Armello has an interesting concept; taking the style and theory of a tabletop game into the digital arena. Even though the game misses a few opportunities at greatness, this strategic battle for the kingdom of Armello is not only fun but has a rich lore for those who wish to explore it. It does lack the charm of sitting around a table and battling your friends has, but it does offer a nice supplement if you can’t get your local bookstore. With its lack of overall variety, it can get pretty tedious and leaves you wanting more.
WHAT WE LIKED
º Great attempt at bringing a tabletop experience onto your console.
º Controls are surprisingly easy where previous games have failed.
º Imaginative world with engaging, well-animated character models.
WHAT WE DISLIKED º Just doesn’t capture the charm of playing against friends in a room.
º A few forgotten features could’ve made the experience more engaging.
º Soundtrack is standard, while sound effects are obnoxiously loud.
In case it wasn’t obvious, I’m a huge nerd. I know, crazy to imagine, but it’s true. I use to spend hours building decks to challenge my fellow Magic: The Gathering players at school, favoring the restorative green decks with a splash of artifacts. When I first heard about Armello, I was at E3, and got to hang out with one of the developers for a little bit, and was impressed with how much they put into the game’s strategy. I left there, excited with the prospect of entering a new realm, one that tries to capture the essence of board games on my console. It succeeds in being a fun experience, but I question its longevity for several reasons that I will get to shortly.
First, allow me to give you a condensed version of the rules. There are eight characters to choose from, with their own unique traits and stats. Four characters are placed on a randomly generated hexagonal game board, where you move your character’s specific number of pieces per turn. Your goal is to capture Armello’s kingdom at the center of the board, where the Lion King has gone mad from a dark and mysterious force known as ‘Rot’. In your pursuit of seizing the throne, you must contend with the King’s guard, hiding thieves, monsters and the other clans people trying to take the thrown.
As you move across the board, randomized locations can help or hinder your progress. When you enter a settlement on the map, you may have to fight off bandits and cutthroats, forcing you to roll to avoid damage and other adverse effects. If you survive, you can take the town’s bounty, or take your chance on obtaining a rare object as well. Once you have a settlement, you’ll start making one gold coin per every day and night cycle, which you can use on your cards to activate them. Tombs, on the other hand, can be used to discover random treasures and magic, providing an incentive to dive in and plunder. You can also end your turn in mountains or forests, effectively hiding from enemy players.
Each turn, you draw a certain amount of cards, depending on your characters stats. This provides an incentive to blow through any cards you don’t wish to hold onto. They can be spells to affect the game board or opponents, items that you can equip or be used in battle, or trickery cards that provide immediate changes.
The dice you roll have symbols on them rather than numbers; featuring attack points, defense points, day and night conditions, a reroll side and a rot icon (which means no effect). This is how battles are decided; favoring those who have more dice at the beginning of the battle, but suprising lucky rollers who throw a better combination. When you think you’re ready, you can try to bumrush the powerful King, who gets stronger as the Rot takes over his body. If the King dies before anyone can get to him, the player with the most prestige points win. You can also collect four spirit stones, allowing you to cleanse him and the kingdom of the Rot. If you have more Rot points at the King’s point of death, than you win over everyone.
All the rules aside now, the game is one that takes some time to learn, but becomes second nature when you get use to the rules. The campaign has an awesome tutorial section, that walks you through the play-by-play and lore of the universe while introducing you to characters and tactics. Blending the familiarity and randomness of Settlers of Catan with the card game of MTG provides a fresh challenge and offers engaging battles based on chance and strategy. The King will change up conditions, based on daily Royal Decrees (something the prestige leader gets to choose for the whole board) and whether it’s night or day. The cards add a large amount of play variety and strategy. It’s an exceptional blend and provides a lot of diversity to a simple layout.
I really enjoyed the Armello’s visual style- utilizing argyle backgrounds and ornate swirls matches the fantastical setting and even captures the feel of a card table. The game’s opening cinematic is beautiful, having the appearance of hand-drawn illustrations, while their motions flow smoothly. The character models match the beautiful art direction. When you go into battle, your characters fight, swinging their weapons as numbers on screen count up the strikes. This is much better than what other similar games offer, and was a wonderful inclusion.
That’s not to say the Armello is perfect- it does become overly-convoluted in its attempts of being innovative. While I enjoyed its passion for giving the player many different ways to win, it’s difficult to foresee other players’ strategies without paying absolute attention to everyone else’s moves and possessions. With so many ways to win, keeping track of how close someone is to collecting the spirit stones, or their rising Rot points, it can start to feel like a chore. This isn’t a game you can just sit back and run through- it takes commitment in order to win.
I also didn’t enjoy a lot of the cards; many of them seem useless, and a lot of them come across as boring and weightless. I would’ve loved to have been able to build a deck, collecting cards on the map, and using them later in battles online. This would’ve incentivised me to search more tombs, or possibly opened up the ability to trade online. One awesome thing the cards have is flavor text; little lines relating to the card’s ability, but painting a bigger picture of the world. One card, the Allies’ Pact card, allows you and another player to keep an increase in stats, as long as you both continue living, featuring the flavor text of “There are no allies on the path to success, only enemies yet to show their hand.” A great way of painting how hostile the world of Armello is while alluding to the game’s very nature. I just wish I could’ve had that one more readily available, instead of being at the mercy of a bunch of junk cards.
Some of these may feel like nitpicks, and they are- but outside of the main board game, there’s really not much else this experience has to offer. There’s no conditional gameplay or modes, so you’ll be playing the same board type over and over. I would’ve loved to see options for bigger maps, covered in swamps or featuring a ton of King’s guards. Something to provide an alternative to the way the game is ‘supposed’ to be played. The text on the screen is super small. I’m talking Dead Rising levels; forcing you to stand up and walk to the screen to read them. Make sure you’re quick too- in certain areas, if you spend too much time reading the cards, the game will make a move for you, even in single player. I guess it serves us right if we enjoy lounging while playing our collections. There’s also no way to counter enemy spells, which really is a missed opportunity for upsetting reversals and gameplay twists, and kind of made me turn off while my opponents moved around the map.
The soundtrack is a nice assortment of fantasy inspired tracks, but perhaps a little bland as none of it stuck with me after playing. In contrast, the sound effects are very grating and did stick with me. Of course, you can adjust these levels, but clips like Lion’s roar at the beginning of every dawn is ridiculously loud. If you play this at night while others are sleeping, they will hate you.
Overall, I had fun with Armello, but I don’t know how often I would return. It’s heavily inspired by the modern influx of tabletop packs out there, but like many, buckles a little under the weight of how much it has going on. The game’s presentation is top of the line, and it keeps the gameplay flowing once you get the hang of everything it has going on. If you are looking for a new experience, League of Geeks has created an adventure that should provide long-time enthusiasts a couple enjoyable playthroughs. I will say however, I don’t know if it has the same charm as playing with your friends on a coffee table, and there may not be enough to keep it as a long running staple in your rotation.