Root: The Marauder Expansion | Designer Diary 1 - Backstory
Before we get to talking about the new stuff, I wanted to take a moment to survey the general state of the game. I wrote the first designer diaries for Root nearly three and half years ago. The game has changed my life and the lives of everyone who works at Leder Games. It's given the company and it's employees financial stability and peace of mind. Root allowed us to take on really ambitious projects that I would have never dreamed we could tackle. The game has also given us the freedom to explore smaller projects. I also think it's been good for the hobby generally. I usually cringe when folks use that word—there are so many communities that play games, and I think it's hard to talk about anything as “the hobby.” But, to the degree such a broad community exists, I think Root has added to its number, and, in its own small way, changed the sorts of games folks play. Those are all incredible things. Taken together, they are a remarkable testament to the efforts of every single person on our staff, from creative staff working on the game's new content, to the operations and sales teams that make it possible for the game to continue to sustain us.
For all of these reasons, I have to think about Root very differently than any other game on which I've worked. While I'm not shy about revisiting old titles, I adore the feeling of being really and truly finished with a game. I'm not the kind of person that wants to work on expansions for years after a game is finished. I tend to want to move on after completing a big project. This is even true of Root.
When Root was first designed, I thought that 6 factions was an absolute limit. When my partner asked me how I felt after we finished the game, I told her that I was exhausted. I felt like I had just finished designing six games in tandem. I couldn't imagine a world where there was any area left in the system to explore.
It didn't take long for folks to prove me wrong.
Shortly after the game was released, back in August of 2018, we started getting fan factions. At first, there were just a couple. We were delighted and eager to seem them in action. However, it didn't take long before that steady trickle became a torrent. By that winter, a rough accounting suggested there were nearly 50 minor factions. This meant that, since the game's release, there had been about two generated each week. Even Patrick got in the game, posting some fan factions that would become the seed for Root: Underworld.
From the start, I will admit I was uneasy about the notion of expanding the game further. On the one hand, I saw that there was room for the system to be expanded and there was certainly demand. But, I also didn't want to be generating Root content for the next decade. I'm happiest when I'm breaking new ground, and I wanted to apply some of the lessons learned in Root on new projects. I also felt that there were certain system limitations in Root, particularly around setup, that made it difficult to expand indefinitely.
For weeks I dithered. I felt protective of Root but also didn't want to be stuck with it. I'm so thankful Patrick tolerated my uncertainty. Eventually he asked me if he could take lead on a new Root expansion the content he had been working on. For the record, this was not the kind of question he needed to ask me; he's the owner of the company after-all! It was yet another instance of Patrick being generous and considerate. I was glad he asked. We talked it over and came up with a general plan: I'd serve as a general developer and a kind of Root-czar, but he'd handle the heavy lifting of the design and Nick Brachmann would serve as the development lead. The Underworld Expansion was now underway in earnest.
On the back end the project ran really well, but I found myself feeling a little left out of the design process and I wanted some way to participate. The Exiles and Partisan's deck was born out of that. While I didn't feel a burning passion to produce a new faction, I loved working on a game-play element that could build on all of the existing work. It also allowed me to revisit a core element of the game and rebuild it so that it would be better suited to strange faction mixes. The original deck is tuned primarily tuned around just the first four factions, the new deck had a much more open and modular design that could be helpful to whatever sorts of factions we wanted to design in the future.
In the end, I was delighted by how the Underworld Expansion and the other mini expansions turned out. It's about as close to a perfect expansion as could be imagined. It didn't suffer from complexity creep and the material folded beautifully into the existing content. In fact, it did more than that: it made the old content better. Playing the Cats on the tunnel map offers a completely new set of challenges. I love the choices the Eyrie faces when squaring off against the Duchy. The game felt really and truly fresh even if you just swapped out one of the starting four factions with any of the new factions.
After the game's release, it seems like our internal feelings were pretty widely shared. The expansion sold well and was well-reviewed. Instead of tapering off demand for new Root content, it was clear that it was increasing the appetite. It looked like Root wasn't going anywhere.
