Armello | oprainfall
Title Armello
Developer League of Geeks
Publisher League of Geeks
Release Date September 1, 2015
Genre Strategy Board Game
Platform PS4, PC
Age Rating E 10+
Official Website

I love myself a well-made board game, and by that I don’t mean Monopoly or Clue (although no disrespect is intended to those two industry giants). I’m talking games with vivid worlds not only teeming with imagination and lore enough to give it an identity beyond the physical components but also interesting mechanics that interact with each other with enough variety that every session feels like a different challenge. However, board games of this type can overwhelm if there are too many elements to keep track of. If I can’t easily process the strengths and weaknesses of my enemies at a glance, or if the game is overburdened with well-meaning but cumbersome rules or ideas, I’ll go find something less complicated to while away my hours. Finding that rare balance of fun and depth in a board game is a real challenge to those brave enough to develop them. The question at hand is whether or not indie devs League of Geeks found that sweet spot with Armello.

But first, let’s talk about the premise. This is the story of a medieval fantasy realm — also called ‘Armello’ — its anthropomorphic citizens and its corrupted sovereign. It seems good king lion is infected by an evil plague called ‘The Rot,’ and it’s slowly killing him over the course of ten days and ten nights. Through various circumstances, the four clans of bear, wolf, rabbit and rat have learned of the king’s pending demise and are vying to fill the void that will be left with their monarch’s passing. And so, eight heroes from across the land (two from each clan) will travel far and wide to not only attain the necessary might and magic to be worthy of the crown, but will also impede the progress of the others through various means, including treachery, sorcery or direct confrontation, either with each other or by forcing them into combat with wandering enemies. Some may even challenge the king directly, once they’re strong enough. It’s an interesting setting that works well in the context of a board game where players try to advance themselves while hindering others at the same time.

Armello | King on First Day
Don’t let the loss of health fool you, the lion is still the king of all beasts.

One can play solo or online with three other players, with computer AI filling in the remainder. You then choose one of the eight characters and then pick from a list of starting equipment that can buff a stat or give you an additional perk and you’re off to seize the crown. Every character is set up to have particular advantages, but the balance is such that they will have lower stats in other areas. The characters each have their own unique power for extra variety and replay value, and, when you consider that there are eight characters to start with, the variety for each session of Armello is more than respectable. Also, the list of starting equipment can expand as you unlock more items by accomplishing certain in-game goals, sort of like achievements or trophies. It’s a very interesting way of adding replay value and providing the players with incentive to keep coming back in order to add more variety to the game as a whole.

Once characters and starting gear have been chosen, the game board is generated in a roguelike fashion with the king’s castle and four adjacent tiles placed in the center and walled off. Dungeons, towns, mountains, magic circles, marshes and forests spawn randomly to populate the rest of the map. Each of the four characters starts in their own corner of the board, and turns occur in two phases, day and night. A player draws his or her cards and, once their turn begins, they can move around the board, enter dungeons, capture towns, play their cards (provided they have the resources to do so) and decide which terrain to cross in order to give themselves the best advantage while simultaneously stymieing the other players where they can. Players start far enough apart from each other that it’s difficult to initiate shenanigans in the first few turns, giving everyone a chance to get some early gains and feel better about their chances to succeed once the inevitable skulduggery ensues.

Armello | Facing Peril
River only wanted a little bit of peril. Ser Lancelot warned her that it was ‘too perilous.’

Terrain provides different advantages that can be helpful based on the game dynamics at the time. For example, mountains cost more of your allocated movement points for that turn but provide a defensive bonus. Forests hide you, preventing others from targeting you with cards or effects. Marshes damage you, but are often the quickest path from point A to point B. There’s a good sense of balance to how terrain works, and there is the appropriate amount of complexity entailed therein. You can tell League of Geeks found a way to make sure that the game board integrates well with the card actions and character abilities. It’s not just a bland set of tiles with pretty graphics for you to traverse but another aspect of the game’s structure.

After the game board is laid out, players draw a number of cards equal to their Wits stat. There are three decks from which to draw, and the cards are vividly illustrated with colorful, animated graphics that are fun to read and look at. Equipment cards allow you to gear up and improve your chances of winning battles and overcoming quest-based trials. Spell cards can be used for effects, such as improved movement, teleportation and ranged damage. Trickery cards impede the progress of others or scout territories to find hidden threats. Each of the card types has a required currency in order to use them, so some resource gathering and management beforehand is required. I found this to be one of the more engaging aspects of the game, as Armello is on a ten-turn timer, and you don’t have the luxury of growing overpowered. You’ll have to decide whether to focus on increasing one stat and relying on that or having a more rounded character that can reasonably face any challenge, but isn’t too great in anything in particular. That Armello gives you options on how to set yourself up is one of its many finer qualities.

Armello | Game Board
River took her Pym particles that morning.

As I touched upon before, the turn sequence is centered on the passage of days and nights. At the start of the day, the sun rises and the king issues a pair of royal edicts; world events that affect all play for the remainder of the game day. The player with the highest Prestige score — earned by completing quests, killing monsters called Banes and defeating other players in combat — receives the ‘King’s Favor’ because they’re the most noteworthy hero in the realm, and kings like that sort of thing. The world events have a nice, broad range of consequences and rewards with bureaucratic and political flavor text for the kind of narrative context that makes Armello feel like more than a board game with pretty colors and solid mechanics. As in real politics, they are a double-edged sword; there is always reward and risk in equal measure regardless of the choice made.

Once the world event has been chosen, the daytime part of the turn occurs, whereupon computer-controlled NPCs called King’s Guards wander about looking for Banes to kill. King’s Guard won’t normally attack players unless they have Bounties placed on their heads — either through world events or when players are foolish enough to actually initiate combat with a King’s Guard, thereby earning the crown’s wrath. If you face a King’s Guard in battle, regardless of the result, you will lose Prestige when it’s all said and done. If a King’s Guard dies, it disappears from the board and will respawn at the dawn of the next day.

Armello | King's Guard
He probably didn’t pay his taxes. Remember to pay your taxes, everyone.

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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.