Root: Digital Edition Review – Cuddly Carnage

Overview

The board game version of Root is something I’ve always wanted but never picked up due to the fact it plays poorly at 2 players. I have a board game group. But I prefer when games are playable at 2 so that I can play them with Abbee whenever I want, as opposed to maybe once a week.

You can find a video version of this review on YouTube.

That makes Root Digital inherently alluring, with the ability to play against the AI or possibly other players online. If you don’t know, Root is a game of unforgiving and brutal war. Don’t let the cute visuals fool you. The cats are as likely to disembowel you as the birds are to peck your eyes out.

The Alliance and Eyrie face each other in battle, the Eyrie use the ambush card.
These cute woodland creatures are about to slaughter each other!

Don’t get me wrong, there’s no blood or gore in Root. The nature of the game is just one of hostility rather than comfort. Each of the four playable factions is out to win, and they will use tooth, fang, and paw to do so.

Bias & Information

Review Copy Used: Yes                                    Genre: Digital Board Game
Hours Played: 10+                                        Platforms: PC, Switch, Mobile
Reviewed On: PC                                          Type: Full Release
Fan of Genre: Yes                                        Publisher: Dire Wolf Digital
Mode Played: Hard                                        Price: $15.99

Root Factions

One of Root’s most interesting aspects is the fact that all four of the playable factions play entirely differently. The game ends when any player reaches 30 victory points. How each given faction earns VP varies.

The industrious Marquise De Cat primarily earns points by constructing buildings. They need to harvest lumber, build workshops, and maintain recruitment stations to support their armies.

The flighty Eyrie Dynastys gain an increasing number of points for each Roost they have. Unlike the Cats, the Roost makes up their only building. However, they must follow a rigid Decree of actions or go into Turmoil.

The Eyrie go into turmoil.
If the Eyrie mess up one piece of their decree, they choose a new leader and take a penalty.

The Woodland Alliance rise from within, earning points by placing sympathy before revolting with an insurgent or guerrilla-type playstyle.

The crafty Vagabond exists as a single unit that moves around the board completing quests and allying or fighting with the other factions as a total wildcard player.

Root Gameplay

The differences in playstyle and how each faction interacts is brilliant largely because no one can afford to ignore a single player. If you focus too much on one of them, someone else will take the victory.

A lot of the game boils down to territory control (except in the case of the vagabond) but it’s deeper than that due to how each faction plays out. The Cats house the biggest military but have the least amount of actions to use it. They have to strike a careful balance of crafting, building, and which armies to move and where.

The Eyrie, on the other hand, can end up with an absurd number of actions if they maintain their decree. You essentially add to a list of actions you MUST take each turn. The longer the list the more you can do. If you are ever unable to take one of the actions you take a penalty and start the decree from scratch.

An overhead shot of the digital board in Root.
Controlling land is important for most factions.

The Woodland alliance defend the easiest but have the smallest military. At the same time, they don’t need to fight to win since they get points by placing sympathy.

The Vagabond shakes up the game by being able to work the factions as they see fit. A Vagabond’s actions are governed by the items they collect. They are able to give other factions cards in exchange for items the others have crafted. A Vagabond can gain points by being nice or aggressive, so the other factions have to keep close tabs on them.

Each faction is a lot of fun, and it takes time to master any of them. You get a lot of replay value from that fact alone.

Cards

Cards are important for every faction. Every faction has its own way of crafting cards, but the cards also all play key roles for each of them due to their icons.

Cards and the game board share icons that influence how a faction might interact with them. The Woodland Alliance can turn cards into supporters matching the icons. They can be later spent on Sympathy for a space on the board with that icon.

The Eyrie add actions to their decree by discarding a card. The symbol on the card dictates where they must perform the action. If they place a Rabbit icon on the battle decree, they must battle on a rabbit space every turn.

The woodland alliance crafts a crossbow in Root
Some cards grant victory points when crafted, but also stock an item that the Vagabond can use.

A Vagabond must often consider which cards they are willing to trade to each faction depending on their icon. Is it safe to give the Alliance free supporters? Which icon is the least likely to help the Eyrie’s decree?

The wide range of uses cards can have, add an additional layer of strategy in so many ways. Maybe the Cats can craft a card that grants free victory points but also makes a hammer that the Vagabond can claim. Is it worth it? On the flip side, maybe they want to entice the Vagabond into being friendly and giving them cards.

Root Combat

Combat is inevitable for every faction and is decided by dice rolls. The max amount of damage a player can do is three but is limited further by the number of warriors in the battle (or swords that the Vagabond owns). Both sides roll, but the attackers use the highest, except in the case of the Alliance who take the highest roll as the defenders.

The woodland alliance crafts a crossbow.
The Cats build structures to maintain their army and gain victory points.

The system itself is simple and easy to math out. But there’s a lot of nuance to maximizing the damage you deal in combat. Deciding how many warriors to send out, and how many to use to defend your land is incredibly important, and there are cards that can be used to tip the scales.

