I previewed Armello at the beginning of the year and absolutely fell in love with it. I praised its stunning artstyle, commitment to espionage, and the way the title always presents multiple paths to achieve the same goal. All of these things remain true in its full release, and the additional characters, cards, and incentives provide even more content for players to lose themselves in. It’s a beautiful and well executed board game that, aside from a couple of multiplayer hiccups, utilizes its digital format in a way few games can.
For those that don’t know, Armello is a fantasy digital tabletop game that pits anthropomorphized animals in a hex-based, politically fueled adventure reminiscent of something you’d find in Redwall or Game of Thrones. The king of Armello has succumb to the Rot -- Armello’s version of black magic -- and the land is in disarray. Players are not friends, there are few alliances, and those that might be formed during multiplayer are usually only good for as long as there’s an incentive. Armello itself plays like a combination of Magic the Gathering, Settlers of Catan, and Sorry, and the title’s smart mechanics are simple enough to grasp, but end up being deceptively deep.
There are multiple characters in Armello, all offering different playstyles. One leans towards agility, one towards combat, another towards spellcasting and knowledge, and so on. Players will easily be able to find a character that suits them just right, but it does seem like there are some minor balancing issues with a couple of the classes, especially during the beginning of the game making the first few turns extra challenging.
The objective of Armello is simple: stop the king from dying, or figure out a way to ensure that you’ll take over the throne once he’s dead. Sounds easy, right? Well, throw in three other players, all vying for the same throne, and add a sixteen turn limit and suddenly all bets are off. Though the first few turns tend to go as planned, the closer the game comes to its end the more chaotic the player interactions tend to become.
"It’s a beautiful and well executed board game that, aside from a couple of multiplayer hiccups, utilizes its digital format in a way few games can."
There are three ways to win in Armello: gain prestige, find spirit stones, or become powerful enough to slay the king outright. All three options require different strategies, and some of these win conditions are not as frequent as others, but given the right circumstances all three options can be utilized effectively and provide plenty of incentive to continue.
Prestige was by far my most frequent win condition. Prestige essentially means that your character has enough honor at the end of the 16 turn period to take over the throne once the king dies. Players gain prestige through a few different means, but the main source of prestige comes from questing and exploration. As players go through the map they’ll encounter forests, caves, mountains and more, all begging to be explored. Once explored players will find treasure and gain a bit of prestige to keep them going. Killing enemies can also net you some prestige, but be careful of your targets, killing guards will net you a hefty penalty.
Spirit stones tend to be the second most common option for victory. Spirit stones are a rare item that players will come across periodically during the course of game. Collecting enough of these will allow a player to heal the dying king and end the game. It provides an extra incentive for map exploration, and gives players an alternative option to the “wait and see” method prestige presents. Finding all the necessary stones on your own might prove to be a difficult task, so my tried-and-true method of victory was to let other players collect them for me. Once other’s got enough of them, I ruthlessly hunted them down, taking their coveted stash for myself. Vicious, I know, but ruthless tactics are a necessity in Armello.
"Graphically, Armello looks like something from a Disney or Studio Ghibli film. Its stunning animation and attention to character detail is part of what sets Armello apart from other titles."
The final method for victory is gain enough power to slay the king outright before the game ends. This is an incredibly difficult task that I’ve only ever seen done successfully one time. The king himself is a difficult opponent, but when you consider the fact that his castle is surrounded by guards and traps it’s a task that only escalates in difficulty. It’s a daunting task that requires a full sacrifice, and its toll is hefty considering there’s only a modicum of success.
Combat in Armello is a dice-fueled interface that utilizes player stats and cards in order to determine its outcome. Players receive a certain amount of dice initially, which is dependent on a player’s base stats and equipped items. While combat does rely heavily on RNG there are ways to turn the tides of battle in your favor. Players can cycle their cards in order to gain an advantage in the fight, or just to burn them off so they can draw more later. Once the cards have been applied, players will roll their dice and dictate the outcome.
Cards can be put to use in other ways as well. Trap cards are arguably the most prominent cards to be used out of battle, and they make any hex-tile they might be applied to a dire place for unsuspecting players. Traps have a chance to be disabled, but they’re usually designed well enough to ensure that players will succumb to them unless they’re lucky.
"Armello has taken the reigns on digital tabletop gaming, much in the same way that Heathstone made digital card games a craze."
Graphically, Armello looks like something from a Disney or Studio Ghibli film. Its stunning animation and attention to character detail is part of what sets Armello apart from other titles. Even the game board is a sight to behold. Lush forests, sprawling castles, towering mountainsides, and elaborate caves are all gorgeous looking on the game board. Though the game lacks the detail of modern graphical powerhouses, the simplicity of the hand-drawn style has charm. Particle effects and bloom also go a long way towards establishing a more poignant environment without ever being intrusive.
My gripes with Armello are focused on two small aspects of the multiplayer. Online multiplayer is a lot of fun, but the pacing and player silence can make the experience a bit of a bore at times. There is a total and complete lack of voice chat in the game. Armello isn’t the only title to do this recently (I’m looking at you Heroes of the Storm), and part of me understands the design choice, but it would be nice to communicate with players to set up traps, or form temporary alliances. I also think that the turn times are a bit generous. Considering players are always paying attention to the map and other player movements, I can’t help but feel like people should need less time to plan their next move.
Armello has taken the reigns on digital tabletop gaming, much in the same way that Heathstone made digital card games a craze. League of Geeks has made a fun and addictive title that is incredibly easy for anyone to pick up, but its multiple objectives and emphasis on deception ensure that no two games will ever be alike. In my preview I said Armello was one of the most impressive early access titles I had ever had the pleasure of playing. Now that’s it’s in full release it’s obvious Armello is a labor of love; a testament to the past, present, and exciting future of tabletop gaming. It may have some imperfections, but this some of the most fun I’ve ever had playing a digital board game.
Review by: Palmer Sturman | Reviewed on: Playstation 4