Published on October 10th, 2018 | by Lee Davies
Review: Armello (Switch eShop)
Format reviewed: Switch eShop
Other formats available: Steam, PS4, XBox One, App Store
Developer: League of Geeks
Publisher: League of Geeks
Website: Official Website
Players: 1 (local), 2-4 (online)
The battle for the crown has begun!
Wage epic single and multiplayer strategy battles as you adventure across the land of Armello on your quest for the throne!
As a hero from one of the clans of Armello, you’ll quest, scheme, hire agents, explore, vanquish monsters, cast spells and face off against other players, with one ultimate end goal in mind — storming the palace and becoming King or Queen of Armello. The Kingdom of Armello is as dangerous as it is beautiful, perils, banes and bandits hide around every corner and a spreading corruption known as the Rot is leaving no creature untouched.
Armello is a great example of what a board game can be in a digital setting. It has massively deep mechanics, lore and gameplay. This can be a boon or a hindrance regarding whether you’re playing online or in local setting. Fantastically elaborate animated cutscenes build the lore of each of the clan’s plight to take down the corrupted King and claim the title of monarch for themselves.
There’s a wonderful introduction to the game and its deep mechanics in the tutorial mode, that opens the entire game with animated cutscenes that explore the lore and the motivations of the four playable clans in the game. The 4-staged tutorial slowly builds your knowledge of the game’s mechanics by introducing a new element every time a new clan is introduced. Movement and Combat are told through the introduction of the Wolf Clan; Cards and Perils through the Rat Clan; Politics through the Rabbit Clan; and Rot Defence and Magic through the Bear Clan.
Once through the tutorial, you’ll realise that that’s just the tip of the iceberg, and the amount of intricacies required to learn for a mastery of the game will require patience and online practice against other human players.
The game can be played with any of the 4 Clans, and each has 2 playable characters to choose from. Each character has their strengths and weaknesses, and choosing the right character for the style of play through you want is a must. Each Clan has slightly more chance to win a game playing in one style over another. The Wolf Clan’s best chance is through combat, gaining extra health and assassinating the dying King before the Rot consumes his corrupted soul, therefore assuming the heir-ship through conquest. The Rabbit Clan’s best shot is through politics and having the ear of the King through building up Prestige, the Prestige Leader at the King’s untimely Rot death will assume control of the Kingdom. The Rat Clan is by far the more stealthy and employs the use of assassins more freely, and their best chance lies in attaining wealth in the form of Gold. The Bear Clan uses Spirit, the form of magic in Armello, to channel energy in the fight.
The game plays out on a board that is divided into 2 main areas. The majority of the play field surrounds the King’s Castle that is centrally located. You’ll be playing the game on the same sized board every time, so there’s an advantage to knowing the style of layout, even if different hazards present themselves at different locations. The King is positioned for the entirety of the game in the central most square. Surrounding him are his castle walls, prepped with traps to overcome if an incursion is detected. Guard’s rotate around him and very often are sent out by him to cause havoc in the world and all the players challenging his authority.
It’s not the biggest of game worlds, but it’s as big as it needs to be. Everything in this game is meticulously planned. The game board size is perfect to focus the gameplay and allow players and NPCs, like the King’s Guards and Banes, to come into contact with each other on a frequent basis.
The majority of the game board, then, surrounds the central castle and is comprised of hexagonal ‘squares’ to navigate through, one at a time. Using AP (Action Points) you can move up to 3 squares in a turn, more if you use card buffs to temporarily enhance your AP, or less if you traverse terrain that impedes your progress, like mountains. They require 2 AP for a single move, but provide better defence to your stats.
The board comprises: forests, that can be utilised for nightly stealth; mountains, for defence; towns, that can be swayed to your cause and provide much needed Gold after a full day cycle; dungeons, with random chance dictating what you collect from them whether it be cards, Gold or other luxuries; swamps, drain health; and Stone Circles heal. The whole map is randomly generated at the start of each new game, and provides a very different experience every time with changing seasons and perils.
