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The Scarlet & Black

The Scarlet & Black

Gales’ Gevalt: Sonic the Hedgehog


Last week’s piece was more than a little heavy, and as per my column’s rough schedule, that means that this week is a review. Originally, I was going to write a review of the new Sonic: The Hedgehog movie, but I haven’t had time to see it and I frankly don’t think that I could stomach two bad movie reviews back to back.

So, this week I’m reviewing something that brings me joy (because I want it to bring you joy) and because I want people to play it with. That’s right, I’m reviewing a board game. Deal with it.

Root is probably my favorite board game. It’s a strategy game in which you play as a group of cute woodland creatures at each other’s throats Game of Thrones-style, all vying for control of the forest through the use of brutal military tactics, subterfuge and politics. The gameplay is complex and has surprising depth to it, and it’s offset brilliantly by gorgeous, adorable art of cartoon animals running amok and wreaking Medieval havoc on the woodlands of Root.

The main draw of the game is that it’s asymmetric: the faction of creatures you control is wildly different from each other faction, and not just in terms of art. If you play as the Eyrie Dynasties (or, as I call them, the bird boys), you have a drastically different way to play through your turn than if you play the Lizard Cult. Each action you take is different, each piece you put on the board functions differently, and the method through which you win is different. This lends Root a tremendous amount of replay-ability, because if you get bored of the game, you can switch factions and rebuild your strategies from the ground up.

And asymmetry isn’t the only contribution to replay-ability. The social dynamics provide endless fun as you stab your friends in the back, make a truce and then betray them again. Just make sure you play with people who don’t carry grudges!

The faction dynamics mean, though, that the game has a pretty daunting set of rules that you have to learn. Not only do you need to understand the base mechanics of the game, you need to understand how your faction operates and how it differs from the other factions in play. It’s like learning three or four strategy games at once, which can, if I’m being honest, be kind of soul-crushing for new players, especially if you’re the type of person who doesn’t enjoy dissecting rules and learning the minutiae of game mechanics.

To offset this, the game provides such a sheer volume of documentation that you could probably drown in it. It has two separate rulebooks, one of which is very readable and has lots of diagrams and digestible language. The other, though, features tiny text, numbered sections and more heady legalese than I’ve seen in any other game I’ve ever played. While the denser rulebook has more information, I’ve pretty much only used the easy-read copy, and I haven’t had any trouble so far. Different strokes for different folks, I guess.

The rules themselves are pretty clearly written, but there’s so much information that I found it more or less impossible to understand until I played a game. Root tells you right off the bat that you’re supposed to read the rules as you play, and to help with that, they provide a walkthrough for your first ten turns.

If I’m being honest, the walkthrough is probably my biggest gripe with Root. It’s beyond useless. It’s garbage. It makes the game feel even more complicated than it already is, and it presents the basic strategies that you naturally learn over time as a sort of enigmatic formula that you need to follow. If the writers had released explanations for each step you take, the walkthrough might be a modicum more helpful, but they didn’t. At all. There is no reasoning presented for why you do what they tell you to. I would steer clear of it completely.

Overall, the game is beautifully put together. The build quality of the pieces and the board is nice, the art is pretty and cute and I like it a lot (a lot), the gameplay is smooth and

incredibly unique once you get the chance to learn it and it’s a great time with good friends. I know that I said the rules can be daunting, but my playgroup started to get really into it within an hour and were playing smoothly by the second game. And it was worth the time investment: Root is a game I return to time and time again, and I don’t think I’ll be getting bored of it any time soon.

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