Designed By Cole Wehrle
Published By Leder Games
Since solo gaming is a very new element of my board gaming hobby, I’ll admit that when I was told that Root’s expansion allowed for a solo variant when I purchased my copy at gen con, the news went in one ear and out the other. It wasn’t until a couple weeks later that I discovered that playing games by myself was such blissful joy. With my new favorite way to kill time found, and a game I already loved already on my shelf, I decided to give Root’s solo mode a run for its money. As a disclaimer, Solopotamus Reviews focus mainly on the solo element of the game, rather than the whole product. So does Root come out on top as a contender for one of the best strategy solo games? Or does the apple fall much further from that tree? Let’s take a look.
What’s It About?
Root is an asymmetrical strategy game about adorable animal factions living in a forest and gloriously murdering each other. From the Marquise, a tribe of cat folk who spread like a virus and build buildings as if they were starting their own lumber monopoly, to the Woodland Alliance who spread sympathy in order to fuel violent revolts, the game hosts 6 unique factions, each with its own agenda in the forest, but more importantly, each with its unique play style.
How Does it Play?
In Root, you’ll play the game fairly differently depending on which faction you choose, but the general rule of thumb is that you’ll be working to move pieces from your player board onto the central board, or the forest if you will, in order to score points. The first player to 30 points wins the game, and while there are a couple other win conditions, the 30 point win is the usual route I’ve seen in…er…Root. You’ll do this by moving from Clearing to Clearing, having battles, building structures and recruiting more of your faction onto the board. It’s a game filled with strategy and excitement as you learn how to play your faction and watch as other players scream in devastation as you destroy a whole system they’ve set up, simply because they forgot that you could.
In the solo mode, you play against an AI controlled bot, the Mechanical Marquise. This version of the Marquise can be played against by yourself or with friends and can even be used to add another competitor to a fully competitive game of Root. Though doing that might feel a bit like inviting Grandma over to play a board game, only to realize that she’s an awful cheat.
The Solo Aspect of Root
See, unlike in other strategy games with Automa units, such as Scythe, the Mechanical Marquise doesn’t play, act or, most importantly, score like a human opponent. Every round in a co-op or solo game the Marquise automatically scores 1 point per player, so in a Solo game that’s a free point per turn. Then, they get to score 2 points for every clearing where they rule with 3 or more. Finally, they’ll draw a card and, depending on the suit of the card, battle and move in certain clearings. This is followed by looking at the bottom of the card to see where they recruit, but more importantly, how many they recruit. The trouble with this is that the cats start on the board EVERYWHERE and if you happen to pull a triple or double recruit on your first turn, the cats will already by scoring insane amounts of points on their second turn.
As someone who has played Root a lot multiplayer as well as Solo, I can tell you that no player will ever score 12 points on their second turn. But the Mechanical Marquise might, and herein lies the problem. In a game filled with so much strategy and care given to the balance of these factions, it’s a shame to see the Solo variant of this game come down to a game of luck. If you manage to make it past those first couple of rounds with only single recruit cards from the Marquise, you might have a fighting chance, but if even one double or triple recruit card makes its way to the stack in the first 2 turns, you might as well claim game over and start again.
Varying Difficulty…Sort Of
Because Root has several factions, a few are recommended in the rule book for Solo play. I tried all three of these and found that the only one with a true fighting chance was the Eyrie, a group of heavily militarized birds who are able to spread almost as quickly as the cats. Even so, this meant that even in what I considered to be my best game, I was still 10 points behind the Mechanical Marquise at the end of the game. That’s a whole third that they were ahead of me. When playing as the Vagabond and the Lizard Cult, the other two recommended factions for solo, I was flat out slaughtered. In my first game against the Marquise with the lizard cult, the Marquise hit 30 points while I was still sitting at a humble 7.
Why Play it Solo?
This sort of challenge might appeal to some. After all, many solo/co-op games boast punishing difficulty. One of my favorites is Robinson Crusoe. Just know that much of this difficult comes from a highly luck based system which you often have zero to no control over. This might not feel like a problem if Root wasn’t such a highly strategic game to begin with. That being said, the one good thing I can say about Root Solo is that it plays very fast. When I play, I usually can get in a few rounds at a time, because the game plays like a race to the finish, especially when the Marquise is raking in the points like it’s Fall and they’ve all fallen off trees only on their side of the woods. You probably won’t win, but you’ll at least be able to try out several factions and get a good feel of the game before game night with friends.
Root is a fantastic game. In fact, it currently sits in my top ten favorites. Every time I play, I love seeing how the different factions interact and how each player learns the puzzle of their chosen team of critters. It’s strategic and thoughtful and balanced. It’s because of this love of Root that I must disappointingly conclude that I do not recommend it for Solo play unless you are doing it simply to learn the rules before teaching them. I concede to the Mechanical Marquise. May our futures be run by angry, multiplying Robot Cat Gods. So sayeth the Lizard Cult.
Thanks for Joining me for my SECOND solo review! Have a game I should try? Let me know in the comments!