Can you talk more about Root? I would be surprised to hear that Cole Wehrle designed a derivative, facile game.
I’m interested in Root opinions too.
I’ve been pretty excited about Root and that is discouraging to hear. I love John Company and own Pax Pamir. I also hear interesting things about An Infamous Traffic so I really hope the wheels haven’t fallen off of Cole’s designs.
I got Root last week and am hoping to get it played soon. I will update when I do.
I have one friend who played and wasn’t that into it, but he played a 6 player game when half the people had not played before. He said it took a really long time and moved slowly. I imagine 6 players is not the best way to play, at least not until everybody knows the game very well.
Games I played and/or bought at GenCon, in order of how much I liked them (descending)
The Reckoners: Based on Brandon Sanderson’s novels (The first one being Steelheart) which is about superheroes showing up in the world and all being evil. A group of regular humans researches them and takes them out. The most powerful of the Epics (as they are called) is known as Steelheart. The game is a cooperative game with each player taking on the role of a distinct agent fighting against the Epics. It uses dice rolling to randomly determine actions you can take (research, earn money, damage an epic, plan (wildcard), take out enforcers, or contain Epics). Dice are specific for each hero with some having better chances of doing damage, etc. The components for the game use a combination of GameTrayz vacu-formed mini boards with slots for nice counters (the deluxe version uses all metal pieces). There are a number of Epic boards equal to number of players plus one (and I believe you can play up to 6 people) and an additional board for Steelheart. Some Epics can’t even be hurt until you research them, and you earn research/containment resource for Steelheart everytime you defeat one of them. The Epics (including Steelheart) every turn spawn human supporters (enforcers), kill off population, or attack your Reckoners base (which ultimately makes you lose dice). Their ability to do damage grows each turn with cool sliders that overlay their stat cards. Containment actions reduce the damage they are doing. The game also has a lot of flexibility for difficulty with multiple cards/sides for Steelhearts abilities and how much it takes to defeat him. He also flies around the board making your fighting against lesser Epics more difficult. The game was sold out by the time I played it at the con, but I pre-ordered it IMMEDIATELY. I also bought the first book because I want to read it I am so intrigued by the setting. Super impressed with this and can’t wait to play again.
Reef: Played in BGG’s Hot Games Room. This reminds me a lot of Azul where you are placing colored pieces on a grid trying to make patterns. Unlike Azul, you can stack them up to 4 high. It has a neat mechanic where you pick a card that tells you which pieces you get to add to your reef and the bottom half shows you what points you will earn. These are pretty much never the same color - so you will play a card that lets you add 3 red pieces but score for 2 purples next to each other that are 2+ height. This makes the strategy interesting as you can either pick a card (there are 3 faceup and a deck) or play a card. Often by the time it is your turn again, the card you need to score with the pieces you played on a prior turn doesn’t exist anymore. I liked this quite a bit but decided to pick it up in retail later rather than at the convention.
Magical Treehouse: Played at AEG’s Big Game Night and received a free copy. This is a re-make of a popular Japanese game (apparently) that uses card drafting mechanics and a board with area control. You are trying to build treehouses with cards marked with ascending heights. You have to play a level 1 of a certain color treehouse before you can play a level 2 on top of it and so on. As the treehouses grow in height they start producing potions and allowing you to place familiars on the map. The map is color coded with symbols, so if you have a familiar on say a purple spot it will produce potions if you have a treehouse that needs a purple spot to do so. Your treehouses will also earn victory points for consuming these potions, but they are often of a different color. To get those points you have to play pipe pieces that connect the treehouses. The drafting is encouraged to be quick by everyone but the last player earning a cookie when they have drafted their cards. Because of the speed it’s actually pretty challenging to figure out which cards to draft that will end up getting you the most points and helping you produce potions in the right spots that are connected to the correct other treehouses. Kind of hard to explain how this all works but I liked it and am glad I received a free copy. AEG also gave me Junta, Greedy Kingdoms, and some train game that I haven’t tried yet.
Sagrada and Expansion: I hadn’t played Sagrada before the convention but I really liked it. A great casual dice drafting game. Didn’t open the expansion yet as we didn’t have 5-6 players.
War Chest: Played at AEG’s Big Game Night. This is an abstract strategy area control game using poker-chip pieces. As the game goes on, you get to place pieces you drafted in a cloth bag and draw 3 pieces randomly each turn. You can use this to active a piece of the same symbol already on the board, bolster a piece already there (giving them an extra hitpoint) or can be played face down to do things like recruit new pieces. Pieces each have a special ability (for example cavalary can charge and attack, scouts can spawn next to any friendly unit instead of only at control points, etc). I’m a fan of abstract strategy and I’d like to get this game. It sold out at the convention. My only complaint is that it is random which units are on your side, and when playing 4 players (with 3 units each) it was confusing to glance at the board and remember which pieces were mine or my teammates vs the other team. Needs some sort of clip on color marker on the poker chips to help with this. A minor complaint but overall I liked it.