That’s really the core of Root’s strength. Taken alone, any given mechanic or system is incredibly simple. It’s when you add them together that the game becomes as rich and deep as it is. Root’s design is cohesive. Every piece has a place that works in unison with the rest of it. I can clearly see why the board game is so popular.

Modes

The digital medium brings many advantages to a board game adaptation, and Root takes advantage of many of them. The game has a great set of tutorials for every faction that distills a steep learning curve into digestible chunks.

The animations are charming and do a great job of bringing the board game to life on screen. You also have plenty of gameplay options. You can play a set of specific challenges, skirmish matches against the AI, other players online, or in hot-seat mode.

Clutter and Bots

Unfortunately, there are a few hiccups. The map doesn’t always like to pan properly on other players’ turns, so you can miss what they are doing if you don’t zoom all the way out. The map itself is vibrant, but also a bit busy for a board game. It can be difficult to track the whole board at times.

A Vagabond explores a ruin in Root
Vagabonds can explore ruins, complete quests, and trade with the other factions, violence is also an option!

The biggest issues stem from the nature of Root’s gameplay. Being able to play against the AI is fantastic but notably soulless. Root’s nature makes it a game heavy on table-talk. Every single player has to make strides to keep every other player in check or they risk a runaway winner. The board game would be full of table politics, negotiations, and backstabbing. It’s an experience that can’t be recreated with bots.

The Bots themselves also err on the easier side. Once you catch on to the game they won’t be that much of a challenge, even on the hardest difficulty.

Online Play

Root features cross-platform play, but playing online is hit or miss, though it’s not truly the game’s fault. There are two options, live and asynchronous. I will never understand how someone can play a game like Root over the span of days asynchronously and keep track of what they were doing. Maybe it’s for you, but it’s not for me.

In a lot of live games, people banned the Vagabond. I wasn’t super keen on removing one whole faction from the game, so my online experience wasn’t the greatest.

Verdict

Root is a solid digital board-game adaption that takes advantage of the medium’s strengths without losing the heart of the game itself. The tutorials are clean and effective at teaching you Roots complexities. The streamlined nature means you probably couldn’t run off and know how to play the physical game, but you would have a much better headstart.

The ability to play with AI means a game of Root is available to you whenever you have the desire to play it, and you can also play online or even hot seat with friends. The vast majority of my games were playing hot seat with Abbee and the AI. It worked incredibly well.

Vagabond Selection Screen in Root
There are multiple types of Vagabond to choose from.

There are a few technical hiccups, and the AI could certainly use a fourth harder difficulty mode. But Root is an overall great game in digital form, even if the missing table-talk can certainly be felt when playing with the AI. Roots table-top popularity is well deserved. While I can’t say that the digital edition can fully replace it, it’s a nice alternative or companion, depending on your situation. Especially if you can get some friends on board.

My Perspective

One thing to keep in mind about digital board game adaptions is just how much cheaper they are than the alternative. I could buy a digital copy of Root for myself and my entire gaming group for the same price I’d be paying for one copy of the physical game that would see far less playtime.

The AI may not be perfect, but it enables me to actually experience the game at my leisure. You’re never going to get the true experience of any board game digitally. That might still be a flaw, but it’s softened due to the low price of admission.

Root Digital is a great choice for me because I don’t have to try and hijack the table with my gaming group in order to play it. I plan on trying to get them to pick up the digital edition themselves, the cross-platform play would make it easy to hook up for a game or two during the week. If you have an interest in Root, the digital edition is a great starting point.

You may also enjoy my review of Evolution Digital Edition.

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Pros

  • Great tutorials make the game easy to digest
  • Several modes between Hotseat, AI & Online
  • Charming Visuals
  • Great asymmetric gameplay
  • Highly strategical
  • Cheap price

Cons

  • It can be difficult to track everyone’s turns due to a busy board and uncooperative camera
  • Root is a table talk heavy game that the AI can’t recreate
  • The Community insists on banning the Vagabond online and that’s a bummer
  • The AI can be a bit easy, even on the hardest difficulty

Who Would Like Root?

  • Interested in Root but hesitant of the commitment? The Digital Edition is a great starting point and can help teach you how to play.
  • Have an itch for Root, but wrangling players is worse than herding cats? The digital edition can help.
  • If you aren’t a board gamer but enjoy tactical turn-based games. Root is deep enough play ball.
  • Know some friends that play games on thier phones but not PC? Root features cross play.

Who Wouldn’t Like Root?

  • The digital edition isn’t a great replacement for the real thing if you have the ability to play the physical version frequently.
  • Root is played purely for the fun of it, you won’t find a ton of unlocks or carrots on a stick mechanics here. Not all players will enjoy that.
  • The nature of Root means players can gang up on another player, not everyone enjoys that playstyle.