Leder Games does it again with another YUGE Kickstarter campaign; Root: The Marauder Expansion (Leder Games). As I finalize this post they have already passed 14,000 backers and over $1.3 million. I have to admit I went for the “All the New Stuff” pledge level – but only after some real deep thinking. The “All the New Stuff” pledge level for Root: The Marauder Expansion is US $110. OUCH! Yes, there’s alot of content there but it’s all expansions, for the root Root game. That’s a heaping pile of dinero for just new “bits!”
I looked at maybe going for the “Marauder Expansion” pledge of $50 and possibly adding in The Clockwork Expansion 2 because I want to access solo play but together that’s $90. So maybe that $110 ain’t that bad. It’s still a big number to process, but maybe?
On the other hand, a great deal of the attraction in Root for me is not playing the game, but studying it. In some ways I have a streak of Systems Analyst in me. I deeply respect Root for its ability to take many different game play mechanics and make them work together. It’s an incredible design and one that is worthy of further study. Add to that the fact The Marauder Expansion adds “Hirelings” which are not full factions but, well, hired help that adds another tool to your kit to mix with a faction ability to make a victory. Again, very interesting from a system mechanics perspective. From that perspective an investment of $110 is a bit steep, but (somewhat?) justifiable.
I’ll freely admit this is a first-world gaming problem. I am very fortunate we don’t have a financial problem backing games. I can financially afford them; my real risk in ordering is not from the bank but the questioning from the RMN CFO.
Looking at Root: The Marauder Expansion number made me reconsider my entire preorder and Kickstarter listing. The first to fall was another Kickstarter campaign;Terraforming Mars: Ares Expedition (Stronghold Games). I got to thinking – the RMN Boys and I sorta fell off the boardgame bandwagon this winter. As the family returns to full employment leisure time is lost and boardgaming suffers. We like Terraforming Mars and a shorter version would be nice but the truth is I don’t think we are going to be bringing new games to the table anytime soon. With delivery forecast for September, well, I just don’t feel the urgency to back this game when I will probably be able to find it at retail later if we want to buy it. I also don’t see any “Kickstarter Exclusives” here that are appealing enough to sway me back towards a KS purchase. Indeed, most of the add-ons are not game, but accessory items. While I like to play Terraforming Mars it’s certainly not a lifestyle game for me.
“If a reader makes it about them then of course it won’t fit.” Well, I’ll just repeat what I wrote over at Armchair Dragoons, “At the end of the day it doesn’t actually matter. We are a community of gamers – full stop.”
Feature image courtesy Root: The Marauder Expansion Kickstarter campaign from Leder Games.
Brant over at the Armchair Dragoons was kind enough to invite me to appear on another episode of Mentioned in Dispatches (Season 5, Episode 13) where the topic is “What is a wargame?”
If you suffer through me stumbling through the first part, we eventually get to the point where I offer a defintion:
“An inclusive and concise defintion may be proposed as: an imaginary military operation, conducted upon a map or board, and usually employing various moveable devices which are said to represent the opposing forces, and which are moved about according to rules representing conditions of actual warfare.”
A Brief History of War Gaming: Reprinted from Unpublished Notes of the Author, Dated 23 October 1956 (AD 235 893, Armed Forces Technical Information Agency, 15 Oct 1960)
As though you haven’t suffered enough listening to my ramblings on the podcast, I’m going to offer a few more here.
One item that many folks might insist is missing in the definition is that wargames need some sort of a randomizer. Most often this takes the form of dice but it doesn’t have to be. In Tank Duel: Enemy in the Crosshairs (GMT Games, 2019) which, if you listened to the episode you can kinda tell that I like, a deck of cards is used to generate the random numbers for results.
Interestingly, the early editions of Flat Top (Battleline/Avalon Hill, 1977) did not have a random die combat resolution mechanic. The outcome of an attack was determined by looking up a cross-reference table. So maybe the randomizer is not actually a requirement but nothing more than an oft-called upon, easy to explain, option to introduce a random resolution element into a game design.
We hashed this out on the podcast and said, “No.” Upon reconsideration, do I still think so? As you can probably tell during the discussion, if there is one part of the definition that’s going to trip people up it’s likely will hinge on what they perceive to be a “military operation.” In regards to the Charlies Award sweeper UBOOT:
Does the ‘fact’ the game takes place during a combat patrol make it a “military operation”?
Does the ‘fact’ the crew (workers) represent a military group make it a “military operation”?
Does the ‘fact’ the U-Boat has a military mission to sink enemy shipping make it a “military operation”?
