Available On: PlayStation 4, Xbox One, Android, Microsoft Windows, Linux, iOS, Mac OS
Developer: League of Geeks
Publisher: League of Geeks
Genre: Turned-based Strategy
Official Site: https://armello.com/
Release Date: September 1, 2015
Where To Buy: Steam, PlayStation Store
As the sun rose over the battlements, I saw the last ditch effort of the Bear Clan hero to take the throne for herself. After the ordeal of traps, tricks and guards that had been laid at her feet, she was weak. Perhaps too weak. But by this point, weak had to be enough. In one final push, she threw herself at the now-emaciated King, corrupted and crippled from the Rot that had stolen the warmth from his heart and the strength from his arms.
But there was still some power left in his fragile form it seemed, as he took the brunt of the attacks in his stride, only the final strike of her staff being enough to send him to the tiles of the palace throne room with a clatter. Gripping his blade tight and with one final gurgling roar, he ran at the Bear Clan champion, who stepped back at the flurry of hits that eventually worked their way through her guard. Finally sinking his enormous sword into her heart with one last blow, the King fell to his knees himself, gasping for breath by the bleeding corpse of his attacker. It was clear he was not long for this world, the Rot already beginning to consume his body.
As I stepped forward, my own blade drawn, I saw some last vestige of hope alight in his eyes. After all, I was his most trusted advisor, Thane of the Wolf Clan, the One-With-The-King’s-Ear. But in this kingdom, there are no allies, no true friends. As I took the crown from his brow and the sword from his hand, I saw that faint hope fade into horror, then emptiness, the life fleeting from his corrupted body at last. The old lion slumped to the ground, peaceful at last after many months of madness and paranoia. I settled myself on the throne, trying to find a comfortable way to set the crown on my head.
The royal heralds would announce my ascension to the title in just a few hours. There would be no complaints. Not from the clans, not from the others vying for the same position within the Wolf Clan’s own ranks. I had worked my way towards this for months, gathering prestige, collecting treasures, and yes, killing the competition. There was no doubt I had earned this. I leaned back, settling myself for the future ahead. Armello was not yet safe from the Rot that had claimed the king. Not by any means. The work had only just begun.
This story is just one that could be told through the events of an average game of Armello. Trickery, intrigue, battles, quests, burned villages and regicide – Armello is one dash Redwall, a sprinkle of Game of Thrones and a flutter of Settlers of Catan, all bundled into an animated board game.
Set in a realm with anthropomorphic animals that are constantly on each other’s backs, the only way peace has been kept is through the leadership of the King: a role rather aptly filled by a lion. However, a mysterious and evil plague was known as the Rot has taken over the King’s mind, driving him to attack everything and everyone around him. The peace is broken, the clan war amongst themselves again, but there is one thing everyone can agree on: The King must be replaced – and soon. But precisely how that happens is entirely up to the players.
Diversity is a Strength
After choosing a character with any mixture of traits, players are tasked with winning the throne through a number of different methods. You could gather up the best arms and armour in the game, then take the fight directly to the palace. Alternatively, you could make a name for yourself by defeating other players and completing quests, earning enough prestige to be considered the King’s advisor: as soon as he dies (which he does slowly over the course of a game), you ascend the throne in his stead. You could collect up four “spirit stones” – strange artifacts of the Wyld that you can use to combat the Rot in the King’s heart. Or, you could embrace the Rot yourself, kill the king and become the new Dark Lord over the lands.
However, up to three other players are trying to win using one of these objectives too. Play too sheepishly and you’ll find the king dies by another person’s hand, all your own schemes having come to nothing. With a multitude of ways of winning, and plenty of diversity in characters (and their various strengths), you’ll find that there are a lot of suitable strategies. The mechanics themselves are simple. Move tile to tile, picking up gold and prestige, solve quests to improve your stats, attack other players to claim bounties or put them out of the game briefly, etc etc. Most things are resolved with dice rolls or otherwise randomly generated, making every game a very different experience, or even completely changing the course of the current game.
For example, in my tale earlier, I played Thane, Hero of the Wolf Clan. Handy with a blade, but not too bright or magically-inclined. I started off aiming to build up my strength, my followers, and my gear, then batter the King to death the old-fashioned way. However, I soon found an item that gave me additional prestige every time I killed another player. Soon, after a few turns, I was the King’s advisor due to my high prestige, and I was in a powerful position to influence the game. Suddenly, my plan to attack the King directly instead turned into me defending him, battling other players who were trying to kill him before he died and I ascended the throne as his advisor. All because of a single item, my entire strategy changed to working with the King and his guards against other players, rather than trying to fight him myself. I just had to wait – and my patience eventually won me the game.
