Type: War Game / COIN / Euro

Time to play: 120 – 150 minutes (Teaching: 20 minutes)

Best played with: 4 Players (1-4 Players)

Root has become a storming hit over the last year, and now that I have had a chance to play this I can understand why. As always therefore, here are my thoughts on the mechanics, the theme and how this all comes together to make a super popular game.

Let’s start with the mechanics, as I listened to a really interesting interview with the designer of the game, Cole Wehrle, and it seems that one of the key factors he attributes to the success is that this is at it’s heart a war game. He talks about the fact there is a bigger audience for war games, but that these mechanics have always been associated with the historic war games themes.

However, the mechanics aren’t just those of a traditional war game – this isn’t Risk or another game pushing troops and rolling dice. The game adopts the mechanics of counter-insurgency or COIN games made famous by the publisher GMT. These games take modern warfare onto a board and allow you to develop a much more complex and event driven story. Using cards drawn from a single deck, each side manipulate their asymmetric abilities to achieve their own asymmetric goals. This type of warfare reflects that each side may have different objectives, temporary and even permanent alliances may be made, but a player dominant in the battle will win through.

From building an economy, reclaiming land, starting a revolution or even just attaining personal wealth – the variations on the ways of winning are many. All players benefit from having a strong military ability, but there is more to it than that. The players will actively thwart each other, but indirectly. They will take land from player-to-player, they will destroy buildings and they will raid the tombs on the map.

What’s more, the game is designed to use asymmetric game play of each army to make the game feel different for each player. A solo wanderer who can move through the forest, a resistance army, and two traditional armies (one using action selection and one using programmed moves). Each play is different and if all of that isn’t enough, the game offers you win conditions that can be picked up by players during the game based on domination. If you change your win condition you are locked into the new one until the end of the game, but you might have already achieved and be in a position to defend it!

I won’t go into too much detail on each army in this overview, but there really is something for everyone. Even in this, a true war game there is a faction and a method of play that minimises combat. This can allow players to fit their own preferences. However, it’s a very balanced game and everyone needs to play their part well. Once player gets close to the win, all players in the war will be required to contribute to pushing them back below the win condition.

Okay – that’s the mechanics. However, this game is more than just a war game because it is so brilliantly themed. This is a game that brings war into the forest, into the animal kingdom. The game leverages a more approachable / non-historic setting, because this is a way of opening up these mechanics to more players. This is where the game excels, complex mechanics married with a simple theme and a brilliant art design.

The game jumps off the board with a unique art style, and a format which allows the player to easily read the cards, plan and see the objectives. The only downside to this is that some cards are of a certain type (important for some rules), but cost a different type of land to use. This one small challenge is worth working with though, because I don’t know how they could have improved this.

So what might you not like? Well the emergent game play is huge and that’s a challenge. If you play this for a while, and then go back to playing new players you will demolish them. Also, if you play this and then move on to other games you will not get the full depth of this. Despite this, the game plays well at all player counts and offers good meaningful variations at lower player counts and is well worth investing the time in. I have yet to play the expansions and new factions but I certainly am looking forward to these.

Last notes,

  • If you like war games, but don’t like history, this is the one for you!
  • If you won’t attack another player even if they would win, then this is not the game for you (or your group!)
  • If you win, try again and try a new faction