Inside Pulse 12

Review: Armello (Sony PlayStation 4)

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Armello
Publisher: League of Geeks
Developer: League of Geeks
Genre: Role-Playing Board Game
Release Date: 09/01/2015

What would happen if you combined famed literary series Redwall and Game of Thrones, mixed them together, and then made a board game out of it?

You’d get Armello.

armello1The setup is simple. The once noble king has become infested with a dark plague called the rot. Not only is the rot causing the king to go mad, it’s also slowly killing him. The wolf, rat, bear, and rabbit clans all sense blood in the water, and send out a champion to try and claim the throne. This can be done by defeating the king himself, or by becoming the most renown adventurer in the land. Either way, it won’t be easy.

There aren’t that many different modes to fool about with. You can go through a prologue that teaches you the game while introducing you to the various characters in the game. From there, you can play a game against AI characters, head online to battle fellow humans, and browse through the card gallery. It’s a light suite of options to be sure, and one wishes fro something like leaderboards or anything else really to top off the package.

Armello‘s greatest strength might be in its visual presentation. While the 3D models moving around on the game board aren’t that impressive, the 2D models for battle are absolutely fantastic. Even better are the various cards in the game, which are all animated to some extent. The best part of that gallery I mentioned earlier was getting to look at all of those cards without having to worry about playing them or not. If you wanted to compare them to something, they would be even more pimped out versions of the Hearthstone gold cards. However, the game board is a bit drab. There are only a handful of tile variants, and the big difference is weather. Snow covered plains are great and all, but it gets old after awhile.

armello2When it comes to the audio, the game stick to music and sound effects. The music is broody fantasy stuff. It keeps the feeling of dread in your mind while also is still fantastical enough to make things seems otherworldly. As for the effects, many of them are ripped straight from real life. Dice rolls, card drawing, and paper burning will all be familiar. There’s also the sound of steel hitting steel during battle, the cries of the various characters, etc. It’s a solid package, though you can still safely play the game without the volume turned on.

Armello is a four player board game in which each player takes turns, completes quests, searches dungeons, fights opponents, captures settlements, and more in order to take the throne. At the start of the game, you’ll choose from one of eight different characters. Each has different starting stats, at a unique hero power. Thane, for example, can deal damage through shields while Amber has a much higher success rate in dungeons. You then get to equip a ring and a stone to your character, which allows you to customize them further. It can be as simple as starting with a bonus to your stats, and as tricky giving you stealth on certain tiles.

There are four primary stats in the game. Fight determines the number of dice you roll in battle, body is your max health, wits is your maximum hand size, and spirit determines your spell range as well as how much magic you get each dusk. In addition, wits and spirit are used to determine how many dice you roll when pacing peril cards.

armello3Then you have several different resources in the game, a few of which matter greatly to who wins the game. Cards are the first obvious resource. At the beginning of each turn, you draw cards up to your wits level. There are three different card types. Items are used to augment your character (equipment usually), spells are versatile (perhaps dealing damage, perhaps healing, etc.), and trickery cards serve as chances to work with or work against your fellow crown hunters. Magic points are another resource. You need to spend magic to use spell cards, and your magic will go back to your spirit level at the beginning of each dusk. That means lower magic goes up, while higher magic will fall down. Prestige is important, as it’s one of your win conditions. You earn prestige by defeating opponents, completing quests, and saving towns. If the king dies of the plague, or the one who slew him dies with him, the player with the highest prestige wins. You can also spend prestige in order to use a slew of different cards. You also have coins, which are used to buy and equip items and hire followers. Finally, you have rot. Rot is both a blessing and curse. There are many powerful cards that require you to gain rot to use them, but at the cost of one health point each dawn. In combat between two characters with rot, the one with the higher rot gets bonus dice equal to the foes rot total. Get five rot, and you become corrupted. This is great if you’re trying to take down the king, but it also means instant death if you try to enter a healing circle.

