If you’ve read my previous reviews on Root and Cry Havoc, you can see that I really like asymmetrical games. Skulk Hollow, when it came on kickstarter last year, was a game that caught my attention right away. The look had a bit of that…
It’s a peaceful life in the forest, the birds are ruling up in the trees, the woodland creatures are frolicking along the forest floor, and the raccoon is finding shiny things to play with. Then the Marquise de Cats and all of his cats come and take over the forest. Now you’re locked in an epic struggle between the cats, birds, woodland creatures, and the vagabond (raccoon). Who will get to their point total first, will alliances be made to help each other, but in the end, there can only be one winner.
This is a game made by the same people as Vast: The Crystal Caverns, another asymmetrical game where each person is trying to complete their own objectives and score points in their own way. In Root, players take on one of the four different factions, there are also two more in an expansion, and battle for control of the forest. They do that by crafting items, building in locations, and moving about and fighting each other but each does it in their own unique way.
The Marquise de Cats already have most of the forest as they start on the board in every spot except one, and they are looking to use their superior creature count, at the start of the game, to control the forest, build more buildings, and really set-up their dominance in the forest. They do this primarily by adding building that allow them to craft items, build more buildings, and recruit more cats into the forest. However, if they lose too much ground, they might find their production a little bit low. The Marquise de Cats are probably the most straight forward of the different factions to play.
The Eyrie on the other hand are very regimented birds. They also start on the board, but only in a single location. The player picks a leader of the birds and that determines some of what they can do, because the birds are basically building out a decree, and the decree says that things must be done in a certain order in certain places, and if you ever can’t do the decree, the birds go into turmoil and your leader is overthrown and a new one comes onto the board. They are an interesting one to play, and while the game calls them low complexity, because of the fact that you’re locked into doing things in a certain order and at certain locations, you really want plan out what you’re adding to your decree, because you have to keep adding to it every turn, and if you aren’t careful and you go into turmoil, you could end up in a situation where you’re losing a number of points if the decree fails.
The Woodland Alliance is really focused on causing uprisings. They are sowing unrest on the board at the start of the game, and trying to get locations to revolt. If other players have enough creatures in locations, it can stop you from being able to sow unrest there. But once they start getting those on the board and they start causing revolts at locations, other players need to worry because they can spread fast, and they can definitely take advantage of the Eyrie and Marquise fighting against each other to seed unrest.
Finally, the vagabond is just going along through the forest, trying to find gear to improve their actions. They use their gear to be able to do more actions on their turns, and go on quests. The vagabond, like the Woodland Alliance, has a bit of a ramp to the character, because they need to have enough items to be able to complete quests, but once they can start completing the quests, their points will start growing quickly as the more quests that they do of the different colors, the more points they get.
I’ve personally only played the Eyrie, and they are a ton of fun to play. I kind of agree with the makers of the game that the Eyrie are a low complexity faction to play, but I wouldn’t say they are that easy. I had a large decree set-up that allowed me to recruit a lot of troops, move some, attack a little, and then build some of my roosts, so eventually I wouldn’t have been able to continue doing the decrees, but I made it through almost the whole game with a single leader. However, watching the Woodland Alliance and Vagabond being played, both of those seemed like a lot of fun as well. Even with the Marquise de Cats having a more straightforward playing style, you are often having to be the player who keeps everyone in check because of your starting board position and that definitely seems like it could be tricky.
In our game the Vagabond won because the Eyrie was growing so quickly, and the Cats hunkered down that they were playing against each other almost to the point of a stalemate. And the Vagabond was able to get their questing rolling and started getting a lot of points. Then the Eyrie had their decree broken by the cats, and there wasn’t anything that the Woodland Alliance was able to do to stop the vagabond. It made it interesting to see how you had to watch out for the different factions in different ways. The Woodland Alliance got hurt a fair amount by the fact the Cats and Eyrie grew so quickly, it kind of locked the Alliance out of a lot of areas, so they were lagging behind point wise, but the Alliance player still had fun playing them.
Now, clearly I had a lot of fun with the game and playing it, and everyone having different abilities and different ways that they play the game is very cool. That said, the game does have one fairly major drawback. It’s not a game that is fast to teach to new players. If everyone is new, you have to go through what each faction does and how they work as well as the basic actions of the game. So it can take quite a while, and there can be a number of questions about the game and how things work as well. It’s probably a game that is worth checking out reviews or “how to play” videos online ahead of time for all players so that you can get it up and running fast.
That said, the points are score quite quickly. That does mean that the actual game, for how long the game takes to teach, does move by at a good pace. Even the turns that players take are pretty quick. Add in to that some interesting strategy and while you aren’t involved in other peoples turns, you still have to pay attention to what they are doing, there isn’t that much mental downtime in the game. It helps keep the game quite engaging throughout, as long as you can make it through the rules.
Overall, it’s a fun game. I do think that this game will be a miss for some groups because of the complexity of teaching the game, though, if they can make it through that by watching a video to learn how to play or something along those lines if they aren’t good at just sitting and listening to rules, most groups will like this game. The artwork on the game is amazing, and the cards are goofy and cute so the game feels less heavy than it is on some ways.
Overall Grade: A
Gamer Grade: A
Casual Grade: C
The casual grade gets a big knock because of how long it takes to teach the rules, a casual gamer isn’t going to want to sit through rules that are that long. As a gamer, I barely wanted to sit through rules that were that long.
Have you had a chance to play Root? If so what did you think of it, and what is your favorite faction?
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