Rhüt: The Marauder Expansion
I get nervous every time Root gets bigger. It’s the knock-on effect of so many boxes, so many factions, so many little details to keep straight. In contrast with some folks, my experiences with Root have grown more interesting as everybody at the table masters the intricacies of its many sides. Every addition jeopardizes that smoothness. Even if the effect is only temporary, that’s one more chance that I’ll step away and never muster the will to return.
So it’s good news that the Marauder Expansion is less about expansion than about streamlining.
Addition #1: The Advanced Setup
Yeah, yeah, setups aren’t sexy. Don’t worry, this will be quick.
To put it bluntly, the setup for Root was a horror show. Everyone reaches out to grab their favorite faction, but wait! Somebody pretty much has to be the dumb cats or the dumb birds. Why? Because you’re playing with three people, which means you need a “Reach” score of 18+, and the dumb cats are worth 10 points and the dumb birds are 7, while the dumb lizards are only 2, and now you’re doing angry math instead of kicking up a delightsome woodland ruckus.
The Reach system made sense from a particular cross-eyed point of view. The new system makes more sense, with no need to cross anything. Every faction has their own card, which is designated by the color of its banner whether it’s high-reach or low-reach. Factions are dealt onto the table, and it’s guaranteed that one of them will be sufficiently populous to fill up the board. If you only have a certain number of players, there’ll be an extra high-reach faction to choose from. The process is easy, quick, and puts the focus on the factions rather than on how much you can wheedle to get your favorite team into play.
Oh, and even better, this makes it a cinch to set up the new hirelings. Which brings us to…
Addition #2: Hirelings
Hirelings are the best thing about the whole expansion. They aren’t exactly minor factions. Think of them more as mercenaries and you’ll have the gist. This still doesn’t quite capture everything they’re good for. While it’s true you’ll be hiring them to your side, they’re also useful for adding some presence to the map and increasing the number of options in play.
They work like this. Every game uses three hireling factions. Depending on play count, their card will either be face-up, which adds troops to the map for you to employ (more on that in a moment) or face-down. In the latter case, that faction is “demoted.” Rather than adding troops, they represent an extra power that’s up for grabs.
Speaking of which, gaining the allegiance of a hireling is easy, totally devoid of complicated rules. At the end of your turn you roll a pair of influence dice, the result of which can be spent to swing hirelings to your side. Crucially, though, certain results can only be used if the leader is ahead of you by a certain amount of points. It’s a catch-up mechanic, but one that’s pleasantly unintrusive. Rather than handing out explicit perks to the trailing player, this is more about expanding their possibility space.
And what a space it is. I’ll give one example. In our most recent play we had the Forest Patrol — basically the Marquise de Cat in hireling form. The game opened with a cat warrior on every space, which if defeated would retreat to the Forest Patrol card. Controlling the Forest Patrol gave access to these felines. Once per turn, their employer could use them to either start a battle or deploy all the cats to a single space at once, provided that space already had a cat on it. The implications were significant: anyone wary of the cats was encouraged to spend actions battling them to avoid getting bombed by feline reinforcements later, while their employer could suddenly deploy seven yowling warriors into a single space. Either way, the Forest Patrol represented a bulwark against any faction trying to expand swiftly. Since I was on the warpath, my opponent was able to use them to slow my roll by tossing entire sackfuls of cats between our positions.
What if we’d been playing with more people? Then the Forest Patrol would have been flipped to its opposite side, the Feline Physicians. They bestow the Field Hospitals of the Marquise to their employer, letting you spend a card to recover any fallen warriors. Every hireling is different while still managing to be faithful to their original faction. The Spring Uprising, for example, lets you roll a die to place an uprising token or, if one has already been placed, unleash the guillotines. If used as a demoted faction, the Rabbit Scouts make it possible to swap the high and low combat rolls when defending. It’s like the Woodland Alliance is messing with the game even though they aren’t present in it.
Very cool. And a fantastic way to expand what’s possible in matches with fewer players.
Addition #3: The Keepers in Iron
The most irritating thing about the Keepers in Iron is that they’re badgers, so expect to hear “honey badger don’t care” more than you ever wanted to.
Apart from that, they represent a solid middle ground between the game’s more populous factions (nearly all of them) and the Vagabond. It isn’t uncommon to only have a few badgers at a time. And once you’ve amassed a decent number, you’ll probably whittle their numbers back down by having them undertake escort missions for extra cards. In any case, don’t anticipate having enough badgerpower to hold much territory.
But that’s the beauty of the Keepers: they aren’t here to seize half the map. Instead, they’re a mobile fighting force that secures an area, undertakes their mission, and then picks up stakes to move elsewhere. The mission in question is the recovery of relics, buried in the forests between clearings. Once a clearing is under their thumb, they can dredge these relics from the forest, march them to one of their waystations, and send it back home where it will remain in a museum until the woodland develops post-colonial theory.