Detective: Also played this in BGG’s Hot games room. Pharoah’s description is pretty spot on. I think this game has a lot of potential but it practically vomits exposition and choices at you. There is no way to actually look into all of your leads in the allocated time, so your success seems to boil down to hunches a lot. Uses an app to help correlated some evidence (fingerprints, etc) that will later tell you if you get a match in another scene. The jury is still out on this for me - I’m not sure my gaming group would enjoy it. It’s a definite maybe.
Choose Your Own Adventure (bought before convention): A relatively simple branching narrative game just like the books of old. In addition to choices, there are dice rolls to overcome various challenges. Often if you beat these you will be presented with an additional choice. Dying from a bad choice results in you going back to where you were but the difficulty of skill rolls increases (it can go down as well). Really this is a solo game, but we had fun playing it in a group. Very casual. Does a great job capturing the feel of CYOA books.
Scarabya: This game is similar to Blokus in that you are trying to fit tetris looking pieces on a grid. But unlike Blokus, you play them on your own grid to try to enclose spaces for victory points. I picked this up but haven’t played at home yet - just got the demo at the booth. Seems fun and simple.
Blue Lagoon: A new Reiner Knizia game where you play islanders trying to control islands and areas through placing circular tiles that have to connect to existing spots already on a map. Haven’t played this yet, but the word on BGG is that it’s one of those games that is easy in concept but has some decent strategy to it.
Kingdomino: Age of Giants: Purchased but haven’t played a game yet. To be honest, I was mostly lured into buying it because of the cool domino dispenser that is included.
Big Trouble in Little China (available before convention): Dudes on a map game with 2 phases - one in the streets of Chinatown, one in Lo Pan’s lair. Enemies spawn every turn and you have dice you allocate toward movement/shooting/etc. Has kind of a neat mechanic where you can perform actions better (for example moving more spaces) based on how many of a certain symbol you roll and allocate to actions. Dice are also used to pay for story triggers. Has a big book of branching quests that you follow with choices to make along the way. Components are well done and it does a great job of paying homage to the movie. Best played with fans of BTILC as I think people who aren’t familiar with the movie might not see the appeal.
I thought this game was decent but probably not worth a purchase for me. We didn’t play phase 2 in Lo Pan’s lair.
Sure. So to preface, I liked John Company alot, and KS’ed Root based on that. Was very excited.
Super basic version incoming, passing over specificity. So at its base (minus the rich theme) it has 4 base factions, plus 2 added from the expansion. The board itself is separate territories each based off 1 color - yellow, orange or red. Each player gets hands of cards matching those colors, plus a blue wild color, that, if you control the matching territory colors on the card, you can play for combat actions or faction specific things. These are connected by distinct paths that dictate movement between each territory. There is a river in the middle that you can’t use unless you buy boats, but more on that later. Each faction uses the same core turn order broken into Morning, Day and Night, but each’s mechanics are significantly different. Winner is first to 30 VP, or 10 VP plus a completed domination card.
For example, you have the Birds/Eyrie, who at the beginning of the game use their deck to build an initial ruling class on their board which directly influences how which actions they can take, i.e. if I put a card in move and build, on my turn I can only move and build, unable to attack because I don’t have a ruling class card slotted in attack. They have to spread nests to increase their power, and spend turns adding cards to the different actions other factions take for granted. On top of that, their empire can break down into turmoil if you ever can’t perform the actions you’ve promised the ruling class, causing everything to reset. I haven’t played them, but both games the players were incredibility frustrated and how they basically were playing a game inside their own faction, before even interacting with the board.
You’ve got the Marquis Cats who want to build as much as they can, you’ve got the Racoon/Vagabond, who’s only a single character and wants other factions to craft items so he can pay them cards and gain more actions and take over your armies if he becomes enough of a “friend”, you’ve got the Woodland Frogs who represent the people and play like propaganda spreading zealots, and the expansion adds the Lizards who eat the dead and fuel their powers by eating sacrifices and other peoples discards, and then the Beavers who are traders who sell the other characters abilities, like boats to ride aforementioned rivers. To the games credit, they are each distinct enough to be their games. But I feel that’s the problem - Birds are playing Twilight Imperium, Cats are playing Scythe, Frogs are playing Shadows over Camelot, and the Racoon is playing solo mageknight or runequest. Add the Lizards and Badgers, it becomes an extremely complex system.
But thats all asymmetric games right? The problem I saw in both games of Root is even when the players get past the nuances of who their faction is and how to play them, the game seems entirely reactive, not proactive. The only player agency is hoping others don’t do something so you can. On top of that, on my second game with 5 people who understood the basics of what every other faction wanted to do, it was far too easy to just stall each other because everything you can do is so transparent, limited and projected. Worse still, this turgid pace means you can easily dog-pile on a faction…everyone knows what they want to do, and can make their turns completely pointless because they can’t pivot within the limitations of what their faction does. It’s not me playing, its me reacting. IMO, that’s not a good territory control game.
