Root Review

Michael Barnes     
 
5.0
2895   0

The best and most important game of 2018.

I'm not going to waste my time writing or your time reading by describing what you do in Cole Wehrle's Root. I'm not going to enumerate what the phases are, how you score points, explain how crazy asymmetrical it is, fawn over how cute it is, or laboriously trot out all of the routine Consumer Reports product facts you can discover elsewhere by reading someone else’s coverage or by simply downloading and reading the rulebook. All of those things are important- the stunning highwire act of balancing wildly different player factions and standardized procedural elements for example. It's significant that Root is essentially a distillation and refinement of concepts developed in the far more complicated and far less accessible COIN designs. I think it is also worth mentioning that the game looks incredible with an instantly iconic illustration style, executed by Kyle Ferrin, which looks like a cross between Bill Watterson, Richard Scarry, and Animal Crossing. It absolutely matters that this game is extremely well-written, well-designed, and well-developed- on all of the above points Root would already be a game-of-the-year contender.

However, there are other reasons that I believe Root is in fact one of the best games I have ever played. I'm sure that statement will raise eyebrows and maybe even elicit some harumphs. Some may argue that it's a new game, but I would counter-propose that greatness doesn't always take 20 years to become evident. And I knew from my very first play that Root was something special not only because of how it created a fully realized game world, but also how it captured a completely fictive moment in this world's history and brought its themes to life. I mean themes, not setting. Setting is the pictures, words, and contextual framing. Themes are the meanings, subtextual concepts, and ideas beneath.

It is a period of tumult in the woodlands with three factions pursuing different agendas - and then there is a fourth actor or actress that exists as a kind of Yojimbo-like, spoiler figure between the rival powers. The Marquise de Cat has risen to power and seeks to develop industry, relying on a large martial presence to spread from a central power base. It isn't hard to imagine this faction as Saruman, sending his Uruk-Hai out from Isengard to subjugate, dominate, and exploit. Directly opposed to them are the Eyrie, an avian race representing the old, dynastic rulers of the woods that must struggle with a traditional internal political system as much as they will against rivals. But they gather in flocks, and shrewd bureaucratic positioning can find them reclaiming their territory. But there is also a rebellion stirring, as the diverse creatures of Woodland Alliance seek to rise up against both the interlopers and the de facto rulers. The problem with managing their influence is that sympathy can fall on their side, increasing their relative power. The Vagabond is the game's big question mark. Will he or she act as an agent of the Marquis or the Eyrie? Or will the role they play tilt the balance to the revolution? Or will the Vagabond emerge as the only real winner?

The degree of sophistication with which Root describes these four very different themes of conflict is quite far removed from what most players may be used to in encountering the usual "dudes on a map" or area control games. By vesting each of these factions with completely different processes and mechanics - all of which interlock in a way that recalls nothing less than EON's classic Dune- the game is able to depict this fictional turning point from different ideological angles. There are some ways this game is like a 4x design- but not every faction does every X, some factions do X differently, and some factions do X for different end results- and in a way more compelling and narratively richer than the basic "different victory condition" or "unique faction ability" tropes.


It is true that there is something of a rigidity to this format as each side requires that you mind their very specific objectives and play by their very specific rules. But I would argue that there are enough variable elements in place (card play, dice rolls, player behavior) to keep it volatile. The drama is high, regardless of which story arc the faction you are playing follows. And as you engage with the narrative, the senses of triumph, failure, and opportunity are revealed to be part and parcel with each faction's identity, philosophy, and agenda. There is more to this game than the gee-whiz, every side is different reaction suggests. The mechanical and gameplay differences here are founded in the themes that each faction represents, themes that describe different aspects of participation in political, military, and ideological conflict.

This is what makes Root such a great game, and it is what I predict the horde of games that are going to be chasing what this design does so right over the next five years are going to get so wrong. The asymmetry isn't there to artificially create an illusion of replayability, as is often the case in games with "unique" player factions. It's there to circumscribe the story of Root and to bring out what "might and right in the Woodland Realm" means, as the subtitle evocatively suggests. Here's a hint- "might and right" are different depending on which side of the conflict you are on.

I love teaching this game, even though it is something a challenge because you have up to four players each playing, essentially, a unique set of rules overlaying a central design. There is a moment when a new Alliance player realizes how utterly explosive their uprising in the mid game can be after a long, slow build up. I love how a Vagabond player suddenly understands that a single, treacherous crossbow assassination can tip the scales in a clearing. There's always a feeling of defeat when an inexperienced Eyrie player blows their mandated Decree and has to essentially sack their entire leadership- but theirs is a government that cannot exist without the churn so you explain how they'll still earn points for their roosts and rebuild for the next turn.


This sometimes charming, sometimes brutal world comes to life in the players' eyes, and it's magical. As these players become veterans, this wonderful sense of discovery is surmounted by a gradual understanding of this game's intricate pathways, trajectories and flow. It becomes internalized and each game this moment- this made-up history of this made-up time- breathes again.

All of the things that make Root truly great are directly tied to narrative, theme, and representation in a way that very few games attempt. It may be that Mr. Wehrle is among the few designers working today that are able to use the games medium to strike at these depths. Root is a masterpiece for all of the reasons you've read elsewhere for sure. But I would add that there are reasons below the surface - at its root if you absolutely must - that make it not only the standout game of 2018 but quite possibly of this generation.

An advance review copy of this game was provided courtesy of Leder Games. There Will Be Games accepts no payment from publishers or designers for reviews, editorials, or other content.