I know that Moe repeatedly made the point that UBOOT is a worker placement game. He is obviously very focused on the core mechanic of the game. A legitimate question is; can a worker placement game be a wargame?
In UBOOT, on every turn the players are responsible for certain crew positions. Moe (or was it Brant?) also made the point that the artificial three-order limit was not very realistic. After the podcast, it struck me that UBOOT in some ways is not unlike the old FASA title Star Trek: Starship Tactical Combat Simulator (FASA, 1983). That game features Command and Control Panels for the different crew positions. It is possible to play the Starship Tactical Combat Simulator as a team…not too much unlike UBOOT. Now, I certainly consider the FASA Trek game a ‘wargame’, so why is UBOOT different?
I Know a Wargame When I See It
I think if you listen to our discussion of UBOOT and then Root (Leder Games, 2018) you will hear that, at least to me, what makes a game a wargame comes down to a matter of degrees. The question becomes, “when is enough, enough?” To Moe it sounds like the core mechanic trumps theme. I want to agree with that but my own track record is spotty. In the end, I can only say that I think theme can be both helpful and hurtful.
A weakened military has left the borders open to invasion from countless tribes such as the Anglo-Saxons, Goths, Vandals, and Huns. As you march through the Roman Empire, you must recruit armies, fortify cities, forge alliances, and face off against the invading hordes in battle.
In my mind, the fact the game explicitly tries to represent the march of forces, the recruitment of armies, fortification of cities, and even making alliances is all representative of a “military operation.” Fall of Rome does this without almost any use of “classic” wargame mechanics (though I note that Fall of Rome is also the first game in the Pandemic family to have a combat resolution mechanism).
Military units will help you to locate, fight and defend against the nightmarish beings that may be lurking on your doorstep. As well as hardware, you’ll need to recruit some Personalities who have the skills and resources to help you.
“Real or imaginary military operations” – You need both military forces and personalities to FIGHT the Old Ones – CHECK.
“….map or board….” – You actually have two to chose from in the base game – CHECK.
“Moveable pieces” – Weak; most of the pieces do not represent ‘opposing forces” until that Old Ones wake up; then again, do your railroads and farms count as your ‘forces’? – Heck, I’m still going to say CHECK!
“….rules representing conditions of actual warfare” – There is clearly a combat resolution mechanic in the game – CHECK.
In my mind, and to be fair, AuZtralia is a wargame PLUS. In other words, it is not a “pure” wargame from the start but after the Old Ones awake it certainly BECOMES a wargame. The wargame elements it has in the second half are ‘sufficient’ in my mind to make it a wargame. When I think about it, this same approach is most likely why I consider Root a wargame; it has sufficient wargame elements to tip the scale for me.
So what is is about UBOOT that doesn’t tip that scale for me? Am I simply looking too askance at the worker placement mechanic and refusing to accept that mechanism can have a place in a wargame? How does the fact the crew must work as a team to Find, Fix, Track, and Target (F2T2 in military jargon) a merchant ship NOT make it a wargame? It works in Star Trek: Starship Tactical Combat Simulator; why not here?
Maybe Moe is right. Maybe it’s all about that worker placement mechanic. Maybe I see the emphasis in UBOOT on the mechanic with a theme wrapped around it rather than a theme supported by a mechanic. Come to think of it, that’s a good way to explain how I look at all the games I talked about here.
I’m an old Grognard, So I Can Be Grumpy
Lastly, I’m going to expand a bit on a topic we talked about on the podcast. I fully agree that wargamers, as a niche group of hobby boardgaming, spend too much time defending our hobby. Indeed, the ‘elitism’ of some segments of the hobby boardgame crowd is hugely offensive. I’ll even go so far as to say that even the self-anointed ‘consciousness” of the wargame community can be offensive too. If you don’t want to play wargames, or certain wargames, you don’t have to and I won’t force you. I fully believe in our community good game designs will rise to the top; socially engineered bootstraps are not needed. But don’t you dare pretend you are superior to another gamer and can dictate what they (or I) can play. If a topic is that offensive then reasonable people will avoid it – gatekeepers are not needed.
