Although I have owned Root (Leder Games, 2018) since I was a late backer, until this weekend I have only played the game solo or against my alter gaming ego, Mr. Solo. With a notice in my inbox announcing that my Kickstarter fulfillment of the latest expansion, Root: The Underworld Expansion, was shipping, I finally decided to bite the bullet and bring this game to the RockyMountainNavy Boys. For our first full-up play it had some rough points but overall the game shined.
To help introduce the game we set up the walkthrough. We found it not very helpful. I think as moderately experienced gamers it actually slowed us down. I think that with moderately experienced or more gamers can be given an explanation of the rules with an emphasis on what is the same across all factions (movement, combat, Crafting) and then a walkthrough of each board (Birdsong, Daylight, Evening) is sufficient at the start of play. Being able to describe the different root game mechanics (no pun) of each faction (engine building, programed action, deck building) also helped us understand how faction plays differently within the shared game environment.
We played a three-player game with the Marquis de Cat (RockyMountainNavy T), the Woodland Alliance (RockyMountainNavy Jr), and the Eyrie (myself) seated around the game table in that order.
Early in the game, the Fox Dominance card came out. Both RockyMountainNavy Boys became fixated on the card and very curious about what it represented. At the time it appeared, both the Marquis and the Woodland Alliance each ruled two fox clearings. So tempting was the card that both RMN Boys lost focus on their basic VP generation path. More experienced players know that going for a Dominance win in Root is difficult; newbie players don’t have the benefit of that experience. It therefore came as little surprise that one of the Boys (Jr – Woodland Alliance) grabbed up the showing Fox Dominance card as soon as he could. Nor was it surprising that very soon after the Fox Dominance was picked up that RMN T (Marquis) played the Bird Dominance card he had in his hand.
Not only did the playing of the Dominance cards totally change the character of the game, but the subsequent play (fully legal) of RMN Jr. almost derailed the entire night. Our general inexperience with the game allowed the Woodland Alliance to spread much Sympathy and accumulate way too many Supporters. RMN Jr used brought the hammer down and staged multiple Revolts with, alas, the main target of most of the Revolts being the Marquis. Thus, RMN T saw several clearings get wiped out. This was a major “take that” moment of the game, much more powerful than any of us expected. Now, RMN T is my Autism Spectrum boy that has challenges dealing with major changes in his environment. The multiple Revolts, all aimed at him, and the major reduction of his position on the board almost unhinged him. He was very angry – almost to the point I was ready to end the game. The only thing that kept hi in was that he recognized that the Woodland Alliance was now very near their dominance win condition and he swore vengeance. The next few turns there was a major ‘catfight’ with clearings bouncing back and forth between the Alliance and Marquis. Both came very close to their win condition only to be knocked back at the last moment by the other.
Meanwhile, my Eyrie kept plodding along. I went through several leaders as I repeatedly fell into Turmoil as I was unable to fulfill my Decree. Gradually, the Marquis and Woodland Alliance recognized that they had left me alone for too long. They both then turned their attention to me – and it was brutal. Fortunately, I had just enough Roosts out and a useful Leader with a good Decree that even as they knocked me back I still was able to satisfy my Decree and generate enough VP to reach the victory.
My winning was probably the best outcome on several levels. First, if RMN Jr had won after what he did to his older brother, I don’t think the older one would ever play Root again. Likewise, if RMN T had won his younger brother would likely never play again because he would feel ‘punished’ by this brother after what he did to him. Next, the fact that both lost when playing a Dominance card showed them that maybe they need to stay focused on their basic win conditions like the Eyrie did. Additionally, we all learned the lesson that you have to keep an eye on the other and understand their way of play to keep them in check. This is perhaps the hardest element of playing Root for not only do you have to ‘know thyself’ but you have to ‘know thy enemy’ too. In Root the fact that every faction plays differently creates a learning challenge that can only really be overcome by multiple plays with multiple exposures to the different factions. As it is, this first game of Root was rough and although I feel it will land on the gaming table again I will have to be careful about how the new factions are introduced.
On the very positive side, all of us agreed the art in Root is incredible. RMN Jr wants to explore the game and play different factions. RMN T is less positive, but will likely play again if done right. That’s my Root challenge.