Root Review There Will Be Games

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Editor rating

Michael Barnes
Rating 
 
5.0

Summary

Game Name
Root

Michael BarnesFollow Michael Barnes Follow Michael Barnes Message Michael Barnes

Editor-in-Chief

Sometime in the early 1980s, MichaelBarnes’ parents thought it would be a good idea to buy him a board game to keep him busy with some friends during one of those high-pressure, “free” timeshare vacations. It turned out to be a terrible idea, because the game was TSR’s Dungeon! - and the rest, as they say, is history. Michael has been involved with writing professionally about games since 2002, when he busked for store credit writing for Boulder Games’ newsletter. He has written for a number of international hobby gaming periodicals and popular Web sites. From 2004-2008, he was the co-owner of Atlanta Game Factory, a brick-and-mortar retail store. He is currently the co-founder of FortressAT.com and Nohighscores.com as well as the Editor-in-Chief of Miniature Market’s Review Corner feature. He is married with two childen and when he’s not playing some kind of game he enjoys stockpiling trivial information about music, comics and film. 

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Posted: 19 Sep 2018 18:52 by Gary Sax #281929
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So is there enough cardboard inside the box to give it enough value for the money?
Posted: 19 Sep 2018 19:07 by SaMoKo #281930
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Gary Sax wrote:
So is there enough cardboard inside the box to give it enough value for the money?

This. Do one of those box opening reviews and finish by slowly pouring the contents onto an exotic bed while purring about the future resale value
Posted: 19 Sep 2018 19:07 by cranberries #281931
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Should I sell my backup guitar to buy this?
Posted: 19 Sep 2018 21:05 by Gary Sax #281937
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No.
Posted: 20 Sep 2018 02:15 by MattDP #281938
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I love teaching this game, even though it is something a challenge because you have up to four players each playing, essentially, a unique set of rules overlaying a central design.

This is really interesting because that's essentially how another Leder Games title, Vast, works. I think I described it as something like every player having their own rules, and the game falling out of the parts where those rules intersect. It's quite the most innovative design I've played in years, although it's clunky and quite hard to teach and learn.

Yet although Root and Vast are from the same publisher, they've got different designers. I wonder what the story is here? An in-house development synergy, perhaps? Or maybe a case of the one game inspiring greater heights in the other.

Got a copy en-Root (see what I did there?) so hopefully I'll get the chance yo explore this myself.
Posted: 20 Sep 2018 02:52 by mc #281939
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I could be wrong but I've got the impression the company is pretty much aiming to make asymmetric games the only thing they do.

Wehrle, the designer of Root, got a full time job with them and i think was already working on it as a more accesible COIN style thing, and yes, I think probably building on what Vast had done too.

I think that's the gist of it anyway. Pretty sure I've heard both him and the Vast guy interviewed together on some podcast.
Posted: 20 Sep 2018 04:32 by Ska_baron #281941
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Looking forward to playing this one as I absolutely agree with Michael's assessment (from afar anyway).

And yes, Leder Games is all about asymmetry in their published games.

But how can we not address the most salacious aspect of Root? It's plagiarism! www.boardgamegeek.com/thread/1944526/official-status-deep
The board game industry is still so small and messy.
Posted: 20 Sep 2018 04:38 by mc #281943
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Wow. Interesting reading... cheers for that, I hadn't come across any of that.
Posted: 20 Sep 2018 05:49 by hotseatgames #281944
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So Michael (or anyone else)... does Root fire any games for you?
Posted: 20 Sep 2018 06:12 by stoic #281945
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.

cane-toad.jpg
Posted: 20 Sep 2018 06:22 by GorillaGrody #281946
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hotseatgames wrote:
So Michael (or anyone else)... does Root fire any games for you?

I'm familiar only with Fire in the Lake and Cuba Libre, of the COIN games. My gripe with them is that they are designed by the same sort of designers who cut their teeth on the "simplicity" of wargames featuring stuff like the Battle of the Bulge. When these designers sit down to design games around the liberatory struggles of the Viet Cong or of the the anti-capitalist forces of revolutionary Cuba, they treat them as orders of magnitude more complicated than a traditional wargame. This complication constitutes a critique, acknowledging the failure of liberatory movements over the course of history.

Imagine that we needed to play out the Battle of the Bulge with the full knowledge that, 70 years later, fascism would be ascendant around the world, because, you know, war is complicated. I find the level of abstraction found in Root totally refreshing, by comparison. And cute.

TLDR: COIN is complex to a fault. Root has l'il cutey-cute baby animals. Fired.
Posted: 20 Sep 2018 06:40 by Gary Sax #281947
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stoic wrote:
.

cane-toad.jpg

Usually yes? But I don't see how a 30 minute 3-4 player game automatically ends up a toad.

Edit: 90, thanks Charlie. My point still stands, I think.
Posted: 20 Sep 2018 07:00 by charlest #281949
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Gary Sax wrote:
stoic wrote:
.

cane-toad.jpg

Usually yes? But I don't see how a 30 minute 3-4 player game automatically ends up a toad.

It's a 90 minute game typically (120 in my one five player game), with three player possibly being as quick as 70ish minutes. Two player is 45-60, and while not awful, I wouldn't go to this as a two player game regularly.
Posted: 20 Sep 2018 08:33 by BaronDonut #281951
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GorillaGrody wrote:
When these designers sit down to design games around the liberatory struggles of the Viet Cong or of the the anti-capitalist forces of revolutionary Cuba, they treat them as orders of magnitude more complicated than a traditional wargame. This complication constitutes a critique, acknowledging the failure of liberatory movements over the course of history.

Hey GG, can you elaborate a bit more on this? I don't totally understand the connection you're making between complexity and critique.

