Review – Root: The Underworld Expansion
Conspiracies, Duchies, and King-of-the-Hill
Leder Games’ Root has made a lot of noise on the gaming scene. Root: The Underworld Expansion is the 3rd expansion to come out for the game. Is it oversaturated, or has Patrick Leder once again figured out how to add more to the tight, asymmetric gameplay of Root?
The Underworld Expansion adds 4 main components to the game: 2 new maps and 2 new factions. The maps are the Mountain Pass, which adds tunneling and king-of-the-hill features to the game, and the Lake, which adds a ferry for traveling great distances. The 2 new factions are moles, intent on burrowing their way into the woodland, and corvids, who sneakily spread conspiracies.
The Mountain Pass has a dark, gothic color scheme to it, which fits well with the moles’ peach and the corvid’s purple meeples. The Mountain Pass includes 6 tiles that cover different pathways, which players can tunnel through during the game to open up new movement options and score victory points. Standing imposing over the game board is the pass, which is a wooden tower in the middle clearing. The tower looks like it’s straight out of Mordor, and what’s fun is that if you control the clearing with the tower at the end of your turn, you’ll score a victory point (bonus: your meeples can sit atop the tower, asserting their dominance!).
The Lake map reorients the clearing around a giant lake in the southeastern corner. It looks particularly bright and vernal, especially when switching from the Mountain Pass. The main gameplay mechanic here is the wooden ferry, which players can use to travel across the lake (obeying the usual movement rules) to any other clearing. This map can have a lot more interaction than usual (because of the ferry movements and crowded northwestern part of the map) or a lot less interaction than usual (because it’s beneficial for a player to maintain control of the ferry for extended periods of time). Traveling with the ferry grants the traveler a victory point, so bulking up 2 lakeside clearings you can travel back and forth from on your turn is a viable, point-generating strategy.
The Underground Duchy is one of the deeper factions lore-wise, and I enjoy considering their political position as I try and sway nobles to aid my war efforts. Nobles are important because without them the Underground Duchy doesn’t do much on its turn; however, with certain nobles in play, they can run the board. Much like the Eyrie Dynasty, if the Underground Duchy runs unchecked, they will take the game over quickly. The Underground Duchy also makes for a great faction to use in a 2-player game. My wife and I found Eyrie Dynasty vs. Underground Duchy especially fun because of how each can become very powerful very quickly.
The Corvid Conspiracy is a much-needed faction for Root. Marquise de Cat is always a go-to for me when assigning new players a faction, but it’s often overwhelming for a new player to think about controlling the many clearings of the forest while everyone else is teaming up against him. The Corvid Conspiracy is a simple faction that’s still a ton of fun to play. They place conspiracy tokens upside-down and can trigger any they have on the board at the beginning of their turn, surprising other players, foiling their plans, and gaining victory points for themselves. These guys fill any game they’re in with an added layer of tension as other players try to guess which plot tokens are where, and an added layer of fun back-stabbing opportunities.
On par with Root, the components are excellent. Kyle Ferrin’s artwork is intriguing as ever, and the color contrast between the 2 maps is refreshing. I particularly enjoy the wooden tower and the wooden raft. Leder Games could have easily made these cardboard, but they didn’t, and that shows how committed they are to product quality. Besides, a wooden tower is much more stable for holding your victorious warriors as they look upon the peasants groveling before the pass!
The only thing I can think of that would make this expansion better is if the Corvid Conspiracy was viable for a 3-player game. You can do it, but it heavily limits the factions the other 2 players can choose from. For a faction that’s a little more complex like the Lizard Cult, this isn’t a big issue, but I want the Corvid Conspiracy to be a part of any game I’m teaching new players (which are often only 3-4 player games) because they’re simple and fun, which is how you get people to experience the joy of a game.
Unless you plan on playing with 1-2 players and adding in bots frequently, The Underworld Expansion is the Root expansion to get. The other expansions are good, and I may end up eating my words as I begin reviewing The Marauder Expansion, but The Underworld Expansion is the superior Root expansion, and anyone who’s looking to expand their Root experience should check it out.
Root: The Underworld Expansion is an ideal addition to the base Root. Two new maps add different scenery and tweak gameplay enough to keep it fresh, but not too much where it feels like you’re learning a new faction over again. The Underground Duchy provides a strong challenger to Marquise de Cat and Eyrie Dynasty, as well as another viable faction for a 2-player game. The Corvid Conspiracy gives new players a fun, simple introduction to the game, and is a favorite faction of mine to play as because of the bluffing and double-bluffing their plot tokens encourage.
A review copy was kindly provided by Leder Games.
The Bottom Line
If you can only get a single expansion for Root, this is the one to get.