Rootlands is a 2 to 5 player game. Each player starts by picking an elemental kingdom fighting to rule the emerging magical land called the Rootlands. There are 5 kingdoms to pick from: Water, Woods, Valley, Mountains and Wasteland. Each kingdom provides a unique special power. The game starts by placing the first territory tiles on the table to start forming the map of the Rootlands. These tiles will each have an an elemental designation, such as mountains, and sometimes a special power, such as a castle. Players then start by recruiting characters to fight for them.
After that players begin normal play. Every player has 7 action cards to chose 4 to play each turn. The action cards are: 1 Regroup, 2 Explore, 3 Plan Tactics, 4 Study Magic, 5 Harvest, 6, Recruit, 7 Fortify and 8 Attack. After action cards have been shown players proceed to do their actions in order, starting with Action 1 Regroup, then moving to Action 2, etc . . . When all players have completed their actions, a new turn starts and the process repeats again.
Players acquire new land by attacking it. Players can participate in other player’s battles if they own tiles next to them. During battle, players use their character cards, plus any tactics and spells cast by their Spell Casters, to try to win. Characters get battle bonuses if they are fighting on their own element type, such as an elf in the woods, and if they are fighting with their own kind, such as two elves together. Also, in battles, cards are first played face down in a clockwise order starting with the attacker, and then revealed after all players have placed, so players need to guess what cards their opponent have placed in a battle. The winning players acquire the new land tile, which provides gold to recruit more characters and Victory Points to win.
Play continues until one player has taken over 6 connecting tiles and becomes the ruler of the Rootlands.
The central dynamic of Rootlands, the game I’m developing, is the process of trying to outthink your opponents. You build a hand by recruting character cards to your hand and then use the characters for battles with other players. You can see what character cards each player recruits but you don’t know how or when a player will deploy them in a battle.
Players place their cards in a battle face down and go arround in a circle seeing how many cards other players placed but not which cards. There are two rounds of placing for each battle. Everyone has to guess what cards the other players will use for a battle and try to play a better hand. Then when all players have placed their cards, they reveal them. Players can only play 5 character cards in a battle, so they can’t play their whole hand each battle. Also, depending on what decisions players make, there may be multiple battles a turn. So players have to decide where they want to spend their resources (cards in their hand) and try to guess what decisions their opponents are making about spending their own resources (cards).
In addition, players may opt to get spell and/or tactic cards in a turn, and then use them in the battles. These cards give a player certain advantages and powers in a battle and can throw off other player’s calculations.
In many ways this game mechanic has a similar quality to the Paper, Scizors, Rock game, or more complex games such as Diplomacy (one of my favorites) where much of the game is about trying to outguess the opponent based on the information you have and what information you can guess the other players have. I feel like this dynamic makes Rootlands very interactive and engageing, because you can never really know what other’s are thinking.
Rootlands is a card and tile building game for 2 to 5 players ages 8 and up. You play the head of one of five elemental kingdoms trying to take control of a newly forming land mass called the Rootlands. You recruit magic chreatures and spell casters, learn spells, plan tactics and battle over territory on an ever expanding map. The game ends when one kingdom has ammassed enough territory to rule the land.
Here is an example of three stages of changes I make in the cards for my game. On the top left is the first stage of the Ratmen card and on the bottom is the latest stage of it. At first I just drew pictures on index cards, then over a number of iterations I colored, reformatted added a font and shrunk the cards to near the size of playing cards. The simple graphic style of art I used for the cards has the goofy light-hearted quality I really liked in games I played as a kid, like the Awful Green Things from Outer Space and Wiz War.
Another aspect of the game that has to do more with the feel than the structure, is the way I have included the group terms on the cards. As I was designing the game I realized I wanted the smaller creatures to come in groups so that they could have some hope of fighting larger creatures like Dragons. I love the group names of animals and realized that I could have a lot of fun with using them on the cards. So for Ratmen I used “a Mischief of” which is one of the group terms for rats. Rats have a number of great group terms: pack, swarm, plague and mischief. I love mischief because it is so unexpected and whimsical, but pack, swarm and plague are all so evocative and would work very well for the game. There is nothing about including this word play in the game that makes the game mechanics better, but for me, it adds a certain kind of delight that I think is so central to what games are about.
The blog Hyperbole has an excellent post on the importance of a good theme and feel along with strong game structure in making a game fun to play: Hyperbole games: Good Theme. When I read it it resonated with what I like so much about games and why I seem to tend towards a certain look and feel when designing them.