Do you ever tire of playing a game where no matter which character you choose, they’re all the same? With Root, this problem is thoroughly solved and it may be the game that you’d like to try. In the digital adaptation of the hit board game Root designed by Leder Games and adapted by Direwolf Digital you will get the opportunity to play as four different factions which all have vastly different playstyles and ways to win. It is currently available on Steam Early Access and I had a chance to play it and share my thoughts.
One of the benefits of a digital game is that the setup is instantaneous! No longer needing to figure out where all the pieces go, instead the game does it for you. While some people may have played the physical board game and know what to expect, I had never played it personally. I’ve seen the game being played and have always wanted to play, but haven’t had the opportunity to play it yet. Luckily for those of you who are in my same shoes, there is a great tutorial that walks you through the game. You start the tutorial as the Marquise de Cat and the tutorial explains the turn structure and what you need to do to win. Initially, you are only against one opponent and it will guide your turns for you. While it doesn’t click the button for you, it will keep you limited on your choices as it explains what to do and why to do it.
After playing through the first two parts of the tutorial as the Marquise de Cat, you will then have 3 more tutorials to complete. The third one will allow you to play the Eyrie Dynasties, which while different from the Marquise de Cat group they do have some similarities in building cards and general strategy. After learning the Eyrie, the two remaining groups are vastly different. The Woodland Alliance starts with supporters and tries to create revolts to gain power, while the vagabond never owns an area but instead sneaks through the woods to explore, complete quests, and provide aid or kill other warriors. Once the tutorial is finished you will have a general idea of how each of these different groups work.
Each turn is split into three phases: Birdsong, Daylight, and Evening. Depending upon which faction you are playing will determine what you do in each of these different phases. A player can win though by either scoring 30 victory points or by completing a dominance card which require a player to maintain control of a certain number of objectives until their next turn. This gives other players a chance to stop them.
The map is broken down into different clearings, which all have a different suit on them. These suits are a fox, rabbit, or mouse. These suits represent the community living there and will be used for crafting cards or defining other abilities throughout the game. The spaces also have a certain number of building spaces where different factions can build. If there are no open spaces then you can’t build there.
Cards also have suits that will have different effects from the different factions, but they all will have a crafting requirement. Crafting these cards requires meeting these requirements for your faction. The cards can provide special abilities that you can take one time, each turn, or just straight victory points. There are also some cards which will affect battling.
Unlike some other games, battling doesn’t start by just moving into a region with another player. Instead, a player must use an action to initiate a battle. Once initiated two dice are rolled which contain the numbers 0-3. The attacker will take the higher dice unless something says otherwise, and the defender will take the lower. Then based on the numbers rolled and the number of warriors in the battle, each side will take the appropriate damage. You will only be able to deal damage equal to the number of warriors you have, so rolling a 3 with 1 warrior will just be a waste. Based on the results warriors will be destroyed first but any remaining damage can be dealt to enemy buildings or tokens. Destroying these buildings and tokens will also give the attacker a victory point.
Marquise de Cat
The Marequise de Cat are the first group that we learn about and how to play. Their goal is to turn the Woodland into an industrial and military powerhouse and they accomplish this by building workshops, sawmills, and recruiters. Everytime you build one of these you will get victory points and the more of each type you build the more points you will get, but also the more expensive it will be to build.
Sawmills will produce you wood, which you need to build buildings. Workshops locations are used to meet the requirements to craft a card. Wherever you build your workshops will be important to make sure you have the right number to craft what you want. If a card needs 2 fox territories then you must have at least 2 workshops in fox territories. Finally, the recruiters are used to help spawn more warriors.
During Birdsong any sawmills which are built will generate a wood token. During daylight you will first get to craft any cards you can and then choose to take up to three of five available actions. You can choose to do the same action multiple times for most of them. These actions include battle, march, recruit, build, or overwork. There is also a sixth action called Hawks for Hire, which allows you to discard a bird card to gain an extra action.
