Rats & Badgers
Root has been so successful that you’ll be pressed to find a description of any other title by Leder Games not prefaced with ‘from the makers of Root’. It has spoiled the community of enthusiasts for asymmetry in board games and really sets a standard for what an expansion should have in order to enhance gameplay instead of bloating it. Think about what the Riverfolk Company did to the way the Eyrie Dynasty was able to play. How many times did you avoid impeding turmoil by hiring those providential otters just before you wouldn’t be able to build a roost? Fast forward two years, the Corvid Conspiracy came along bringing elements of bluffing that were unprecedented in Root. When playing against the crows, I am always inclined to ignore their plots because I hate taking a hit when battling an unrevealed one, but leave them alone for too long, and they’ll end up scoring 8 points in one turn and catapult towards the 30 Victory Point mark.
So it is with great excitement that we make way to the two new armies in this bloody and cute war: the rats and the badgers. The Marauder Expansion introduced the Lord of the Hundreds, a new rodent threat that is possibly the most destructive faction we’ve seen so far in these woods and the first to ever compete with the Vagabond for items, and the Keepers in Iron, adorable little guys, just minding their own business, so very unthreatening in the way they are forced to keep their numbers low, until you overlook them for long enough and they score 10 points in one turn. And we can also fatten our numbers up with mercenaries - or hirelings - now! More on that later.
The Lord of the Hundreds have one warrior that’s not like the others. Their big bad Warlord is a weapon of mass destruction on the board. Not only will it be recruiting 1 to 4 new rats in its clearing every turn, at the end of Daylight, it can move and battle up to 4 times, leaving a trail of casualties behind it. It’s also got a lot of feelings. Every turn, the Warlord’s mood changes, from an initial selection of 8 that thins downs throughout the game, and each comes with a buff. Whether it’s feeling Wrathful, which makes it deal an extra hit in battle, or Rowdy, which gets you an extra card to draw that turn, this guy is altering your mechanics slightly every turn.
They score at the end of their turn based on how many clearings they rule without any enemy pieces in them, for a maximum of 4 VPs per turn. That may sound slow in theory, when you remember that the Vagabond can in an ideal scenario finish 3 quests in a turn and score 12 points, but because these rats are an actual infestation, they will be obliterating enemy pieces very often, and will be scoring regularly. On top of their Warlord, they also have Mob tokens, which at their Birdsong removes all enemy buildings and tokens wherever they are, and spreads like wildfire. Think of the Alliance’s Revolt, except it doesn’t remove enemy warriors. In a 2 player game, the Hundreds will likely annihilate you, so you need to choose a faction that doesn’t take too much penalty from having pieces removed and that can respawn quickly.
The Keepers in Iron aren’t really here to battle, they just want to recover their relics so the unworthy don’t get their hands on them. During setup, you will distribute 12 of those among the forests of the board. They are tablets, jewellery and figures, 4 of each. Those are also the types that each of their waystations can be, which are the buildings the Keepers have. Then throughout their game, they are going to delve into forests to find these artefacts, and must move them towards their waystations in order to recover them, scoring 1 to 3 points, plus a bonus 2 if you’ve finished a set. A relic can only be recovered in a waystation that matches its type. What kind of beast would try to recover a tablet at a figure waystation?
Their actions work in a way that will remind you of the Eyrie Dynasty’s decree. They can add up to 10 cards to their Retinue and may perform one action per card there. Unlike the Eyries however, they don’t have to perform each of those actions, and they can move the cards around and even lose them without entering turmoil and being set too far back. They lose Retinue cards in one of two ways: when delving for a relic and when recovering one. The first of those means they will flip a relic token in a forest adjacent to the clearing they’re delving from and bring that relic into the clearing. Each relic token has a value of 1 to 3, revealed when you delve. That value is how many Victory Points the relic is worth but it also informs how many clearings adjacent to the forest the relic was in you must rule in order to keep the Retinue card. If you don’t rule that many, you still bring the relic successfully into your location, but you discard the card from your Retinue, meaning you will have one less possible action in your next turn.
When recovering, you remove a relic token from a clearing that has a waystation of the same type as the relic, place it on your faction board, and score the VPs. The value of the relic now informs how many clearings you must rule of the same suit as the one where you did the recovering. So if you recovered a tablet worth 3 VPs at a fox clearing, you must rule 3 fox clearings on the board or you lose the Retinue card used in that recovery. Complex, but you’ll get the hang of it. At the end of their turn, the Keepers lose one warrior per clearing where they have 4 or more warriors, so unlike those pesky cats, there will never be hordes of badgers on the board.
Mercenaries? Yes, Please!
While the flashiest additions to the overall game are always the new factions, the Marauder Expansion introduces what is arguably the most welcome change there has ever been to Root: hirelings. These are mini versions of factions that you can have at your service and use for battle and, most importantly, for ruling. There have been, across multiple releases, one hireling version of each known faction of Root, plus a handful of extra ones. They usually have one action you can take per turn if you’re the player controlling them, and that action often mirrors something that faction has in the general game. For example, the Woodland Alliance based hirelings, named Spring Uprising, at Birdsong, can remove all enemy pieces from a clearing they have a warrior in, similarly to the Alliance’s revolt action. The Marquise based Forest Patrol have an ability similar to their Field Hospitals, and so on.
If you choose to add hirelings to your game, you will pick three of them, go through their setup, and they will be acquired by whichever player reaches the mark of 4 Victory Points, then 8, and finally 12. When you gain control of a hireling faction, you roll a die to determine how many turns you will control them for. Once that’s up, like the good mercenaries they are, they turn on you and go to an opponent instead, who will also roll the die, and this way they are always switching hands.
The reason why this is an incredible game changer is not so much due to the actions you can perform as them, but because they resolve a big problem in Root, which is the fact it is brilliantly designed to be played by 4 people, but it sort of falls apart the fewer players you have. The Marquise can go head to toe against the Eyries, but have you attempted a standoff between the Alliance and the Vagabond? Or imagine a faction that scores based on ruling, like the Lord of the Hundreds, when half the board is empty, which is always the case when the Marquise isn’t a play. The hirelings address that by simply filling up the board and making the game busy in an excellent way. They are optional too, so if you already have 4 or 5 players, you don’t have to add them, as the game will already have the faction presence it needs to function as expected.
How Does The Marauder Expansion Rank?
I’ve read opinions on all Root expansions before, where the Marauder one is said to be best for players who enjoy complexity, and their rules can be intimidating. I assume that’s exclusively due to the Keepers’ two different ways of losing cards form the Retinue, one based on forest adjacency, and one based on suits. That’s fair, but once you understand that rule, I don’t find this expansion overly complicated at all. The learning curve for the Keepers – or the Hundreds – is way less steep than the Vagabond’s (and their infamous 5-page rule section). And playing as them feels less convoluted than the Lizard Cult, since you’ve got much more control of what you do and where. In fact, in comparison to the other two expansions that introduced full factions, I would say this one has best average in terms of winning possibilities, since the Lizard Cult and the Corvid Conspiracy rarely secure a win to anyone but the most experienced – or luckiest – players.
On top of that, with the care put into fixing some of the game’s limitations with the hirelings, I would go as far as saying this is the expansion I would recommend the most, especially if you find it difficult to get at least 4 friends to play with you. 5 years into it, and they’re still introducing stuff that by no means makes the game less streamlined and fresh, and whatever they come up with next, I’ll be looking forward to it.