Root: A Game of Woodland Might and Right (Digital Eyes)

Release Date: 2018Players: 2-4 Players
Designer: Cole WehrleLength: 60-90 minutes
Artist: Kyle FerrinAge: 10+
Publisher: Leder GamesComplexity: 3.5 / 5

It was an outrage! The Eerie had invaded our peaceful clearing. They blatantly ignored our sympathy. Those feathered warriors would regret it. The next birdsong would be full of revolts and they would rue their decision. Using guerrilla tactics, we would show everyone not to mess with us. We weren’t as defenceless as we looked. We would solve the problem and get to its Root by Leder Games.

Root is another great game in Leder Games‘ series of four-letter games titles where the base rules are the same for everyone, yet every faction plays very differently. It’s almost as if everyone plays a different game, yet we all play on the same map and are pitted against each other. It shouldn’t work, but it does – and it does it very well. It’s very clever and hurts your brain when you try and work out how Cole Wehrle has done it again.

The game is set in a woodland, with a number of clearings, which are connected by paths and the factions are woodland creatures. It all looks very cute and cuddly, but these woodland creatures can be fierce fighters and happily backstab you, while at the same time giving you a big smile. Don’t trust any of them, because everyone is in it to win it.

In Root, you basically try and control as much area as possible, but that in itself doesn’t actually give you any points. Actually, unlike in other area control games, you can easily have your warriors in a clearing that is controlled by someone else, and in theory, you both can peacefully co-exist.

The thing is, one of the ways of getting points is by attacking other players and removing their tokens from the board in battle. So, even though you do actually happily share clearings with other factions for much of the game, you will also have a lot of fights with them so that you gain points.

The battles themselves are very simple. The two players taking part in the battle roll a twelve-sided dice, which will result in anything between 0 and 3 hits. The attacker will be allocated the higher result, the defender the lower – unless you’re the Woodland Alliance, who have the guerrilla war ability, giving them the higher roll in defence.

Your hits are then limited by the number of units in the clearing where you’re fighting, so if you only have two units, then rolling a 3 will still only result in 2 hits. You can also play certain cards to increase the hits you achieve as an attacker or defender. Then you remove the relevant number of units from the board and the battle is over.

It’s really pretty quick and simple, but gives you enough tactical choices to make battles an interesting event. The dice rolls introduce just enough randomness to make fighting quite exciting, sometimes leading to really memorable moments.

Another way of gaining points is by “crafting” cards. Depending on which and how many clearings you control, you can craft certain cards from your hand. So area control is important for this, but again it’s not about sole control, but having a majority in a clearing.

You do have to decide which cards you want to craft, because many factions will want to use their cards for their faction-specific ability. Each card belongs to a suit, just like each clearing is allocated a specific suit, and it’s those suits that will decide some of the things you can or cannot do on your turn. As so often, you have to decide whether to craft a card for an immediate point, or keep the card for its suit. You also have a certain hand limit, which again will make it hard which cards to keep and for what purpose.

Overall, hand management is actually really important in Root. You want to keep certain cards to help you in battle or to craft for points, but those same cards can also be very useful for other actions, depending on the faction you play. The cards are almost the most critical part of everyone’s strategies.

Of course, there is a lot more to Root, because a lot of the gameplay results from the interactions of the different factions. Depending on which animals are in play, the game is very different. So even if you play the same faction every time, you will have to adapt your strategy based on which factions you’re up against.

The base game comes with 4 factions, which will keep you busy for quite some time, and there are a number of new factions available and more in the making, which will keep changing how you play Root. It’s one of those games that is likely to keep evolving over time, even though it will always remain the same game at its core – which is amazing.

Even though I can’t comment on the component quality, because I only played Root in digital format on Steam, I can say that the artwork by Kyle Ferrin is amazing again. His style is always so very recognizable, fits really well with the setting and nicely ties the various Leder Games games together.

Speaking of playing Root only digitally, it’s the way I suggest you learn to play the game. The Steam implementation comes with a really great tutorial mode that makes it really easy to learn the basic gameplay principles, as well as how to play each of the four factions.

I must say, I’ve never been a fan of Leder Games‘ rulebooks, as I find that they don’t teach me how to play very well. You have the rules, a “learning to play” guide and a walkthrough, each giving you some glimpses of what you need to do, but none of them working coherently to help you fully understand the game. So I do strongly recommend you learn from the digital tutorials, because playing Root is actually a lot easier than it might seem.

The complexity of the game doesn’t come from the rules, but how you need to play each faction in such a way that you win while stopping someone else running away with a huge lead. It’s that part that creates a lot of wonderful table talk, as players form temporary alliances to stop the leader from gaining any more points, until the time is right for the alliance to be broken and players trying to aim for victory for themselves.

So if you like a game where everyone is out for themselves, but chances are you do have to form some uncertain truces to stop someone else from winning before you, then Root is definitely worth a closer look.

Useful Links

Transparency Facts

I feel that this review reflects my own, independent and honest opinion, but the facts below allow you to decide whether you think that I was influenced in any way.

  • I bought and paid for the game myself.
  • At the time of writing, neither the designers, nor the publisher, nor anyone linked to the game supported me financially or by payment in kind.