LETS ADDRESS THE ELEPHANT IN THE ROOM – ROOT IS A GREAT GAME THAT WARGAMERS and boardgamers alike can both play. It is not a straight Eurogame or Ameritrash, nor is it a straight wargame, but a very well done hybrid that I call a ‘waro.” Part of the reason I so like the game goes beyond the game mechanics. The multitude of play combinations means the game never feels repeated. The base game alone comes with four factions and two mapboards (Fall & Winter) for several combinations of play. Since first published in 2018 by Leder Games, the Root series has added three boxed expansions (The Riverfolk Company, The Clockwork Expansion, The Underworld Expansion), an Upgrade Kit, and two smaller expansions (Exiles &Partisans Deck , The Vagabond Expansion) as well as customized playing pieces (Resin Clearing Markers). This weekend I pulled out my entire Root collection to play. In doing so I created a Root Solo Randomizer to help myself play as many different combinations as possible.
Variant Setup (based on The Law of Root Appendix C)
Step C0 (RSR Variant): Choose Solo Play Faction
Roll 2d6 to determine which faction you will play:
If the faction rolled is Vagabond, roll 2d6 again to determine which Vagabond:
2= Vagrant (Riverfolk Expansion)
3= Arbiter (Riverfolk Expansion)
4= Scoundrel (Riverfolk Expansion)
5= Tinker (Base Game)
6-7= Thief (Base Game)
8-9= Ranger (Base Game)
10= Adventurer (Vagabond Pack)
11= Ronin (Vagabond Pack)
12= Harrier (Vagabond Pack)
Step C1: Choose Map
The Underworld Expansion adds a second two-sided map with the Lake and Mountain. To determine what map is being played, roll 1d6:
1= Winter (Base Game)
2-3= Fall (Base Game)
4-5= Lake (Underworld Expansion)
6= Mountain (Underworld Expansion)
Oh yeah, don’t forget that on many mapboards the Clearings are unmarked; you use the random set up to determine which ones are which. Even more randomness in set up!
Step C2: Choose Deck
Roll 1d6. Even roll uses the Standard Deck while an odd roll will use the Exiles & Partisans deck.
Step C3: Choose Bots
This step determines not only what Bots from The Clockwork Expansion you will play against, but also the order of play for them. Roll 1d12 to determine order of Mechanical Marquise 2.0 (M), Electric Eyrie (E), Automated Alliance (W), or Vagabot (V):
For each selected order randomly insert the Human player anywhere in the order.
For the Vagabot roll 1d6 for character: 1-2= Ranger, 3-4= Thief, 5-6= Tinker.
For another level of variation roll 1d6 for each Bot to determine Difficulty. 1= Easy, 2-4= Default, 5= Challenging, 6= Nightmare. Difficulty cards are found in The Clockwork Expansion.
Oh yes, each of the Bots can add from zero to four Traits also found on cards in The Clockwork Expansion. All those combinations of Difficulty & Traits is almost too much to handle!
[Comment: The Bots are pretty easy to handle as they basically are graphic flowcharts of actions. Adding the Difficulty is easy as it is only one thing to remember off-board. Adding Traits escalates the workload as each extra Trait must also be remembered. Cards near the boards help but as one works their way through the flow of the board it is very easy to forget even when right in front of you.]
For example. I am setting up a game and first rolling 2d6 I see I will be playing the Underground Duchy. Rolling 1d6 next I get the Lake Board. Rolling 1d6 again I will use the Exiles & Partisans Deck. Now rolling 1d12 (and 1d6 for each faction) I see my opponents are Electric Eyrie (Default Difficulty), Mechanical Marquise 2.0 (Nightmare Difficulty), and Vagabot (Tinker/Default Difficulty). Inserting myself randomly in the play order we get Electric Eyrie – Mechanical Marquise – Underground Duchy – Vagabot.
Solo Play Experience
It’s hard to put into words my experience playing Root solo using my randomizer. Not only do I get to explore many different factions, but the variations that come from the different maps and different decks makes every game unique. Add on top of that a set of Bots that are actually pretty easy to execute (but not beat) and you get a great gaming experience with (truly) endless variations.
Oh yeah, in my Root Solo Randomizer game the final scoring was Mechanical Marquise 2.0 = 30, Vagabot = 23, Underground Duchy = 20, and Electric Eyrie = 18. Yes, the Nightmare Mechanical Marquise were really just that!
**Upon further investigation I am not sure you can play The Corvid Conspiracy with the Bots. The Corvid Conspiracy has the Trait “Exposure” which allows an enemy to guess the type of facedown Plot Token in a clearing they also occupy in their Evening before drawing cards. To guess the enemy needs to show a matching card of the clearing. I do not find an official rule as to how the Bots could guess since Bots don’t have cards (Poor Manual Dexterity).