What makes them interesting is the series of questions and contradictions they pose. They’re tough — so tough that they ignore the first hit in any battle or ambush — but can’t muster enough troops to really go on the offensive. They’re mobile but slow, only able to move a single warrior at a time unless they use a caravan. They need cards, but earning cards is no small feat for a faction that doesn’t have a proper economy. In other words, nobody wants to fight them, but they’re always struggling against attrition as their troops, cards, and actions dwindle. That’s because they’re conquistadors on foreign shores, here to pillage the land’s treasures and then escape back home. As such, other factions tend to skirt around them rather than confronting them directly, which only serves to make their periodic movements all the more upsetting to the status quo.
Addition #4: Lord of the Hundreds
Where the Keepers in Iron are a study in staving off attrition, the entire idea of “attrition” is a foreign concept to the Hundreds. They populate swiftly, die in spades, and then keep coming back for more.
This is appropriate, considering they’re a horde of rats. And this isn’t to say they don’t have weaknesses. Their first limitation is that they’re always champing at the bit to expand, expand, expand. This is partially driven by their leader, the titular Lord of the Hundreds. He’s as mercurial as populist leaders tend to be, always changing his mood and therefore his strategy card, and not always for the better. It isn’t uncommon for the Hundreds to outpace their strongholds, finding themselves behind enemy lines and stuck for one reason or another. Suddenly “attrition” isn’t such a foreign concept.
That isn’t their only problem. The Hundreds do have bases where they recruit fresh warriors, but the rat’s share of their numbers accumulate around their Lord himself. They burn everything wherever they go, steal items to fuel the Lord’s vanity, and can barely be bothered to craft items. Oh, and because they’re all gathered around their leader, their gains tend to be ephemeral. They’re terrifying in one spot, and can move that spot with the swiftness of a laser pointer on carpet, but they’re still a localized threat more than a general infection.
To be clear, these so-called weaknesses and problems are exactly what I love about the Hundreds. They, like the Keepers, are counterpoints to what we’ve seen before. One is a marauder, the other a destroyer — distinct entities, despite the parallels. Perhaps best of all, they’re tidy factions, easier to learn than Root’s trickiest, and they fit effortlessly into the conflict we’ve fought through so many times before.
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A prototype copy was provided.
Posted on March 10, 2021, in Board Game and tagged Board Games, Leder Games, Root, The Fruits of Kickstarter. Bookmark the permalink. 13 Comments.
When I first saw the KS campaign for this, my first impulse was to auto-back. However, upon reflection I found that I…already had enough Root? Scandalous, I know.
Yeah, I don’t blame you. I keep wondering how long they plan to ride this gravy train.
Great article! I have two things I want to comment on:
1. I very much agree with you that Root is at it’s best when people become experienced at the game. The opinion that Root is only fun as long as you keep adding “new stuff” is shocking to me.
2. That article about Foucaultian and Marxist assumptions underlying the different factions: I would read it. Twice in a row – at least!
It’s sort of like the complaint that the Vagabond always wins. Well, yes, if nobody attacks him. How is that any different from the other factions?
I think the Vagabond is a good litmus test for a group’s view on gaming in general. If the answer is “But I don’t score any points for attacking them, why would I do it?” then I know we’re playing games in quite different ways.
Follow your heart wherever it leads… especially if it leads to Foucaultian biopolitics and Marxist underpinnings in a boardgame about a possum rummaging through an eagle’s garbage https://imgur.com/gallery/YU0lDUZ
After I published this piece, I continued working on that one. It isn’t ready for consumption, and I’m not sure I’ll finish or want to publish it, but I have no trouble writing goofball things that would only appeal to a rather particular cross-section of readers!
The peculiar thing about hirelings that i’m interested about is their potential reach (I believe Cole mentioned that they would try to quantify it in some way during development) and how it might allow the big and small factions to square off 1v1.
I had a conceptualization of it being something akin to the dynamic where player A sways player B to hit player C, because C has a substantial lead. At least that’s what I imagined that they were trying to emulate with them
This would contrast the approach of the clockwork factions filling up the board with their troops and competing for the win).
The talk of the possibility space taking precedence to an explicit ‘catch up perk’ is especially promising!
Thanks for the write up!
I have only played Root once on the table, but I would love to play it again. The new factions and other stuff sound really intriguing.
I have played it a bunch asynchronously on the app, though, which actually makes me more likely to play it on the table if the opportunity presents itself because I’ll already know how to play.
Anyway, my first thought with the badgers wasn’t “Honey Badger don’t care”.
It was “Badger, badger, badger, badger…snaaaaaaake! It’s a snaaaaaaake!!! Badger, badger, badger, badger…”
Very much looking forward to this!
I believe Patrick & Cole indicated there was likely one more expansion before they considered Root to be “done”. If they design it, I’ll probably back it- damn their expertise in inducing my Pavlovian response!
Also, we… (well, I) need a big box for when it’s all done. A Big Box. Like, Ark of the Covenant big, so I need a pushcart to wheel this game to its designated shelf and place it there on a hydraulic lift. Perhaps even bigger, so the box generates its own gravity.
A Root singularity. 😉
I don’t feel like I need a big box, but I definitely want to figure a better way to store it. All the factions in one box, all the maps and accessories in another. Something like that.
This is the way I store it currently, with the Folded Space insert. However, with the new expansions, that unfortunately won’t work anymore.