In my (our?) limited COIN experience, they seem to be more of a sidewise step in complexity to their more traditional brethren, choosing to focus their mechanics on interplay between political entities than, say, the fire rates and effective distances of different automatic rifles. To me, this kind of complexity generates a more productive and critical engagement with historical conflict; it's why Fire in the Lake is a better Vietnam game than the ones that treat American forces and VC as equivalent shirts-and-skins chits on a map.

Of course, maybe you're not talking about mechanical complexity? Maybe it's in the framing of the conflict? Or maybe representing any of this in a simulationist way is inherently anti-revolutionary?

Will 100% agree with you that cute animals are always better, though.
Posted: 20 Sep 2018 09:07 by stoic #281953
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Gary Sax wrote:
stoic wrote:
.

cane-toad.jpg

Usually yes? But I don't see how a 30 minute 3-4 player game automatically ends up a toad.

Edit: 90, thanks Charlie. My point still stands, I think.

It will be a toad for most after the initial cuteness of the artwork wears off and the vast majority of gamers decide that, "No," they don't want to fanatically learn the rules of each and every faction in order to balance out this asymmetrical game, and, they also grow tired of looking for dedicated Root players who rooted out the rules well enough to make this a competitive game meriting repeated play. This toady will soon reveal itself. Croak...
Posted: 20 Sep 2018 10:07 by BaronDonut #281955
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Also, congratulations to the editorial team for putting together a downright adorable cuddly critter / cute monster review week.
Posted: 20 Sep 2018 10:39 by Not Sure #281959
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stoic wrote:
It will be a toad for most after the initial cuteness of the artwork wears off and the vast majority of gamers decide that, "No," they don't want to fanatically learn the rules of each and every faction in order to balance out this asymmetrical game, and, they also grow tired of looking for dedicated Root players who rooted out the rules well enough to make this a competitive game meriting repeated play. This toady will soon reveal itself. Croak...

Every game is a shelf toad when you have 1000+ games. Root's a good game, worth replaying. Most of the copies sold won't get 10 games played on them, if any at all. That's the reality of the current market.

That's got little to do with Root, and everything to do with 5000 games a year and Pokemon collectors catching them all.

The asymmetry is a hard nut to crack. But if Dune can survive as a classic (toad that it fucking is...) then Root has a chance too. Even better in that it's not based in a 50-year-old novel, and plays in half the time. Will it? Who knows.
Posted: 20 Sep 2018 12:30 by GorillaGrody #281964
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BaronDonut wrote:
GorillaGrody wrote:
When these designers sit down to design games around the liberatory struggles of the Viet Cong or of the the anti-capitalist forces of revolutionary Cuba, they treat them as orders of magnitude more complicated than a traditional wargame. This complication constitutes a critique, acknowledging the failure of liberatory movements over the course of history.

Hey GG, can you elaborate a bit more on this? I don't totally understand the connection you're making between complexity and critique.

In my (our?) limited COIN experience, they seem to be more of a sidewise step in complexity to their more traditional brethren, choosing to focus their mechanics on interplay between political entities than, say, the fire rates and effective distances of different automatic rifles. To me, this kind of complexity generates a more productive and critical engagement with historical conflict; it's why Fire in the Lake is a better Vietnam game than the ones that treat American forces and VC as equivalent shirts-and-skins chits on a map.

This may be getting too deep in the water for this particular forum, but for my part, I don't really see simulation as equaling accuracy, and certainly not critical engagement. In fact, I see it as a lot more dangerous to simulate the desire people have for politics to transform their lives as a tug of various chits on the board which, in some other context, would simulate fire rates and movement capabilities. Fire In The Lake doesn't really ask why America was in Vietnam, and I'd argue that's because the tactical realpolitik of the game doesn't allow the question to be asked. America was ever in Vietnam, according to Fire In The Lake: play it again and see if you can win it this time. In Root, however, I am encouraged to ask why the Eyrie behave the way they do. The reductiveness and essential quality of their role demands the question.

Games, to my mind, don't produce convincing simulations. The harder they try, the worse they become. I mean, try playing GURPS sometime.

Games do, however, produce beautiful abstractions. I think gamers often try too hard to tell themselves that abstractions are simulations because they are beautiful, especially when those abstractions suit their model of the world.
Posted: 20 Sep 2018 12:43 by ChristopherMD #281966
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How does getting players up to speed on how to play the various factions in this game compare to Cthulhu Wars? I'm sure the mechanics are different but it sounds like they have the asymmetrical faction strategies in common.
Posted: 20 Sep 2018 13:00 by BaronDonut #281971
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GorillaGrody wrote:
Fire In The Lake doesn't really ask why America was in Vietnam, and I'd argue that's because the tactical realpolitik of the game doesn't allow the question to be asked. America was ever in Vietnam, according to Fire In The Lake: play it again and see if you can win it this time.

This is a really great thought, thanks for it.

I think you're right in saying that games never really work as true simulations. Their gameness, the need to be a playable thing, seems to be at odds with the goal of simulation (or recreation or whatever). It will never be sufficient. That said, I think games can generate ideas and posit models and have interesting things to say about the past, even if they are compromised by abstraction. I mean, all the other tools we use to deal with or interact with the past are abstracted or reductive in some way, too: narrative, theory, statistics, etc. I think a game can communicate something useful, even if that's only the worldview and assumptions of the designer.

Also, lol, GURPS, no. Never again.
Posted: 20 Sep 2018 14:07 by Ken B. #281982
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ChristopherMD wrote:
How does getting players up to speed on how to play the various factions in this game compare to Cthulhu Wars? I'm sure the mechanics are different but it sounds like they have the asymmetrical faction strategies in common.

