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Let's Talk About Root
We also played on the Mountain Pass map which was wonderful.
We congregated early in the middle space due to the fort and bonus VP every round if you rule the space. I recruited ministers much more aggressively and was more conservative in my building deployment. It helped that my opponents did not have particularly fighty factions (or chose not to be in the case of the Vagabond).
I beat both of them down and really retarded the Vagabond's progress. This allowed me the breathing room to get to 10 VP and claim a dominance card to rule opposite clearings in turn 4. They held me from victory for a couple of rounds but couldn't quite keep up.
Still, my appreciation for this game increases with each play. That was my 9th or 10th play and it's just such an enveloping strategic design that remains light enough to remove most barriers typically associated with these types of things.
I also feel like Underworld is a fantastic expansion. Much better than Riverfolk IMO.
My appreciation for Root is increasing too. Everyone has to understand their role and then the game isn't just playing itself which I think is the early complaint. This tends to be true of all Wehrle games which I think is why it surprises me so much he has been so successful... playing these games 10+ times with people who know what they're doing in the real world is rare. I certainly haven't done it.
My observation is that the Vagabond is a real problem for the moles if it goes fighty at all. It can sneak into your backfield and really have its way with your buildings. The moles can't garrison everything and hope to accomplish their goals as well. I could see crows doing this as well, though I haven't messed around with them.
Concerning the growth of enjoyment of Root - this is perhaps what baffles me most about the SUSD review. Their feelings on the game are a complete opposite to the Wehrle curve present in his designs.
I do think that a difference in this game is that Cole made that first period, just learning the factions, extra fun. So even if you never get into the meat of this game that's always there. Helps that the game is short and breezy.
I've been guilty of it, too. When I first played, I had a poor experience because it wasn't taught very well (Wehrle games are, of course, notoriously difficult to teach) and I kind of dismissed it as a fad for a while. But after playing a couple more times, I really began to see the depth of the game and really began to enjoy how the different layers worked with each other to produce the whole experience.
But it also may be a symptom of game type and gamer preference: Root is a wargame. You have to play it like a wargame or you're probably not going to enjoy it. Aggressive play is often rewarded (as the two of you noted about beating on the Vagabond) and, for some people, that's just not the way they want to approach their time. The SUSD guys like wargames, but I've found that they trend toward the more complex/grandiose types (TI4, War of the Ring, Star Wars: Rebellion, etc.) and Root is simply not that.
As for the just a couple preprogrammed routes/on rails thing, I guess I'd say that it feels like that the first few games. The real finesse comes in later when you know just when to step in and squash another player's buildup when it hurts the most with the fewest amount of actions. Crucially, you won't stop them or anything, but this isn't a game about stopping anyone entirely from scoring points, it's still fundamentally a race game. I haven't played a ton, but early it can feel like 4 people scoring points as quickly as possible while they grapple with their own engines.
I don't find the narrative a strength of the design, though it can be pretty thematic with regard to different political systems clashing.
I don't agree that each faction is locked into a particular method. In my experience, each of them can play differently, depending both on which factions are opposing them, as well as the play style of the person controlling them. Just as an example, I almost won the last game by starting with Builder and running a decree that ignored battling until the last turn or two before turmoil. This is in direct contrast to the way most people feel inclined to play the Aerie and I think it's viable.
I haven't played Underground yet, as I said I'm waiting on the local stores to get it, but I really like the Riverfolk expansion. I have yet to do anything with the Mechanical Marquise, but I think the Riverfolk Company is possibly my favorite faction to play OR have in the game. I think they do a great job of both foiling and facilitating the conflict between the Marquise and the Eyrie. The WA just kinda feel like a drag on the game, where people have to spend their actions and moves to contain them or just lose, and the Vagabond is just really hard to pin down. The Riverfolk's card sales and riverboats allow the Eyrie to do some interesting plays to avoid turmoil, while the Cats often need to pay into the mercenaries to get their wood through if you position your guys right, and they also like buying bird cards or certain crafting cards. This is one of my favorite 3 player setups.