Battle is as its name implies and starts a battle anywhere on the map. March allows you to move two groups of warriors one clearing. Each time you choose how many you will move. Recruit will give you one warrior at each recruiter you have built, but you can only do this once per turn. Build will allow you to spend wood to build one of the three buildings and overwork will let you generate more wood at a sawmill by discarding a card which matches the suit of a sawmill. Finally, during Evening you will draw cards depending upon your current draw bonus. These bonuses will go up as you build more buildings.
The Eyrie Dynasties focus on restoring the glory to the Woodland by resettling the forest clearings with roosts. The Eyrie are ruled by their Decree which is set by their leader and these actions must be completed each turn or their leader will be considered a liar and they will fall into turmoil.
At the start of each game you will decide which ruler you would like to use. They have a combination of the four different actions the Eyrie have: recruit, move, battle, and build. For each leader, two of these will be wild and can be accomplished in any clearing. At the start of Birdsong a player must put at least one card, but up to two, into any of the columns of the Decree. This will set what the plans for not only this next turn, but all future turns will entail. Cards with the suits matching the board must have those actions completed in those locations. This means if someone chooses a fox card for build then each turn they will need to build a roost in a fox location. While this may be simple to start, the longer the game goes the harder it will be to accomplish this. Players can place one bird card in any of the columns during this time, which is wild and increases the flexibility.
During Daylight players can craft cards if they would like and meet the requirements and then will resolve the Decree from left to right. As mentioned each of these actions must be done in a matching area or they will fail and fall into turmoil. Recruiting will place a warrior in the matching area. Move will let you move warriors from the matching clearing type to any other clearing. Battle requires you to initiate a battle in that matching clearing and build requires you to build a roost in the matching clearing, however only one roost can be in each clearing.
If every any of these actions can’t be completed, the Eyrie fall into turmoil and you will immediately lose your leader and one point per bird card in the decree. While those bird cards being wild was beneficial initially, it can also be very costly. You will then select a new leader and go into Evening. Evening is also reached once completed all the actions in the Decree. Regardless of how you end up in Evening, the player receives points based on how many roosts you have.
The Woodland Alliance seeks to gain the sympathy of the oppressed creatures to help establish revolution. They play much different from the prior two factions and are experts in Guerrilla War which allows them to always take the higher roll during a battle. They will place sympathy tokens on the board to help them start a revolt. The Woodland Alliance has a section for Supporters which are gained by either discarding a card matching that suit, or when an enemy moves into an area where you have sympathy.
During Birdsong they can start a revolt if you can spend two supporters which match a clearing that already has sympathy there. This will remove all the enemy pieces there and place your own base, which can quickly wipe out a lot of work the enemy had done in that area. Building this base will also give an officer which will be used during Evening. They can also spread sympathy during this phase by spending supporters to put a sympathy token in an area that is unsympathetic. If a region already has three or more warriors, though it will be more difficult to gain sympathy and you must use two supporters.
During Daylight you can craft a card, mobilize or train. Mobilizing allows you to discard a card from your hand to gain them as supporters to be used during the Birdsong phase. Finally, the train will allow you to train another officer by discarding a card matching the suit where you have a base. In evening you will get to take actions equal to the number of officers you have and choose to either move, battle, recruit, or organize. The first three actions you have seen before but organize allows you to remove a warrior from an unsympathetic area to place a sympathy token there. Doing this can help you prepare for a revolt on the following turn.
The Vagabond is on every side and no side as he does what he wants to suit his own needs and really is unlike anything I’ve played before. He will be friends with a faction on one turn and then proceed to stab them in the back the following turn. Unlike other factions, he is by himself and can’t rule clearings. Instead, he will craft items which he will use to complete his actions. Using these items will cause them to be exhausted. Because it is only him, when fighting instead of losing warriors he will instead have his items damaged which will have to be repaired before he can use them again.
During Birdsong the Vagabond can refresh three of his items and if he has build any kettles, he can un-exhaust even more. He will then slip into the forest, moving in a way that no other class can. For Daylight, his actions will depend upon the items he has crafted. To move he will need a boot, to battle he will need a sword. A crossbow will allow him to kill one enemy player or building without even needing to roll the dice. Torches will allow him to explore a ruin and score a point. He can supply aid to an enemy by giving them a card from his hand and taking the items that they have crafted before. While those items are on the other’s cards, they don’t use these icons, but the Vagabond will. He can complete a quest which will require you to exhaust two different items on a certain area to gain victory points. He can use a hammer to craft cards to get his own equipment or use the hammer to repair your items. As you can see, he has a lot of options!