I'd be interested to hear that comparison as well. I have good luck in teaching Cthulhu Wars like this:

"Cthulhu, you're the hammer, you want to fight and die a lot. Black Goat, you're Zerg, you want to spread your forces everywhere. Nyarly, you are highly mobile and conduct guerilla warfare. Yellow Sign, you're playing your own wandering mini-game. Try not to get the guy with his butt cheeks showing killed. You folks ready to play?"


Well, ok, that's *mostly* how it goes, anyway.
Posted: 20 Sep 2018 15:20 by Michael Barnes #281989
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I'd say that it is actually somewhat easier to get new players going than Cthulhu Wars, except for two things.

One is that it simply takes longer to do the ol' rules talk. You need to go to each player and explain what they do, how they do it. This is not terribly hard. The game makes it fairly easy, actually, as it provides these helper cards for every player explaining what all the other factions are about. As long as everyone is aware that they have a subset of rules and that not everyone gets points the same way, etc., it usually works out OK. I think it helps if you explain that one faction is the invader, one is the existing government, one is the rebellion, and one is the mercenary. Those simple terms bring a lot of the concepts together. So that's kind of like the Ken B. Method, isn't it?

The other is that there are things that are not immediately visible. For example, in the last game I played, the Marquise player was completely waylaid because they didn't understand how the Alliance can basically nuke a clearing in an uprising. They didn't expect the effect of it to be so severe, and it wasn't something they picked up on in the rules or the buildup. This can also happen with the other factions if they don't quite catch some of the subtleties.

With all of that said, I think Root has a little less in terms of different elements to learn, reflecting on the spellbooks, different units, special abilities, GOO differences, and so forth.

I've taught it to a grand total of 11 newbies and although that first game is going to be a learning thing, I don't feel like anyone came away feeling like they didn't know what was going on or anything like that. There is a walkthrough/play through of the first couple of turns you can do if you really want some firmer guidance.

In sum- some of the "OMG every faction is different, what do I do" fear is overblown. This is not a complicated game.

On the "shelf toad" issue...it doesn't matter. Even if I never play it again, it's still an incredible game. The notion that a game has to be immortally replayable for the rest of your life to be great is kind of dumb. I've only read The Scarlet Letter one time, but it's still an amazing book. The game can be picked up again and learned again in 10 minutes and it's rarely more than 90 minutes long, so it's not like there is a special consideration because of its format or whatever.
Posted: 20 Sep 2018 15:53 by Ken B. #281992
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Alright Barnsey, no one answered this, so I gotta know:

Kickstarter for Pax Pamir is wrapping up today. I watched that video and I'm all in. The theme and unique production are just...man, it looks amazing and a gameplay video hooked me even more.

Being as Pax Pamir is Root's spiritual ancestor, do I "need" Root too? (Understanding that "need" is a hideously abused word in our hobby and I use it fully ironically as you could bury me under the weight of all the games I own and it would crush my bones to powder and take years for anyone to ever find my lifeless husk.)
Posted: 20 Sep 2018 15:54 by Not Sure #281993
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GorillaGrody wrote:
Fire In The Lake doesn't really ask why America was in Vietnam, and I'd argue that's because the tactical realpolitik of the game doesn't allow the question to be asked. America was ever in Vietnam, according to Fire In The Lake: play it again and see if you can win it this time. In Root, however, I am encouraged to ask why the Eyrie behave the way they do. The reductiveness and essential quality of their role demands the question.

I cannot see how the first sentence and the third co-exist there.

The Eyrie were ever in the forest, it pretty much says so in the rulebook. Root might encourage you to invent some background for why your animals are duking it out, but a game of FitL starts at the same point as Root: "however we got here, here we are, let's fight".

The difference being that you can hit the books and research any number of interpretations of why America was in Vietnam, and then square your ideas of the game model with the assumptions that were made to enable it being a "game".

Root backstories are fan-fiction, and I never feel a demand to write fan-fiction.
Posted: 20 Sep 2018 16:00 by Not Sure #281994
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Ken B. wrote:
Alright Barnsey, no one answered this, so I gotta know:

Kickstarter for Pax Pamir is wrapping up today. I watched that video and I'm all in. The theme and unique production are just...man, it looks amazing and a gameplay video hooked me even more.

Being as Pax Pamir is Root's spiritual ancestor, do I "need" Root too? (Understanding that "need" is a hideously abused word in our hobby and I use it fully ironically as you could bury me under the weight of all the games I own and it would crush my bones to powder and take years for anyone to ever find my lifeless husk.)

Aside from being from the same designer, there's no actual lineage there. Pax Pamir was (and will be again) a derivative of Pax Porfiriana, a shifting-strategies game of buying the right stuff out of the market and deploying it to get an edge over the other players.

Root is an asymmetric light wargame, with its origins in COIN (among other things), and it's about using your various species advantages and disadvantages to race towards an abstract finish line of "30 points".

They're very opposite in design, Pax is about differentiating yourself from a horde of equals through clever play (and good luck/timing), while Root is about measuring your inherent differences against a common goal.

One game is not required for the other at all. If you like one style and not the other, buy that one. Or both. Or neither.
Posted: 20 Sep 2018 16:07 by Ken B. #281997
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Thanks man! That was my misunderstanding and I appreciate you clearing it up. I'll keep both the KS and my Root pre-order then.




Not Sure wrote:
Ken B. wrote:
Alright Barnsey, no one answered this, so I gotta know:

Kickstarter for Pax Pamir is wrapping up today. I watched that video and I'm all in. The theme and unique production are just...man, it looks amazing and a gameplay video hooked me even more.

