- Developer: Dire Wolf Digital
- Publisher: Dire Wolf Digital
- Release Date: 16/11/2021
- Price: £15.49 / $19.99
- Review code provided by Dire Wolf Digital
Introducing: Root Review
Anyone who has even looked back through my review history will know I love board games. But one title that has eluded me as yet is Leder Games’s “Root”. When I heard that the digital version was coming to Switch courtesy of Dire Wolf Games I had to try it out!
The board game is already a huge success, winning a number of awards and having a huge following in a very short space of time. Combined with the digital prowess of Dire Wolf Studios, who themselves have a fine pedigree for converting tabletop games to digital, the ingredients are there for a great digital port. So, as day breaks, let’s go down to the woods today. Maybe we’ll be surprised!
The best way to describe Root to someone who’s never played it is as follows. Imagine a slightly more family friendly story than Game of Thrones. Now, add in forest friends reminiscent of “The Animals of Farthing Wood”. Still with me? Good! Finally, apply some elements of the board game Risk, the better ones. It’s safe to say Root has a wide range of inspiration to draw on!
Root is a game based around four main factions. The current ruling Marquise de Cat want the cogs of the military industrial complex to turn. Their actions obviously impacting on the other animals of the woodland. The downtrodden peasantry have banded together to form the Woodland Alliance. There’s also the deposed nobility of the Eyrie Dynasty, cast from their former glory and determined to rise to power once again. Finally, what’s a mass conflict without those roguish enough to take advantage of both sides for their own gain? Well for all you Han Solo fans out there, we have the vagabond, traversing the forest, making friends, and eliminating threats.
Each faction wants to control the board at the expense of the others, well, except the vagabond. But there can only be one ruling faction, so how do we determine the winner in a woodland game of might and right?
Gameplay – Mechanics
The game is an asymmetric, victory point based game. For those who’ve never played one, an asymmetric game is simply one where the players have different win conditions. The winner of the game is the first player to meet their win condition. Anyone who’s every played Settlers of Catan will understand victory points well enough. So how do players gain victory points?
The Marquise de Cat gain points for developing real estate, the more buildings, the more points and the more points future buildings are worth. The Eyrie work through the night to build roosts, but they have a strict code. Breaking the order in which tasks are done brings them into turmoil. The Woodland Alliance need sympathy for their cause. Gaining enough can cause revolts and strengthen their military power. Finally, the Vagabond earns points by making friends and completing quests.
Each round is divided into three sections. Birdsong, Daylight, and Evening. However, what each faction can do in these phases is entirely different. To describe them all here would take up considerable space and no one wants to read that. But, the main bulk of the game is completing actions to achieve your goal, whether it’s crafting with cards, moving units, or fighting other factions.
Gameplay – Combat
Combat is a mechanic that most of the factions have at their disposal. When choosing the action to fight your foes, dice get rolled! This is really the only portion of the game where strategies from Risk come into play. The more units you have, the more dice you can roll. But beware! Your opponents could be holding an ambush card and throw your masterful stratagem into disarray! While you won’t be rolling a 5 and a 2 to get into Irkutsk (if you know, you know!) there is an exciting and random element to keep gamers on their toes.
Whilst you can fight units, you may also have to destroy buildings. These are often undefended (you fiend!), but the rules are the same. Two dice are rolled, the attacker always gets the higher die roll while the defender takes what’s left. The number determines how many hits/kills your group achieve. Each hit removes one piece from the board until all lay waste before your might!
Combat is more important for some factions as it clears the area to move in your own troops, or in the case of the Vagabond it can create (and destroy) alliances. So, there is a great deal of political thinking behind whether to initiate combat. Will moving into a territory spark outrage? Doing so might affect the cards you have in hand! There’s a lot to think about in Root!
I’ll put it plainly, Root is not an easy game to master. There is so much going on that tracking other players is nigh on impossible. The easiest strategy for new players is to focus on achieving your goals. This is also the first time in my reviewing career that I am going to advocate playing the entire tutorial before even considering playing a game with friends.
There are two reasons for this. The first is that the tutorial walks you through each faction and how it achieves its goals. This is a great way to see which faction you enjoy playing as the most, but also lets you get a feel for how your opponents will be playing during their turn. The AI is obviously weakened in order to assist you and there is the ability to “mulligan” your moves if you make a mistake. There are instructions on screen and sometimes only the desired option is highlighted to make sure you get a feel for the game and the user interface.
Once you’ve completed the 4 main tutorials, the single player games include challenges to help ease you into gameplay with achievements such as “control two clearings”. The developers have clearly spent time trying to make sure that you are as comfortable with the game as possible. That being said, the game is relatively easy to get into. Having played a few hours I tried a quick game (admittedly on easy level). I managed to finish in second, only a few victory points behind the Eyrie. The next game I played I smashed my way to victory!
The game can be played in local mode, but like all digital tabletop games having the ability to play online is a massive bonus. Considering that more and more “at home” restrictions are coming back into play as I type this, the online functionality will again come into it’s own, I feel.
Players can set up public or private games, with a password system used to privacy. Rules can be planned in advance, reminiscent of old school Goldeneye games as a kid (Visions of woodland creatures running around slapping each other…). You will need to set up an account to access the feature, but this gives you a username and the ability to search for games. I wasn’t able to test whether the game had cross play, but this is a feature of the PC and Android/iOS versions of the games.
One of the things commented about the most with Root is it’s art style. A gorgeous mix of simplicity and detail give rise to gorgeous woodland boards with adorable cartoon-esque pieces. But how do you transpose those pieces to the digital tabletop, which has greater demands on animation and a need to show each factions personality?
Well again, Dire Wolf pulled something fantastic out of the bag! The original art style has been expertly transposed. Each wooden piece given its own 3D model and some animation to help ensure that the game flows smoothly. There are some slight frame rate drops during combat animations, for example, but when you consider the sheer volume of decisions going on in a 4 player game, it’s certainly understandable.
The music starts off feeling fantastic. The opening animation with a woodland folk band brought a smile to my face, bringing back memories of woodland jamboree meets… well a less deadly Freddy Fazbear! While the music is charming and certainly in keeping with the theme, the background track during game play felt a little repetitive. I certainly realised when the same few bars are repeated. I certainly didn’t feel put off, but there was the urge to listen to other tracks in the background.
Root is a must own for board game fans, many of whom will be more than comfortable with the learning curve of the game. In fact, many have said to me that the digital version is the best way of learning how to play the game before trying it in person. The only negative I found whilst playing was that using the Switch controllers with the game isn’t always as intuitive as you would like. However, seeing as this was a game developed for tablets and PC originally, they’ve done a good job at adapting the controls. There’s also the benefit that the touchscreen controls are both functional and the best way to play, though trading off the larger screen is disappointing.
The bigger question is: how is the game for people new to board games? Well dear reader, I still recommend it, but you need to be prepared. This isn’t a board game to just dip in and out of (at first). It requires a commitment and investment in order to grasp the rules. However, the reward for such an investment more than makes up for it. What you are given is a beautifully presented, incredibly deep game that will have family and friends entertained for hours. Definitely one to bring out at a family gathering!
- Beautifully presented art assets
- Asymmetric game play, challenges and a rich tutorial means there is a lot to discover
- Online play, with possible cross play, provides a huge replay value
- Controls are not always intuitive
- Has a steep learning curve
- Background music can be repetative at times.