 30 points or dominance cards (but come back to dominance cards at the end of your teaching)
  • Introduce the rules that apply to all players – clearings and paths, movement, cards, crafting, and battles
  • Factions:
    • Give each faction just a few bullet points about their faction
      • How they score
      • How their action system works
      • Any big advantage they have
    • The Woodland Alliance is the hardest to teach (and play) – focus on supporters, sympathy, and revolts.
    • Don’t try to teach all the ins and outs of the factions. Let the first couple rounds teach them as they follow the wonderful player boards. Answer questions as they come up.
  • Be prepared to miss rules – it is going to happen. Make your first game a learning game.

THOUGHTS FROM THE PUB

GARY

Let me start by stating that I’ve only had the one play of Root, so my thoughts on the game shouldn’t be taken as anything more than just a first impression. I played as the Woodland Alliance, which starts with no board presence and a few cards in their supporters deck. Thematically, I thought this faction was brilliant. They are your quintessential people’s rebellion and gain strength by antagonizing the other factions and forcing them into coming onto territories where you’ve placed some sympathy tokens. If another player moves onto a clearing on which you have placed a sympathy token they must give you a card matching that of the clearing. If they can’t you’ll still get a random card from the deck.

As the Woodlands Alliance, you’ll never be able to field as large an army as the Marquis or the Eyrie, but you can basically pop up almost anywhere once you get some cards in your support deck. I found playing this faction incredibly challenging but also incredibly fun. I immediately wanted to play as them again when the game was over.

Now for some general thoughts on the game. Having all four factions use different mechanics is a great design choice in my opinion. I liked that I was having to try and figure out how everybody else was able to get their engines going and then figure out how I might be able to throw some kinks in their plans while furthering my own. I’d like to play as all the factions just to get a feel for them and then figure out which one or two I like the most so I could start figuring out how best to play them. If you like truly asymmetrical starting positions in a game, Root is a game you should check out. If not, I’d keep walking. I feel like Root will have a good amount of replay value as you will want to play each faction at least a couple of times to understand how they work. For me, this is a game that I’d love to get to the table again and one that I hope will provide a challenging play experience upon repeat plays.