ROOT: a Game of Woodland Might and Right, a wonderful first impression

Let’s face it, there are a lot of great games being produced right now, by a lot of different designers and that’s a wonderful thing, but there aren’t many games that have got me as excited as I am about Root. A beautiful combination of elegant wargame style mechanics and an ingenious theme, Root has ticked all the boxes and then some. 

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Designed by Cole Wehrle, somebody that I admire greatly, with a number of his games currently on my wish list and published by the imaginative Leder games, there was no surprise that Root was going to turn out so beautifully and my first impressions are nothing but postive for what’s to come. 

Taken from boardgame geek, we can see that Root is a game of adventure and war in which players battle for control of a vast wilderness. 

The nefarious Marquise de Cat has seized the great woodland, intent on harvesting its riches. Under her rule, the many creatures of the forest have been banded together. This Alliance will seek to strengthen its resources and subvert the rule of Cats. In this effort, the Alliance may enlist the help of the wandering Vagabonds who are able to move through the more dangerous woodland paths. Though some may sympathize with the Alliance’s hopes and dreams, these wanderers are old enough to remember the great birds of prey who once controlled the woods.

Meanwhile, at the edge of the region, the proud, squabbling Eyrie have found a new commander who they hope will lead their faction to resume their ancient birthright. The stage is set for a contest that will decide the fate of the great woodland. It is up to the players to decide which group will ultimately take root.

Now imagine that theme paired with the concept of the COIN series, that makes for some very clever game design. Of course ROOT isn’t a direct translation of the COIN series but it lends the idea of some of its seamless mechanics.

If you aren’t aware, the COIN series features Volko Ruhnke’s game system, a series designed very cleverly which means Counter-Insurgency and is specific to a type of warfare, the system includes a central “government” faction with 3 competing but different “rebellion” factions. The factions in Root definitely share some similarities to some of the COIN series. A series that can often seem overwhelming to most has been transformed into an enticing game filled with action and adventure. It’s easy to see which faction would take on which role. 

Cole describes his reasoning for these similarities and so much more in his carefully constructed designer diaries on Boardgamegeek, which can be found here: Designer Diary – Some helpful symmetry and provide thoughtful insight and explanation into the games design and the whys. 

Something that stuck out for me was the map, and behind that beautiful artwork, lays a cleverly designed wargame. Cole explains in these diaries that Root’s map is a pretty typical point-to-point wargame map. You have movement zones (called clearings) and paths that connect one clearing to another.

Early on I knew that the map should be claustrophobic-—a sort of anti-Twilight Imperium. I wanted the great forest of the game to be a dense, crowded space. To do that I needed a core movement system that would allow lots of different players to occupy the same clearing. At the same time, I didn’t want to woods to be overly porous. Players should be able to trap one another.

The map, combined with the different factions and single use cards, makes for a very interesting game. The game uses a single deck of mutli purpose cards, each player will use those cards in a very different way. This made for a very tense game, swapping cards, potentially knowing what card your opponent has, only wishing that it was yours. Being able to use those cards properly adds another layer of excitement to an already tense game. 

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Then there are factions, the thing that initally drew me towards Root. There’s something so fascinating about taking a game concept that I’m fairly familiar with and turning it into something magical. 

The factions are so thoughtfully put together, down to the minor details, making for an immersive game. A game of clever cats, courageous hawks, the fierce woodland alliance and a vagabond that will do whatever it takes to get what he needs throughout the game. 

 

Root is so much more than just it’s wonderful and creative cute characters, Root is a tense and somewhat cut throat story unfolding before your eyes as you fall deeper and deeper into a game of conspiracy and war, but not as we know it. A game that I can see no fault with, a wargame clevery disgused even though I don’t think that many can shy away from or will want to. 

Although the game I played was a prototype and Root is still evolving, it’s definitely a solid game. Something I haven’t seen a lot of before and something I’m eager to play again and again. Such an accessible game, with all of the wargame qualities that I love but somehow offering so much more. Something new, something exciting and something that has given a whole new perspective to the way I percieve wargames. 

Root is currently on Kickstarter, off to a flying start and I definitely recommend you take a look at this one. Truly a game not to be missed.  You can find the kickstarter page here > Root: A Game of Woodland Might and Right on Kickstarter

Thank you for reading my initial thoughts, I’ll be back with an update once I’ve had a few more plays but I needed to come on and tell you what I initially thought of the game. 

Thanks for reading,

Katie. 