Look, its two games for me, and I appreciate the art direction and how each faction is so unique and the interplay they can create. I’m sure my betters will illustrate its secret nuance down the road, but for me, once you get over the new-ness, the game itself just isn’t that fun so far. It’s like everyone trying to solitaire a different game in their collection and can periodically flip each others table. God forbid you play with a group with heavy AP too…ooo boy, thats a 3 hour game at least.
Maybe you’ll love it, I hope you do!
Thank you very much for the elaboration. When I first heard of and got interested in Root it was a four player game. Do you feel that it might be better with only the four core factions?
Portal games and Ignacy remind me of Peter Molyneux and his games. They talk a good talk. Have interesting ideas, cool themes, but ultimately fall completely flat and never deliver on the promise.
Hah, very true. I give them credit though…the games are always good, its the execution that’s always off.
It’s possible it might be better with just the core 4. My games were 6 player and 5 player, so the expac races made it in each time.
I guess my thought is since each faction is so symbiotic on the others to do anything, I don’t see it being a core vs. expansion issue, but it’s possible.
Writing that novel post made me realize I need a 3rd game before I sell my copy away, got a game set-up Sunday to see if time and reflection change my mind.
Dungeon Alliance is back on Kickstarter.
Thanks for the great write-up. I wasn’t questioning your opinion at all, just wanted to hear more.
My expectation for Root is tampered a bit after reading @Pharaoh AAR since I’m quite looking forward to it too. However, my experience with Cole Wherle’s designs is of mixed feelings.
My first Wherle’s game was his second game to be published, An Infamous Traffic. I gave Pax Pamir a pass because I wasn’t that interested in the theme and I was super excited with AIT because an upstart game designer has finally given Opium War a game treatment. The game IMO suffered from an analogue version of Chick Parabola in which once you got over the learning curve (just within 2 game sessions), you can kind of predict who’s going to win at around middle of the game. I have played this more than 5 times with 3 different groups and sorry to see the game revealed itself entirely too early. The main problem of AIT is when 2 players entered trade war among themselves even for a turn (over monopoly of Opium, Shipping, and I forgot what is another one), they’re kinda hosed and the unaffected players could just cruise to victory as long they can manage to bag the prizes as well.
John Company on the other hand is very group dependent. My first game with JC was one of the best gaming experience in my life. We were just trading with Indian provinces, vying for office positions, etc. and just chilled while exploring the game mechanics. My second game with JC was a nightmare. I happened to play JC with a group of hardcore hypercompetitive cutthroat gamers who are into economy games like Splotter series (Indonesia, FCM, Antiquity, etc. you name it!) and 18XX games. Boy, I still remember I lost executive position early on thanks to attrition die roll and barely retained an office that managed shipping IIRC. What followed was players took turns to stop me from gaining higher office positions and I could only rely on my writers and hope the best. It didn’t help that the chairman of the game survived multiple attrition rolls and played a very hard position to accumulate wealth and making my life harder. Every single player move didn’t escape long winding negotiation just to gain marginal profit or position. The game lasted 6 hours because of incessant negotiations and min maxing from each other (We didn’t finish that session because by turn 7 of the game one of the players have gotten away with too much money from stock trading there was no point for rest of us to play catch up). I got so burned out with that session and vowed to stay away from JC for a long time. It’s still a solid economic game to me and I don’t really blame the dice rolls. But be caution with who are you inviting to play with.
Lovely. As if it wasn’t enough for this thread to cool my enthusiasm for Root, it’s gotta also cool my enthusiasm for John Company? :(
I played this last night and really liked it.
As my friend was getting the box out, I was pretty sure I was going to hate it. Ugh. Flower set collection? A few minutes into the rules explanation, I came around. It’s similar to Iello’s Kanagawa, but not as fiddly and more interactive.
I’d still urge you to try JC out as I thought the game has several clever mechanics brilliantly and intricately chained. But all of these will be overshadowed by incessant hair tearing hard bargaining negotiations IF you sit in a table of min-maxers as if you were negotiating in NAFTA trade agreements and non would compromise till some sweet deals were agreed. It’ll be a game about office or political struggles writ large if you’re playing with “serious” gamers.
Played Tzolkin and Santiago for the first time today. I liked Tzolkin although the whole gear deal is kinda weird, it’s not really any weirder than a typical Feld game. Santiago was advertised by my group to me as cutthroat and it definitely was, but the nicest and least manipulative/traitorous player ended up winning. I liked both and would consider them in my category of “good games that I don’t feel obliged to own but will happily play.”
Shut up and sit down discuss Detective in their latest podcast. It’s the first game discussed by the panel (you need to skip a few minutes in to go past the introductions).
It’s fair to say the writing didn’t work at all for them.
Matt reads an “inspired by” card on detective work (to avoid spilling a real card) which, if it is anything like the real thing, explains why the writing didn’t impress. It’s funny though.
Miniature Market is having an, uh … “back to school sale”
Argh Cthulhu Wars for $96. I don’t really need it, I wasn’t really planning on getting, but less than a hundred bucks? Argh.