Being as Pax Pamir is Root's spiritual ancestor, do I "need" Root too? (Understanding that "need" is a hideously abused word in our hobby and I use it fully ironically as you could bury me under the weight of all the games I own and it would crush my bones to powder and take years for anyone to ever find my lifeless husk.)

Aside from being from the same designer, there's no actual lineage there. Pax Pamir was (and will be again) a derivative of Pax Porfiriana, a shifting-strategies game of buying the right stuff out of the market and deploying it to get an edge over the other players.

Root is an asymmetric light wargame, with its origins in COIN (among other things), and it's about using your various species advantages and disadvantages to race towards an abstract finish line of "30 points".

They're very opposite in design, Pax is about differentiating yourself from a horde of equals through clever play (and good luck/timing), while Root is about measuring your inherent differences against a common goal.

One game is not required for the other at all. If you like one style and not the other, buy that one. Or both. Or neither.
Posted: 21 Sep 2018 05:26 by GorillaGrody #282013
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Not Sure wrote:
GorillaGrody wrote:
Fire In The Lake doesn't really ask why America was in Vietnam, and I'd argue that's because the tactical realpolitik of the game doesn't allow the question to be asked. America was ever in Vietnam, according to Fire In The Lake: play it again and see if you can win it this time. In Root, however, I am encouraged to ask why the Eyrie behave the way they do. The reductiveness and essential quality of their role demands the question.

I cannot see how the first sentence and the third co-exist there.

The Eyrie were ever in the forest, it pretty much says so in the rulebook. Root might encourage you to invent some background for why your animals are duking it out, but a game of FitL starts at the same point as Root: "however we got here, here we are, let's fight".

The difference being that you can hit the books and research any number of interpretations of why America was in Vietnam, and then square your ideas of the game model with the assumptions that were made to enable it being a "game".

Root backstories are fan-fiction, and I never feel a demand to write fan-fiction.

Michael mentioned above a distinction between theme and setting I agree with. Setting is backstory. Theme is an interwoven set of aesthetic decisions which form an argument. You're correct that the setting puts us in medias res within a conflict. But I'm saying that the abstraction you perform as the liberal-industrial Cat faction--the scope of it, which is telescoped out to the maximum--points out that they are nearly as robotic and fanatical as the Eyrie faction, in spite of the fact that the Cats are the "euro" liberal economic faction, and that the birds are the fascist "ameritrash" faction. Every action, because it is abstracted, reminds you of this.

I don't remember much about Fire in the Lake, because it was a 5-hour slog of the minutest detail, but I'm pretty sure that at some point someone pulled a Mai Lai Massacre card and that it gave someone somewhere a couple of points. And my point is 1) That enacts the exact sort of real-life reasoning which made the Mai Lai massacre possible and 2) I'm sure that the designers realized the contradiction there, but instead worried about how many points, and when.
Posted: 21 Sep 2018 07:09 by stoic #282015
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What I really don't like about Root is its artwork. It sucks in the weak-minded and children with, what on the surface appears to be, cute and innocent animal artwork only to adulterate it by casting them into a bleak and dark hell hole. If you think about it, Root makes Warhammer 40K look like a Utopia by comparison. Root has forever transformed and corrupted the pure innocence of the world of anthropomorphic animals introduced to generations of children by Richard Scarry. It has turned all of them, these beloved childhood icons, into a Machiavellian nightmare of political intrigue, theft, capitalism, materialism, greed, species purity and domination, holocaust, military industrial complex, industrialization, backstabbing, murder, warfare, fanatical religious zealotry, and noble feudal domination. It's disgusting. Where's the indignation?


farmerB.jpg



Source: For more examples of the inevitable future of Root's horrific worldview and the repercussions for the adulteration of anthropomorphic animal artwork, please see the following website: www.quirkbooks.com/post/busy-deadly-world-richard-scarry
Posted: 21 Sep 2018 07:12 by BaronDonut #282016
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GorillaGrody wrote:
Setting is backstory. Theme is an interwoven set of aesthetic decisions which form an argument. You're correct that the setting puts us in medias res within a conflict.

I liked the geek list you put together a few years back to illustrate this idea. Gonna trot it out again: boardgamegeek.com/geeklist/187923/modest-proposal-regards-theme
GorillaGrody wrote:
I don't remember much about Fire in the Lake, because it was a 5-hour slog of the minutest detail, but I'm pretty sure that at some point someone pulled a Mai Lai Massacre card and that it gave someone somewhere a couple of points. And my point is 1) That enacts the exact sort of real-life reasoning which made the Mai Lai massacre possible and 2) I'm sure that the designers didn't realize that, but instead worried about how many points, and when.

I remember that moment occurring, and the queasiness it evoked, as it should, when you bring atrocity in the realm of play. This cognitive dissonance was both troubling and interesting to me. I was just re-reading the design notes included in the FitL playbook--you're right that both designers are more concerned with questions of how rather than questions of why or should, though there is a moment when Mark Herman contemplates receiving his draft card 45 years ago when it feels like this might be examined in greater detail, but he backs down in service of mechanical design decisions.

Of course, this is the default stance of wargames in general. I think there is an unresolved tension in the pleasure we take in the abstraction and recreation of human pain. I remember that after we played FitL we played Maria, a much cleaner, far more abstracted take on the War of the Austrian Succession. Still thematically linked with atrocity and horror (as all wargames are), but zoomed out to the nth degree and far more lighthearted.

I'm not even sure I'm responding to your points anymore, but I'm contemplating my own break-even point when it comes to this kind of game. Is it thesis? Abstraction? Granularity and specificity? I don't know. I really like wargames, but never feel totally comfortable with them.