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[Solitaire Review] Churchill: Big Three Struggle For Peace

Churchill, Stalin and Roosevelt in a room together. What’s the worst that could happen?

 

 

 

Churchill: Big Three Struggle for Peace is a game of political conflict, cooperation and competition. The players in the game take on the roles of Churchill, Roosevelt, or Stalin as they maneuver against each other over the course of different Conferences that determine who will lead the Allied forces, where those forces will be deployed, and how the Axis will be defeated. The player whose forces collectively have greater control over the surrendered Axis powers will win the peace and the game.

From first glance at the board and how much stuff was in the box, I was pretty overwhelmed and imagined the game being a lot more complicated, but the idea of Churchill is really straight forward – three players each taking turns discussing different issues relating to World War 2 and how the war should be prosecuted, as well as planning for the post-war world. Sounds so complicated and of course the game is difficult to master but, actually being able pick up the rules and play the game was pretty simple. That’s coming from somebody that’s played a lot of GMT games, but also as somebody that has played a lot of a euro games. 

RULES

Overview

The game is divided into ten rounds, or conferences just like the real-life conferences and after playing the game for the first time, I started doing a bit of research into the conferences and if you’re like me and don’t know an awful lot about these kinds of things because you’re still learning and discovering then you’ll probably find it pretty interesting. Here’s a link to some of them! List of Allied World War II conferences

I’ve played the Training Scenario a couple of times, which is only three conferences but this enabled me to get a clear idea of how the game was going to play and how to use the bots effectively. The conferences included in the training scenario begin with Conference 8: Tolstoy and end with Conference 10: Terminal.

Design Note from Mark Herman that can be found in the rulebook: Across all of the conferences there were a number of global issues that spoke directly to the structure of the post-war world and were debated and discussed from the dark days of Axis expansion right up through the final Conference. Churchill’s ‘naughty document’ was an agreement between Churchill and Stalin to create de facto spheres to influence in Europe that infuriated the Americans and undermined the post-war peace.

CONFERENCE

Once all the actions have been implemented on the conference card (pictured below) each player then deals seven cards from either the US, UK or USSR staff cards depending which leader they choose. You’ll do this for all three if you’re using bots of course. Then the players choose a single card to try and ‘win the agenda.’ The highest scoring card wins and then chooses a single issue to place on the board. There are lots of different issues including A-bomb research, production allocations, Global issues and so on.

ISSUES

Once the single issue has been placed on the board, the other players then place two further issues each onto the board. There will always be 7 issues on the table. Playing clockwise, players use a card to advance an issue towards their side of the table, whilst the other two may ‘debate’ this to move that issue a little closer to their side of the table. Cards have a value of 1-7, with the leaders being the highest value and representing their stature. The higher the card used, which may be affected by special abilities, the further the issue moves. Nice and easy. Once everyone has exhausted their deck, the game moves into the post-conference where the winner of that meeting is decided which is basically decided based on the number of issues that they won. 

That’s the Conference Display in a kind of nutshell for you. 

MAP

Then the game moves on to the Military Display or the post-conference phase as some may call it, where leaders implement the issues that they now control. These actions impact three game functions: clandestine operations, political activity, and military offensives. Clandestine operations see players try to establish political networks in conquered countries and colonies. Using a very simple mechanic of placing a network or removing an opponent’s network, the historical ferment that occurred in Yugoslavia, France and across the world is simply simulated. A country or colony can only have one dominant side’s network at any given time, and during political activity players can emplace friendly governments in exile that can be subsequently undermined and replaced if the supporting networks are later neutralized by one of your allies.

After that, we all go home and have a nice cup of tea….

Not really.

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Once this has all been done, the military portion of the game keeps the score. There’s a separate display that abstractly represents the major theaters of war, Western, Eastern, Mediterranean, Arctic (Murmansk convoys and Scandinavia), CBI, SW Pacific, Central Pacific, and Far East.

Each of these tracks has an Allied front and using a very simple combat mechanic, each front tries to advance with Axis reserves deploying to oppose the various fronts. Naval operations are simply handled by requiring a defined level of support to advance into an amphibious entry space such as France (D-Day). When a front enters Germany, Italy or Japan they surrender, shutting down military operations, although clandestine and political activity continues until the end of the game. In the background is the development of the A-bomb and Soviet efforts to steal its secrets. If the A-bomb is available Japan can be forced to surrender sans a direct invasion.

