September 2, 2020

Of Tooth and Tail

Root's different factions make beautiful war in the woods.

Of Tooth and Tail

Playing any board game for the first time is a little like opening a present: there's endless possibility in the spread before you, whether it's covered in tokens, cards, meeples, or, as in Root, all three.

After that first play, you tend to understand the game, its goal, and how to get there. You may not be very good, but, like a student driver navigating across town, you should be able to get there eventually. That first time magic, though, fades.

Some will say that surprise and wonder ages like wine as you get better at the game, as you work out ever more devious strategies to score points or undermine your opponents efforts until they flip the table, curse your family, and walk out never to see you again.

Root puts off that moment just a little bit longer by presenting factions with little alike. The birds, the cats, the random vermin collection called the 'Woodland Alliance' all play differently. These differences are not those found in, say, Risk, wherein choosing to start in Australia means a different strategy than engaging in the brutal, futile struggle for literally any other continent.

No, in Root every faction is as unique as the creatures they represent. The game's art boils over in personality, ensuring a smile even if you really have no idea if what you're doing is right, wrong, or legal. Yes, you can wander the woods as a raccoon and slay mice with arrows. You can take your kitty hordes and tear apart the birds as they litter the trees with their roosts.

Just, you know, go in expecting to spend some effort getting to know your creatures first. While every faction gives you something new to enjoy, it's also something new to learn, and playing the first few rounds of a Root game often feels like everyone's figuring out how to walk.

But going from that walk to a run, and then a sprint to victory comes quick and quirky as alliances are formed and broken, promises made and split asunder when the raccoon inevitably chooses the wrong side to gift with his implacable aid.

There's dice, there's victory points, area control and all you could want in a board game that's a level or three over Catan's complexity. And therein lies the real magic Root offers: it has everything you'd want from a board game, but if you're willing to give it a chance, it'll surprise you with something new every time it hits the table.

I can't say I get to play Root as often as I'd like, but I'll never stop trying to pull it out and leave it lingering at events, hoping someone takes a look at the friendly critters on the front and asks if they can take a journey into the woods.