Root is a nifty trick in that Wehrle manages to continue his project of examining fraught power relations (like he did in Pax Pamir and John Company) while sidestepping some of these discussions by making it about critters instead of real-life guerillas. It's the same thing Martin Wallace did when he rethemed his game about anarchist assassinations into Study in Emerald.
Posted: 21 Sep 2018 07:47 by Michael Barnes #282019
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That is a great list, I haven’t seen that before.

Theme is one of the most misunderstood and misjudged elements in just about all games writing and analaysis. When I see a review that goes on and in about “theme” and then proceeds to support that by citing illustrations, nomenclature, and novelty mechanics, I am not inclined to feel that the writer had any credibility.

You go to a kid’s birthday party. There are pictures of Spider-Man on all the paper ware, the tablecloths, and decorations. The cake had Spider-Man in it. An out-of-work actor even shows up dressed like Spider-Man.

Most game reviewers would review this party as “dripping with theme” or that it “captures the feeling of being Spider-Man”, because their understanding of the term extends to decoration and setting but not to the deeper literary and critical meaning of the term. So this kid’s birthday would actually be about Spider-Man to them, not an annual celebration of aging.

Root is a great example of a game with real themes and meanings couched in a great setting that allows for metaphor and signification. Other examples would be Modern Art, Tigris & Euphrates, and Lord of the Rings. (See what I did there)
Posted: 21 Sep 2018 07:52 by BaronDonut #282020
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Michael Barnes wrote:
You go to a kid’s birthday party. There are pictures of Spider-Man on all the paper ware, the tablecloths, and decorations. The cake had Spider-Man in it. An out-of-work actor even shows up dressed like Spider-Man.

That party sounds lit tho
Posted: 21 Sep 2018 08:05 by RobertB #282022
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'Theme' vs 'setting' in boardgame terminology - never gets old around here. :) Any developers here? Then we can drag out hard vs soft tabs (hard, btw), or K&R indentation - Threat or Menace?.

It's too late to change what 'theme' means when you talk about boardgames, unless you want to redefine terms before talking to most boardgamers. I'd rather save my terminology argument energy for 'hard or soft-G GIF' (hard G is WRONG).
Posted: 21 Sep 2018 08:25 by GorillaGrody #282024
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RobertB wrote:
'Theme' vs 'setting' in boardgame terminology - never gets old around here. :) Any developers here? Then we can drag out hard vs soft tabs (hard, btw), or K&R indentation - Threat or Menace?.

It's too late to change what 'theme' means when you talk about boardgames, unless you want to redefine terms before talking to most boardgamers. I'd rather save my terminology argument energy for 'hard or soft-G GIF' (hard G is WRONG).

This is like saying it's too late to change what a right angle means now that everyone says it's 85 degrees.

Hawaiian Themed party by person who is bad at aesthetics: puts on Don Ho record, everyone eats cheese cubes and talks about work.

Hawaiian Themed party by person who is good at aesthetics: puts on Don Ho record; hula skirts are worn and there's a hula competition; pork, poi and mai tais are ingested; colonialist history is discussed and then the whole party deposes the king.

I mean, some people would rather not be bothered because they just want the cheese cubes. Those people shouldn't throw parties, because they're BAD AT THEME. Not "different." Bad. Art and games are sometimes good or bad, not IMHO, but objectively, because there's a criteria.


I will go hide under a table now.
Posted: 21 Sep 2018 08:39 by Count Orlok #282027
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Shut Up and Sit Down posted their review (Link) that seemed positive with reservations. I seemed to confirm some of my fears about the game, but aren't necessarily negatives to the right crowd. It seems like maybe the game is the most fun as you're figuring it out and how the factions work together, but doesn't necessarily have staying power beyond that initial novelty. I know most groups won't play it enough to run into that problem, but I would be very curious to see how much fun it would remain once everyone has a strong sense of the game and competitive play.

I'm reminded somewhat of my old (old) game group, where we played Here I Stand (tournament scenario) and Sword or Rome regularly for months. If anything those got better the more we played them, although you do start to see the flaws of the game (such as England being a bit boring to play in Here I Stand first edition).
Posted: 21 Sep 2018 09:18 by Colorcrayons #282030
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RobertB wrote:
'Theme' vs 'setting' in boardgame terminology - never gets old around here. :) Any developers here? Then we can drag out hard vs soft tabs (hard, btw), or K&R indentation - Threat or Menace?.

It's too late to change what 'theme' means when you talk about boardgames, unless you want to redefine terms before talking to most boardgamers. I'd rather save my terminology argument energy for 'hard or soft-G GIF' (hard G is WRONG).

As much as I agree with Barnes on the terminology, I'm not going to sit down and restablish the terminology before every discussion I have in that regard.

It's the same argument with the terms 'mechanism' and 'mechanic'. One is correct grammar, the other is Appalachian cousin kissing talk.

I just simply don't care enough to correct these since all I'd accomplish is sounding like Lovecraft or ComicStoreGuy from the Simpsons.
Posted: 21 Sep 2018 09:29 by Frohike #282032
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Count Orlok wrote:
Shut Up and Sit Down posted their review (Link) that seemed positive with reservations. I seemed to confirm some of my fears about the game, but aren't necessarily negatives to the right crowd. It seems like maybe the game is the most fun as you're figuring it out and how the factions work together, but doesn't necessarily have staying power beyond that initial novelty. I know most groups won't play it enough to run into that problem, but I would be very curious to see how much fun it would remain once everyone has a strong sense of the game and competitive play.

