A couple weeks back we got to play an early production version of the runaway Kickstarter success Root: A Game of Woodland Might and Right at the spectacular Wednesday Games at the Brass Cat.
What is Root? We’re glad you asked! It’s an asymmetrical strategy boardgame. Unlike every other asymmetrical strategy boardgame we’ve ever played, the theme isn’t “you dropped your history textbook” but is instead “you dropped your most beautiful children’s book”. It is the fastest and most intuitive example of the genre we have ever played.
We played as the Eyrie, a bunch of birds working to retake the forest. It was fun as heck!
Here is the explanation of the Eyrie on their Kickstarter page:
The Eyrie muster their hawks to take back the woods. They must build roosts and capture as much territory as possible before they collapse back into squabbling and turmoil, choosing a new commander to guide them.
The Eyrie have to try to get as much as possible on the board, while managing their extremely rigid social structure. Every turn you need to build up more and more orders in a queue that you NEED to complete, or else society will collapse and there will be a time of crisis while a new leader is chosen. It’s a great way of making you feel ever more powerful and less steady as play proceeds.
Other players were the Marquis de Cat, whose goal is to use her position as the current ruler of all the forest to build up her domain into an industrial juggernaut, the Woodland Alliance who want to try to boot out both the Eyrie and the Cats using their Conspiracies because they’re tired of being stamped on by monarchs, and the Vagabond who is interested in getting as much as possible from everyone by whatever means necessary whether that’s killing, stealing, or giving gifts.
But what’s an asymmetrical strategy boardgame? Basically think Risk only every player has a completely different set of rules and paths to victory. The differences can be anything really, it’s just important that while some players might share some aspects of their strategies, it’s not “four people try to all control the largest area of the map”.
In the case of Root, everyone wants to get to 40 points, but for instance the Eyrie get points by controlling the map while the Vagabond can get points by giving cards to other players and the Marquis can get some by building a sawmill.
These games tend to be intriguing but complicated. The fact that they have to balance disparate player goals means they can be a real bear to actually play. You need to focus on your own goals, recall what other people need to do to win, track their progress against your progress against the possible result of this turn if you do A, or B, or C, and if they do X, or Y, or Z on their turn… they’re often very much Boardgames for People Who Love Boardgames.
Our favorite example of this complexity is from the excellent game that we like “Liberty or Death” from GMT Games, which is about the American Revolutionary War. This is what the French player does in that game:
As the French, you have the ability to be the thorn in the side of the British in North America. With the Hortalez Rodrigue et Cie Company, formed to feed the Patriots resources, you can fund the Insurrection. Your agents can rally assistance in and around Quebec and you can facilitate privateers to steal resources from the British. When you sign the Treaty of Alliance with the Patriots, you can bring French Regulars to America to March and Battle. You can also increase French Naval Intervention, Blockade Cities, move Regulars by sea and Skirmish with the British.
That’s a short summary of the set of actions available to a single player and it starts with teaching you that the Hortalez Rodrigue et Cie Company exists. We don’t even remember how the French win the game. It is exactly as intuitive to play Liberty or Death game as you imagine it would be, and it takes exactly as long to play as you wish it wouldn’t.
Root took about two hours, using almost exclusively the player-boards to figure out what to do. Well, and some explanation from the local editor extraordinaire Joshua Yearsley, who is in the process of working on making the game more intuitive for new players! We were playing a super pre-production in-development version of the game and we’re pretty sure we’ll see some of our suggestions for more intuitive symbols implemented because we’re geniuses and they were lucky to have us.
Often the very first game of an Asymmetrical Strategy Boardgame is going to be mostly about learning because it’s hard for anyone to keep track of everyone else’s special rules. Root simplifies that as far as it can by having everyone share a victory track and by having everyone move pieces according to the same rules, but it’s still going to be something where the first try at each faction is a time for learning the game. But it’s fun learning, and it doesn’t seem like it would take more than a couple of games to get a solid handle on every faction thanks to the carefully shared rules.
We played the most unintuitive, least inviting possible version of this game with as little rule-book reading prep as possible for our first time and it was a riot and we’ve been eager to play again since. That bodes well for the final version!
If all this sounds great then should take this moment to back it on Kickstarter while you can and then look forward to it next August! Thanks to hitting all of the Stretch Goals there are now a bunch of extra unique Vagabonds, two totally new factions, and a special Winter board with rules for randomized placement of starting positions to make for even more varied replaying!