Audio Version

Intro Music: Bomber (Sting) by Riot (

Root: A Game of Woodland Might and Right (Saturday Review)

Release Date: 2018Players: 2-4
Designer: Cole WehrleLength: 60-90 minutes
Artist: Kyle FerrinAge: 12+
Publisher: Leder GamesComplexity: 3.5 / 5
Plastic to Non-Plastic: unknownAir to Components: unknown

It was quiet in the deep, dark wood. Everything was still and nothing stirred – but everyone was ready. The cats had taken up their position in every clearing, six birds were waiting patiently by their roost in one corner of the forest, the racoon had taken cover deep in the woods and the crows were biding their time in a handful of clearings of their choice. The moment was near. It was time to decide who was the best animal in the woodland, who was the Root by Cole Wehrle from Leder Games.

I previously reviewed Root in digital format, when my games group was unable to meet in person, but now I have finally been able to play the physical version of this game, thanks to a friend of mine who has bought the base game, plus pretty much every expansion you can get for this great asymmetrical, area control, hand management, set collection, programming kind of a game.

Yes, Root is very hard to put into a pigeon hole, not because pigeons aren’t currently a faction in the game, but due to the fact that every faction does things quite a bit different to every other faction. Sure, everyone plays on the same map, everyone tries to get to 30 points first, everyone draws from the same deck of cards and everyone has wooden and cardboard tokens to manage, but how all of these are used and what they can do is vastly different for everyone.

So yes, Root can feel very much as if it is mostly a programming game if you play the Eyrie Dynasties, it can feel like an area control game if you play one of the factions that want to place their buildings on the map, it can feel like a set collection game if you’re playing the Vagabond and for everyone, there is a good amount of hand management involved too. It sounds confusing, but it is absolutely glorious!

Learning Root can be a bit tricky, but consider downloading the digital version and playing its tutorials. That’s the best way to learn the game, in my view, if you have nobody to teach you. However, if you already know the rules, then introducing someone to Root isn’t too much of an issue, because every faction’s player board has the setup printed on its back, alongside an outline of what the faction does, and then the front of every faction board describes in enough detail what you can do and in what order. You basically read what it says and then do what you can do and what feels right. After a handful of turns and with a little help from the rules teacher, everything will make sense.

For someone who has played the digital version a lot, seeing all the rules for your faction clearly printed on your player mat is also a godsend, of course. It can be quite daunting trying to work out what you can and can’t do on your turn, if you’ve always relied on the computer to tell you your possible options, but there is nothing to worry about when you play the physical game. As I say, just read what it says on your board and you will be absolutely fine. It’s all there, from the different phases to how many cards you need to discard down to at the end of your turn and everything else.

Another reason that makes Root easier to learn for new players is that there are so many factions. The base game comes with four and there are plenty of expansions that add many more. So it shouldn’t be too much of a problem to find a faction that suits a player’s style, which makes it easier for them to learn how to play and which will make the whole playing experience a lot more enjoyable.

So, growing your Root fan club shouldn’t be too much of a problem.

Root cards and player board

The physical components in Root are absolutely wonderful, of course. All the components are high quality, from the super thick game board and player mats, the thick cardboard tokens, the wonderful stock for the cards, to the wooden custom animal warrior meeples and the super chunky dice. It looks great on the table and nothing feels fiddly or cumbersome. It’s a pleasure to plonk your warriors on the board and move them around. Holding the cards in your hand is really enjoyable too.

My friend, whose copy we played, also bought the card sleeves, which have a custom printed back, which makes them all look very appealing. Personally, I prefer to play without sleeves, but if you want to protect your financial investment in this game, then protecting the cards does make sense, of course.

Something that you don’t notice in the digital game, but that feels really horrid, is that the battle dice are rolled by the attacker. The defender will not get the satisfaction of rolling a dice, which makes sense, because the attacker gets the higher result, in most cases anyway, so they should roll both dice. It’s a little thing, but I think it’s so fitting that the defender just sits there, hoping that the attacker has bad dice rolling luck. Other than playing an ambush card, there isn’t really anything else you can do as the defender. It’s perfect!

Another thing I think is worth pointing out, and that’s not limited to the physical version of the game, is the fact that Root can feel like a multiplayer solitaire game, because everyone is occupied with working out what their faction has to do to win. It’s only halfway through a game that you start to look at others and then start to try and stop the faction in the lead from winning. Of course, once you’ve played your faction a few times, when it has become almost second nature, the meta of the game develops and you will focus more on what others are doing and how they’re scoring points.

However, even when you lose by a mile, which you usually don’t in Root, you don’t mind, as long as you feel you’ve done the best you can with your faction. The multiplayer solitaire feeling helps with this. You can focus on your faction and try and play it better than you did before and as long as you do that, you have a really good experience and will enjoy the game, irrespective of how many points you have gained.

Generally speaking though, Root is the sort of game that gets better, the more you play it and as so often with these types of games, I strongly advise you play the same faction a few times back-to-back, so you get used to it. Only then change to another and try and learn that. That way you can help anyone who plays your faction after you and give them tips. It’s a great way of learning the game together and exploring the factions.

Of course, if you do get bored with the base factions, which will probably be many dozens of plays later, there are many expansions that add a lot of interesting new animals to the woodlands which will keep your interest going for a very long time to come.

Transparency Facts

I feel that this review reflects my own, independent and honest opinion, but the facts below allow you to decide whether you think that I was influenced in any way.

  • I played a friend’s copy of the game.
  • At the time of writing, neither the designers, nor the publisher, nor anyone linked to the game supported me financially or by payment in kind.

Audio Version

Intro Music: Bomber (Sting) by Riot (