The seasons are changing, and so are things in the forest of Root, the hit asymmetrical strategy game from Leder Games. Following on the successes of the Riverfolk and Underworld expansions, the upcoming Marauder expansion will introduce two new factions into the game: the ruthless and dictatorial Lord of the Hundreds, and the mysterious protectors known as the Keepers in Iron. Also introduced are hirelings, minor factions that can help beef up gameplay for lower player counts or just make things more interesting. To find out more about how Root is changing, and why it is changing, we sat down with Leder’s founder and creative director, as well as co-designer of the new expansion: Patrick Leder.
What was the initial goal when you set out for another expansion? What was the “State of Root” after Underworld and how is Marauder going to change that?
Initially the plan was to make two more factions for Root and then add in a few other twists.We thought we would wait to do new maps later as we feel people are still settling into the new maps. As we discussed it more, we both wanted to explore the extreme sides of the player count. From my experience what I like most about 5 player Root is the variety of interactions we had. We wanted a way to give two- and three- players that same rich experience. We needed a way to fill up the board and help the game self-correct a little.
Hirelings were suggested as a way to solve these problems. Each hireling has two sides, one which introduces new warriors or new tokens to the game and the other side that gives the player a new passive ability. Most of the hirelings are loosely based on factions already in the game and allow you to play with their abilities even when not in play. For instance the Birds give the player the ability to rule clearings on ties.
Why Rats and Badgers?
The rats of the Warlord go back to an early pitch I had for the Vagabond where even the Vagabonds had slight asymmetry from each other. One of the Vagabonds was a dog named Pugnacious, who led 3 Warriors into battle also. At first, I approached the Warlord as a single charismatic leader leading a group of troops. You would switch leaders only if the Warlord died. Kyle Ferrin (artist for Root and most other Leder games) chose rats as the subjects of these charismatic leaders. The expansion’s developer, Josh Yearsley, suggested having one rat leader with a different mood the player chooses each turn instead of multiple individuals. I wrote a draft and we have been playing that way since.
My earliest draft of the badgers had them as a slow moving army that had to build roads (eventually carts) to move around. We had turtles at first but for art reasons we changed them to badgers. The badgers in the game wear armor, are hard to kill, and move slowly. Kyle and I feel it’s a good representation of that.
What did you want the new factions to represent that Root hasn’t had before?
I don’t really want to tell anyone how to interpret the factions in Root and I wanted to leave things open to interpretation.
For the badgers I feel like players can see them as a group trying to protect relics or items from their culture or they can be seen as opportunists trying to get treasure home.
Tactically, the badgers are about controlling chains of movement and the center of the board. The badgers are about getting large troop concentrations out and holding clearings, while they secure their Artifacts. Then as opportunities dry up they need to move across the board, which can create a lot of friction.
The Warlord I do feel can be cast as a little more villainous. They lead their troops with charisma and promises of loot as well as new opportunity. His agenda is violence and the sole occupation of the forest. I have trouble finding the good in that, but maybe players can see the Warlord as a tragic savior, who will eventually fall apart as unfulfilled promises pile up.
In the game the Warlord is almost always dancing on the blade’s edge. Their early game is easy but they will need to overextend to get points. They will have to make enemies along the way. Eventually their position will become exposed and the players will bring the Warlord down. Many games as the Warlord I see the last few turns of the game figuring out how to put things back together long enough to win and I am here for that.
They feel like they’re almost foils of each other? How does that work beyond the thematic?
I don’t think they were necessarily designed to be foils of each other but they did work out that way.
The Warlord wants to be the sole owner of as many clearings as possible to score points. The badgers can send their single Warriors (as the badgers move slowly) into the Warlord’s clearings to break up scoring opportunities. The badgers are hard to dislodge and will cost the Warlord precious actions.
Meanwhile the badgers need a lot of control to move their Relics and Artifacts around the board. On turns when the Warlord is Stubborn or Wrathful they can attack and disrupt the badger troop formations. The badgers can be trouble once they are entrenched, the Warlord needs to use their mobility to strike weak points and keep pressing.
How do you go about balancing Root when you add in new factions?
At this point it would be unrealistic to play every possible faction combination. We just playtest a lot making sure we will see the new factions face all of the old factions. We have made Print and Play kits for the game available and we are taking feedback from the fans. There will also be a phase of testing after the Kickstarter campaign. In the past we have hired local folks to playtest in the final push to get the game to market. With COVID-19 in the mix that is going to be a challenge but we will figure out something.
Short answer, we play the game frequently.
There seems to be a greater emphasis in this expansion on two-player games of Root, bringing two player factions up to five as well as adding in minor factions. Why focus on the smaller player count?
A lot of the feedback we have received from the community is that the two-player game is not as fun without using the bots. We wanted to address that.
Who are those minor factions and how do they change Root’s gameplay?
The hirelings act as extra groups the players can hire to modify their turn. In each game the players will play with one special hireling and 3 other hirelings. Hiring them will give you access to the abilities list on their cards.
Each hireling has a demoted side. The demoted side changes the rules for your faction instead of giving you more pieces. In a three-player game you demote one hireling, in four-player games two hirelings, and in a five-player game all of the hirelings.
In addition to the hirelings you play with Veteran hirelings in a 2 player game and Diplomat hirelings in the other player ranges. Veteran hirelings give you an extra turn immediately after the turn you hire them. Diplomat hirelings influence which players are considered your enemy.
At the end of turn during what I call the “Midnight” phase the player rolls the influence dice. They will yield a certain amount of influence players can spend attracting the hirelings. The dice perform better when a player has a lower score than the rest of the pack.
What is the new drafting system the expansion will introduce and how does it change the way we play the game?
I asked Cole (Wehrle) to answer this one for me. He wrote:
“The new draft mode is intended for experienced players and offers them an easy way to quickly generate new faction configurations without using the reach system. Players first randomly generate a pool of factions and then take turns drafting them. Unlike the regular setup, players set up their faction the moment they draft it using new setup rules that are extremely flexible. For instance, the cats now can start with their Keep in the middle of the board. The lizards could put themselves in-between two big factions. Even players who have played a lot of Root will find situations that they have never encountered before.”
How was the design process for the new expansion (or any of the games in the pipe at Leder) affected by COVID-19?
For the hirelings and the Landmarks not much has changed. Cole and Nick are still going to the studio and are able to work and test together.
For the factions Josh and I quickly prototyped the expansion on Tabletop Simulator. This allowed us to play games from home and distribute the expansion to other testers.
I cannot say it has been easy. Frankly speaking, my own efforts to design have been stymied. I am glad for the studio supporting me during this time. Cole and I will be working on Void Lich (working title) together after this project is over and I am excited by that and I now have several games in the pipeline that hopefully I will be able to work on as we go back to work after the pandemic.
The Kickstarter for Root: The Marauder Expansion runs til March 16th. You can currently grab the other expansions for Root, as well as lots of other accessories and things, on the Leder Games Shop. You can follow Patrick on Twitter.
Images via Leder Games
Have strong thoughts about this piece you need to share? Or maybe there’s something else on your mind you’re wanting to talk about with fellow Fandomentals? Head on over to our Community server to join in the conversation!