Armello has a special place in my heart. It was a project made by a small indie team called League of Geeks in Melbourne, Australia. I’ve been a sucker for the push for quality games made by great development teams in Australia. It’s for this sake that Armello had caught my attention and led me to keep my eye on it during its Kickstarter and subsequent beta tests. On September 1st, the game was officially released into Steam and I had to pick it up as soon as I could and play through it myself.
Armello follows the story of a King who is afflicted by a dark evil called the ‘Rot’ that slowly poisons him. As time progresses, his strength slowly decays while the corruption within his soul takes over and grants him twisted powers to destroy the world of Armello. You play as one of the denizens of the four clans: Rabbit, Wolf, Bear and Rat. The clans are aware of the conditions placed on the King and try to fix this issue through whatever means necessary.
The game of Armello is a role-playing board game. The land map of Armello is divided into hexagonal tiles that characters will traverse. Each game of Armello accommodates up to 4 players. Each player can select from up to the current eight characters from the four clans: River and Thane from the Wolf clan, Zosha and Mercurio from the Rat clan, Amber and Barnaby from the Rabbit clan, and Sasha and Brun from the Bear clan. Each character has their own unique trait and skills that will help them in their goal to successfully liberate Armello. Every character has four different traits that they can upgrade as they complete quests throughout the game: Fight, Body, Wits and Spirit.
The Fight trait determines the amount of die that is cast during a battle encounter between you and other opponents, Bane (a raven creature that comes to life due to the Rot) and the Guards that protect the king. The Body trait determines how much health a character has to sustain themselves while on the board. Wits determine how many die can be used for ‘Trickery Perils’ events that are there to hinder the player’s progress and can be sent out by other players. Finally, Spirit deals with how much ‘Magic’ points you obtain every dawn, as well as how many die are available for ‘Spell Perils’ which are similar to Trickery Perils. You can also obtain coins to use for Traps and equipping Items by claiming bounties on opponents or liberating towns. To win the game, you can either collect 3 Spirit Stones throughout the map and cleanse the King of his Rot or Kill the King and claim the throne. You can also allow the King to die naturally from the Rot in which the winner will be the person with the greatest Prestige (which is gained from completing quests, claiming bounties and killing Banes). There is also a darker route which involves gaining a higher level of Rot than the King and slaying him to overtake the throne.
The story when it comes to the win conditions is quite interesting, where you can either cleanse the good King and save the land or you can kill the tyrant and ascend the throne through popularity in his place, or you cast yourself into pure evil to become an even bigger threat; it all boils down to the way each round of Armello goes. Since Armello is a type of tabletop board game, there is a lot of randomized components that would lead the game to be different every time. Whether it’s new cards that you haven’t seen before or unlocked from a previous game or the dice roll being favorable/unfavorable. Each time you complete a game of Armello with certain conditions, you can obtain new trinkets that will allow you to slightly alter the stats of a character, so there will always be a chance for variety.
League of Geeks has successfully woven a world that is incredibly beautiful. The character design is delightful and the art style that masks the world is gorgeous. Both of these create a wonderful ambience of a land that has so much beauty and is far too pretty to let the Rot encroach over. I want to give credit to the art team who did this so well, but the problem is, the credits don’t give a proper run down of who was in charge of each component of the game which is a shame since it would be criminal to not check out more of their work. Armello is an exciting board game to play, but therein lies the problem I have with it. It’s a great board game but it’s not quite perfect for a video game.
Playing Armello, there was one thing on my mind coming in. Would I keep playing this game over and over again in single player? The answer I could give was sadly no. In a game which the motivation to play again is to unlock more trinkets and fill in the card gallery, it leaves room for desire. After a couple of playthroughs with each character and obtaining each win condition, there isn’t much there to encourage players to keep playing. The reason for this I feel is that the game is too much of a board game. Its true strength comes from the multiplayer aspect. It’s a social game that could be played regularly with a group of friends for sure. But when it comes down to single player, past unlocking very small items that change characters to a small degree, the motivation to keep playing loses its luster.
Upon release, Armello was hit with a lot of issues that needed to be changed including being able to select what AI to fight against instead of not at all, the cloud effects when zoomed out were obscuring the screen too much and some difficulties with stabilities. These were all fixed in a patch back on the 17th of September.
However, I have felt that there was one very frustrating UI feature within the game. Upon entering the screen where you can choose what quests to undertake, you don’t get the option to minimize it. There have been so many times where I wanted to look at the board for a bit before I chose a quest. It’s part of the game of strategy, and it was a bit of a strange limitation to have. If you assume Armello is based on a tabletop game, you have to picture it in that mind frame too. If you had these quest cards available to you, it would be appropriate that you could look around the board and see how well you could plan ahead and move to each marker. On that note, I felt that while it was a nice unnecessary touch to add names for every tile, it would have served to further increase their purpose by having each quest actually tell you where they will be located, or to at least have some form of clue to allow you to decipher where exactly you would end up going if you accept the quest.
Aside from these issues, I feel that Armello is a solid, fun game to play with friends. Its aesthetics are pleasing to the eyes and the soothing melody that plays throughout the game builds a beautiful story and atmosphere to get into the mood to take down a King. It’s a world of deceit, backstabbing and justice.
The game serves well as a board game and I would love to pick up a physical board game of this for a games night. As a video game however, it suffers from very minor oversights with UI and gameplay, as well as issues that would affect it due to its medium. There is more content to come for this game including the introduction to the Bandit Class next year who are already available to Kickstarter backers. Hopefully the updates that come out for this game will provide it with constant life and a solid gamer base.