Solitaire play

BIG THREE

Moving on to a little bit about solitaire play of the game and my experiences of it, first of all let me say that most of my experiences of this game have been playing with bots. I have played one, maybe two three player games but that’s it, and I’ve got to say I feel like the solitaire game has definitely given me an advantage when playing. Now, don’t get me wrong, I have only played a few games solitaire so far but I feel like I have learned a lot about the game and strategy by playing it this way.

What have I learned? Well, I’ve been able to quickly delve deep into the minds of each leader, discovering their motives and personalities as they really do, struggle for peace, quickly and efficiently. There’s no time to hesitate, only time to dig in and try to really understand the motives of each leader and what they are trying to do throughout the game.

Of course, that human interaction and being able to play against OR with each other is great and really makes a game enjoyable but it is essential to have the mindset of the country and leader that you are playing, and I found that I got a grasp of each leader a lot more quickly playing all three at a time, than I would playing only one leader a game. 

Yes, you have the wonderful bots to help you along the way but like in any game, to play a good game and enjoy the experience, I have to fully immerse myself in the experience, and that can be challenging when you’re playing everybody around the table, and that is where the true complexity of the game comes in. Formulating a strategy for each leader can be tough but rewarding and this added tension to the game, as well as really making it feel like I was sat at that big round table discussing these actual issues, and making crucial decisions that could indeed affect the world. 

The bots themselves are very easy to follow and very straight forward, which is definitely a bonus when playing Churchill, it can sometimes feel like there is a lot going on when you’re playing solo because you’re moving around more pieces, dealing with more cards and making a lot more decisions, so being able to quickly reference a clear, concise flowchart is amazing and a massive bonus. 

This isn’t the whole flow chart but just an example to show you how straightforward it really is. I’ll be honest, before my first solo game, I hadn’t even looked at the flowchart before actually playing and still managed to get along with the game just fine. Although I do recommend doing so as it might just help things flow a little better right from the very start.

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Churchill almost feels like a bidding game, bidding on issues and shaping the way the post-war world affairs will go. Again, very interesting when it’s all going on inside your own brain and a really nice use of this kind of mechanic.

I do really respect Mark Herman for what he’s done here, he’s managed to take a game idea that in my opinion could be seen as complex and turn it into a tense yet enjoyable and elegant game. I know elegant is a word used often in these types of games but it really is, the way the game flows perfectly, not too fast nor too slow, something about it just feels right, like a series of actions and tough decisions all rolled perfectly into one. 

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Now as Herman states, this is not a wargame but it definitely has a wargame feel, I don’t know if it’s the counters or the cubes or the combat or the theme but something about it is war like which I enjoy because it feels familiar yet different at the same time and I love how abstract the game can be.

I can honestly say that I have not played a game like this before, Churchill almost feels like a group of games, or a series of mini games rolled into one. You’ve got the conferences, the politics, the combat and resources. So many decisions to make but they don’t seem overwhelming in the slightest. 

In reading some of the strategy articles, I am only just beginning to see the true potential that this game has and I’m really excited for more, from the potential deaths of Roosevelt and other key staff, Churchill’s looming heart attack, and Stalin’s ingrained paranoia, there is so much more to explore and I can’t wait for my next game.

Thank you for reading, I’d love to hear in the comments if you’ve played the game and what you think of it.

Katie. 

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A Few First Impressions [Liberty or Death: The American Insurrection]

Here are my initial thoughts on Liberty or Death; The American Insurrection, part of the COIN series published by GMT GAMES. I had very high hopes for this game and so far, it has definitely delivered. 

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Photo by Katie Aidley.

Let me start off by saying, I have only played this game once so these truly are my first impressions but I couldn’t hold off on talking about it as it still so fresh in my mind and I really, really enjoyed the game. Liberty or Death had been on my radar for a while and within a couple of days of receiving it, it hit the table (literally within a COUPLE of days). I couldn’t wait to play and I was rather impressed.

Now the rules might seem pretty hefty from a first glance, however if you are an experienced COIN player or have played a few COIN games before then you should pick up the rules without too much hesitation. 

There has been so much talk about this game, and even from that initial play I can see why. The gameplay is absolutely stunning and it’s nice to see the COIN system being used for pre-modern themed warfare, it definitely works.

I’m going to start off talking about the aesthetic and components of the game…

 

If you follow my blog or know me well, you will know that I am generally not one for theme or usually that bothered about the game I’m playing looking all that pretty. However, when it comes to wargames, the more I can immerse myself in the theme during the game and the nicer the game looks, I am probably going to enjoy it more. GMT games are always of a very high quality, gameplay and component wise from my experience and Liberty or Death is no different.