Yeah, that part of the SUSD review was *very* interesting. He felt that he went through phases: discovery, then lawyering/administration/advising as new players absorbed it, then the “competitive” stage where everyone finally sees the game... and it just becomes a bit colder, calculated, leaders rubber banding to each other in a VP clump until someone breaks through in the last few moments of the game.

“But NONE of this makes the game any less cool.” But he can’t be sure when he’ll play it again. It succumbs to the “maybe next time!” factor. But he’ll hang onto out of pure appreciation, the potential for expansions, and the idealism of “next time”. It’s that internal pendulum of shelf toad deliberation laid painfully (but comically) bare.

In recent memory he’s stated some of this shelf toadism about War of the Ring, though he’s a bit more gushing about the payoff with that game.
Posted: 21 Sep 2018 09:29 by ChristopherMD #282033
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I guess we'll just have to go with Thematitrash.
Posted: 21 Sep 2018 09:32 by RobertB #282034
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GorillaGrody wrote:
This is like saying it's too late to change what a right angle means now that everyone says it's 85 degrees.

If for some ungodly reason the world decides that 'Right Angle' = '85 degrees', then it equals 85 degrees. If I walk around saying, "It's 90 degrees and you're wrong to think it's 85", then I'm wasting effort and minorly annoying people. "Oh shit, not your Right Angle = 90 degrees thing again."
Posted: 21 Sep 2018 10:53 by Space Ghost #282045
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GorillaGrody wrote:

Hawaiian Themed party by person who is bad at aesthetics: puts on Don Ho record, everyone eats cheese cubes and talks about work.

Hawaiian Themed party by person who is good at aesthetics: puts on Don Ho record; hula skirts are worn and there's a hula competition; pork, poi and mai tais are ingested; colonialist history is discussed and then the whole party deposes the king.

Wait a second...aesthetics are just setting. The only theme is the bolded part -- so a better contrast would be between two parties that have hula skirts, pork, poi, and mai tais and then the one that just has the colonialist history and deposes the king. I would much rather attend the first because the latter reminds me too much of a faculty meeting.

The biggest problem with pushing for the distinction between setting and theme is that while separate, there are definitely settings that help convey some themes better than others. Theoretically, we should be able to overlay any theme with any setting; however, the cultural milieu (sorry, I hate myself for typing that -- just can't think of a better word and I'm in a hurry) has embedded some themes consistently within particular settings that it is easier, and likely the default, to just keep them wedded. It's this tethering that results in the confusion...so I can't fault people for not understanding the distinction.
Posted: 21 Sep 2018 11:33 by GorillaGrody #282052
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Space Ghost wrote:
GorillaGrody wrote:

Hawaiian Themed party by person who is bad at aesthetics: puts on Don Ho record, everyone eats cheese cubes and talks about work.

Hawaiian Themed party by person who is good at aesthetics: puts on Don Ho record; hula skirts are worn and there's a hula competition; pork, poi and mai tais are ingested; colonialist history is discussed and then the whole party deposes the king.

Wait a second...aesthetics are just setting. The only theme is the bolded part -- so a better contrast would be between two parties that have hula skirts, pork, poi, and mai tais and then the one that just has the colonialist history and deposes the king. I would much rather attend the first because the latter reminds me too much of a faculty meeting.

Well, one makes an argument that Hawaii is delicious and fun, and the other makes the argument that it's the victim of colonization. Together they form an argument, probably, that colonization is fun and delicious. While totally not cool, it's an argument made by an interlocking set of thematic elements that pose an argument. Just because one thematic topic is more involved than another doesn't change the rules about how theme is developed.

As for this idea that we're bending ass-backwards to "redefine" theme, we're not. Sure, when I sit down to dinner, I don't argue whether or not the table I'm sitting at is held together by dovetail joints. There are times when it doesn't matter what the definition of something is or not. However, when I go to the website There Will Be Tables and enter the discussion thread "Dovetail Joints," I don't argue that dovetail joints may or may not exist, and "oh, look at Mr. fancy carpenter, telling us all about dovetail joints."

You must accept that when your grandma puts up "thematic" wallpaper she's using the word "theme" in a way that would not be appropriate when talking about Moby Dick or Here I Stand. There's no redefinition here. Just context.
Posted: 21 Sep 2018 12:01 by Space Ghost #282058
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GorillaGrody wrote:



Well, one makes an argument that Hawaii is delicious and fun

Wait a second, have you had poi :)
Posted: 21 Sep 2018 12:16 by GorillaGrody #282059
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Space Ghost wrote:
GorillaGrody wrote:



Well, one makes an argument that Hawaii is delicious and fun

Wait a second, have you had poi :)

No! This whole thread has been an exercise in me talking shit about stuff I know almost nothing about in order to illustrate something I know a little bit about.

Poi looks disgusting. I know that much.
Posted: 21 Sep 2018 14:05 by Erik Twice #282071
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Regarding the talk about "setting" and "theme", I think the underlying conversation is not so much the terminology but about the messages and ideas contained in a game and how they are expressed.

I think that, in general, games are taken at face value. As in "this is a fantasy game because it has eleves drawn". Which I think is not really the truth. Often games are about things that don't show up in the graphics or aren't about a given topic despite the drawings.
Count Orlok wrote:
It seems like maybe the game is the most fun as you're figuring it out and how the factions work together, but doesn't necessarily have staying power beyond that initial novelty. I know most groups won't play it enough to run into that problem, but I would be very curious to see how much fun it would remain once everyone has a strong sense of the game and competitive play.
I think it's rather likely, though the game left me cold out of the gate. I think it depends on how card management pans out, but I didn't think it was that interesting. It is a good game but like John Company, it seemed more interesting for the kind of game it is (Bigger, heavier game euroized) than for the experience to me.