I mentioned equipment and followers earlier. You have up to three pieces of gear equipped, and up to three followers in your party. These all provide passive boosts that vary in how they aid you. A sword card, for example, will give you a free attack roll during battle, while something like lantern gives you the scout ability permanently. Followers can give you various bonuses as well, such as extra money each day or extra dice in battle.

In battles, players roll dice equal to their fight total (plus or minus depending on equipment and spells of course) and compare rolled hits versus rolled defends. So, if you roll five swords against your opponent’s three shields, you deal two damage. If one player dies as a result, the winner takes his spot on the board. If neither dies, the winner is the one who did the most damage. They take the spot on the board, while the loser scurries away. You can also burn cards to guarantee certain rolls. Each card has a symbol in the upper right that tells you what die face you’ll get if you burn that card. Using this can let you get rid of cards you don’t want while increasing your odds in a fight.

You have three action points to spend on each turn. These are spent moving around the board. On the board are various tile types, with different rules. For example, swamp tiles deal you a damage if you land on them, stone circles heal you, dungeons let you search for treasure, settlements can be captured to earn you gold, etc. In the center of the board is the king and his palace. Entry into the palace requires overcoming a difficult peril, but you can attempt it any time. The trick is that you lose all of you action points when you do. This means if you felt like attacking the king, you’ll have to wait. If you die, you go back to your starting space. While here, you’re safe from enemies and their cards, but you can’t play spells or perils of your own.

armello4There are four different victory conditions you can chase. You can beat the king in battle, have the most prestige, beat the king in battle with a higher rot total, or collect four spirit stones in order to banish the king. After each player takes their turn, the field switches from day to night or vice versa. During the day, the king will add a rule or an effect to the board, and his guards will act. At night, powerful dark creatures called Banes will spawn and attack. Also, each night, the king gain’s one rot. Each day, the king loses one health. Supposing he doesn’t gain health or lose extra due to an attack, that means the game will definitely end after the ninth day. That means you can’t just idle around.

I almost forgot quests. At the start of the game, you pick one of three quests. Each one tasks you with going to a spot on the board. When you get there, you gain a permanent stat increase based on the quest you chose, as well as one prestige point. You also can go for an extra. These are usually equipment, spirit stones, or followers. If you go for this, you basically spin the wheel. Your chance of winning is ten percent times the stat value the quest is testing. If you have five fight on a fight quest, you have a fifty percent chance of getting the bonus. If you fail, you’ll probably lose health, gold, or prestige as a punishment. After you’ve completed enough quests, you’ll unlock a final one that takes you to the palace. If you do this, you won’t have to complete a peril in order to enter, allowing you to safely get in.

It all sounds complicated, I know. However, the game’s tutorial does a good job of getting you used to what’s going on. It’s pretty easy to pick up, although there is enough depth for fans of more involved board games. What’s also great is that you can switch up your plan mid game. If combat isn’t going your way, you can try to start collecting spirit stones or just building up your prestige.

There are some problems with the game. While fights between players do happen, they’re often discouraged. Since dying sends you back to the start, avoiding battle might get you closer to completing your quest in a timely manner. Also, the multiplayer doesn’t allow for voice chat. This means you’re often waiting several minutes between turns without the chance to even speak to your fellow players. You can’t make deals, ask for help, etc.

As an overall board game, it’s fun and deep enough to consider. However, the game could certainly uses a few more bells and whistles to make it all it can be.

Short Attention Span Summary

diehardjack1-150x150Armello is a beautiful and complex board game with some elements of role-playing games added for good measure. As a single player game, it works great. It offers half an hour or more long games with a ton of strategy. However, the game’s multiplayer suffers from lack of voice chat or other features we’re accustomed to seeing in modern games. It’s certainly worth a look, and easy enough to recommend. With some patches or additions down the line, this will be truly great.

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  • Steven WK

    Well, it certainly is no “Grow Home”.