 

Photos by Katie Aidley.

The artwork is beautiful, the map is definitely the prettiest map in the COIN series so far in my opinion and even though the game is so bright and colourful, it doesn’t lose the feel of the time period at all. 18th Century North America has never looked so attractive.

Gameplay

Designer: Harold Buchanan
Series developer: Mike Bertucelli
Solitare system developer: Orjan Ariander
Map Art: Terry Leeds
Counter Art: Charles Kibler, Terry Leeds, and Mark Simonitch

Time Scale: One year per Campaign between Winter Quarters
Map Scale: Area movement
Players: 1 to 4

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Photo by Katie Aidley.

Each faction in Liberty or Death brings new capabilities and challenges:

As the British, you have to deal with an Insurrection across a massive region. With control of the seas (at least until the French arrive), you have extreme flexibility and can move across the coast and cities at will. You will muster Tories to support your efforts. They will march with you to battle, but they need your cover. You can control any space you choose, but you cannot answer every threat on the map. The Indians will work with you but, like the Tories, will need you to coordinate and protect them when the Patriots become aggressive. With the leadership of Gage, Howe, and then Clinton, you will be able to strike a potentially decisive Brilliant Stroke if the stars align. Each leader brings something new to the war effort. If you can strike the decisive blow and Win the Day you will be able to build Support and reduce Opposition in short order. If the option to Battle the French in the Colonies presents itself, it will be hard to pass up!

As the Patriots, you initially aren’t powerful enough to counteract the British Army. You will need to pick your battles and initially spread the Militia to key areas. Over time you can train a force of Continentals to take on the British Regulars. Until then, Rabble-rouse and work with the French to challenge British dominance. Skirmish with the British in small numbers to make their stay expensive. Will the French be there when you need them? Persuade the local population to give you resources to keep the heat up. Watch the Indians on the Frontier because if they develop their forces unanswered you won’t be able to win the game regardless of what happens with the British.

As the Indian player, you have selected the lesser of two evils in aligning with the British. You will work with them to lower Opposition using Raids but you will be developing your footprint by Gathering forces and building villages. The British can help you to protect them from the Patriots and in return you can assist the British in controlling the region. War Chief Joseph Brant and later War Chief Cornplanter give you the ability to mount a decisive attack with your War Parties but will it be worth exposing your villages to Patriot attack?

As the French, you have the ability to be the thorn in the side of the British in North America. With the Hortalez Rodrigue et Cie Company, formed to feed the Patriots resources, you can fund the Insurrection. Your agents can rally assistance in and around Quebec and you can facilitate privateers to steal resources from the British. When you sign the Treaty of Alliance with the Patriots, you can bring French Regulars to America to March and Battle. You can also increase French Naval Intervention, Blockade Cities, move Regulars by sea and Skirmish with the British.

As with earlier COIN Series volumes, players of Liberty or Death: The American Insurrection will face difficult strategic decisions with each card. The innovative game system smoothly integrates political, cultural, and economic affairs with military and other violent and non-violent Commands and capabilities. Rabble-rousing, Indian Raids, Persuasion, Naval Pressure, Letter of Marque, Looting, Trading, Skirmishing, and Foraging and more options are available. Flow charts are at hand to run any faction short a player—solitaire, 2-player, 3-player, or 4-player experiences are equally supported.

Source [Liberty or Death on BoardGameGeek]

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Photo by Katie Aidley.

I’m not going to talk too much about the rules as such as you can find those yourself but I do want to talk a little bit about the conflict in the game and the battle system. Now, remember I have only played this game once but I found that there were not many battles going on within the game. I quite liked that aspect though, in some wargames there are so many battles that they tend to lose their importance or impact within the game however this Liberty or Death was historically accurate and felt as though it fit in with the era, it also drove me to try and come up with some different strategies during the game instead of just relying on winning conflicts. There’s a lot to think about and it will probably take a while to get used to the commands which are somewhat unique from the predecessor COIN games, fitting in with the different time period. 

I’ll admit, I haven’t fully figured out what my strategy is so far and I feel like that will probably take a few plays to master but I did feel confident in the gameplay and the rules by the end of the first game which is always a good sign.

Once I’ve played a few times, I will come back and do another post but I needed to tell you my initial thoughts on the game.

A clear winner in my opinion, even from one play it was obvious to see why it was a 2016 Golden Geek Best Wargame nominee and I’m eager to get this to the table again very soon.

Thank you for reading,

Katie.  

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