Throughout the woodland rumours are spreading about a new foe, one made of metal and bolts whose tactics and behaviour seems almost… animatronic. These are troubling times for cats and birds alike, as they convene at the war table trying to formulate strategies to topple the reign of these encroaching automated factions. Join me for a stroll through the forests of Root as we explore The Clockwork Expansion which introduces four new solo bots to square off against. The previous solo mode to Root, the Mechanical Marquise which were featured in the Riverfolk Expansion, was more or less universally panned as a rather lacklustre experience. The question is whether or not The Clockwork Expansion by author Benjamin Schmauss will prove to be a more enjoyable experience of playing Root solitaire.
Full disclosure: a review copy of Root and The Clockwork Expansion was kindly provided by publisher Leder Games
Since its first publication, Root has become as popular for its innovative game mechanisms and asymmetrical style of play as Kyle Ferrin’s stunning art; his illustrations of cute forest critters being at war with each other have fascinated crowds of people around the world including yours truly as I find Root to be one of the most aesthetically impressive board games ever published. The Clockwork Expansion proves once again that Ferrin is one of the leading artists in the board game industry and rightly so, as the robotic iterations of the faction animals are equal parts endearing as they are whimsical. The boards for the automated players are made with the same attention to detail and graphical layout as the ones included in the base game, resulting in a solitaire experience that is incredibly smooth in terms of performing the actions of the bots.
There is however one aspect of the components in The Clockwork Expansion that needs to be addressed and that concerns the board for the Electric Eyrie. Since the original printing there has been a major erratum to how the automated birds perform their daylight phase, a correction that will be implemented on future print runs of the expansion. Until then publisher Leder Games has made the files available for download on Board Game Geek.
THE SOLITAIRE EXPERIENCE
The Clockwork Expansion features four new automated versions of the base game factions: Mechanical Marquise 2.0, Electric Eyrie, Automated Alliance and finally the Vagabot. Now, I will be the first to admit that going into this review I was cautiously optimistic as to whether or not the bots would be able to recreate anything resembling playing Root in the company of friends at the game table. Well shame on me for doubting the design work of Benjamin Schmauss because the way these automated opponents manage to mimic the asymmetrical traits that define each faction is shockingly accurate.
Regardless of which bot you choose to incorporate into your solitaire game of Root they all share similar characteristics which are chronicled in the “Law of Rootbotics”: they have no hand of cards and they are impervious to ambush cards being played against them during battle resolution. On its turn a bot will draw and reveal the top card of the deck, this is known as the Order card. Depending on faction the automated opponent will then perform a set of actions which are all laid out in detail on the player board. If a situation arises where a bot has more than one clearing to choose from then ties are resolved using a system of priority markers which are assigned to each clearing as part of setup.
In theory all of this sounds rather simplistic and to a certain extent it is, you simply flip a card and resolve the corresponding actions on the bot’s player board. The real magic comes from how the automated opponents manage to mimic the tactical and strategical behaviour of each faction. This is a result of the brilliant foundation created by author Cole Werhle and the way the asymmetry of each woodland warring party feeds into one another rather than being at odds. But The Clockwork Expansion also adds its own personality into the mix by including variable difficulty and traits.
Each bot comes with a set of four trait cards, characteristics that alter the “personality” and the way the automated opponent behaves. For example, the Mechanical Marquise 2.0 might have a card in play which allows them to revive warriors at the field hospital similar to the multiplayer equivalent. Or how about the Relentless card, which allows the Electric Eyrie to remove all defenceless buildings and tokens in any clearing with Eyrie warriors! The thing that is so great about the trait cards, aside from the fact that they make the bots feel even more like human players, is the fact that you can mix and match to your hearts content. Want to play a vanilla solitaire game of Root without any traits? Go for it. Would you rather compete against a highly dynamic, more cutthroat bot? Just add as many traits as you like. This combined with variable difficulty levels makes for an expansion with tremendous amounts of variability and replay value.
Sitting down to review The Clockwork Expansion my biggest concern was whether or not it would actually work, could this expansion manage to replicate the feeling of playing Root against human opponents down to a tee? For me, the short answer is no. For many, including myself, one of the charms of Root as a board game design originates from the social interaction between the players, where agreements and ingenious manoeuvres form an essential part of what is so fascinating about the game in question. But and this is a big ol’ but, it comes awfully close. In terms of providing a satisfying solitaire gaming experience The Clock Expansion is in my eyes nothing short of a triumph.
It is undoubtedly the case that some of the bots are easier to manage than others and operating them requires a degree of commitment on behalf of the solo player so as to properly implement the automated opponent’s actions. But the way Benjamin Schmauss has managed to create dummy players that act and feel like their human counterpart is simply amazing. And because the bots can be incorporated into a multiplayer game in order to pad out the player count The Clockwork Expansion becomes even more impressive. Personally, I cannot wait to see what future solo compatible content publisher Leder Games has in store and I for one am thankful that The Clockwork Expansion allows me to enjoy thoroughly Root regardless of player count.