Armello takes the strategy and concept of a board game and combines them with the presentation of a videogame to produce a deep and satisfying game of tactics and adventuring with a splendid aesthetic. Moreover, its smart design and compelling win conditions make it hugely enjoyable. Indeed, Armello is an attractive package both visually and mechanically.
Anthropomorphised animals make up the cast in this medieval adventure for the crown of a kingdom. You play as one of three clans, jumping into the paws of one of eight distinct animals in order to win the crown from the disease ridden lion king. A supernatural disease called rot has crept into the kingdom, infecting the king and driving him mad. The three clans vie for the crown, taking on each other, the rot, and the mad king and his guards through battles, adventuring through dungeons and completing quests to satisfy the criteria of one of four primary win conditions.
The win conditions are: Kill the king and claim his throne, have the most prestige when the kind dies from the rot, banish the king with the spirit stones, or slay the king when you are infected with the rot. However, there are subtleties to each of these victories as well as a mixture of paths that thread the four main ways, allowing a great deal of flexibility. This is especially useful as you’ll never feel locked into one victory condition and can adapt your strategies to fit the flow of the game.
In order to chase a victory, you and your fellow players take turns moving around the small, procedurally generated map made up of hexes. Within each hex lies a mixture of forests, dungeons, towns and plains. Quests will be offered to you that reward you with prestige, equipment, and cards. The equipment boosts your base stats, giving you enhancements in combat, meanwhile, the cards run the gamut from banishing a player back to their clan territory to improving your combat odds.
During battle, dice are rolled with symbols representing attack hits and defence manoeuvres. Meanwhile, the attack and defence animations are played out after both sides have rolled, showing the animal cast slicing, stabbing and guarding with a quick succession of still images. And with the press of a button, the cards collected during your adventure can be played, both in and out of battle, each with subtle animated elements on the image. It’s delightfully stylised and takes the visual strength of a videogame and puts it to use on Armello’s board game assets wonderfully.
The character art is reminiscent of Disney’s animated Robin Hood, with the weapon-baring animals conjuring the same nostalgia. It’s a fantastic aesthetic that adds a lot of personality, charm and uniqueness to the digital board game. Furthermore, an enchanting soundtrack does a great job of portraying the medieval setting.
It’s not just the presentation that means to impress. The aforementioned combat is a mixture of random dice rolls, character stats, and any cards you have in your possession that you’re willing to play. It’s an ideal balance of luck and tactics.
With the adventuring, the medieval fantasy setting and the fight for the throne, Armello invokes Game of Thrones, Magic the Gathering and Risk, and delivers precisely the kind of experience you’d expect from such a combination. The acts of cruelty you can perform are devious, the adventuring bold and heroic, and the twists as you flit between victory condition paths unforeseeable and sudden. It’s a great drama to witness and play.
However, whilst the AI does a competent job at challenging you, it’s only against fellow humans that Armello truly shines. If you can find a group of friends willing to take on the kingdom of Armello for the hour or so each game lasts, or strangers willing to use the chat, then Armello becomes a hugely compelling game of alliances and betrayals.
Indeed, Armello is a fantastic digital board game that makes great use of its digitalisation to enhance it’s board game roots. A terrific tutorial sees your ready to do battle for control of the kingdom, and a tactically vast set of mechanics and victory conditions allows everyone a chance to win. Occasionally the procedurally generated map can overwhelm you with random harshness, and its slow pace and board game setup may be off-putting for some, but if this kind of experience intrigues you then you won’t be disappointed.
Thanks to Xbox and League of Geeks for supporting TiX