Four clans have gathered to take down the King who has become corrupted. Will you make it to the top or crash down trying?
Armello is a board game that will pit you against three other players as you try and make your way to the King. You move from tile to tile as you wander around the board completing quests, obtaining items, and trying to not get killed. The board is populated with a handful of different types of tiles, ranging from dungeons to cities to plain ol’ plains.
At its core, Armello brings out the board game design brilliantly. You make your moves, interact with certain tiles if you cross them and deal with the other players along the way. Once you look beyond that, a handful of design issues come up in situations that would never happen in a real board game. Oh don’t worry, there’s still that situation of one player always getting screwed over by everything. And at least in single player, that situation seems to happen to you more often than not.
When you first start a game of Armello, you’re presented with several choices. The first is who you’ll play as. There are four clans available with two heroes each. Each character plays similar enough, though each has their own strength in a skill and within their stats. After you decide on your character, you need to choose an item to equip. At first you’ll only have one option, but as you complete more games you’ll unlock more for you to use. After that, you’ll get your final choice as to what stat bonus you want. What you choose will make encounters in the game easier, whether it’s in combat, completing quests, or otherwise.
Finally within the game, you’ll find one of Armello’s huge strengths: the game board looks pretty amazing. Unfortunately, this also comes as one its issues. While the board looks really good, you can forget about trying to zoom out and get a better look at it. “Clouds” start to block your view, making it near impossible to actually see anything. This leaves you with having to just move around the board while more zoomed in, often leading in missing something going on if it’s not your turn.
So if you’re like me and tend to play most of your stuff single player, you’ll find another glaring issue in Armello. If you play single player in this game, you end up going first. Every. Single. Time. Well, okay sure, you go after the King’s Guards and Banes move, but you will always go before the other players. For myself, this often lead to getting screwed by the AI moving into the path I wanted to go along or getting ganged up on because I never get the option to see what they’ll do first.
Speaking of AI, there’s absolutely no way to adjust their difficulty. In fact, options within Armello are extremely limited. When you’re first starting out, it’s extremely easy to just get screwed over just because the AI is a whole lot better than you are. Granted, this isn’t to say the AI is absolutely amazing, but it’s also not completely horrible.
So, when your turn comes around (again, when playing single player, you’re always the first to move), you get to refill your hand of cards up to the amount of “Wit” you have. Your Wit is indicated by the goblet symbol at the bottom left of your screen. These cards come in three categories – Items, Spells, and Trickery – and have a wide range of effects. There is a third type of card that you can obtain (Companions), though these are much harder to come across. In order to play these cards you’ll have to pay their cost. Costs come in several forms – coins, mana, Prestige, and Rot – and the amount you need on each also varies.
Item cards are mainly equipment you can put on (though you can only have 3 items on at once). This equipment mainly helps you in combat, though they can also help you while facing Perils or trying to get around the map. Some pieces have a risk/reward management situation, whether it’s choosing to obtain 1 Rot to equip a piece or choosing to lose 1 die in combat to gain more defense.
Spells are a hit-or-miss situation. At every dusk (you switch between Day/Night for each turn), your mana is “rebalanced”. Some characters will have more mana than they know what to do with, others you’ll be staring at this spell you really want to use and just can’t because you never get enough mana for it. Cards that take coins (Items/Trickery) are at least easier to use, though you still want to hold onto some coins in case, as coins aren’t “rebalanced” and you can start collecting them.
Trickery spells move into the more deceptive side of Armello. These are mainly your traps which you are able to place across the map. Known as Perils in the game, in order to not get hit by the trap you need to defeat the peril within. This involves rolling the dice to try and match the symbols shown. You are also able to burn cards in your hand to try and match these symbols. I typically found it easier to burn cards to match the symbols, but of course my luck is usually absolutely awful when it comes to winning rolls. Should you lose against the Peril, a variety of effects happen from bad to really bad. Sometimes you don’t mind losing though, as it doesn’t really affect you at the time (losing a companion when you have none for example).
Some of these Perils require you to know the map by heart though, so if the peril says “Become exiled to the nearest Mountain” you’ll probably ask yourself “Where is that again?” This is because while you’re in the Peril screen, the map is no longer visible and you’re given a full-screen view of trying to overcome it. I’m pretty sure this would never actually happen in a real life board game as you’d still be able to see the map despite trying to face down something.
Combat suffers from the same issues – it forces you into a full screen view AND it relies on dice rolls to win. Again, you can burn your cards to guarantee certain rolls, but sometimes it doesn’t seem to really help much. Often your best bet is to try and load up on defensive equipment (assuming you can find it) and just tank your way through encounters, hoping you roll enough swords to defeat them so that they don’t keep trying to go after you. Should you be the winner of combat, you’ll either move onto their space (if you initiated combat) or you’ll stand your ground (if you were the one attacked). Losing will either mean you die or you get pushed back a space.
There are several ways to actually win. The most prominent is the Prestige Victory. At each dawn, the King will lose 1 life. Should this deplete to 0, a Prestige Victory will happen. There is one way for this to not trigger that victory though, and that’s if a player attacks the king, wins, and doesn’t die. At that point it’s declared a Kingslayer/Combat Victory. Yeah, it has two different names. Then there’s the more complicated variety of the Kingslayer Victory – a Rot Victory. You need to obtain more Rot than the King, challenge him to a battle, and still win. Finally, there’s the Spirit Stone Victory. If you’re going for this particular victory, be prepared to dedicate your entire game towards getting it. You need to collect four Spirit Stones either through quests or from them spawning in Spirit Circles around the map. Once you have enough, you need to go to the King and “use” them on him.
To actually get to the King you need to be ready to spend at least two turns on it. One turn is dedicated towards actually getting into the palace, the other on attacking him. It doesn’t matter how many moves (indicated by AP) you have left when you enter the palace – it’s all used. If you’re ejected, try again next turn. If you die? Well, you may as well forget about getting back in there.
Before I drag this review on much longer, let me cover one last thing – the quests. When you first start a game you’re presented with the ability to choose one of three quests. The type of quest it is is indicated at the bottom, so be sure to pick one that either fulfills the victory type you’re going for or one that is best for your stats. After that, the quest will appear on the map and you’ll need to make your way towards it while hoping nothing gets in your way. Once you get there, you can either choose the hard or easy way. The hard way is more rewarding, but if you fail the RNG roll you’ll get a penalty. Either one gives you the base rewards for the quest however, so don’t feel too bad if you have to go the safe way. Once you complete the quest, you have to wait until your turn is over to be able to select your next quest. It would have been really nice if you could just choose it after you complete the last one, as often you want to plan your move to head towards where the next step would be but you can’t as you just don’t know where it will be.
Armello has some interesting roots in strategy play but it gets hindered by a multitude of issues. Trying to play cards on your opponent’s turns is exceptionally tricky and often becomes futile to try and do so. Dying sets you back a lot and can often lead to you just not even bothering with trying to win outside of Prestige anymore. Zooming out on the map is pointless, and the inability to choose your next quest on your turn hurts a lot with how limited movement is. It does look quite pretty though, and I imagine it can lead to quite a few laughs if you’ve got some buddies (online only, no local) to play it with. It would be nice if non-Prestige Victories were easier to come by though, as you really do have to dedicate yourself to trying for the other ones, and even then you could get screwed over by RNG. If you’ve got some buddies to play with though, then check out Armello, available now on Steam and PS4.
Armello Review Score
I would like to thank the publisher for providing me with a PS4 copy for review.