Developer: League of Geeks
Publisher: League of Geeks
Rating: E For Everyone
Like many Kickstarter success stories before it, Armello began life as a simple concept for a new digital fantasy board game. As the game launched in Early Access on Steam and the developer, League of Geeks, livestreamed the game on Twitch in the weeks and months leading up to the official launch, the game gained quite a following as fans and early backers got their hands on the procedurally generated title. As one of the first Vote To Play games and a contender for a spot on Playstation Plus’ free games lineup in September, the game is now finally available to millions of PC and PS4 players who enjoy a good, strategic board game to play with friends.
Armello is quite unique in that the game has a story that is written as you play each game. The basic premise is that the once peaceful Lion King of Armello has fallen victim to the corrupting influence of the Rot, an evil force that corrupts and destroy everything it comes into contact with. The King’s corruption has driven the world of Armello into chaos as ferocious creatures of darkness roam the lands and destroy villages while the King’s Guard terrorizes Armello’s citizens. As a hero from one of four animal clans representing either a rat, wolf, rabbit, or bear, players will work together—and against—their fellow heroes to reach the castle and seize the throne.
The story is procedurally generated as players complete various quests that are scattered across the gameboard. One quest might grant you a Spirit Stone, a magical item that when combined with three other stones is capable of cleansing the king of the Rot. Another will task you with making a decision on whether to save a passing merchant. While these scenes are only text-based and no action takes place on screen, your character’s overall story in the game is defined by the choices you make in these quest scenarios. The story is completed when the game has been won and players can view a synopsis of their overall story for a particular game at any time during gameplay.
Armello has almost no questionable content and is suitable for players of all audiences. Since there is not actual chat and only selections that can be made to encourage or taunt players (much like the chat system for Hearthstone), there is little worry of children being exposed to foul language, slurs, or sexual innuendo that is often prevalent in online gaming. Battles play out with dice rolls and each hit to an opponent results in a battle animation gesturing simple slashes and stabs, but no blood or gore is visible and characters simply pass out when defeated before spawning back at their starting space on the board. There is no religious content either save for the occasional quest scenario where you will be tasked with saving a priest or using some holy power to cleanse an object or character of Rot.
Armello’s gameplay can seem overwhelming at first, but after a few games, players will feel right at home. However, this is a game that is easy to learn and difficult to master as there are many systems at play and four key ways that each game can be won.
Each player starts out on a home base space where they are free from the effects of attack cards and attacks from other players. From here, players can use their pool of Action Points (AP) to move up to three spaces ahead in any direction. Up to five cards are drawn for each player’s hand at the start of the game from one of three card types: Trickery, Spell, or Item. Players can select a number of cards at the end of each turn to fill out their hand of cards.
Before each game begins, players can select from one of eight heroes representing one of four animal clans. After selecting a hero, a ring and amulet can be chosen which will grant certain stat boosts and early game advantages. These boosts can be unlocked as games are won with certain clans and characters and once certain victory conditions are met.
Much like in chess, players can initiate battles by moving to a space inhabited by another player. However, players can also attack opponents with the cards in their hand. Spell, Item, and Trickery cards will cost a certain amount of Magic, Gold, Prestige, or Rot to play and can increase the difficulty of Perils which are obstacles placed on certain spaces by the king or other players. Some other cards may offer a player more dice in a battle, Peril, or grant you companions that will increase damage or health in battle.
For every fellow hero that is slain, every quest completed, or every dark bane vanquished, players will earn a Prestige point. Prestige is used to earn favor with the king who will consult with the Prestige leader at dawn each day and will offer the choice of one of two of the Kings cards to be played. These cards will often affect all players, or just the current prestige leader, and will remain in effect until the next full turn has ended at dawn. Prestige points are lost by entering the castle, attacking the King’s guard, or falling in battle. Bounties can be placed on certain player’s heads by the King or other players and will often offer bonus Prestige points to the player who successfully defeats their opponent to claim the bounty.
Victory in Armello is achieved via one of four means: having the highest amount of prestige when the king dies, killing the king in combat, collecting all four spirit stones before confronting the king, or corrupting yourself with Rot and growing more powerful than the king before killing him in combat. However despite these options, time is limited as the king loses one heart of health each day due to the corruption of the Rot. Players who give in to the Rot and become corrupted themselves will also lose one point of health each dawn. Once the king’s health is depleted, the game ends and a winner is declared.
The easiest of these victories is most certainly the Prestige victory as Prestige is most easily earned resource. Other resources, such as magic, are given out each night based on a character’s amount of Spirit. Gold is awarded to players each turn if they have captured a village on the game board and can hold it until the next dawn. Spirit Stones are rewarded for certain quests and can also be obtained by landing on Ruins on the game board which triggers an exploration animation that provides players with gold, allies or treasures, summon enemies to attack them, or teleport them to another Ruin on the board. Rot is earned by dying in combat to a corrupted character or a Bane—a dark bird-like creature that spawns on a random space each night—on Ruin spaces after a character lands there, or once a certain card is played. Perhaps the hardest victory of all is to kill the king in combat before he dies on the final turn of the game. This will result in an automatic victory for the player that is successful in defeating the king before the final turn of the game.
Fragile, fleeting alliances can be formed with other players as certain cards will bestow benefits to both until either character is attacked or killed which encourages players to plan out when it is best to work with, and against, opponents. This inevitably results in many surprising alliances and betrayals which only adds to the strategy and intrigue of each game as the game board is randomly generated in addition to the quest scenarios and rewards, so no two games of Armello will play out exactly the same and you never know what to expect from your opponents.
Aside from single player skirmishes against AI opponents, Armello offers multiplayer for up to four players. While no lag was noticeable during my play sessions, there were some issues with disconnects during matchmaking and in the middle of games. The most frustrating of these issues was when I was on the final turn of a game when the session was terminated and everyone was kicked back to the lobby. However, the overall gameplay and atmosphere of Armello is so good that I can overlook a few standard multiplayer hiccups.
The game is presented in a crisp, colorful fantasy aesthetic with boards consisting of grassy plains or snow covered mountain peaks. The art style is reminiscent of The Banner Saga and the Redwall book series. Sound quality is excellent as character growls and screeches sound like they would for each species. Familiar sounds of weapons clanging or shields defending against arrows ring out during battle sequences. The music is standard fantasy role playing fare. All of the sound and graphical detail is well done, adding to the fun and fascination playing Armello.
Despite a few matchmaking glitches and standard multiplayer connection issues, Armello is a fun, tactical, fantasy board game that should be played by all strategy fans. The game will make you ally with, or betray, your friends and family as you work to win the throne of Armello and restore order to the land. Will you control through violence, peace, espionage and deceit, or through winning favor with the king? The choice is up to you as you forge your own path through the fantasy world of Armello.
The Bottom Line
Armello is a slow, methodical strategy board game that allows many different options for victory. Players will lie, steal, maim, and kill their opponents as they seek to usurp the corrupted and evil Lion King. With enough variety to keep each game fresh, and unlockable trinkets that grant perks to certain characters no two games of Armello will play exactly the same. While I have some minor qualms with the random disconnects during matchmade multiplayer games it is not enough to hold Armello back from near perfection. This is strategy gaming at its finest and one of the best digital board games I have ever played. Fans of the genre should not miss out on Armello.