There’s something extremely infuriating about a board game that relies entirely on luck. For instance, every game of Life demands a player to be uncharacteristically good at spinning a wheel or pulling blind cards in order beat their opponents, thusly leading to angry accusations of cheating or outright quitting. Relying solely on luck is a frustrating mechanic for everyone playing except that game’s winner. Looking at my time spent with Armello on the Xbox One, I am inclined to feel the same way about the game’s progression. And yet, I can’t stop playing it.
Armello is strategy game from League of Geeks that fits in perfectly with my board game analogy because that’s essentially what it is: a board game beautifully rendered into a video game landscape. The premise is thus: the king of Armello has fallen ill with Rot, the land’s evil, and after nine days, he will perish, leaving one of the four players on the board left to claim the throne in that time. It’s up to you, as one of the eight unique animal characters to take up that throne for your clan (wolf, bear, rat, or rabbit).
There are several ways to claim the throne: through sheer prestige, which you gain from completing quests and slaying enemies (including other players); by collecting four soul stones and presenting them to the king; by killing the king; or by using the game’s Rot to your advantage. Of all these ways to win, prestige is by far the easiest approach. In fact, throughout much of my play time, I wondered why any one would even attempt to kill the king or enter the palace when it was such a treacherous ordeal. Unless you’ve built up your stats high enough, it’s hard to counter the king’s high dice count.
Speaking of stats, you have four that you manage: fight, which is how many dice you use in battle; defense, your health total; wits, the amount of cards you can hold in your hand; and spirit, your spell magic. Every “round” is a lengthy affair, consisting of two turns per player, a day turn and a night turn. Every turn your draw enough cards to fill your hand (up to the amount of wit your character has) and you use your mana or coins to either equip gear, use spells, or play trickery cards. Every character has three AP to move about the board, capturing settlements for more gold, exploring dungeons, finishing quests, and so on. If the king isn’t killed by the ninth day, he dies from his Rot, and the player with the highest prestige wins. All other ways to win must be accomplished before the king’s death.
If all of this seems very confusing, that’s because it is for the first few games of Armello. The prologue does its best to teach new players about the basics of the game but only when you’ve played a few matches do you really start to grasp the game’s flow. Once you’re out of the prologue, there’s no real help or guidance outside of the menu and the internet, leaving you to try to understand what “scout” means on the card you’ve drawn or to decipher some of the more curious spells in game. It’s a daunting task and it took me losing my first four games before I finally understood some of the nuances to Armello, at least enough to win a match. I can appreciate the difficulty, but I wish that early on in my play through, things would have been slightly less cutthroat so that I could understand the importance of say, quests over killing other players.
It’s hard to stay mad at a game like Armello, though. Even though it stings to lose (and you do), matches are quick enough that the pain doesn’t linger for long. It’s not like losing a Civilization V game you’ve been playing for nine hours; matches only last around twenty minutes so you simply start up another and try again. (Though I will concede that losing because you failed to roll the dice well at all hurts quite a bit.)
But let’s talk about what Armello does well because it’s obvious to anyone who has even glanced at the game: Armello is absolutely stunning to look at. I’m not usually one to praise graphics in a strategy game but Armello is a gorgeous piece of art put into a video game setting. Everything from the characters, to the game tiles, to the cards in the deck is beautiful. I honestly wish I had a physical copy of this game to show it off to people, that’s how pretty it is. It’s like if Disney had made a video game about adorable animals fighting to the death, like The Lion King, only bloodier.
The characters in Armello stand above most in a game of this genre. Throughout the prologue I thought the game would play out more like an RPG instead of a strategic battle and that’s due wholly to how unique the characters are. Each of the eight characters have individual quests relevant to their clans and perks that make every play through a unique experience. The new Usurpers DLC for Armello also adds four more additional character which each have even more creative uses of the procedurally-generated hexagonal board.
Armello is a intriguing take on the strategy genre that makes excellent use of the board game usuals. With an excellent array of characters, you can play several games and not have them feel the same. Though it does suffer from some heavy reliance on luck and turns between characters can take a lifetime, it’s still more than worth it’s $20 price tag. While Armello does seem like it would feel more at home on a PC, it works well on the Xbox One for casual playing and I didn’t mind the longer turns sitting comfortably on my couch. (In multiplayer, however, I was bored to tears.) Luckily, I never had any issues with multiplayer, online play, or any kind of graphical issues. It’s well put together and if you’re the kind of gamer who is interested in strategy games, give Armello a shot.
Armello was reviewed on the Xbox One with a code supplied by the developer.