So how do they actually win? In my experience, it is through crafting. Once you get up to 10-12 funds, which is doable with some good above the board play, you can explode and build a few trading posts at once, and then play Favor of the ____ out of the blue. Every other faction has to telegraph those cards a turn or two in advance, or have so much built up in those areas that they don't hurt others very much. I've seen this toss the Eyrie into turmoil or wreak havoc on the Lizards or Cats. Their action economy and turn order is so fluid that it can do very powerful things if you let it. Even in the absence of the Favor cards, I've won games on the back of massive amounts of fox and bunny-crafted cards. It's also kind of weird that unless you're sitting on funds, destroying their trading posts doesn't actually impact their crafting potential. In this way they can be as difficult to slow down as a Vagabond or WA player.
I've played 2 5-player games now, each with 1 vagabond, and I think it's really hard for the birds or cats to win there. It just gets too crowded and a few people attacking you just because you're there means that the WA, Vagabond or RC is going to win.
Even with the changes to Lizards which I've tried for 2-3 games, they still seem kinda weak, but I've got a friend who loves playing them regardless.
There's little things about crafting that you don't really get the first play unless you're paying a lot of attention- Bags and Tea which help the vagabond use more items are both Mouse; Crossbows, swords, and the hammer are all Fox; and the coins (highest scoring crafted card) and the action economy cards are all double Rabbit. This really matters for the Marquise, and can affect where a Lizard chooses to start if all 3 are in the game.
Jexik wrote: Even with the changes to Lizards which I've tried for 2-3 games, they still seem kinda weak, but I've got a friend who loves playing them regardless.
One of the more interesting details in the Underworld expansion was the new copy of the Law. It has the same stuff as the previous copies, plus details on the new factions, but it also has some appendices. They're typical stuff like a component list and variants, but the first one is a system called Reach, to help determine what faction combinations will work with what number of players.
2: 17+ 3: 18+ 4: 21+ 5: 25+ 6: 28+
The values are: Marquise- 10; Duchy- 8; Eyrie- 7; 1st Vagabond- 5; Riverfolk- 5; WA- 3; Corvids- 3; 2nd Vagabond- 2; Lizards- 2.
So, right away you can see the original 2-player recommendation: Marquise vs Eyrie = 17. You can also see that the Lizards have the "least favorable" rating for fewer players than anyone else but a second Vagabond, which you basically can't do below 4. The Lizards also almost require one of the "big" factions, if not two of them, at 3 players. You could do Marquise, Riverfolk, Lizards and hit the Reach number, but you'd also run into a problem that Lizards frequently encounter which is lack of Acolytes because no one wants to fight them and fuel their conspiracies. (It's almost like a conspiracy against the conspiracies! Now I have to play a game with both Corvids and Lizards...)
Wehrle always intended the Lizards to be kind of a niche faction that, rather than be "competitive", kind of helped the game move in different directions. I remember his semi-grudging admission of this when he first announced the rules tweaks. This is where a designer has an image of how the game "should" be played and actually let that have free reign, but then realized that few people were going to meet his vision if it meant that someone would automatically lose every game before it had even started. That's a decent tragedy, but it's not much fun.
Even with the tweaks, I think the Cult is still somewhat stuck there, based on its niche design. If you want them to work as designed, they're almost utterly dependent on other factions to interact with them, in the same way that the Riverfolk are. The difference is that the Riverfolk can tempt others to interact with them for resources that largely (and immediately) benefit the other faction, while the Lizards basically have to be enough of a nuisance to force someone to finally do something, similar to the WA and their sympathy. The difference is that interacting with the WA also means keeping the late-game explosion from emerging, whereas interacting with the Lizards just means they're more of a nuisance.
Every game I've played has involved a Vagabond (we've always been 4 or 5.) I'm kind of interested to see how the game functions without one, such that crafting doesn't become a measured decision based on how much of an advantage one wants to give to the Vagabond player, but instead just a flat out use of cards for points.