Review: Armello26 Mar 2018 3
Released 15 Mar 2018
There was a time when it seemed that the only place you would find board games proudly on display would be at your local charity shop. Nowadays, cardboard is enjoying a real renaissance and video game designers have not been slow to incorporate elements of tabletop gaming into their designs. Armello is one such game; it looks and plays like a board game, it steals some classic board game mechanics, but it also has flashy animated graphics and takes care of all the tedious upkeep that goes on behind the scenes.
Unfortunately, the king of Armello has the rot and is rapidly descending into madness. It sounds like a euphemism for the sort of disease that a timely visit to the “special clinic” and a course of antibiotics could cure, but in this case, it turns out that the king’s days are numbered. Inevitably, the plotting and double-crossing soon kick in, as the various factions vie to seize power. There are four distinct ways to achieve the win; you can attempt to facilitate the king’s early demise, try to find a cure for his malady, or you can even take the darker path of catching the rot yourself and becoming Lord of Corruption. The final way to win is to have earned more prestige than the other players when the king finally pops his clogs. These starkly different routes to victory encourage much scheming and intrigue. It is like Game of Thrones but with rabbits and other assorted furry animals.
Each player chooses a character from one of the four animal clans, namely, rat, rabbit, bear or wolf. The clans have their own particular powers; wolves are especially powerful during the night, bears can enhance their health by visiting stone circles, rabbits excel at finding underground treasure (nine-carrot gold, perhaps?) and rats can recruit spies. The heroes are all excellently animated and are very characterful, with a satisfying variety of powers to enhance their individuality and add to the game’s replayability.
Each turn, either day or night, characters spend action points to travel across the randomly generated world. They can take over settlements, complete quests and defeat enemies, which may include other player characters. Defeat, either at the hands of an opponent or monster, results in a loss of prestige and a return to your homeland, tail between your legs. As you progress you will be able to accept quests. When a player completes a quest, they can either accept the basic rewards or push their luck in the hope of a greater prize. This usually involves rolling dice and runs the risk of suffering a penalty if unsuccessful. Players also have a hand of beautifully illustrated and animated cards. These fall into three different categories; providing equipment, magic and trickery. To activate a card, you need to spend the required resource, the trickery cards are especially interesting to play as they allow you to lay traps for other players.
For those who prefer the more direct approach of face-to-face conflict, we should take a look at combat. This involves rolling your hero’s attack dice and comparing the result with your opponent’s defence dice. There are a few additional nuances such as the sun and moon dice symbols that grant a bonus dependent on the time of day, and modifiers for different terrain types. Dice rolls also cleverly interact with cards in that you can discard a card in order to transform a die, which helps manage the luck factor. The way that combat is presented deserves a special mention, with the dice rattling around the screen and the combatants slugging away, accompanied by a range of atmospheric sound effects.
Combat and questing are the key ways to earn prestige, which is not only a viable strategy for victory, but also allows players to gain influence with the king. Each morning, when the increasingly loopy king awakes, he offers the player with the most prestige a choice of two declarations to enforce. These usually have a negative impact on all players, such as extra taxes, but get increasingly harsh as the king’s madness takes hold.
Presentation is stylish, but not without its problems. The view is zoomed in to showcase the graphics. This results in lots of scrolling to take in the whole playfield, and it is easy to tap the screen to scroll the view only to accidentally move your character. Worse still, is the night time graphics appear behind a filter that makes you feel like you have suddenly developed cataracts. This makes even simple tasks like identifying the location of the characters tricky.
There are two online options; you can play a private game against friends, with AI opponents stepping in for any missing players, or you can play a public game, with the app doing its best to link you up with players of a similar skill level. Playing an online game requires quite a commitment since games can last well over an hour and need to be completed in real time. I found it quite difficult to get a match up and running, so you are probably best playing with friends. Playing against strangers also runs the greater risk of players dropping out and ruining the experience. If you do not want to play online, then you are limited to matches against AI characters as there is no pass and play options. Unfortunately, the AI isn’t that great, and you will be securing victories in no time at all. Downtime is also a problem, there are some cards that you can play at any time, even when it is not your turn, but you will still probably be slipping away to make a cuppa.
Although the game is initially free to play, there are loads of unnecessarily convoluted additional purchases also on offer. There are two forms of currency that you earn as you play, or you can top-up your funds by dipping into your wallet. The most interesting purchases are the additional clan and several new characters. The new dice seem to be just cosmetic, with fancy textures and sparkly particle effects. You can also try your luck by investing in a ubiquitous loot box. If all of this sounds a bit too much, then there is an option to gain access to all of the extras by paying a monthly subscription charge.
Armello plays like an American-style board game with loads of dice rolls and player conflict. It has some neat ideas, with asymmetric player powers and multiple paths to victory, adding long-term interest, all of which are explained in a very well-presented tutorial. The game seems well balanced, never giving you enough time to do everything that you desire yet providing you with enough flexibility to maintain interest. It can be pretty unforgiving and is not for those adverse to direct conflict between players. The extra purchases do not seem essential, at least initially, but the way they are set up and explained is confusing. My biggest problem with the game is that at the moment it seems quite difficult to arrange matches with reliable players. Mutual enjoyment relies on all players sticking to a code of honour that involves seeing the whole game out and not ganging up on a single player. Such ethics go without saying when playing face-to-face with friends, but the online environment is a completely different animal.