**(Continued) One option I thought of might be: (WARNING – Off the cuff and not playtested)
Take the extra Plot Tokens and form a draw pile by removing the same tokens that are face-up on the board. Remaining extra tokens are placed in an opaque container.
On a Bot turn, if that Bot is ahead in VP compared to the Corvid Conspiracy they randomly draw one token from the container.
If the drawn token matches the Plot Token in that clearing the Plot Token is removed from the board and the Bot scores 1 VP.
If the drawn Plot Token does not match, the player draws the next card of that suit from the Draw Pile, discarding any non-matching cards until a match is made.
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.
AS WE MOVE INTO THE HOLIDAY SEASON I am looking forward to the myriad of sales that are forthcoming from multiple game publishers. Well, at least the wargame publishers. The annual GMT Games sale is past and others are either underway or imminent.
Kickstarter doesn’t have any real ‘sales’ since their whole sell model is (supposedly) built on ‘deals’ for supporters. Timelines also are much different – order (and pay) now for promised delivery then. So in order to get something for the Christmas season it means making a commitment months (if not years) in advance…and just how many Kickstarter projects have actually delivered on time?
In the last year I supported more Kickstarter projects than ever before. I currently have five projects outstanding. I also am keeping my eye on several others that are closing in the next 20 days or less. What am I thinking?
This game looks incredible and highly innovative., but at $225 (GASP!) for the ‘Colonist – one way ticket’ level it’s wayyyyy too rich for me. This is also their first ‘creation” – I see lots of risk here. PASS.
I missed it but at $119 for the ‘Interplanetary Explorer’ level it’s a fair chunk-of-change to ask for during the holiday season when I am looking for economy in my purchases.
KICKSTARTER OF SHAME (1)
Cortex Prime: A Multi-Genre Modular Roleplaying Game (Cam Banks) / ‘Prime Softcover Plus’ level / Funded 29 May 2017(!) / Estimated delivery: April 2018 / LATE MAYBE NEVER
I pledged at time when it still looked like RPGs would be a major part of the gaming scene in the RockyMountainNavy house. Since then, I cooled considerably to RPGs. This campaign has seen the designer move to New Zealand (I’m not saying he took the money and ran but….) and an endless string of delays. In September 2019 the designer announced an alliance with a whole new company and a whole new production model – but no delivery date. Like others I tried reaching out to the campaign to get a refund. Like many others I am ignored.
Feature image courtesy entrepreneur.com / Game cover images courtesy BGG.com
Over on Rex Brynen’s excellent PAXSIMS website, he posted a link to BEAR RISING, a Matrix game looking at the Baltic in the post-INF Treaty era. As a wargaming professional, I appreciate that Matrix games can be used to explore policy issues and generate greater insight into the issue. Matrix games are a part of wargaming, but apparently some out there want to distance themselves from that connection. Taking a look at BEAR RISING you find this:
What are matrix games? Matrix games are different to normal Wargames. In most of those games you will probably compare lists of statistics and peer at complicated books of rules containing someone else’s idea about what things are important, before making a decision, checking that it is covered by the rules and rolling dice to see if you succeed. It can take a long time, look really complicated and can be very difficult to explain to a newcomer. Instead, in a matrix game you simply use words to describe why something should happen, the Facilitator or the players (or both) decide how likely it is, and you might roll a dice to see if it happens (but equally, in the face of a compelling argument, you might not need to). If you can say “This happens, for the following reasons…” you can play a Matrix Game. The games themselves are not intended to be fiercely competitive, with obvious winner and losers. Instead they operate with the players working to generate a credible narrative. It is from examination of this narrative after the game that the player gain insights to the situation being portrayed. The player roles have objectives that will place them in conflict with other players, but it is perfectly possible for all of the players to achieve at last some of their objectives by the end of the game.
Let’s take a few of these sentences apart:
“In most of those games you will probably compare lists of statistics and peer at complicated books of rules containing someone else’s ideas about what things are important before making a decision, checking that it is covered by the rules and rolling dice to see if you succeed.” I guess you have only played wargames like Advanced Squad Leader, right? You totally have missed out on many “light” wargames like Brave Little Belgium or uncountable others? I hope you are consistent in your views and have the same disdain for heavy Eurogames out there and especially for anything designed by Phil Eklund, right?
“Instead, in a matrix game you simply use words to describe why something should happen, the Facilitator or the players (or both) decide how likely it is, and you might roll a dice to see if it happens (but equally, in the face of a compelling argument, you might not need to).” But you just disparaged rolling dice above….