The game has a Day/Night cycle. Oscillating between the two and allowing all characters their turn twice a day, once in the daytime, and once at night. Completing a full Day/Night cycle points you toward the King, and his ailing health gets reduced by another heart. With the King starting at 9 hearts, it takes 9 full days, or 18 turns for a full game to play out, unless someone murders him sooner, and in real terms that means anywhere between 45 minutes and 1 and a half hours to complete a full game. That’s no problem in a single player session as the game allows you to save at any time of your choosing. However, in the online multiplayer sessions, choose your time to start carefully, as quitting out means never finishing the game that was started. How about when playing with others in a local setting on a single Switch I hear you ask. Well, you may well ask, because I in particular was looking forward to sinking some time into Armello with family. However, due to the nature of the game, with a total reliance on keeping your stealthy moves secret, your card deck secret, and inventory, such as weapons and defence, it comes as no big surprise, a little saddening, but no surprise that find out that local play is not implemented in the game. If you are looking for human on human action, then you’ll need multiple Switches, and multiple downloads or go online with friends and/or randoms. There are options to set-up private matches or just jump into a random game of your choice. However, I have found it impossible to jump into an online game with randoms as four players are needed to start, and the maximum number of players I have found online at any one time is 3, with a lot of waiting.
Movement is deliberate, and lots of thought has to go into how you are going to approach every situation. Fighting your way through every encounter can gain a Prestige Point for every successful encounter, however, these are risky endeavours played at with a game of dice. Losing may result in death and a lost of Prestige. Rolling the allocated number of dice for your character, you must get swords for attack and shields for defence. Your opponent does the same, and attack commences balancing their attack power to your defence and vice versa, a winner is then chosen. Cards in game can gain you additional dice, or remove dice from your opponent; Inventory Cards, like weapons and Shields, add a bonus dice of that class before you even throw; and even burning cards of the correct type pre-roll can add to better survival outcomes. Dying, in itself, is not such a bad thing. You’ll merely re-spawn at the beginning of your next turn at your Clan’s starting point. Always one of the furthermost points North, South, East or West on the game board, minus Prestige, but back with a lovely full health boost.
Other notable game systems include Rot that corrupts you slowly, but played right can aid your quest to become the dictator of Armello. You will lose 1 health every dawn, and having higher rot than other creatures will gain you bonus dice in combat. When your rot reaches level 5 you’ll be fully corrupted and the evil Banes will no longer attack you, and you’ll receive 1 health for every death you cause. Magic is done through the Card System and uses your consumable Spirit to power them. There are too many game systems to mention, but with poisoning, mercenary groups to bribe, King’s Decrees to influence, Trickery Cards, Trap Cards, Magic Cards, Inventory Cards and Perils to place, avoid or spring, Armello offers a deep, deep board game experience.
In talking about this game I find it almost impossible to discuss everything this game can throw at you, such are its huge systems and mechanics to learn, the sheer amount and variety of styles to attack, defend, politically manoeuver, etc. The game could be played numerous times and you would still learn new things and receive new Cards and situations for a long time to come.
The music in game is the perfect mix of fantasy orchestrated work. It really goes to show the level of commitment and depth that the developers have for this game. This is also shown in their commitment to pushing the game further by releasing DLC in order to provide more of everything, which can be bought standalone or as part of a game bundle.
Some minor niggles of frame rate pop up, but are few and far between. There are a few frame rate stutters that become evident when the time of day changes, and during some of the more elaborate character animations during gameplay, mostly pertaining to the King as he falls to floor in agony of the coming night and the building Rot in his body. However, the nature of the game-board turn-based gameplay makes this less off-putting than in a platformer, for example.
It was mentioned that a patch would be available for Armello soon after launch. That has not yet materialised, and therefore the much vaunted inclusion of touch screen support is not present as of yet. Playing in handheld, touch screen was sorely missed, but to know that the game will be getting the addition of that function sooner or later is another added bonus. The other issue the developers wished to address through the patch was the rather lengthy loading screens, and as the game currently stands, they do hold a rather hefty position. Here’s hoping they live up to their promises and sort these issues out.
Armello is not a game that’s easy to pick and play for the casual gamer. There’s a lot to take in, and even the tutorial can take a full hour to plough through. Then, after that, your quest has only just begun. Armello is a game that favours those who already savour board games of this ilk, a deep fantasy-based tactical action card/dice game with layers of depth that enable each and every play-through to offer a differing experience. Playing with friends online is the absolute most noteworthy or prized feature. If you have likewise minding friends, and Switches between you then this is an absolute must.
Armello (Switch eShop)
Summary: Armello offers an incredibly deep board-game experience. The lore, gameplay and mechanics on offer will have you coming back for more long after you've got to grips with what's on offer. However, the lack of local multiplayer, and the lack of a large online scene means either being confined to single player games, or if you're lucky getting together likewise minded friends for added longevity.