Quick, what’s the objective of Monopoly? If you answered “get your drunk sister-in-law to flip the board in frustration after three hours of play,” that’s also correct, but the primary goal is to win via having the most money. There’s strategy involved there – things like trades, bids, and careful moving of hotels when no one is looking – but the core idea is easy enough to follow. For many board inspired games of the past, there’s usually one clear goal and you go from there. It’s only been in the last 20 years or so that we’ve seen these beautiful innovations of games wherein there’s a path to victory, but it has so many forks and twists that no two games necessarily need to take the same approach. Things like Settlers of Catan, Carcassonne and even the lesser known Last Night on Earth incorporate so many variants that a single game can take long hours, but is well worth the journey. The League of Geeks sought to emulate some of those amazing properties with their gorgeous game, Armello, and, in true geeky format, they succeeded in massive quantities.
Armello is the name of a fictitious land that’s abound with anthropomorphic beasts and a Medieval fantasy feel. Think Redwall if things were about to get even darker than you remember. The king, a lion, has gone mad from a mysterious, evil force, and there’s no talking sense into him. There’s only one choice: usurpation through death. Each animal species has a clan that’s best suited to their race: the rats are keen on skullduggery and stealth, the wolves are proud, aggressive strikers, and so forth. The quest for the throne is not an easy one: the king is well guarded, his servants loyal, and he may be insane but he is not weak. Form temporary alliances, choose the right equipment and spells, work your way into the confidences of the throne if need be, but know this: the Rot that plagues the land will never truly be purged until the king is dead.
The basic edition of Armello gives you access to four different clansmen, though there is a DLC on the PC that adds four more (and time will tell if that will come to the Switch). EDIT: It’s been brought to my attention by the dev via Twitter that I made an egregious error! I meant to say that there are EIGHT initial characters, and there are 12 more available through the Complete Edition DLC, which has already been confirmed! Sorry, Geeks! Every turn is one half of a day: move about a hexagonal grid to various terrains, collecting different attributes and items along the way. Things like gold will help pay for mercenaries to carry out your dirty work or to save you from incoming taxes from the king. Magical points allow spells to be cast to either give you an advantage or attack another creature from afar, maybe even setting a trap for someone who dares enter your territory. Most of all, Prestige gives you an advantage of having the king’s ear at dawn each day: whomever is the most prestigious will have a choice of decrees that the king will lay down, benefiting you or maybe penalizing everyone far and wide. Depending on the animal tribe that you align with, your approach may be different, but you’re not destined to only play a single way. Amber the Rabbit, for example, is better at using magic and keeping her distance, but who’s to say a good roll of the dice won’t bring you some sufficient combat bonus to go hand-to-hand with Thames the Wolf?
One thing that Armello does especially well is show the player how the game COULD operate as a physical edition, and why it’s so much better in a digital format. With multiple piles of cards for items, spells, tricks, decrees, quests and more, the sheer number of items that would need to be kept on the board at all times is staggering. Not to mention a massive dice pool that can expand to something like 10 dice being rolled by a single player (the largest amount I saw) and certain rolls immediately activating a second roll, or adding another die to the turn. Armello walks this tightrope where we see what could be done if you had infinite space, time and money, and then boils it down to make it clear that the digital approach gives players, both of video games and board games, the full experience that they want while still keeping things clean on both sides of the street.
Additionally, the presentation of all the different elements of Armello are beautiful and fluid. The overworld map is gorgeously varied and detailed, from simple villages which become your fortifications to dungeons that may deliver treasure, damage, or something much worse. The board changes dynamically from day into night, and players who are inattentive may forget that their opponents can hide in the forest at night, and you’ve just set yourself up for a sneak attack. Seeing a settlement suddenly be overcome with Rot, occupied by a Royal Guard or just have a suspicion that something awful is waiting for you comes through in crystal clear influence. The portraits of the characters are beautifully rendered, and there’s this subtle difference in their design from when they’re character sheets, when they’re moving pieces around the massive board, and when they enter into the combat phase of the game. It’s not just that there’s dynamic levels to the characters: it’s like they become different versions of themselves depending on the part of the game/turn they happened to be engaged in.
I last played Armello years ago, when it first debuted, and a lot has changed since then in a good way. For one, my original PC was barely able to load a game in any sort of capacity: Armello used to require quite the rig in order to get the game to even start-up, much less transition between turns smoothly. At the time of this writing, I’ve gotten a couple of games under my belt, not including the four stage introduction/warmup phase. Though the load times were a bit longer than, say, the instant rendering of some titles, I didn’t notice a substantial lag in having to transition or wait for things to be created. Additionally, there was a little jank in the animations as the characters sometimes moved or decided to engage in combat, but it wasn’t anything that made the game look overly unpolished or unprofessional. In fact, I’m really impressed with the League of Geeks and what they were able to accomplish by getting this game down to a decent install size and having it run so damn well on the Switch. I haven’t played a game online, true: I know that’s where the real joy comes in, but I have bad timing and I wasn’t sure if there was crossplay or not. As a result, I can’t attest to loading times and wait when your friends are taking turns overseas. Still, I’ve already been informed there is a performance patch that’s coming, along with a hugely celebrated touchscreen interface patch which’ll make the game fly by even smoother than it currently does.
The tutorial is so important to the game, and veteran players may feel slighted that it’s unskippable in order to get into the meat of Armello, but give things a chance. For new players, there is a fantastic amount of information to digest: when you should fight for your quests or go passive, when you need to focus more on building gear and not just gathering gold, and when it’s finally time to seize the throne, should you be so bold. A younger me wanted to skip all of that entirely and brazenly went straight into the castle, figuring a mad, sick king wouldn’t expect the insane rabbit to leap the wall and go right for his throat. Well, he was ready. I was not. And that was the last time that I attempted this kind of maneuver, and then I just sulked as the rest of the clans got stronger, build proper defenses and actually had some decent chance to try to become the new ruler.
The only real downside of Armello is the sheer time investment that comes with both playing the game and being good at the game. Far from your usual experience, players who play through the introduction are still going to need a couple of goes at the game before they get really familiar with what happens, and that’s no small chunk of hours that is required to make it happen. Even if you know EXACTLY what to do, you sink a little less than an hour in the first four chapters of the ropes, and then a standard game will probably be an hour by itself. If you end up playing with advanced players who know what they’re doing, it can easily drag into the two-hour range as careful decisions regarding the dice, the cards and your assets are made to help further their agenda. I’ve personally agonized for a couple of minutes over which Decree would help me most and hurt me less, and that was playing solo. If I was engaged in multiplayer I would have been ripping my hair out.
Still, this is a gorgeous, deeply enthralling title that is sure to bring a lot of joy to the board game community at large. Armello has kept its promise to keep getting better, continue innovating, and it stands on the precipice of a phenomenal release on the Nintendo Switch. If you’re hesitant, take a moment and watch some videos online of great matches and good players, even if some of them pulled out victory through sheer luck. Armello is exciting and wonderful, and I hope everyone gets a chance to quest for the crown.
REVIEW CODE: A complimentary Nintendo Switch code was provided to Bonus Stage for this review. Please send all review code enquiries to firstname.lastname@example.org.
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Gameplay - 8/10
Graphics - 8/10
Sound - 8/10
Replay Value - 8/10
User Review( votes)
The king must fall. Fight, lie and conquer to take the throne.