Breaking the Chains of RNG
The direct method is not the only way to win by any means, as you can see, but you don’t have to rely on combating other players at all either. Trickery and Spell cards give players who prefer to work from a distance the chance to mess around with their foes from across the map, harming them or even helping them, if their actions could further your own goals. It’s all about moves, and counter-moves, working out what the other players are going for, and hindering them as best you can while avoiding their own attempts to slow you down.
The fact that a lot of the game works around dice rolls is both a help and a hindrance. On the one hand, with the right moves, the randomness becomes a lot less of a factor – a good fighter will nearly always win in combat against a weaker opponent, regardless of the dice rolls. On the other hand, an entire strategy that you have been working towards can be toppled simply because of a single bad round. The skill behind Armello is being able to recover quickly from these setbacks, while capitalising on any good luck thrown your way. The game gives you plenty of options to do so, and while a lot of things revolve around a roll of the dice, a win with the right strategy is hardly a gamble.
Armello also manages to eliminate something which is constantly irksome in turn-based games of this type, particularly in multiplayer. Because the game throws lots of Trickery and Spell cards your way (drawn every other turn), while also giving you the option to play them whenever you want (even during another player’s turn), you always need to pay attention. See an opponent barely survive combat? Time to cast a damage spell on them and put them out of the game. See them head towards a town that you’ve claimed? Throw down a poisonous fog on that tile and make them pay for their hubris. Combined with the quick nature of the games (most of them last only about half an hour, if that) and the variability of the character skills (some Heroes can cast more spells than others), it forces the player to constantly pay attention and keeps even waiting for your next turn interesting.
You’ve Played the Rest…
There are plenty of other games out there that work on a similar vein, though perhaps not with quite as much finesse – Armello certainly manages to take good ideas and make them work together flawlessly. What makes Armello stand out in particular is the peripheral stuff. The world-building, the quest descriptions and characters, the graphics and the sound. As the game proceeds from dawn to dusk to night and back again, colours wash out and the soundtrack because more ominous. As the game progresses, quests become more desperate and the pleading of the common folk becomes that much more poignant as the King takes his madness out on the populace of the land.
Even the combat sections, which are merely dice rolls, have a lovely graphical representation of fighting, as character flinch and wince or smirk and slash. Blood splatters, metal clinks, and wood thunks as the Heroes go at each other with their chosen weapons. It is very easy to forget that it was a mere dice roll that decided this combat. This is why I feel that Armello works particularly well as a video game, even though many of the mechanics would be at home on a physical board game. All these features really add a layer of polish that makes any small issues that come up more forgivable, if they are noticed at all.
…Now Experience the Best in Armello
In fact, there are very few complaints I would have about Armello. I feel that games could be a little longer with a more cinematic conclusion post-victory, and the AI perhaps a little smarter, but in reality the niche that Armello falls into is one that wants fast, fun games primarily with other players. While I think that this title wouldn’t be for everyone, I cannot help but give it a perfect score. Everything that it does, it does well. Music, graphics, gameplay, presentation – everything you could want from a game like this, Armello has. Diverse characters, strong meta-gaming, solid progression, fast-paced action, a unique and interesting world, but most of all more-ishness. That same feeling you get with Civilization, just one more turn? You get that with Armello as well, except its entire games.
Even if you don’t like board games or even strategy games, you should definitely give Armello a try. I have to admit, I was skeptical myself to begin with, but Armello very quickly won me over. From the excellent tutorial that mixed plot and gameplay seamlessly to the very final moments of my last heart-thumping moves towards victory, Armello had me hooked. Whether you want to play singleplayer or grab a few copies for friends (highly recommended), keep Armello at the forefront of your mind the next time you want to play a deep, diverse, meaningful and, most of all, entertaining title.
- Gameplay: Hex-tiled turn-based strategy – very much an animated board game
- Graphics: Colourful, bright, exaggerated and gorgeous
- Sound: Perfect at every turn
- Presentation: Making board games exciting again
- Interesting story,
- Engaging characters,
- Fun gameplay,
- Never boring,
- Strategically deep,
- Plenty of diversity.
- Bit lacklustre post-victory,
- AI can be daft very occasionally,
- That's about it - brilliant game.
A serial hobbyist, Jack loves everything from blacksmithing to brewing – and, of course, the occasional video game.