Root: The Underworld Expansion by Leder Games
Players: 2 to 6 (with expansion)
Playtime: 90 to 120 minutes
Perfect for: Players who enjoy complex asymmetrical strategic competition with fantastic balance and art.
Root: The Underworld Expansion continues the game of woodland domination! Building upon Root (base game necessary for expansion), The Underworld introduces four new components to the universe by way of two factions and two maps. Players must outwit, outplay, and outmaneuver their foes by leveraging their own special set of skills while dodging the machinations of others.
The Corvid Conspiracy and the Underground Duchy are the two factions joining the “party” in Root: The Underworld Expansion. The Corvid (which is a group of stout-billed birds) are trap-setters. They score victory points by placing face-down tokens in clearings across the board and activating them at opportune moments. For example, when the bomb token gets flips, it wipes out the majority of creatures and buildings there, and the snare trap prevents enemies from spawning in or leaving that particular clearing.
While the Corvid are openly threatening, by contrast the Underground Duchy are more devious. Their ranks assemble in an off-the-map burrow and quietly infiltrate the board by building markets and citadels to establish power. On their turn, they can reveal cards matching the clearings they have a presence in to win the favor of ministers. When a minister becomes “swayed,” the player scores victory points and is able to take extra actions on their turn (as defined by the minister card that gets activated). However, should a Duchy building get destroyed, the highest-value minister goes back into the player’s pile and while they can be built again on a future turn, the victory points do not get rescored later.
In addition to the forest-dwellers, The Underworld Expansion also comes with two new maps. The Lake allows players to travel large distances by ferry with the ability to dock at various places, meaning movement in general is a bit more unpredictable than usual. The Mountain map includes blocked passages (which players can permanently uncover by using cards), and a centralized “pass” that scores the owner a victory point at the end of their turn for successfully holding it. Each presents new twists on the traditional gameplay.
What works in Root: The Underworld Expansion are the two incredibly balanced, distinctive, and entertaining new factions. Leder Games continues to impress in this series which now has 8 completely unique characters, each of which presents a new gameplay style. In the case of Underworld, both the Corvid and Duchy have straightforward objectives and paths to victory, but optimizing actions is both highly engaging and interactive. The two new groups are just plain fun and offer new interesting challenges to play both as and against.
Players who do not enjoy direct competition and aggression may not enjoy Root: The Underworld Expansion as much as others. At the heart of this series, and this expansion in particular, is sabotaging opponents for gain either overtly or subtly. It can certainly be disheartening to watch the birds of destructive chaos set off an explosion in your clearing, watching several of your warriors and buildings meet such a quick obliteration. And the Duchy are incredibly sneaky—if they play their cards right (pun 100% intended), they can score a massive amount of points and win the game suddenly.
Root: The Underworld Expansion is a fantastic addition to the base game. The maps are novel, but the factions are what make the box incredibly special. Very highly recommended for all fans of Root!
Recommended if you like: Root, Vast: The Crystal Caverns