When Armello first came to my attention, I sat up straight in my chair with anticipation — “Now this looks interesting!” Armello uses a blend of turn-based strategy, card game, board game, and dice-based battle systems. With so many different game systems at work here, it would be easy to jump to a conclusion of “too many cooks”. I hoped it wouldn’t be a recipe for a muddy, murky, over-complicated disaster.
The developers, League of Geeks, set themselves a massive undertaking with this game, hoping to change the way we play digital board and card games forever. Armello is presently available on Steam Early Access after a successful Kickstarter campaign. However, it is not finished and development is still on-going, so hopefully there will be more features in future updates before the final release. Let’s take a look at the game in its current state.
Does Armello’s reliance on so many gaming systems put it at peril, or does it flourish and shine? Read on to find out…
The first thing that I noticed about Armello is the absolutely stunning visuals. The fully-animated 3D characters and environments are beautifully detailed, along with the superbly drawn card art, which is also animated impressively. Armello is played over 3D hexagonal tiles, each with their own terrain and effects. Such a high level of artistic detail so far left my jaw on the floor for a while!
You can play as a Hero from one of four clans: Bear, Rat, Rabbit, or Wolf. These Heroes are on a quest to overthrow the current king, a Lion, as he is infested with Rot. In order to win you will either need to best him in combat, have the highest Prestige when he dies from the Rot, or purge the Rot from him using Spirit Stones. During the course of working towards your ultimate goal, you can take on mini-quests for extra rewards.
The game is always played with all four Heroes being active, either controlled by AI or other online players. Playing against three other Heroes will always make each game a challenge. In addition to facing off against other Heroes trying to commit regicide, you can also take on one another in hand-to-hand combat, using a mixture of dice and cards for combat resolution. Killing off a rival will force them back to their clan’s spawn tile and net you some Prestige points.
Each of the four clan Heroes have their own unique strengths and weaknesses while also trying to keep the game somewhat balanced at the start. In addition to your character choice, you also choose a trinket that can boost one of your base statistics: Fight, Heath, Wits, and Spirit. In addition to their base stats they will also get clan bonuses that will trigger at specific points in the game.
There are different resource systems in play. The first and most important is AP (Action Points). You use AP to move the Hero from one hex tile to another. Some terrain hex tiles are simple, such as the Plains, and some are more difficult to traverse, such as Mountains which cost 2 AP to move onto. Coins, Magic, and Rot are sub-resource systems that are used when playing cards.
Cards are by far the most complex system at play in Armello. Your Hero’s Wit stat will determine how many cards you can hold at any one time, and you’ll re-draw cards up to your maximum amount at the start of each dawn. Cards are split into different types: Items, Spells, and Trickery. Some cards can be equipped, others are instant uses and disappear after their use, whilst others are used to plant a Peril on a hex tile that’ll trigger when an opposing Hero walks onto it. In addition to being able to play them while in the field, they also have uses when fighting.
During the game, you fight against many foes: other Heroes, King’s Guard, and Banes. Every combat scenario will use your Fight stat to determine how many dice you roll. The game’s dice have sides with symbols that’ll either help you attack or defend against your foes. If you want a guaranteed roll, you can sacrifice a card from your hand and then it will turn a die’s face to the symbol that matches the one on the card.
There are dungeon tiles that, when landed on, will produce either Coins, Magic, or a Bane (if night time). Another huge gameplay feature is Perils. These can be created through the cards in your hand. When a Hero lands on a hex tile that contains a Peril they will need to roll dice equal to their Spirit stat to see if they pass it. Failing to pass a Peril roll will have negative effects like loss of HP, Coins, AP, or even cards. I have such a love/hate relationship with Perils — as much as I loved laying down Perils, I hated landing on them!
MODES AND FEATURES
Armello is currently on an Early Access release through Steam. A lot of the planned features aren’t live as of yet. I was able to test the single-player and casual online game modes, though. There will be a ranked online mode along with a prologue that I can only assume will be a campaign mode of some sort.
During the game, you can look at character sheets for each Hero and the King. This gives you a lot of information to work with other than the cards in their hand and the Perils they’ve laid down, which are hidden. There is also an in-game pop-up help function if you ever get stuck with how to win or what certain effects mean, and this feature’s menu system is as beautifully designed as the rest of the game.
The game does currently have a Card Gallery where you can see all of the cards you’ve unlocked through drawing at the start of each dawn. I like to look at these from time to time simply because of their amazing art and animations. There are over 100 different cards to use at the moment, and getting to know them could be important for gameplay (if you’re really into competitive play!).
What I love about Armello is that there are no class systems for the characters. Though they are stronger in some statistics than others, and this does influence a few factors, you can play the game as you wish. There are a few strategic plays that will always reap you more rewards no matter what clan Hero you choose, though.
Spirit Stones are one of the hardest ways to win the game. You will need to collect four stones, survive a Peril at the palace, and reach the King before he dies of Rot. Spirit Stones spawn at random and it’s never guaranteed that one will spawn near you. They can be collected from your sub-quests too, but I wouldn’t recommend you bank on those, either.
Combat and Prestige are the easiest ways to win, and both require a lot of fighting. I would recommend that you pick either the Fight or Health trinket at the start of the game if you want to take this approach. These will give you either an edge in combat or increased longevity, respectively. The more fights you win, the higher your Prestige will be. The benefits of having the highest Prestige each round is invaluable to your progression.
You won’t always have the resources to play a card, nor will you always want to play it, so using it in battle is a great way to empty your hand before you draw again. Be mindful of what you have in hand or have equipped, too. It’s risky drawing from the Items if you already have three Items equipped. There are other non-equip cards there too, but I prefer to slow my opponents with Trickery and Spells once I’m fully equipped.
Speaking of equipment, you will want Items that boost your dice amount in combat or when facing Perils. The more dice you have for either, the better your survival rate will be. I had one piece of equipment that gives you four defense dice before you even roll your Fight dice. If I was up against the Rat or Bear, I always had the distinct edge. I was able to secure a Prestige victory by killing my rival Heroes so much that it slowed their progression and gave me a lot of Prestige.
Armello is a well-balanced game that will always provide a challenge. I fell in love with the art style and the world created by the developers. Despite the game’s pretty demeanor, it has as much scheming and backstabbing as you’ll find in an episode of Game of Thrones. What else would you expect when a rabbit hides her sword in her umbrella?
The game reminds me a bit of old school board games like Talisman, if you’ve ever played that. Wandering around an open board while completing various quests and challenges of your own choosing is an incredibly enjoyable style of game — there are always so many options and choices ahead of you that it really feels entirely up to your strategic planning as to whether you win or lose, with luck playing much less of a factor, despite the randomized elements of the game’s various systems.
Does the game do enough to revolutionize the card and board game genre? I’m not so sure just yet. The basic building blocks are there, but I’ll need to see more of the planned features first. There is certainly enough gameplay to make it a casual bit of fun right now, but there is a lot more to come. I can’t wait to see what the final version has in store and how much change occurs over the course of Armello’s development.
Providing there are no steps backwards, this could well be a blockbuster title. Get on board now and help the developers shape the future of the game with your own feedback, as they’re always keen to take on board your suggestions. There are no booster packs or further purchases, as all you need to do is buy it once and you’ll have the full game available to you.
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