Patrick and I spent a lot of time talking about Root after Underworld came out. I was happy with his work, but still felt like I might have been hasty turning over expansion design to him (that's me dithering again!). We talked about a number of scenarios, including one where I'd take lead on the next Root expansion, and we'd take turns. The basic idea was that by splitting the work, we could give each other design breaks. While one of us took care of Root, the other could go off and try something new.
Well, that was the plan. Then two things happened. First, I got wrapped up in a truly massive game, Oath. Rather than being the kind of project I could do while taking a break from Root, Oath gobbled up my creative time for the better part of a year. Second, there was this whole global pandemic thing. You've probably heard about it.
The studio went remote in March and most of the employees remain remote. Thankfully, everyone stayed safe and healthy and we were able to largely keep on track. But the switch to remote stopped us from having the kind of weekly game jams that generated new ideas. I didn't think this mattered much because I was so wrapped up in Oath. But, when it came time for me to present the new Root material for the next expansion I had only a few design sketches. The pandemic had given me a lot of focus on a big project at the expense of not being able to shift from one project to another. It had also exhausted me. Before Covid19, it wasn't difficult to put in a 50 or 60 hour week, but working remote made everything harder so I'd often have to spend all of those hours doing what would have only been 30 hours of work earlier. I was tapped out, and I did not want to jump from being project lead in one big project to a second big project.
So Patrick and I stepped back and looked at all of the projects we had in the cooker. There were a few things in early design that I really wanted to work on and that grabbed me with the same urgency that had grabbed me back when I started working on Oath. And we had a whole studio full of folks who were interested on working on Root. The course of action was pretty clear. I'd help oversee the Root project, do a little design work at the system level. Patrick and the team would take the primary design and development.
Though we divided the work in a similar fashion to Underworld, there was one critical difference. In the intervening years, Patrick and I had watched Root grow from a few scattered conversations here on BGG and elsewhere to a real community of players. We were no longer the most Root experienced players in the world—heck, we probably wouldn't even place in the top 50. For this reason, instead of just building something that sounded cool, we wanted to make sure the game grew in a way that responded to how it was being played. Root was and is very much a living product, and we want to be sensitive to the community that has gathered around it.
This game us some clear prerogatives. First, we wanted to offer two factions that worked at pretty much every player count. We also wanted to make sure that these factions explored new dynamics from other higher reach factions.
Second, we wanted to fill out a few elements of the core system to make the game easier to expand in the future. This meant offering a new setup/draft system for advanced players who want a way to quickly generate interesting configurations.
Finally, we wanted to revisit Root at lower player counts, especially two players. This lead to the creation of the minor factions and the influence system.
Taken together, it's our hope that all of these elements work together to strengthen the game's foundation and offer tons of new space for us all to explore. In the coming weeks we'll be saying a lot more about the origins of the new factions and how they work. I'll also be writing about the shape and future of the broader system. But enough about that. For now, without further delay, it's my pleasure to announce Root's next expansion:
• The Warlord is both charismatic and terrifying. He rules over a vast horde of warriors recently arrived to the woodland and is interested only in its domination. To help speed his conquest, he lights massive fires which can spread throughout the woods and destroy the buildings of other factions. The Warlord also interacts with crafted items, which he can plunder from players. These items increase his strength, but also cause him to develop an increasingly fearsome monomania.
• The Stone Seekers are strangers to the Woodland, here only to recover the scattered and lost relics of an ancient civilization. The Seekers work to establish way-stations across the woodland and form alliances with other factions in hopes of recovering their relics more quickly. They will often find themselves deep within enemy territory as they search for their relics. Thankfully their finely crafted armor makes them difficult to dislodge.
Both of these factions are suitable to Root's two-player game, bringing the total number of two-player factions up to five without the use of bots.
Root: The Marauder Expansion also introduces a new level to the conflict for the woodland: minor factions! These small factions can be used at any player count and introduce surprising new power combinations as well as a chess-like tension to lower player count games of Root.
Finally, The Marauder Expansion also includes a new set-up draft system suitable for both casual and competitive play.
- Cole Wehrle
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