Root: The Underworld Expansion – Review from PAX East 2019

I recently had the pleasure of previewing Leder Games’ latest expansion to its very successful Root franchise, designed by Cole Wehrle.

For those unfamiliar with the base game, Root is a completely asymmetric wargame disguised with a cute theme. You play as various woodland creatures vying for control of the forest. Each faction has its own set of rules and way to earn victory points. It’s a very fun and very competitive board game that has risen to critical acclaim for good reason.

The base game plays 2 to 4 players and allows you to play as the Marquise de Cat (cats), Eyrie Dynasties (birds), Woodland Alliance (an alliance of various woodland creatures), and the Vagabond (raccoon). The previous expansion, The Riverfolk Expansion, extends the game to allow for a 1 to 6 player experience. It includes two additional factions, The Riverfolk Company (otters) and the Lizard Cult (lizards).

At PAX East, Leder Games was offering 40-45 minute demos of Root: The Underworld Expansion, which as of this post’s publish date is currently on Kickstarter.

Root: The Underworld Expansion - game in session on the mountain map

The expansion add two new factions into the mix, The Great Underground Duchy (moles) and The Corvid Conspiracy (crows).

I sat down and played the full 4-player demo as the moles, against the cats, birds, and crows on the new mountain map.

Root: The Underworld Expansion

The Great Underground Duchy

The moles, are able to dig, moving warriors from their burrow to connected tunnels that they have constructed on the map.

The dig action, which occurs during the Daylight phase allows placement of these tunnels. During the faction’s birdsong, mole warriors are added to The Burrow according to how many Citadels are on the map (which are placed using the Construct action during Daylight). You are then able to move those warriors freely between The Burrow and it’s connected tunnels as a Move action.

The Construct action also permits you to place Factories. Factories effect how many cards you are able to draw during the Evening phase. Cards draws are extemely important for the moles as they are the fuel that allows you to “elect lords”, the golden crown piecees shown in the middle of the player board below. Electing lords is the primary means of scoring victory points for the moles.

The Great Underground Duchy (moles) player board

In order to elect lords, you must reveal like cards matching a clearing type you control. As per usual, bird cards are wild. The more like cards you’re able to reveal, the better the lord you are able to elect, and the more victory points you earn.

Once you have elected lords, you are able to use the special powers they enable during the second part of the Daylight phase. These are bonuses such as “score +1 victory point for every factory in play” and “move twice or attack twice”.

The mole have a slow ramp-up as it’s more dependent on engine building. Overall it was a very enjoyable faction to play and I find much more interesting than the ones in the base game and previous expansion.

The Corvid Conspiracy

Please note, that since I played my demo, Cole Wehrle has massively overhauled this faction.

The Corvid Conspiracy were extremely frustrating to play against since they are SO good! They’re a bit over powered and Leder Games admitted it to me, indicating that the faction is still in development and needs some balancing work.

They’re assasin crows that are able to move around the board with ease. The player playing as the crows is able to discard cards in their hand in order to place “infiltration tokens”.

Placing infiltration tokens uncovers actions on the Infiltration Track. The more tokens placed, the more actions they have at their disposal.

The Corvid Conspiracy (crows) player board

One of the special actions the crows can use is to “Assasinate”. It’s allows the crows to remove a warrior in exchange for forcing an opponent to discard a random card from their hand.

Another special action is to “Raid”. Raid allows you take one of your placed Infiltration Tokens and move it to an adjacent clearing. This is very important for the evening phase, where the crows can finally Infiltrate. It’s their primary means of scoring victory points.

During the Evening phase, the crows give their Agent Cards to players who have their warriors and pieces in clearings that have Infilitration tokens in them. The number of cards they receive reflects how many such clearing exist.

The Agents cards serve a dual purpose, they clutter up the hand of your opponents, playing off the 5-card limit. If your opponent discards Agent cards, they must discard all Agent cards in their hand. The number of Agent cards discarded benefits the crows, with more being better.

If 2 cards are discarded, the crows may draw 2 cards. If 3 cards are discarded they may alternatively place one warrior in each clearing adjacent to its Nest. If 4 cards are discarded, they may alternatively remove ALL warriors and pieces belonging to an opponent in a clearing adjacent to its Nest.

Whenever Agent cards are discarded, the Crows earn +2 victory points and it must move its nest to an adjacent forest.

It’s a very thematic faction and certainly feels like you’re battling deadly assasins.

I didn’t have the time to play as the crows, but I enjoyed seeing them played as opposition. Like the moles, I also like the crows more than the base factions. It’s going to be a fun one to play as once they work through the balancing issues.

The Mountain Map

We played our demo on the new mountain map, but overall we didn’t make much use of the new mechanisms it had to offer during our play session.

The one thing we did use was “The Pass”. The Pass is a specially marker clearing around the center of the board. Whomever has control of The Pass at the beginning of the round earns an extra victory point. It’s a simple, but great addition to the game that forces some extra conflict. I wholeheartedly approved.

Conclusion

Root: The Underworld expansion adds some very satisfying new factions. They add even more variety to a game already chock full of it.

There are some feature in the expansion I wasn’t able to preview or get a good sense for, but I can easily see both The Corvid Conspiracy and the Great Underground Duchy being at the very top of my preferred faction list in Root. They alone make the expansion worth investing in.

Purchase Root (Base Game) on Amazon

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