Of course, I've only played it twice. But there hasn't been anything that wowed me in a "man, this mechanic is a challenge" kind of way.
Posted: 21 Sep 2018 14:18 by Colorcrayons #282072
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Erik Twice wrote:
But there hasn't been anything that wowed me in a "man, this mechanic is a challenge" kind of way.

Do you kiss your cousin with that mouth? ;D
Posted: 21 Sep 2018 14:30 by RobertB #282074
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GorillaGrody wrote:
You must accept that when your grandma puts up "thematic" wallpaper she's using the word "theme" in a way that would not be appropriate when talking about Moby Dick or Here I Stand. There's no redefinition here. Just context.

I don't think you can use the same terminology for different media, even if the terminology would easily map from one to the other. Whoever decided 'theme == setting' for boardgames should be horsewhipped, but it's too late now.
Posted: 21 Sep 2018 15:42 by Erik Twice #282076
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Colorcrayons wrote:
Do you kiss your cousin with that mouth? ;D
Yes, because we are Spanish, like my spelling :D
Posted: 21 Sep 2018 15:43 by ubarose #282077
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RobertB wrote:

Whoever decided 'theme == setting' for boardgames should be horsewhipped, but it's too late now.

The verb form of theme means setting or ambiance.
The noun form of theme means subject, topic or motif.
Motif can mean either a decorative design or pattern, or it can mean a dominant idea in an artistic or literary composition

So you can have a medieval themed (setting) game with a theme (subject) of war and a theme (dominate idea) of sacrifice, that has components with a castle theme (decorative design).
Posted: 21 Sep 2018 15:55 by Shellhead #282078
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Theme = setting is a reasonable way to approach a boardgame. Given the limited population of mechanics and victory conditions, it's difficult to express more than a handful of themes with them. A solitaire game is man vs nature, while PVP is man vs man. A traitor game is about paranoia. Here's a big list of literary themes, but most of them seem pretty irrelevant to a boardgame. Barnes is quick to dismiss setting, but the visual design of a game, especially artwork and minis, is often a big part of the draw to playing a given game. And those visuals tend to be the primary way to express the setting/theme of the game. That's why so many gamers would identify topics like zombies or dungeon crawl as themes.
Posted: 22 Sep 2018 12:02 by stoic #282112
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.

RootSpear.jpg


Posted: 22 Sep 2018 13:36 by Oatmeal #282116
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Count Orlok wrote:
Shut Up and Sit Down posted their review (Link) that seemed positive with reservations. I seemed to confirm some of my fears about the game, but aren't necessarily negatives to the right crowd. It seems like maybe the game is the most fun as you're figuring it out and how the factions work together, but doesn't necessarily have staying power beyond that initial novelty. I know most groups won't play it enough to run into that problem, but I would be very curious to see how much fun it would remain once everyone has a strong sense of the game and competitive play.

I'm reminded somewhat of my old (old) game group, where we played Here I Stand (tournament scenario) and Sword or Rome regularly for months. If anything those got better the more we played them, although you do start to see the flaws of the game (such as England being a bit boring to play in Here I Stand first edition).

In my mind much of the appeal is novelty. I haven't even played it that much, but I started out thinking it was going to be a top 10er for me. I still like it, but my enthusiasm basically fell off a cliff around game 10.

Now I regard it as a good game, but I don't think it'll have the staying power of better asymmetric games like Chaos in the Old World + Horned Rat or Dune. It's well designed with quite a bit of strategy and tactics, but the most interesting thing is just seeing how the factions interact and figuring out their strategies. After that the card play, improvements, etc are all pretty boring once there's nothing left to discover.
Posted: 22 Sep 2018 13:44 by Disgustipater #282117
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I hope to play Root soon. I liked Vast the one time I played it, but for some reason I feel like I would like Root better, probably due to the theme setting.

RobertB wrote:
I'd rather save my terminology argument energy for 'hard or soft-G GIF' (hard G is WRONG).

Now we're talking!

Posted: 22 Sep 2018 19:17 by cranberries #282130
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Ken B. wrote:
Alright Barnsey, no one answered this, so I gotta know:

Kickstarter for Pax Pamir is wrapping up today. I watched that video and I'm all in. The theme and unique production are just...man, it looks amazing and a gameplay video hooked me even more.

Being as Pax Pamir is Root's spiritual ancestor, do I "need" Root too? (Understanding that "need" is a hideously abused word in our hobby and I use it fully ironically as you could bury me under the weight of all the games I own and it would crush my bones to powder and take years for anyone to ever find my lifeless husk.)

I've played Pamir about three times and it is a fun and strange game. I love the setting and theme, and with the new version you'll be able to actually read all the cool historical stuff on the cards.
3,139 backers pledged $244,607 to help bring this project to life.
Posted: 22 Sep 2018 19:21 by Gary Sax #282131
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Yeah, Pax and COIN game are straight up very different, as pointed out early. Fair warning. This one is a bit more COIN by all accounts.
Posted: 29 Sep 2018 00:27 by Disgustipater #282467
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I played my first game of Root this evening. We ended up with 5 players, so we used two Vagabonds. One person had played twice before, two people had played once, and myself and another guy had not played before.

Brief battle report:

Warning: Spoiler! [ Click to expand ]


I’m not sure what I think of the game. I need to play it a few more times to suss out if I really like it or think it’s simply fine. I wasn’t really paying attention to the strategies of the other players since I was so preoccupied with trying to figure out what I was supposed to be doing. Though the two Vagabond players didn’t really seem to affect the game at all. I wasn't blown away or disappointed. I definitely want to play it again though.