So What About: Armello

Armello, fantasy board game by developers League of Geeks (LoG), is a sight for sore eyes. The game is currently available on Steam, Xbox One, and PS4, and it is slated for an IOS release early 2017. The game balances beauty and strategy to create an immersive—and addictive—experience. This trailer is just a taste of some of the masterfully rendered artwork created by LoG’s team, and the haunting sounds there serve as the soundtrack for this smart game that so quickly captured my interest.

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So What About the Gameplay?

“A thousand deaths of Rat conception, disguised in the beauty of Rabbit invention.”
—Card art by Tim McBurnie, animation by Jack Kirby Crosby

Don’t be fooled by the cute animals; Armello’s world is a harsh one. It follows that the game is by no means a simple one, and it definitely has a learning curve with the potential to scare some players away. Though in some ways it veers from a traditional tabletop, with stealth mechanics that make you temporarily invisible and the ability to play cards outside of your turn, it still maintains the core strategic aspect of a board game.

You can play the game as one of eight animal heroes, but with the Usurpers DLC released in August of last year and more heroes planned for the future, you’ll never get tired of your options. Each character has unique stats and abilities that help or hurt them as they journey to face the evil rotting away Armello’s heart: the king.

Each player must navigate across a treacherous hex board, filled with perils placed by mages and tricksters alike, to complete quests, grow stronger, and eventually take over the throne in one of four ways. You can win by gaining the king’s favor, cleansing him of a force called the rot, growing even more corrupted than him, or just killing him outright. This variety makes for ever exciting games that often turn at the last minute.

Click each icon for the full image

It’s truly a card and dice game, so you’re going to have the same struggles that you would in a board game. Sometimes you just won’t draw or roll what you want to, which can be deadly when facing a peril or fighting another hero, and there’s a common complaint that the random generator in Armello can be particularly cruel. With patience and caution, however, bad luck can be reigned in with the game’s unique ability to “burn” cards in exchange for locking in some of the dice rolls.

Armello can suffer from its length. A typical online match is about an hour and a half, which can seem even longer if it has become clear that the crown might not fit your head. On top of that, a stable internet connection is essential for online games, as there is no ability to reconnect with a game you have dropped out of, and there is no real way to pause these online games.

Of course if you’re happy to play against the computer then this isn’t a problem. Offline games save every round and AIs take quicker turns than real opponents. But AI is only so intelligent. If you’re anything like me, after you play against the computer enough to learn the basics, you’ll quickly want more of a challenge. Online play also has the benefit of allowing you to increase your ranking and receive keys and chests, which can unlock dice skins that can be used in-game, such as the Ancient’s Gambit dice shown in Brun’s battle against the king above. New dice are released in seasonal collections, which keeps the game fresh with new content, and (if you’re playing on steam) rewards that can even be sold to fill up your wallet.

So What About the Story?

“Wyld protect him; mane of sun and eyes of night. Our great King. Armello’s light.”
—Card art and animation by Jack Kirby Crosby

While we are fed tidbits of Armello’s world through its witty card captions, quest summaries, and hero descriptions, don’t expect a story mode in this game. In that sense, some of the promotion can be a bit misleading. I’ll admit I got this game expecting a campaign, and was disappointed when there was none. The closest you will get to a true RPG story is in the prologue, when different followers guide you through the gameplay with admittedly cheesy but still engaging dialogue.

While the team at LoG seems dedicated to building a world that you can feel a part of as you play, they have stated that a story mode is not currently planned, nor is it likely to be developed due to Armello’s primary focus on being a strategy game and the resources that were required for the prologue alone. Armello’s world still provides the impression of mysteries yet to be discovered, however, which is enough to keep the keen observer curious and engaged.

So What About the Community?

“Bubble Tea is fleeting, Armello is forever.”
—Card art and animation by Jack Kirby Crosby

Because Armello is a multiplayer game with tradeable cosmetic rewards and a leveling system for online play, it’s naturally going to have an active community. The game does not feature an in-game chat, but rather has canned dialogue lines to indicate general sentiments that vary with every character (IE: “I’m sorry,” “Let’s form a truce,” “Stay out of my way.”) These tidbits of dialogue do triple duty by adding life to the characters, bridging the gap created by language barriers, and preventing anyone from abusing chat. As a result, players tend to focus on the game instead of each other while in a match, but are very vocal in forums and the fan made Discord chat, where people can pair up to play games and talk about the game.

The community is perhaps as strong as it is, however, because of the active role Armello’s developers play in their game. They frequently release free updates and patches, host weekly streams where they play games with community members, and are very receptive to feedback and bug reports. Despite being a small developer, LoG devotes a great amount of time to their game and it shows.

So What About Armello?

“With a good suit of chainmail, the only real risk to your life is your own stupidity”
—Card art and animation by Jack Kirby Crosby

Armello is a game about balance. It’s strategic without relying too heavily on its gameplay to be appealing, and makes good use of art and its satisfying scraps of story without taking away from the impression that, at heart, it’s a board game and not an RPG. It’s a good game to play when you feel like a challenge, but some might struggle with the fact that you can’t always walk away with a win. Armello expects you to make mistakes, and to die, and to fail your quests, but never lets you forget how good it feels to sit on the throne.

Thank you for reading this review!
Have questions about Armello? Comment below or contact us.

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