Root and Barleywine: Rich Gameplay With a Rich Beverage

Root and its expansion were an impulse buy. So far, it’s been the best tabletop game purchase that I’ve ever made. I’ve played it twice—once with two players and another time with five. Let me tell you: the rules of this game are fucking hard to understand.

This isn’t just a difficult game to understand, I believe this was an insanely difficult game to develop. Imagine taking four different area control games and smashing them together. Then imagine developing an expansion where you take two more area control games and smash those into that game as well. Root is six different games bundled into one experience.

Is that a good thing or a bad thing?

I like to think of it as a book that you’re compelled to read multiple times in order to understand. There’s both good and bad in that. The good—well, you want to keep playing this game. When you’ve finished, you want to play again from the perspective of a different faction. The bad—you fuck up a lot AND no matter how many different rule books, walkthroughs, overview cards, how-to-play-the-game quick guides are thrown at you (Root has all of these), you’ll forget or completely cock up a rule.

That Nestle water isn’t mine, I promise!

Wait, I’m confused…

I understand, let me back up a bit and explain the game.

Root is an asynchronous area control game. I mean asynchronous in every sense of the term. A player controls one of six factions, each with completely different assets, rules, mechanics during their turns, and methods of scoring points.

When playing with more than two people, expect to take a lot more time than the 90ish minutes advertised. Most of that time is spent thinking about your moves, consulting the multiple rulebook to see if your play is valid, and figuring out how other players work. Even if you’ve played a few times, remembering the rule sets of six asynchronous factions is difficult.

Oh, never mind that sounds easy, carry on!

Exactly. It’s not only difficult to understand how your own faction fits in with the game, let alone understanding how your competition plays their game. And that’s just it, each player in Root plays their own game. Some more than others. (I’m looking at you, Vagabond.)

Players typically only attack one another when they need to own a clearing. I’m positive that that’s the entire point of Root: figure out how you score points and only be aggressive when you need to be.

The Marquise de Cat must go!

One small gripe that I have is on precisely that, though. I wish that there were more strategic reasons to claim a clearing other than “I need more resources and building spots.” I think that would force more challenging (in a good way) player interactions.

One larger tribe that I have is with how difficult it is to explore the rules and find the answer that you need. Simple set-up things that I would’ve hoped would be on the back of the faction boards are buried deep in the core rulebook. Sometimes rules are a little too vague, other times rules are overtly complicated in their wording. I think another pass or two over these rules would’ve fixed that right up. (I hear that a new edition of the rulebook is being released, so these issues may be fixed!)

This is too much…I need a drink

Then might I suggest that you go with a 2011 Pike Place Brewery Barleywine.

This is a complex, strong (as in, high ABV) drink. Can you see why I chose it to pair with Root? Pike Place is a brewery local to Seattle, currently nestled in the heart of the Pike Place market.

Also, the artwork of this game seems inspired by novels like Redwall—in which there are moments where cute, anthropomorphic animals guzzle down barleywine by the cask.

So do you like this game or not?

Yes, yes, a thousand times yes. Root has the best kind of complexity. It takes several sessions for you to get down the logistics of each faction, let alone to try and think of complex strategy. But you still want to be a mastermind and learn the rules.

I have the core game and the expansion. Leder Games, makers of Root, have already announced a second expansion that they’re kickstarting in a matter of days and I’m going to back it on day one.

Root is the first game in a long time that compels me to play it. I can hear Root whisper, “play me” when I see it on my shelf. I want to try and play a faction again just to pin down those amazing plays. I want to play different factions to figure out how to master them. When I don’t have time to play, I just stare at the box and think about what could be…then I have a drink.

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