RockyMountainNavy Game Year for 2018 (#Boardgame & #Wargame)

This is the last in my series of 2018 “of the Year” posts. This one covers my Game of the Year. The first post looked at boardgames, the second was wargames, and the third was game expansions. The game had to be published and acquired in 2018.

Looking back over the candidates for my Boardgame / Wargame / Game Expansion of the Year there is one game that I left off the list. That is because it is my Game of the Year.

Although I am a grognard wargamer at heart, my Game of the Year is not a wargame. Well, not in the traditional sense of a hex & counter wargame. Some people call my Game of the Year a wargame, others a Eurogame with combat (waro).

pic4267727
Courtesy BoardGameGeek.com

Root by designer Cole Wehrle and published by Leder Games is unlike other boardgames or wargames. Some people claim it is a Eurogamer-version of the GMT Games COIN-system. In part this claims comes from the fact both games feature asymmetric factions each with different victory conditions. To take that comparison any further is unfair because Root carries the asymmetric powers to another level.

In a typical COIN game, each faction has an asymmetric selection of actions to choose from. The actions themselves have a subtle difference but for the most part factions are distinguished by which actions they can take. On the other hand, factions in Root have almost entirely different game mechanisms as to how they operate. While basic movement and combat rules are common across every faction, each faction plays differently from the others. From the Marquis de Cat that plays a resource game and builds to the Eyrie that use a programmed turn or the Woodland Alliance (Communists, not Star Wars Rebels mind you) who subvert the others with influence and the lone Vagabond who can be a pure soulless thief or White Knight, each faction plays differently. Even the Otters and Lizards in Root: The Riverfolk Expansion play differently.

IMG_0084
Courtesy Twitter

That is what makes Root such a special game. From a game design perspective it is impressive to see the seamless integration of all these different game mechanism on the table at the same time. The artwork – whimsical yet functional – fits the game perfectly.

I will be one of the first to admit Root is not easy to learn. It takes time to learn the basics of the game and how each faction operates. Players in early games often spend their time “heads down” on their own tableau figuring out how to play and miss looking at the other players. As time goes on that skill emerges and the interaction between different players becomes the making of many tales of woe – and victory.

Root occupies a special place in my game collection; a game that I can play against other serious gamers or solo. It is a game that I want to get expansions for because I want to play on different terrain (boards) and with different factions.

For its innovative blending of theme, artwork, and game mechanisms, I can see no other game than Root for my Game of the Year.

A Grognard’s View of Root (@LederGames, 2018)

AS I SIT to write this post, the #1 Games Hotness on boardgamegeek is Root: A Game of Woodland Might and Right (Leder Games, 2018). This Cole Wehrle (@colewehrle on Twitter) design is described by some as a combination of Twilight Struggle (GMT Games, 2005+) and COIN (the COIN-series from GMT Games). As an old wargaming Grognard (playing for 39 years now) this game seems to be right in my wheelhouse. Given it’s pedigree, I am frankly surprised that Root is so popular amongst non-wargamer’s. With Root, Cole Wehrle has done the boardgame hobby a great favor – he has created a “wargame” with broad appeal to general tabletop gaming audience.

pic4260628
Courtesy BGG.com

Root represents the cutting edge of the “waros” movement. Waros are, according to BGG, “…games which can be described as a fusion of a Wargame and a Eurogame. Waro games thus include aspects of both types of games….” I fully believe that the reputation of Cole Wehrle and the buzz behind Root created expectations of the game.

One manifestation of this popularity can be seen by the forum activity on BGG. As I write this post, there are 605 threads on BGG for Root. Amazingly, 318 of these are in the last 30 days! Of the 605 total threads, 272 are tagged as Rules with around 150 of those in the last 30 days again. I have no scientific basis, but it generally appears to me that, compared to other games, that this is an extraordinary number of threads. Now, understand that I really like Root. I subscribe to the Root feed on BGG. For the last month I have been getting all these threads dumped to my BGG profile. This led to the following Twitter exchange with Tom and Mary Russell of Hollandspiele Games:

In a later response, Joe (@CardboardTON618) righty points that people learn at different rates and goes on to say, “Also, I get the impression that a good percentage (although not the heaviest in the world) haven’t played a game of this weight.” I think Joe is onto something here, but contend it’s not the weight, but the fact Root is a waros game.

As a cutting-edge crossover game, Root is plowing new ground in the hobby. In this case, it is a wargame with strong eurogamer appeal. In some ways, it is similar to Supply Lines of the American Revolution: The Norther Theater, 1775-1777 (Hollandspiele, 2017) which is – at heart – more a eurogame with wargamer appeal. In the case of Supply Lines, about 2/3 of the threads on BGG are rules-related. The lesson I hope designers and publishers see is that Waros require tight rules writing – and lots of patience. I believe this is because of the diversity of the audience. Tight writing should avoid much of the rules confusion, but patience is still required to listen to and answer the slew of questions from players who maybe have never played a Waros before.

Players who read – and play – the rules will find Root an extraordinary game. It is a wonderful design and a shining example of what a Waros can be. Just don’t read too much into the rules!

pic4267727
Courtesy BGG