Root, for those of you that may be unaware, is actually a digital port of the board game of the same name by Leder Games. If you haven’t checked out a board game since Monopoly, Root is a fantastic example of why you definitely should.
If you’ll indulge me for a moment while I clamber up onto my podium; the thought of Monopoly and Cluedo might well send shivers down your spine, but modern board games experienced a renaissance in the 2010s that is still going strong, with thousands of glittering releases every year and Kickstarter projects exceeding the $10million mark.
Root is an excellent example of this; released in 2018 and already sitting comfortably inside BoardGameGeek’s illustrious top 50, Root is an asymmetrical war game that has a cute aesthetic but a cutthroat agenda. You take control of one of four woodland factions that each have different playstyles, rules, and ways of earning the coveted victory points that will win you the game.
There’s the kniving cats who start out with a strong foothold in most of the forest, the birds that play 4D-chess with a string of combos that dictate their actions each round, and the guerilla warfare alliance of mice and foxes and that drum up sympathy as the forest fights back against its invaders. Finally, there’s the lovable Vagabond, that roam about on their own, completing quests and providing aid or just generally interfering whenever it suits them.
2-4 of these factions will vie for control of the forest in each match of Root, with each war playing out uniquely across the leafy battlefield. While there are online multiplayer and pass-and-play options, the crown jewel of Root’s digital version is the solo play.
Due to the asymmetry at Root’s core, it can be a difficult game to play with friends; everyone needs to fully understand how each of the factions operates in order to have a clear understanding of what they should be doing on their turn. This can turn into a real brain-burner that turns away casual players, or even worse, results in their hands being held throughout the game as more experienced players explain the ideal move to them turn after turn – and no one wants that!
Thanks to the wonders of AI, however, playing a game against 1-3 computer-controlled enemies is speedy and simple, with different levels of difficulty and challenge scenarios to help you tailor the fun to you. It also serves as an excellent entry point to what is otherwise quite a tricky game to teach, as the tutorials are succinct and robust, while the available actions for each turn are highlighted for you.
Of course, if there’s one thing we should highlight about Root, it’s the gorgeous visuals. Building on the original artwork by Kyle Ferrin – who brought these adorable-yet-aggressive woodland creatures to life with his illustrations in the board game – the Steam version uses 3D cel-shaded models for the combat animations.
Though a part of me misses the lovable screen-printed wooden pieces, this is without a doubt an improvement that really cements Root as a solid Steam title as opposed to a lazy digital cash-grab. This is further complemented by the serene background music that fits the theme superbly, while the sound effects are all top-notch, too.
As it’s only just hit Steam’s Early Access, there are a few kinks that still need to be worked out; the animations can begin to drag, especially in a 4-player game, so an option to skip or speed them up would certainly be a welcome addition. There’s also the occasional visual hitch or slight deviation from the official rulebook, but thankfully Dire Wolf Digital – developers of the digital version – are proactively looking for the community’s feedback, so these mild niggles are sure to be smoothed out in the coming weeks.
For those that aren’t quite sold on the idea of buying a digital port of a modern board game, Dire Wolf have said that the Early Access is only intended to last a few weeks, and the price won’t increase after the full release, so there’s no need to buy early for fear of missing out on a deal! Plus, there’s even a mobile version of the app coming soon, which could prove dangerously addictive.
It might not have originally been on your radar if you’re not a fan of the physical game, but Root is # with a cute-but-deadly theme. This may have even surpassed the original as my favourite way to play, which is no small feat!