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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Wednesday 10 June 2020

The Game Shelf Reviews:- Root: The Clockwork Expansion

Game: Root: The Clockwork Expansion

Publisher: Leder Games

Designer: Benjamin Schmauss, Cole Wehrle

Year: 2020

Root is a game that seems to have huge popularity and every time a new expansion hits Kickstarter or arrives with backers, the buzz for Root is very apparent. It’s a game that we avoided for a long time, in spite of wanting to know what all of the fuss was about. The fact that Root is essentially a war game wrapped up in board game paper, is both highly intriguing but also off-putting for us. Tactical games with area control elements will often be a miss for us as gaming partners.

Eventually the pull of Root was enough for us to try out the base game, and so long as I am playing as the rather non-confrontational Vagabond, then I have really enjoyed discovering the interlocking mechanisms of Root as a truly asymmetric game. Cute meeples and enchanting artwork have no doubt helped to get me excited for a game that wouldn’t normally be in my mechanical wheelhouse.

The Clockwork Expansion introduces robotic versions of each faction for use in solo play, cooperative play and to add factions to competitive, low player count games.


Root is a war game in which players take the role of one of 4 factions. The cats rule the woods at the start of the game and must manage resource production to fortify their position. The birds are an invading force who must sweep in, but are held to a rigid set of rules on how they can act, failing to do so leads to turmoil. The woodland creatures have started a rebellious alliance, spreading insurgents throughout the land to overthrow whichever of the two other forces currently rules. Finally the vagabond is a wandering adventurer, happy to trade with the other factions, or fight them as they deem fit, all while pursuing their own goals.

Each faction not only has different goals, but a different way of playing. Learning to use a new faction is almost a matter of learning an entirely new game. Fortunately each faction has a large faction board which guides you through the options available to you. Naturally the balance of the game works best when all four factions are up in arms against each other, foiling plans and not letting any one faction get too far ahead. But four players aren't always available. You can play with fewer factions at a lower player count, though this can change the feel of the game.

The Clockwork Expansion saw this problem and decided to fix it. Included are general automa rules and then specific rules and faction boards for automating any of the four Root factions. Generally speaking they work in a very similar way to a human player using the faction, through instead of a hand of cards to help them determine their options the automas typically draw a card from the deck to decide how they will act. You draw a card for them, then follow the list of instructions as determined by the cards colour. This will make them do the normal actions you'd expect for their faction, for example the vagabond will still trade for items, complete quests and still has to repair their equipment if they get attacked. Often the factions will be especially powerful/aggressive when you draw a bird (wild) card from the deck for them. With the Clockwork Expansion you can automate any number of the factions, potentially even having four automas duck it out for the title of king of robots if you wanted to!

Amy’s Final Thoughts

Root was a game that I avoided for longer than I'd care to admit. While the box did tell me that it played 2-4, I was certain that what it really did was play 4, then compromise to play the lower counts. When I finally got round to playing it (after some time of persevering through the rulebook) I was pleasantly surprised at how well it did work for two players.

While it wasn't the broken, unbalanced mess I feared. It was still missing a little something, or rather two somethings. Games were as notable for the factions that were missing as the ones that were present. Opening up the Clockwork Expansion was like opening a chest in Zelda, only with another painful rule-book to read afterwards. So I guess they got a bit of that damned owl in there too!

There isn't a huge amount of content in the expansion, some rules, a small deck of cards, the four "player" boards and a handful of tokens that are assigned to each clearing and used to determine the AI's priority when they have two otherwise equal targets. What content there is is of course complete with the wonderful, cute, artworks as seen in the original game, only this time with robotic versions of your favourite faction leaders. But this isn't an expansion about adding new content, but instead unlocking the content in the game you already own.

While you do get some rules for playing co-op (which is as simple as all humans must win before any of the robots win), ninety percent of this expansion is purely about automating the factions you aren't playing as. and it does that ninety percent exceedingly well. The automas don't act like a natural human does, but they do act in a competent and threatening way. We did find that they were a little easy out of the box, but each faction does have a choice of special cards that adjust the rules in that automa's favour, letting you find the right difficulty balance for you.

The key question for The Clockwork Expansion is does it work? Does adding this expansion give you the full Root experience when playing with a lower (or even solo) player count. And to that the answer is a resounding yes. There might not be a lot in the box, the rule book might still be written in a way that makes you have to re-read each page three times to work out what is going on and the player boards are still the most useful and complete guides on how to play I've every seen in a game. In other words its still Root, just a little bit more robotic!

Fi’s Final Thoughts

Our experience with the base game of Root at two players have been good and it is certainly a step above Vast: The Mysterious Manor in terms of how it deals with the two-player count. There’s a way for you to be able to combine all factions for two players games right out of the box and there’s never a time where you draw a card and find it can’t be used because you don’t have the right factions in the game. However, there’s also no doubt that you’re missing out on something. Root is really a masterpiece of asymmetric game design and you really only truly see all of the interwoven threads when there are more factions at the table.

Given that 90% of our gaming is with two players, the Clockwork Expansion has brought a huge amount of new life and replayability to Root for us. In particular, I have explored playing as more factions because I’m less worried about Amy simply out-thinking me and murdering all of my crows or cats! Sure there are still times when you’ll need to attack each other – many factions reply on that for points, but it’s a negotiation – “How about if I wipe you out in this location, will you still be able to have a good turn next round and stop the Marquis de Cat from getting too many points?”. The standard cooperative mode has felt quite easy to win as a result of two players working together, and maybe it wouldn’t be quite as easy solo, but that’s no problem because there’s cards that help you to amp up the difficulty of your robotic opponents too.

Root: The Clockwork Expansion, is definitely my favourite way to play Root. In cooperative mode it doesn’t feel like a dummy player (or players) at all, it’s just a common enemy that happens to work in a somewhat similar way to a player character. As a lover of cooperative games, I can’t really call the robot factions admin, if I don’t classify the infection deck in Pandemic as an admin problem. If you use the robot factions in a competitive game, then yes it’s a dummy player with quite a bit of fiddliness and that’s not really how I like to play, but for many solo players this might be seen as par for the course.

Not only has the Clockwork Expansion become my favourite way to play Root, but also it’s been a tool that’s helped my familiarity and comfort level with more of the Root factions, meaning that I’m more likely to try them out in a competitive game in the future. I’d highly recommend this expansion as a first expansion for players just getting into the world of Root, as well as for solo players and players who are excited about the idea of a cooperative experience.

You Might Like...
  • Root is all of a sudden a fantastic choice for two players!
  • For those who aren't too keen on back-stabbing, then the Clockwork expansion is a great way to explore other factions beyond the rather tame Vagabond.
  • Working cooperatively is a whole different gameplay experience that involves tough choices about who to help and who to hurt on any turn.
You Might Not Like...
  • If you're not used to the amount of admin in solo mode automas then you might want to avoid playing with two clockwork factions.
  • Some people want to avoid dummy players at all costs.

The Verdict
8/10 Root: The Clockwork Expansion, might not be essential for everyone, but it’s absolutely essential for us. The cooperative mode is now our favourite way to play and as relatively new Root players it’s helped to build familiarity and comfort with all of the factions and their interactions. If you game group is super happy in the cut-throat world of Root and you don’t have a need to play solo, then perhaps you can skip this expansion, but we really love it!

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

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