“The games themselves are not intended to be fiercely competitive, with obvious winner and losers.” Ah…another bias. Wargames “must” be “fiercely competitive.” Let’s not talk anything about the learning that can come from exploring the situation; it’s war and war is automatically evil! To that I say si vis pacem, para bellum.*
“Instead they operate with the players working to generate a credible narrative. It is from examination of this narrative after the game that the player gain insights to the situation being portrayed.” I would argue that some of the best wargames, like the new Tank Duel (GMT Games, 2019) or Enemy Coast Ahead: The Doolittle Raid (GMT Games, 2018) generate a “credible” narrative during the game and don’t need a scribe to explain it to the players afterwards.
“The player roles have objectives that will place them in conflict with other players, but it is perfectly possible for all of the players to achieve at last some of their objectives by the end of the game.” Is this not the hallmark of a good game design? A good design will see all players work towards their objective, with the end result being a measure of how well they achieved those objectives. The objectives themselves do not have to the same (for example, who controls the most territory) but can be different like in Nights of Fire: Battle of Budapest (Mighty Boards, 2019) where the Revolutionaries try to save civilians while the Soviets try to control the city. Or maybe the designers of BEAR RISING are not familiar with a GMT Games COIN game like Colonial Twilight (see Grant from The Players Aid comments about terror) or the asymmetric Root from Leder Games?
I will repeat what I said before; Matrix games are useful to explore policy issues and generate insight. But they are one tool in the vast kit available to designers. To maximize that insight, I prefer designers and players to have open minds and to avoid/remove as much bias as possible. In the case of the BEAR RISING designers, they show me that they have deep biases that make me doubt the assumptions their game is built on.
* “If you want peace, prepare for war.” In my case I strongly advocate studying warfare to understand – and avoid – military disasters of the past.
I got seriously into gaming in 1979 when I was in middle school and discovered Jim Day’s Panzer from Yaquinto Publishing. In the years prior to that my parents had a few games around but we barely played them. The titles I recall are Monopoly, Clue, Othello, and Waterworks in addition to Chinese Checkers. The only games I really remember playing are Chinese Checkers and Othello.
From 1979 until the early 2000’s I was a pure wargamer. I also dabbled in roleplaying games but wargames were my real hobby. It was not until the RockyMountainNavy Kids grew up a bit that I tried some family games like Gulo Gulo (still a favorite).
In 2016 my hobby took on a new direction with the real discovery of hobby boardgames. At the recommendation of Uwe Eickert of Academy Games I picked up Scythe – and discovered a whole new world of gaming. In 2017 and 2018 I went overboard with rediscovered wargaming and boardgaming. Too far overboard – at the start of 2019 Mrs. RockyMountainNavy asked that I look hard at my gaming budget and think about some restraint.
So in 2019 I have tried to restrain myself. In doing so, I have thought about my game buying habits in 2017 and 2018. I continuously told myself that I was not a member of the Cult of the New or susceptible to the Fear of Missing Out.
Wrong. Not only was I a CotN member, but I was fully infected with FoMO.
In 2019 I initiated a series of gaming challenges (CSR, Origins, Golden Geek) that have forced me (willingly) to explore older games in my collection. I have found some bad ones, but many good ones. It has been a great reminder that I have good games in my collection and they deserve some love.
In 2019 I have tried to find my roots. As I look across the boardgaming world I find fewer and fewer titles that appeal to me. If there is one area that I am really interested in, it’s hybrid games like Root (wargame or strategy game?) or several Hollandspiele titles like the Supply Lines of the American Revolution series.
Another part of the hobby I am less-than-satisfied with is Kickstarter. I respect companies that use Kickstarter to bring games to print that would otherwise never see the light of day. But more and more I see companies using Kickstarter as a glorified pre-order system. I understand that many companies like the fact that the risk is moved from them to the consumer. They may like it but I am not as appreciative. What I see in many cases is that I am advancing the company a loan – without interest.
Now, I don’t necessarily define “interest” as money. A Kickstarter campaign that offers exclusives or stretch goals that area only available to backers is one form. But more and more I see companies not offering stretch goals or campaign exclusives – what you get in the campaign is what you can buy at retail.
I also dislike the risk that I am assuming in the enjoyment of the game. Kickstarter demands you pledge to support a game based upon only a few known, and many unknown, factors. Maybe that designer has a history of good games but I am sure there are a few turkeys in there. That company has its own history too. But what about the game? How does the game really play? This forces a dependency on hobby content providers at a time when “critical” reviews are fewer and fewer. Nobody watches a 30 minute video review of a 2 hour movie; why should we be forced to watch a lengthy video for a game? No.
