Video games have quite a few advantages over the every day board games made out of plastic and paper. Sure, they’re not as physically real. You can’t handle them and touch them the same way. They don’t have the factory sealed smell of freshly printed material, and perhaps they can’t match the social aspect of a real-life gathering. But in practicality, they’re faster to set up, they do all the math for you, and they can be incredibly elaborate with all kinds of details and complex mechanics. Armello works so well, that it’s almost curious why board games aren’t a more popular genre of video game.
Armello is a turn-based strategy game that pits four players against one another, each with the goal of usurping the crown and becoming the next king. Armello is designed to emulate a board game, with tiles to move onto, dice to roll, and cards to draw. Players can fight one another, complete quests, and strategically move around the board to collect useful loot and avoid enemies and hazards. When the time is right, there are four ways to win the game, most of which require breaking into the castle and confronting the corrupted King. The final battle tests the mettle of your hero, and should you fail, the consequences can be dire.
Each player controls one of eight heroes from four distinct clans. These include wolves, rats, rabbits, and bears. Every hero has different base statistics and a unique special skill. These variances encourage players to act differently depending on their chosen character, and to pay mind to their own strengths and weaknesses. For example, Sana from the bear clan receives only two fight dice, making her very weak in battle in most situations. However, her special ability lets her use her high spirit stat against corrupted characters, giving her a distinct advantage in certain situations.
Corruption is just one of Armello’s many mechanics that inject variety and strategy into the game. Players can become corrupt by accumulating a statistic known as rot. Corrupt characters gain combat advantages, but take damage each turn and die instantly should they enter certain tiles. Becoming corrupt can be a worthwhile strategy, but like everything else, it has its risks.
There’s a lot of luck involved in playing Armello, but it’s balanced very well against skill and strategy. Each move you make is thrilling, because you’re constantly taking calculated risks. You must decide which resources to use and which ones to save; when to be bold and when to retreat. Plans can change on the fly as you begin to accumulate certain cards, or when you find yourself in line to collect more spirit stones than your opponents, which satisfies a specific win condition. The randomness makes every game different, and keeps the outcome in doubt until the game actually ends.
In order to affect the board and stifle other players, each character draws cards each turn. These cards can be magic spells, items to use or equip, or trickery cards. Certain cards can be used to set traps known as perils, while others can temporarily boost your statistics or cause direct harm to your enemies. You can put a bounty on the head of an opponent, or steal their equipment, or sabotage their fight dice to give you an upper hand in battle. There are loads of ways to swing the outcome in your favor, and if you don’t like your cards, you can sacrifice them in battle in order to assure certain dice rolls.
Indeed, there are a lot of rules and effects in Armello, but the game is surprisingly easy to learn. Players can complete a four-part tutorial to learn all of the rules and nuances to playing and winning the game, which is pretty much necessary for understanding the mechanics. The tutorial does a great job of teaching players, but at the same time is a little snail-paced. It might leave you antsy to just get to the game.
Armello is designed mostly for online play, with no local multiplayer and lackluster single player. Online play works best since you can test your wits against real human beings, though this can be slow, based on the turn structure, and the fact that you’ll need to wait out other players’ quests and battles.
It’s somewhat commendable that Armello has a single player mode at all, but the AI is too dumb to provide a sufficient challenge. Each game, they make a number of questionable, reckless decisions that can sometimes assist you in victory. In one game, multiple AI opponents attempted to challenge the king too early, when their statistics made victory next to impossible. Eventually, one of them killed the king, but because they inevitably died in the process, I was awarded a prestige victory. The questionable AI doesn’t mean that you’ll win every game, but the odds are in your favor.
Still, single player has value in other areas. It’s a good way to learn the ins and outs of the game, and it allows you to unlock new starting items that give you various statistical boosts. AI turns can be significantly shortened, which is great when you want to play a quicker game.
Armello is a little bit niche, because its based around a single board. Your enjoyment will probably depend on your affinity for online multiplayer, and your patience to endure other peoples’ turns. There’s no campaign, so its longevity relies on how much you enjoy the mechanics. On one hand, it’s easy to see everything, but on the other, it will take you a long time to unlock every card and item.
For what it is, Armello is a great game with lots of depth. The characters are appealing and distinctive, and there are lots of ways to play. There are risks to take, enemies to kill, and strategies to consider and reconsider. If you like board games, Armello is a definite recommendation.