Armello is without a doubt one of the best early access titles I have had the pleasure of coming across. I know, I know, starting this article with that statement is like I’m starting at the end, but I cannot begin to heap enough praise on top of this wonderful digital board game. Armello takes delightfully animated anthropomorphized animals and throws them into a politically fueled scenario full of intrigue where a mad king is slowly dying due to his interaction with Rot (Armello’s version of dark magic), unless you can save him. Saving him is not easy, and you’ll soon find that the best option may be to manipulate the strings around him, setting yourself up to gain his throne once he passes. It’s a simple concept, but Armello’s design takes it to another level, throwing in warring factions lead by a number of different species all of which have several unique traits and will appeal to certain playstyles. At first glance the hex-tiled map layout might seem familiar on the surface, but soon you’ll find a world full of dice-rolling, card-playing tactics ticking away underneath Armello’s exquisitely designed exterior. What you’re left with is a surprisingly deep game that feels like it’s anything but early access.
Armello takes a lot of inspiration from tabletop gaming. Elements of Settlers of Catan, Magic the Gathering, and Sorry are all present. I believe its concept was initially conceived as a board game that eventually made a transition into the digital realm as time went on. Its gameplay finds itself at home on PC though, and in part, kind of benefits from its digital presentation. Its randomized events are smooth making exploration, battle, and strategy enjoyable and easy to grasp. Whether it’s scavenging through dungeons in search of loot or perks or taking on randomly generated Banes across the map, you’re sure to find plenty to keep you occupied each turn.
"Armello, is without a doubt one of the best early access titles I have had the pleasure of coming across."
Armello features four distinct factions: Thane, the wolf, is a cunning character specializing in the art of combat; Sana, the bear, is a caster who focuses her wits and spirit into channeling the wylde and using spells to overcome her foes; Mercurio, the rat, is a devious rogue that uses trickery to his advantage; finally, Amber, the rabbit, focuses on exploration and resource management to thwart her enemies. Each character has their own pros and cons, and each character has a clan backing them. Clans come into play subtly throughout the game, but the characters themselves are the general representation of each.
If exploration isn’t enough to get your blood flowing, then the other factions surely will. You see, each player has a set amount of cards at their disposal at any given time, with three incorporated types. Item cards give you items (duh) that can be equipped or consumed to give you perks in and out of battle, Wylde cards give you magic spells that can be used to buff your hero or damage others, and trickery cards are a variable treasure trove of random cards that always ensure mischief. Using these cards wisely can ensure your victory or proliferate the chances of your demise. In combat these cards can also be burned to give you desirable outcomes, sacrificing the card’s ability for a guaranteed dice roll. Though it was kind of complicated initially, but Armello’s intuitive game design helps the player get up to speed rather quickly.
"Though it was kind of complicated initially, but Armello’s intuitive game design helps the player get up to speed rather quickly."
There are several ways to actually win in Armello, each requiring a totally different tactical approach. Prestige wins are what occur most frequently, and are the easiest to achieve. You see, each time a player completes a quest successfully, kills a bane, or finds certain types of gear they’ll gain prestige. Players that possess the most prestige at the end of the game’s cycle – 16 turns – will find themselves the next ruler of the kingdom. If waiting it out isn’t your thing there’s always the option of collecting spirit stones. These stones can be collected through dungeon exploration, but they’re rare. The best way I’ve found to gather them is simple: hunt down and kill the players that have them and make them yours. After you’ve collected four of these powerful resources you can turn them into the throne room to cure the king of his rot. The other way to win is to siege the castle, kill the king’s guards, then slay the king himself. I’ve found this task to be almost impossible, though and I don’t recommend trying.
"So, let’s bring this whole preview full circle: Armello is brilliant. Why? Its simple veil can be lifted to expose a complex system, leading to a number of branching options easily fitting any play style."
The addition of a turn limit places added pressure on the player. 16 turns doesn’t allow much room for error and one wrong move can prove to be treacherous. If you engage in any kind of combat, quest, or peril that results in your death you’ll lose prestige and be forced back to your faction’s starting point. Any strategic points you’ve held will also be vulnerable to enemy control during this time. Managing AP is a key part of the game’s strategy as well. You always need to note specifically where players are at any given time, especially since some terrain allows players to stealth giving them a distinct advantage in combat.
So, let’s bring this whole preview full circle: Armello is brilliant. Why? Its simple veil can be lifted to expose a complex system, leading to a number of branching options easily fitting any play style. Victory can be achieved, but the path leading to it is fraught with possibility and wonder. Its presentation is magnificent, it’s art-style colorful and stunning, and considering it’s only in early access I can say with confidence that League of Geeks knows exactly what they’re doing. This game instantly got pushed towards the top of my “most anticipated” list and I can’t wait to explore how well it translates to tablets when it’s officially released.
Preview by: Palmer Sturman | Previewed on: PC