So I have returned to being a wargamer first and a boardgamer second. I have several good titles in my collection. Scythewill remain. Terraforming Mars(minus several expansions) will stay in the rotation. Firefly: The Board Game will get played but Star Wars: Outer Rim is likely a pass. I’m going to finish up my challenges for the year.
Coming out of the holidays in 2018, Mrs. RockyMountainNavy asked that I try to “control” my spending budget for boardgames and wargames in a bit of a more reasonable manner. She asks not because she dislikes my gaming hobby (on the contrary, she heartily endorses it) but because I was a bit too frivolous with my spending. I promised to do better.
To that end I have tried to control my “acquisitions” so far this year. One change in strategy I adopted is to go ahead and look at Print-n-Play modules a bit more. I also took a hard look at my GMT Games P500 and other pre-orders to try and “trim the fat.” I also committed to looking alot harder at what Kickstarter campaigns I would pledge to support. As tempting as they were, I passed on several new P500 and Kickstarter campaigns. I was doing pretty well until this month. Since the last days of February and into March, I have fallen off the wagon a bit and pre-ordered or pledged for three games.
I really am looking forward to this expansion with two new factions and two new maps. I realize that my $50 pledge will grow by at least $20 more for add-ons. Of that money, paying $5 for corrected Faction Boards is an easy choice. Paying $15 for the Better Bot Project may seem pricy, but given that it includes Bot Boards for all the factions it will make the game not only more solo friendly but able to play larger faction counts with fewer players. But given my love of the game it is so worth it.
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).
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 Rootcarries 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 Roothave 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 Expansionplay differently.
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 Rootis 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.
Rootoccupies 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.
I have said before that Enemies of Rome is not the game it appears to be. What looks like an area control game is actually a Battle Royale. Glory Points are scored by winning battles which means one must think very offensively. Although the RockyMountainNavy Boys and myself have played Enemies of Rometen times now, and even discussed the victory demands, it has yet to fully sink in to the Middle RMN Boy. In tonights game, like the last one, he “turtled” early and fell far behind in points as he built up his forces without attacking any of the enemies of Rome. Unfortunately, the enemies of Rome also were building up their forces right in his neighborhood. It also did not help that the Youngest RMN Boy chose to lash out at his brothers outposts and seized several provinces. As a result, Middle RMN fell far behind in points and was very sullen and not fully into the game.
It would be very easy for me to blame this on his Autism Spectrum condition but that’s too easy. Tonight was a good reminder that, no matter how familiar one is with a game, it behooves players to review some of the basic rules and mechanics of a game. In this case, a gentle reminder to all that Glory Points are earned by attacking is only part of it. A review of the die odds is also helpful. If one waits for overwhelming odds in their favor they will fall behind. I know that I often gamble with 2:1 or 3:2 attacks because I recognize the need to generate Glory Points. I save the 3:1 or 4:1 attacks for battles against other Legions because the penalty for losing those battles is loss of Glory Points.
I think Enemies of Romewill sit on the shelf for a bit and cool off. This doesn’t mean we will be hurting for games; indeed, it clears the way (and maybe even creates a demand) to get the semi-cooperative AuZtralia to the table. All the RMN Boys are also excited that the cooperative Pandemic: Fall of Rome(Z-Man Games, 2018) has been shipped. As a family, we really enjoy Pandemicand the Middle RMN Boy has proven to be a bit of a whiz at playing. I hope that these games in particular bring joy to the gaming table.
In the same vein, this weekends events have forced me to reconsider introducing Root(Leder Games, 2018) to the RMN Boys. The asymmetric nature of the different player factions in Rootdemands that each player play a bit differently. For the Middle RMN Boy this may be challenging. I remember the first time we played with the Invaders from Afar Expansion to Scythe (Stonemaier Games, 2016) and the Middle RMN Boy got a whole new faction. He struggled mightily to figure out how the faction worked. When he tried to watch his brother and I play our factions it was of little help because every faction plays differently. Rootmay work if I can convince him to play the first time the using the Marquis de Cat as I think that faction is mechanically the most straight forward.
As a wargamer, a game with a “take that” mechanic doesn’t offend me. However, events like this weekend’s game reminds me that not all players are like me. I don’t think I will ever fully turn into a Eurogamer with their “let’s just all get along and make a farm” attitude but bringing out more games with less “take that” for the Family Game Night probably won’t hurt.