Review – Root: The Clockwork Expansion

Root: The Clockwork Expansion. Leder Games 2020. Designed by Benjamin Schmauss & Cole Wehrle. Art by Kyle Ferrin.

One of the most talked about games in the last few years that wasn’t Gloomhaven has been the asymmetrical, cute-animals-in-the-woods wargame Root. Last year at Origins, when we were actually able to get a copy after it had been sold out forever, we couldn’t wait to get it to the table.

Unfortunately, the two-player game isn’t as robust as you would think. Out of the box, unless you play with the Marquise de Cat and the Eyrie Dynasties, the game is really hard to pull off. The other two factions rely so heavily on interaction with multiple opponents that it gets old fast. Still, I couldn’t help but to stare at this magical box, with its adorable-yet-deadly creatures, and dream about what could be.

Then, Leder Games released Root: the Clockwork Expansion. Finally, an official way to play with automated players! I could play as any faction I want in a two player game! Heck, I could play solo! Officially!

A solo game…with 4 factions!

I say “officially” because the Clockwork Expansion is an official release of the fan-created Better Bot Project by Benjamin Schmauss. Schmauss has been working on this thing pretty much since the original game was released, and it has been a popular-but-not-printer-friendly way to open the game up to low player counts.

So, does it open the game up?

ABSOLUTELY. In the last 2 weeks, I’ve played seven solo games, trying each of the base factions with various configurations of two, three, and even four automated players. I played as the Marquise, trying to maintain her hold on the forest against the Electric Eyrie. I played as the Woodland Alliance, gaining sympathy and rising up against the tyranny of the Mechanical Marquise and the Eyrie. I finally, FINALLY got to play as the Vagabond, slipping in and out of the woods and causing chaos to the Automated Alliance, the Marquise, and the Eyrie.

The most surprising thing about the Clockwork expansion is just how smoothly it plays. The automated factions follow different rules than their fleshy counterparts, but they still feel like the factions they represent. The Electric Eyrie still slowly pushes its way across the board. The Automated Alliance bases still pop up out of nowhere, killing all enemies that happen to be hanging out there, The Vagabot still dances around the board, aiding players and stealing cards.

And though the AI factions operate via flowcharts, the fact that they use a random card draw to dictate their actions for the round means that they still act in surprising ways. As the Alliance, I had set up a base and gotten a few recruits and commanders, ready to do some serious damage. Before I could act, I found myself swarmed with birds, my base was destroyed, and I was back to the drawing board. And the worst part was that if the Eyrie had just rolled worse in the fight they had with the cats in a different clearing, they would have ignored me.

Pride comes before the fall.

All this said, I still did find myself referring back to the Laws of Rootbotics book to figure out some of the more ambiguous actions in a turn. There are numbers you put out on the board to determine the “priority” of each clearing. For some actions, the AI opponents will head for the highest priority clearing, and for some, they head for the lowest priority. And the fact that high numbers are lower priority just adds another complication on top of the complications that arise from the flowcharts.

Additionally, the Electric Eyrie, as printed, doesn’t work. It is possible for that faction to get stuck in a loop. Luckily, you can print off the corrected movement from Board Game Geek and just tape it to the player board. Still, these are all pretty complex AIs, so the fact that there’s only one game-breaking problem in the first printing means something, right?

But is it challenging?

If you have been following our On the Table posts, you’ll notice that my win/loss ratio isn’t…stellar. I probably win 1/4 of all games I play. In the seven games of Root I’ve played recently against the AIs, I have won exactly one game. Admittedly, I was rusty on the rules, so mistakes were made in the first couple of games. And maybe I wasn’t aggressive enough as the Vagabond. And maybe I relied to heavily on the Eyrie and the Marquise taking each other out when I was the Alliance. And maybe…I’m just…not good?


Anyway, I found the AIs to be challenging, but rarely completely overwhelming. After I got the hang of things (so, like, game 3), I always felt like victory was within reach, if only I could stretch out my paws and take it. And if you’re better than I am at Root (which is likely), there are Difficulty and Trait cards that add abilities to the AIs to make them tougher (or easier, if that’s your jam). I am not even at the point where I would add those in, but a quick glance at them tells me that they don’t disrupt the flow of the game; they just allow the AIs to get more out of their actions.

If you love the Root base game and you play with less than 4 players, I would highly recommend this expansion. For the OMO household, it has taken a game that has sat on the shelf, collecting dust, and gotten more play out of it in 2 weeks than it has had for the entire year we have owned it.

I’m giving it 9 out of 10 victory points. It’s a solid, nearly-perfect expansion to a brilliant game.

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