Armello (PC, Mac, Linux, iOS, Android, and PS4)

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Armello is a kingdom composed of four major clans; Rabbit, Wolf, Bear, and Rat. Long ago they fought a grand, unending, war among one another but were united by the great and powerful Lion King. As of late however The King, a beacon of wisdom and justice, has lost his mind and begun to turn to dark magicks. You choose a hero from one of the clans and must dethrone the king by whatever means necessary –putting yourself on the throne wouldn’t hurt either–, Purge the land of this evil, become the heir apparent, kill the king with your own hands, or prove that you are truly the greater evil — why choose a lesser one?

History

Armello started off  in 2012 being developed by Team of Geeks, a 15 person team. It was originally going to be an iPad exclusive but Team of Geeks got a little stalled out. Development staggered forward for 2 years until they began a Kickstarter Campaign. Asking for $200,000 and getting $300,000 they made the game available for PS4 and computers.

The game’s influences include The Dark Crystal, Red Wall, Magic: The Gathering, and Spirited Away.

Armello was released on September 1st, 2015. It’s competition was Grow Home (PS4), Super Mario Maker (WiiU), and Undertale (PC and Mac)

Experiences

Big shout out to Youtuber Kikoskia, without whom I would have no knowledge of this game. Check him out, he makes good stuff. Before I go on I must announce that I have not actually played any PVP multiplayer. I can only speak to the vaguely competent AI. In my estimation games against other players would be totally different from a single play experience. I foresee the King dying and the players waking from their pvp smashing stupor to realize they were supposed to be playing the game instead of creating an endless cycle of revenge. My heart is filled with equal measure dread and zeal to play against another human.

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“Are you guys even trying to kill me?”

Gameplay

The first thing you do when you begin a game of Armello is pick a character. Each character has unique statistics and a special ability, their clan also gives them an affinity for night or day — offering them bonuses during that time. Fight is how many dice you’ll role in a fight, body is your health, wits limits the number of cards you can carry and is used to avoid certain perils, and spirit is the amount of magic you get each night and is used in certain perils as well.

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My favorite character is Barnaby because there’s something about a bunny in full plate that gives me the giggles.

What’s a peril? It’s a thing on the map that’ll mess you up if you fail to overcome it. What’s a card? Well it’s an item, spell, or trickery card that you can use, equip, cast, inflict on someone, or plop on a space and turn it into a peril. Cards also have a symbol on them corresponding to one of the faces on the armello dice — which are sword, sun, moon, shield, Wyld, and Rot. You can discard a card in combat or when faced with a peril to force one of the dice to roll that symbol. Barring that you can roll the dice and hope they fall favorably.

You also get to see who played the peril so if you know who’s at fault.

The resources in Armello are gold, magic, prestige, and rot. You gain gold from delving in dungeons and protecting settlements. Your magic equalizes at nightfall or can be boosted with certain items. Prestige is gained by defeating enemy heroes, saving towns, or killing monsters. It’s lost when you fall in combat, spend it on certain cards, kill a guard, or other special circumstances. Rot is acquired by playing certain cards, being killed by corrupted creatures, or failing certain perils — and rot is bad voodoo, just one point changes the way your character works and five points changes the game entirely.

The goal of Armello is to become the next monarch of Armello. You can do this by having the most prestige when the King dies, killing the king and surviving the encounter, gathering four spirit stones and bringing them to the king, or getting 5 rot and challenging the king to corruption mortal combat.

The Gush

When you have the most prestige you are prestige leader. Being prestige leader gives you the privilege of advising the king at the dawn of each day. He will present two options about how the kingdom should change and they’re almost always a choice of damnation. It’s a matter of choosing the lesser evil and some of the lesser evils are still very great. It’s a strategically satisfying mechanic.

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Naturally, as prestige leader you cannot have the least prestige so… uuuuuh, guess we’re not fighting each other!

You can unlock certain items that can increase your stats for the duration of the game. Increasing weaker stats to balance out your character or making their powerful stats even more impressive. Even possibly granting new and interesting abilities altogether like regaining health at night or starting with 2 Prestige.

There’s something very satisfying about discovering effective strategies with each character. The first time I played Barnaby, The Screwloose Tinkerer, I stumbled upon a Blacksmith in my quests which made Barnaby’s weapons and armor even more effective. Now, whenever I’m presented with the opportunity to acquire the Blacksmith as Barnaby I do so.

The latest patch just put in a speed up function. Now during other players turns you can speed things up and skip their combat scenes. It makes everything run lightning fast when you’ve seen all the animations a hundred times — although watching the other turns was entertaining when I started playing.

The Kvetch

Achieving the rot victory is frustratingly difficult. I have yet to figure out how to get enough rot quickly enough to challenge the king before he keels over naturally. It might just take a lucky hand of opening cards and abilities but that would also be very unsatisfying. Maybe it’s just something that happens on accident?

At the end of the game each character is given some superlatives about how they played but… the game never explains what each superlative correlates to so I just gotta guess.

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What the hell does being a warlock mean? Cause I didn’t cast a single spell. Or does that make me a purist?

I understand the flavor for each of the clans and it’s thematic and enjoyable. Wolf is all about fighting, rats are sneaky, bears are spiritual, but I have no idea what Rabbit’s deal is. Are they like the Hufflepuff of the clans? Doing that loyal and true thing? The closest thing I’ve got is that they’ve got a lot of ingenuity… I think… I dunno.

Sometimes I feel like the game’s go big or go home mentality makes the game too much about luck and too little about skill. Between card draws, dice rolls, Wonky AI, Guard placement and movement, monster movement and spawning, peril placement, and percentage chances of completing quests I sometimes feel victory goes to the luckiest.

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It’s a 20% chance or nothing and there’s no way to improve my odds. If I win everyone will groan. If I lose I will be sad.

The Verdict

Armello is serious fun. It presents all the best parts of a board game without the worst parts of a board game. There’s no set up time, no putting away time, and no way to screw up how the rules work. The systems are very simple but also incredibly deep. Playing each character feels like a new experience. You might go for a certain path to victory but it’s much easier to win if you have an adaptive strategy adding even more to the replayability to the game. I’m not entirely sure if it’s worth the $20 price tag but it’s definitely worth $15 if you can catch it on Steam sale. Alone or buying it with a group of friends it’s incredibly fun.

Next Week: The Elder Scrolls IV: Oblivion

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