Finally, during Evening if you are in a forest you can repair all of your damage items. Then whether in a forest or not you will draw one card per coin in your track and you will discard items down to your max limit. The initial limit is six but can be increased by building more satchels. To earn points the Vagabond must balance completing quests, and fighting, but also providing aid. Trading cards and items with other players is a critical part of the Vagabond as you will help the other player while also helping yourself. Don’t help them too much though or it could backfire.
When learning Root I was initially overwhelmed, but I was very glad for the tutorial. I feel like it really helped break down everything into bite-size pieces that I could grasp without taking in too much. Instead of worrying about what the other groups needed to do to win, it focused on only the faction it was teaching. While this wouldn’t be beneficial for a real game it was perfect for a tutorial. It was also smart with the order they chose to do the tutorial in as the Marquise de Cat and the Eyrie are definitely easier to play than the other two. Overall, this was a great way to be introduced into the game.
The game itself was fun, and the aesthetics of this digital adaptation were great. There is some relaxing music to listen to while playing and some great sound effects to help enhance the gameplay. Seeing all the characters with their 3D models was also very impressive, but I expected nothing less from Direwolf Digital as they have always knocked the artstyle out of the park with their digital adaptations. While there is a lot going on they have also done a lot to help make it more manageable. In almost every area you can mouse over the different sections to review information about it. There were multiple times when I was wondering what I need to get more cards and a simple tooltip explained exactly what I needed to know. Sometimes I would wonder something and the answer would be already explained on the screen. This shows that care and consideration went into this game.
While I have the desire to play the physical game, I am glad that I learned how to play it through this digital version as it was very quick to play. A typical game of the physical board game is listed at 60-90 minutes but I could play a full 3 player digital game in around 20 minutes and with more understanding of the game I might be able to speed that up even more. This is perfect for a digital game as it doesn’t make the game outstay it’s welcome.
There is a lot of depth in this game as you don’t just play the base game on its own. Instead, they have a list of many challenges which you can take on. These include challenges like Siege which has you playing as the Eyrie and you can’t win unless you destroy the Cat’s keep. There is also Pacifist which you play the Vagabond but can’t initiate attacks or strikes. These simple changes can really add life to the game that already has a lot of replayability. Between the difference of the factions, this game already had a lot, but this just adds to it. For veterans who want to test their skills they also offer online play, which is perfect for the season we are in where local games of this might not be possible.
While overall I was happy with the game there were a few negatives that did creep in. While the speed of the game was nice, at times it felt almost as if it were moving too fast. I understand this is a hard thing to balance as someone doesn’t want to sit there forever and wait their turn, but the AI turns would go by so quickly that I didn’t even see what they had done. Once it was my turn, I could see the new state of the board and decide what to do moving forward, but for learning it would have been nice to slow down what they are doing just a bit to better understand what they are doing and what happened. This could even be accomplished with a game log that could list what just occurred in case someone wanted to review it. This was not a major issue, but one that did creep up.
The only major issue that I had with the game was the lack of an undo button. This is one of the best things about board games is when you pick up a piece to do something and then realize that isn’t what you want to do and can quickly change your mind. Unfortunately, with this game once you click an option you are locked into it. I understand not wanting to undo prior turns as that could lead to cheating if you see what the AI is going to do, but there should be a way to cancel the action you have chosen. At times I would select move and click on one group of warriors but realize I actually wanted to move a different group. Unfortunately, I was stuck on the move action and moving warriors that I didn’t want to. A simple cancel or undo action would fix this greatly.
Root Digital is another phenomenal adaptation that I have just scratched the surface of. The game has lowered the barrier of entry for many fans, and there are hours of fun challenges that I will enjoy continuing to explore. With a few small tweaks from the developer, this could be one of the best digital board games on the market.