Developer: League of Geeks
Publisher: League of Geeks
Genre: Indie, Adventure, Strategy, Board Game
Platform: PC (also on PlayStation 4)
Rating: T (for Teen), fantasy violence, mild blood
Release Date: September 1, 2015
I love video games. I love board games. To some degree, I prefer board games to video games, although I never have enough time or friends to play board games consistently. My Kickstarter habit is getting a little out of control. Luckily for people like me, the trend is to now make a board game both in analog (real life) and digital form. This is where games like Armello from League of Geeks comes in. Of course, I didn’t get into the Kickstarter (so no extra faction for me) but I did get into the Early Access on Steam. It is now also on the PS4, for Sony fans.
Here’s the description the developer gives:
Armello is a grim fairy-tale board game come to life. Full of swashbuckling adventure combining deep, tactical card play, rich tabletop strategy and RPG elements. Wage epic single and multiplayer battles, cast spells, hire agents, and prepare poisons and ruses on your quest for the throne!
It’s a pretty accurate description.
Armello’s story is basically an animal’s Lord of the Rings-slash-fantasy type story. The King (a dark lion) is dying. The Rot (a dark corrupting force) has seized his body, and every night, it grows stronger. Eventually, if not saved, he will die, leaving behind a huge kingdom with no heir. The animal Clans – Rabbit, Wolf, Bear and Rat – are maneuvering for control in preparation for the King’s demise. However, your hero can directly challenge the King for his crown at any time, if a hero can act with courage, strength and intelligence. Warning: it is a dark fantasy game, with violence and a Game of Thrones like vibe. There are elements of stab-you-in-the-back treachery from other players.
The art and the music is phenomenal. I’ve heard it being compared to Studio Ghibli quality, and although that’s pushing it a little, it is definitely on-par with some of the most engaging animated films from such as The Secret of NIHM or Kung Fu Panda. Everything from the board to the characters to the cards shows great care was taken in getting details right and giving you a real sense of the world of Armello. The music is very good and atmospheric. It draws you into the theme and keeps you there. As an animation lover, I simply cherish the game art.
Gameplay is exactly what you’d expect from a digital board game. You and three opponents (which can be AI driven or live players) control a hero from each Clan. You take turns, having three action points to use every turn. You hold as many cards as you have Wit, you can cast spells according to your Spirit and Magic, and your Fight determines how many dice you can roll in combat. The cards, followers and treasures you find in the game can change any of your heroes stats. Of course, your character can also contract the Rot, which leads to an interesting victory condition. Yes – there is more than one way to win Armello.
Playing cards is one of the easiest ways to achieve your goals. A player can burn them during a dice roll to ensure they get one symbol shown on the card during a dice challenge. Or they can be played for their action. Item and Treasure cards are pretty straight forward – you get an item your character can use/equip, or you get a Follower that provides an extra benefit. Spell cards allow characters with Spirit and Magic to cast spells. Of course, there are also Trickery cards for those players who are willing to sacrifice a little to prevent the other heroes from winning the game. It takes a while to see and understand all the cards in the game, so you might want to spend a little time reading them as they pop up (they go into a encyclopedia for later viewing). It’s easy to see what cards you hold in your hand (you can have a maximum number of cards in your hand equal to your hero’s Wit score), and what your hero has equipped.
Gold is another thing you need to play cards, and you can score it from either playing cards that award gold, exploring old ruins, attacking other heroes that have gold, or controlling a town at the end of the turn. Towns are scattered around the map, and once your hero enters one, its allegiance changes to the hero’s Clan immediately. This means towns can quickly bounce back and forth between Clans as heroes will surely run in and steal one away. Your character might pursue a Quest set out for them to gain gold – Quests are random encounters the game assigns to your hero in a hex usually across the board. It does pay to pursue them sometimes, as they might provide a Spirit Stone (see below) or extra cards.
You can explore ruins, as well. You’ll want to, since they provide one way of winning the game and preventing the Rot from infecting your character – you can find Spirit Stones in ruins. Capture four of them and get into the King’s castle, and you can banish him to win. That’s not as easy as it sounds, though – anytime you are infected with Rot (and it can happen quite often if another hero hits you with Rot cards), a Stone is sacrificed and your hero “dies” to be cleansed for Rot. Rot also prevents you from winning the game, so the Stones are one way to protect yourself. Treasure and Item cards pop up in ruins as well, but there is always some sort of challenge to successfully explore – anything from combat to an stat check.
You may also find yourself fighting a lot. Fighting the King’s guards (who will attack the hero due to the King’s mad influence), fighting monsters of the Rot called Banes (wicked creatures of the Rot that heal and grow with time but grant Prestige upon defeat), or each other. Combat is simple, and resolved with dice rolls. You are simply trying to score more hits than the enemy scores defenses. If you score more than they have life points, they die. Combat is simultaneous, though, so both heroes or fighters can die if not careful. You can use cards to boost your symbols and to roll more dice, and Items/Treasures often help your hero fight more effectively. “Death” is not permanent – your hero re-spawns back at their Clan gate on the next turn. It does slow heroes down to perish, so players need to weigh their options before engaging. It is an option to winning the game. If you think you are powerful enough, you can enter the King’s castle and fight him. If your hero succeeds, you win. If he doesn’t, it might trigger a Prestige victory for someone else (since heroes that attack the King lose all their Prestige). If you have more Rot than the King, you can try the same strategy, only to score a Rot victory.
Prestige is the most important trait of all, since it affects the game in a big way. It is the most common way to win the game – the hero with the most Prestige wins when the King finally perishes from the Rot. Every turn, the King also makes pronouncements that change the game, and the Clan whose hero has the greatest Prestige gets to choose which pronouncement the King makes (out of a choice of two). Dying causes your hero to lose one Prestige. Some cards also require Prestige or target Prestige. You can see how it is important to always keep an eye on who has the most – hero to hero combat usually happens because one player is desperate to knock a high Prestige hero down a notch. Of course, if your hero has the most Prestige, you’ll want to keep him/her safe by holding on to cards that will turn the tables should everyone gang up on you.
Armello is fun, and with real players it can be a blast. However, as one of my friends pointed out, it is weird to be playing a fantasy game that has animals and then hear someone on the chat swear at you with every fiber of their being because they are losing. Like all multiplayer games, the experience changes with the people. It’s important that you might want to play with people you know or with players that seem to be calm and less … rowdy. Of course, sometimes the most verbal opponent is the most fun to beat. You can always play three AI opponents, as well (they are hard to beat).
Again, this digital board game is a treat to play. It is downright gorgeous and well designed. One small downside is that it gets repetitious over time, so you might want to play it in spurts or whenever you have some time. The game can be long if you play with certain people, although the built-in victory time of the dying King means the game will end at some point in the near future. All in all, I like it, and I can see fans of board games and animal heroes loving it.