Welcome to The Game Shelf!

After getting into the board game hobby at the end of 2014, we've decided to share our thoughts on the games we're collecting on our shelves. The collection has certainly expanded over the last few years and we've been making up for lost time!

Sometimes our opinions differ, so Amy will be posting reviews every Tuesday and Fi will post on Thursdays. We hope you enjoy reading some of our opinions on board games - especially those for two players.

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Saturday, 18 July 2020

The Game Shelf Reviews:- Root: The Underworld Expansion

Game: Root: The Underworld Expansion

Publisher: Leder Games

Designer: Patrick Leder, Cole Wehrle

Year: 2020

Leder Games' latest Kickstarter for Root featured, not one, but two expansions. We featured The Clockwork Expansion in a review last month, and this month we're featuring The Underworld Expansion. The Underworld Expansion introduces a new double sided board, featuring the titular Underworld, as well as a lakeside scene on the opposite side. In the Underworld, you'll find the new mole faction, affectionately known as The Great Underground Duchy and a second bird faction, The Corvid Conspiracy. Both, of course, come with a set of adorable meeples and the fantastic artwork of Kyle Ferrin.

This is the second expansion to introduce new factions to Root, but it's the first one we have tried. When you grow attached to a faction in the original game, it can be a little hard to move one, but at least one of the two of us found a new favourite faction in The Underworld Expansion.

Gameplay

Taking both the literal and rhetorical meaning of "underworld" this expansion adds two new factions to the lineup. The moles of the Great Underground Dutchy are and aggressive attacking force than can appear anywhere. They are also highly efficient with their cards, as many of their actions only require revealing, not discarding, cards. At the start of the turn they will spawn a number of mole warriors in their Burrow, before getting a couple of actions to perform the usual move/attack/build actions you'd expect in Root. Most notable of these actions is the ability to build/move a tunnel. Should they do that, then all the warriors built up in their burrow spill out on pretty much any location on the map ready to attack the surprised defenders. In addition to these basic actions they can also gain more actions by recruiting their royalty. Every titled individual you recruit has an associated action, varying from extra battles, to earning extra points. Be careful though, if your buildings get torn down you will loose the favour of your faction and thus the associated special abilities. You might be excellent at surprise attacks, but can you adequately defend the land you claim?


The Corvid Conspiracy is from the underworld of organized crime. These are a more nuanced faction, not prone to a fair fight. The crows get a chance to recruit warriors in every location of a colour at the start of their turn, then they have 3 actions to perform the typical actions you get in Root. In addition to this they can retire a warrior to lay out a Plot. There are four kinds of plots, some are your basic infrastructure, while others are snares to trap opponents troops in place or bombs which decimate forces foolish enough to attack them. The trick then is to always baffle and confuse your foes. Is that undefended plot token a bomb ready to blow them up, or is it an extortion plot, to increase your hand draw. Plots stay face down until you can start a turn with a warrior with them, at which point they earn you points based on the number of revealed plots you have, and their active effect begins. As the Corvid Conspiracy your biggest problem is being predictable, if your opponents manage to read you like a book your plots will never make it off the ground and your bombs will lay dormant.

Finally in the box you will find the two new maps. The lake is a fairly typical map, with the exception of the gigantic lake taking up the centre of it. This means that movement from opposite ends of the lake can be extremely difficult. The lake has one ferry along its shores, and players can use this to travel from the clearing the ferry is in to any clearing adjacent to the lake. Since you take the ferry with you, those troops had better not need reinforcements. The Mountain is a map that keeps evolving. Featuring a central tower which awards the owner of that clearing an extra point at the end of their turn, the map encourages combat over that contentious spot. A large amount of the routes in the game will start carved in, you can sacrifice a card at the start of your turn to dig one of these tunnels out, providing you with a point as well as a new route to launch an attack from!


Amy’s Final Thoughts

The Underworld expansion is a great way to expand your Root gameplay. The two new maps do wonders to keep things fresh and interesting even without the new factions. They also help prove the nuances of the new factions introduced. The stonking big lake or caved in tunnels don't do much to limit the movement of the moles! Of the two factions the moles seemed the easiest to understand. They were able to launch devastating sneak attacks, but themselves are very vulnerable to counterattacks. If you manage to knock out their buildings then you lower their card and troop economy and knock out their leaders, taking them down to a painfully slow two actions a turn.


The Corvid Conspiracy is more nuanced and their method to victory is far from obvious. It often feels like you have to choose between placing down a plot or having any troop presence. But those plots are incredibly powerful, not only do they always bite back (every plot does one automatic hit when attacked), but the bombs genuinely make you afraid to attack them. Playing against the mechanical players from The Clockwork Expansion I almost felt sorry for them as they fell for one obvious bomb after another. Against a human player this faction is all about the bluff, which means it won't be for everyone.

While The Clockwork Expansion felt like a must-have for two player gaming (the addition of just one or two mechanical players paved the way for being able to combine factions far more freely), The Underworld expansion is far more of a typical expansion. It adds more factions, more maps, more gameplay, more fun. Is it essential? No, not at all. But all the Root factions play differently, so having more of them adds not only a new way to play, but countless new combinations of potential games. What both of these factions manage to do is strike behind enemy lines, meaning that no-where on the map ever feels safe.


Fi’s Final Thoughts

For me, trying a new faction in Root always feels like Russian Roulette. I'm always afraid I'm going to find one I don't like, because, honestly, I still don't believe that I enjoy this game so much! My worry is that I'll find a faction that's too heavily focused on strategic movement, area control or really mean combat, but so far I've been very fortunate.

With The Underworld Expansion, I've been fortunate to discover the moles! They are definitely my favourite faction so far and I'm not even good at using them yet. If I'm bad at something I typically don't like it, but I can see the light at the end of the tunnel (no pun intended!) with the moles. Building your hand up to five cards early is key so that you're recruiting nobles rather than squires and then you just need to keep control of the map by being opportunistic with your burrows. I don't feel like I need to dominate the map, just make sure that I keep enough active locations to play my cards. The moles worked well in a competitive two player game as well as a two player cooperative game with one robotic player.


The new maps are also a nice touch, but perhaps one that's more needed for veteran players. We are still perfectly happy on the base game map and really didn't use many of the new features. No-one took the ferry across the lake and no-one dug up a tunnel in our games. I did conquer the tower in the underground network of tunnels though and found that to be a good anchor for my strategy.

The Underworld Expansion doesn't feel like an essential expansion, but for me personally it's a great one. My recommendation would be to try it out and if you particularly click with one of the factions like I did, then your Root collection just got a little bit larger as a result!


You Might Like...
  • Two fantastic factions with unique mechanisms.
  • Options for aggressive and more passive players.
You Might Not Like...
  • The crows are possibly one of the more frustrating factions to play against and we might avoid them in a competitive game. Being hit with a bomb would be too devastating!
  • The new maps don't feel instantly accessible for less experienced players - we just played the maps like a basic map with variant connections.

The Verdict
7.5/10 Root: The Underworld Expansion is another solid expansion to Root. The two new factions feel extremely unique and certainly stand out from the base game, and yet we found them to be no more complex. The strategies for the new factions are deep and something you will want to explore over a number of games and the new maps add even more variety for experienced players, wanting to dive even deeper into the world of Root. For us, the great new factions have given Root: The Underworld Expansion a space on the shelf.


Root: The Underworld Expansion was a review copy kindly provided to us by Leder Games.

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