REVIEW: Armello

Thursday, September 17th, 2015

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When night falls, the king takes one point of damage, bringing him that much closer to death. After that, Banes spawn from dungeons and roam around, attacking players and King’s Guards randomly. They can be dealt with in many of the same ways that players fight King’s Guards and each other. Banes are strong opponents, but, with a little preparation, they can be overcome. Also, if you’re lucky enough to be within range of a Bane that’s been weakened by a previous battle on your turn, you can steal the kill and reap the Prestige reward for the win. Most often, I found myself ‘kill stealing’ Banes that were wounded after fighting a King’s Guard, and why wouldn’t I? What would a competitive game be without a little good-natured ‘KSing’ now and again?

After King’s Guards or Banes have performed their moves, players get to take their turns. You then draw up to your maximum hand, and it’s off to fortune and glory. This is where you’ll play your cards, move around the board and pick and choose which trials to face. And, speaking of trials, whether it’s hero versus hero, environment or monster, you will be doing a fair share of fighting in Armello. Characters that do battle get to roll a number of virtual dice equal to their Fight stat, and the result can be augmented by having equipped items and followers prior to engaging in a scrum. Players also get a one-time increase in effectiveness by ‘Burning’ cards in their hand before they roll. The card is lost, but it can often make the difference between victory or defeat. Armello is full of decision-making scenarios like this, where one has to carefully weigh whether to take the quick win now or play a longer game. For a game like this, it’s a pure virtue.

Armello | Combat

River was always bringing arrows to a sword fight. At least the girl had heart.

Dice results are divvied up into strikes and blocks, the latter cancelling out the former. Any remaining strikes deal one point of Body damage, and, when that score reaches 0, that character or NPC is defeated. Players respawn with all their cards and equipment, but must return to their starting point and lose the rest of their turn. It’s possible for both combatants to die in the exchange, as well. You can recover lost Body by either playing healing cards or entering a magic circle. Combat has engrossing mechanics that force you to consider when to gamble on what you have and when to fix the odds. This is a great element of Armello because it gives the player an interesting form of agency in fights that is always satisfying when it pays off. Winning earns you Prestige while losing results in a loss of the same.

Quests and Perils are two other types of challenges players can face to grow stronger. Your chances of victory are determined by a key stat the objective requires for you to succeed, which leads to further permanent increases in ability. One can see how this system can be a real driving force in the game since it’s the chief mechanic by which they can actually grow strong enough to take on any threat. I was a little worried about the power creep here when I first saw how this system worked, but, with the game limited to ten turns, and with so much going on to undermine you nearly every step of the way, it was never really a problem in the end. The randomness of the quest requirement was also a good governor in terms of maintaining game balance.

Armello | Character Sheet

River showed her character sheet to everyone in Armello. They didn’t dare call her a nerd.

There are a few different ways to win the game. One is to simply wait ten turns and have the most Prestige when the king dies. Another is to enter the castle and kill him, but this is easier said than done because, even at one or two Body remaining, he has a ton of dice to roll in battle. You can also gather up four Spirit Stones; mystical items that randomly spawn at night at the magic circles around the game board, and enter the King’s tile to banish The Rot. Considering the number of ways to win at Armello, and given the variety of character types and abilities, as well as how differently every game will evolve as a result, means that there is never a tried and true strategy that works every time. It’s good to have an idea of what to do next, but being too bullish on one method without adapting to the changing landscape will result in disaster. Like in that one medieval fantasy series, unwillingness to change with the times will doom you. Also, it’s worth noting that the game is structured so no one is ever really out of the game, even in the later stages, unless they suffer a bout of turgid luck. It’s a good element because it keeps players invested all the way to the end, rather than getting discouraged and giving up.

Armello’s aesthetics are really nicely rendered, but nothing to get too excited about. However, it should be noted that there are considerable graphic enhancements from the early access build to final retail. The soundtrack is serviceable, solid workmanship, but nothing truly remarkable as OST composition goes. The artwork for the world, characters and cards is colorful and imaginative, with many of the cards being uniquely animated or having other graphic effects or enhancements. Everything is well rendered, and you can tell the artists involved really understood the source material and expressed it wonderfully.

Armello | Victory

I win again! But tell me….what is best in life?

But, in the end, the real essence of the game is in its mechanics, its variety and its robust but easily understandable rules. Additionally, the dice and wandering threats add a degree of chance and keep the game fresh every step of the way. League of Geeks has done an admirable job on Armello. There are enough different ways to win the game that players won’t have to adhere to any single strategy, and, if they’re familiar with the rules and structure, they’ll know when to stick to their plan and when they need to adapt to the fluid nature of ever changing events. Things are constantly in motion, but Armello has a good distribution of advantages and obstacles that a player will have to consider every option prior to making a move. The only real criticism I can levy here is that there isn’t (yet) a local multiplayer option. I would have loved to have played this game with members of my family or friends, but not at the cost of them all having to buy the game as well if we were going to be in the same room. I reviewed the PC build over roughly 15 hours of play, so I’m not familiar with whether or not the PS4 version offers local multiplayer. But, otherwise, it’s a fine game, and I’d recommend it to anyone who likes strategy games, RPGs or complex board games in a heartbeat.

Review Score

Review copy provided by publisher

About Tom Tolios

Really smart, talks too much, loves the video games and the Star Wars and the Game of Thrones, likes the manga and some anime and knows that Kentaro Miura's Berserk is the greatest thing ever made.

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