This title was reviewed on Nintendo Switch, but is also available on Android, iOS, Xbox One, PS4, and PC.
The King of Armello has contracted the Rot, the disease spreading throughout the lands which corrupts body and soul. His days are numbered, and so the Great Clans send their best heroes forward to try and claim the throne any way they can. With the King in ailing health, and descending into madness, it’s only a matter of time before a new King or Queen sits upon the throne. The only question is; who will it be?
Developed by Australian indie collective League of Geeks, Armello markets itself as a digital role-playing strategy board game, and certainly lives up to the genre(s?). The game board is similar in a way to the Sid Meier’s Civilization games, in that it is made up of different tiles each with their own terrain that all come together to form a map, which players move their hero around in order to explore dungeons, complete quests, capture settlements, and ultimately battle each other in a chaotic struggle for the throne.
So how does one claim the throne? In Armello, a simple dibs is not enough, but there are plenty of paths that lead to the palace. Victory conditions include defeating the King in battle, collecting four Infinity Stones Spirit Stones to become the Spirit Walker and cleanse the Rot, acquiring a higher Rot score than the King and then defeating him, or by simply being the King’s favourite (represented by having the highest Prestige score) when he dies. Not only does this system add a lot of depth to the strategy of the game, it also means that there’s always the potential for an opponent to swoop in and snatch an unexpected victory from another player’s grasp.
As you may have guessed, a lot of this is easier said than done. The King, in his corrupted state, spreads perils throughout the lands, these perils being challenges that the heroes can overcome to secure an advantage, or fail and pay the price. Each challenge relies on one of your hero’s stats, fight, body, wits, or spirit, and grants a dice pool equal to your current level in the stat, which is where the tabletop RPG elements begin to come into play. Does this mean you can have less dice than the skill check requires? Absolutely, so approaching a peril requires careful consideration about your character’s stats, and by extension, the kind of build you’re going for in the early to mid game. However one thing you can do to cut down on the RNG is play your cards right – literally.
Cards are another major mechanic in Armello that can help or hinder you or your competition, depending on how they are used. There are item cards which provide bonus stat points and perks to your character for as long as you equip them, spells that grant temporary beneficial effects, follower cards which provide passive aid in various circumstances, and trickery cards who exist only to fuck over your opponents. As well as their normal effects, each card has a symbol that corresponds to a dice roll result, and cards can be “burned” at the start of an encounter or peril, which involves destroying them to secure a specific dice roll result.
It may be beginning to sound like the game’s mechanics are a bit bloated, and I definitely felt that way myself at times. However, removing any of these mechanics would take a lot of depth out of the strategy of the game, and believe it or not, they actually come together really well, complimenting and influencing each other rather than causing a disjointed mess. For example, the total amount of cards you can draw into your hand is based on your wit level, which feeds back into the peril system – the higher your wit score, the bigger the dice pool you have for wit based perils, and the more cards you have to burn to secure a desired result.
All in all, Armello does impressively well at finding its niche and excelling at it, even more so considering the game is a debut title for League of Geeks. Whether you enjoy board games, DnD, or just strategy games in general, Armello has a decent amount to offer, including a healthy amount of replayability at a reasonable price point. They also seem to be going for what is known as the Skyrim publishing strategy, releasing on as many platforms as possible, meaning it will be easier than ever for you and some mates to destroy your friendship over another board game.
Also published on Medium.