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Armello Indie Game Review

We at Geeky Hobbies would like to thank League of Geeks for the review copy of Armello used for this review. Other than receiving a free copy of the game to review, we at Geeky Hobbies received no other compensation for this review. Receiving the review copy for free had no impact on the content of this review or the final score.

The kingdom of Armello is in danger. The King has been infected by the rot an evil force that will eventually lead to his death. As the rot starts taking control over him, four adventurers from Armello need to go on a quest to either save the King, kill the King or show that they are heroic enough to rule the kingdom after the King’s death. Each player will choose a hero from one of four different clans and begin their journey toward glory.

Armello is a recently released digital board game made by League of Geeks. Being a big board game fan myself I was excited to see how Armello would turn out. Armello strives to seamlessly combine various video game and board game genres together to create an unique gaming experience. Some influences include role playing, card games, dice rolling, and some other tabletop mechanics. Armello combines these mechanics into a video game that feels like you are at the table playing a board game without all that pesky math and record keeping of board games getting in the way. While it takes a while to adjust to, Armello may be a glimpse at the future of board games.

Since there are a quite a few rules/mechanics in the game, in this review I am only going to be addressing the main mechanics in the game. If you would like to find out more about the game and how it is played, you should check out the Armello Wiki Page.

Four Paths to Victory

In Armello there are four different paths you can take towards victory.

The first victory condition is to acquire the most prestige points by the end of the game (when the king dies). This can occur when the King succumbs to the rot (after about nine turns) or when another player kills the king but dies in the process of killing the King. Currently this is my preferred strategy especially since it seems especially effective against the computer AI characters.

Essentially you get prestige points for doing various things around the game world. Completing quests, killing Banes (main villains in game), killing other adventurers, and completing other objectives throughout the game will reward you with prestige points. Players will lose prestige points whenever they kill any of the King’s guards, defy the King’s decrees or they will lose all of their prestige if they attack the King.

One of the reasons I like the prestige victory is that it requires you use all of the different elements of the game in order to acquire more points. You need to explore the map, kill enemies, and complete quests in order to improve your prestige. Maybe the best reason to pursue prestige points is that whichever player has the most prestige at the beginning of a round, gets to pick which of two King’s Decrees will be implemented in the current round. While some of the decrees don’t impact the game that much, some can drastically alter the rules. Whoever has the most prestige points will be able to pick the decrees that will benefit them or hurt their competition.

The next two victory conditions deal with killing the King. One victory condition has you killing him without having a high rot level while the other has you killing the King with a rot level higher than the King. Both of these victories are achieved in similar ways. You need to successfully enter the castle which requires you to pass a peril challenge. After beating the peril you must face the King which is no easy task. While the King will become weaker as the rot takes its’ toll, the King is still hard to defeat without dying yourself. This presents you with a risk/reward opportunity. If you are successful, you win the game. If you die while killing the King though you will hand the victory to another player. These two victory conditions are mostly built around combat. Instead of exploring, if you want to pursue these paths to victory you need to acquire cards and items that will help you face perils and your improve your attack/defense.

The last way to win the game is to acquire four spirit stones. Once you have acquired the stones you need to use them to rid the King of his rot infestation. This path to victory is what I like to call the exploration path. While you can get spirit stones from random encounters and dungeons, the best path towards getting stones is to travel to different Stone Circles where spirit stones have spawned. In order to be successful with this strategy you pretty much need to focus exclusively on getting them and it doesn’t hurt if you can get as many action points as possible so you can move around the map quicker.

The four different victory conditions in the game are interesting. While I wish there was a little more variety between the two killing the King paths, each path does require players to try and achieve different things in the game. This will allow players to approach the game in different ways. You will have to decide what path you are going to pursue pretty early in the game though. Personally I think I am going to prefer the prestige path to victory.

The Cards

In Armello there are three main types of cards. There are items, spells, and trickery cards. Item cards are mostly potions that give special abilities or items that you can equip to your character to give them stat boosts. Using an item card generally requires you to pay the cost of the item from your gold reserves. Spell cards give players special abilities or are used to hurt opponents. Spells require the use of magic points which are regenerated each turn. Finally the trickery cards are usually used to set out traps around the game board for the other players.

At the beginning of every turn players get to pick from the three different types of cards to fill up their hand to their hand limit. This allows players to choose which type of card they would like to receive instead of forcing them into taking a card that they have no use for. I like that the game gives you an option since based on what type of strategy you are implementing, you are going to pursue different types of cards.

For the most part you are going to want to use the cards for their ability. Cards can be quite powerful giving you a significant benefit or seriously hurting one of your opponents. This does present a problem though since you could quickly run out of money/magic points and be unable to use your cards. Unless you have a high magic character or you spend a lot of time collecting gold, you might not be able to play a lot of cards for their effects.

This brings me to the second way you can use your cards. Instead of using your cards for their abilities, you can use them to guarantee certain results when throwing the dice. If you have a card that you either don’t want to play or can’t afford to play, you can discard (burn) the card during a battle or peril to ensure that one of the dice you roll will automatically be the symbol rolled on one of your dice. Cards can be very useful in this way since burning enough cards can either help you pass a peril or even win you a battle.

While we are on the topic of the cards in the game, I have to mention the brilliant artwork in the game. The cards in the game remind me a lot of cards from Magic the Gathering. While the style is a little more fantasy than that of Magic the Gallery, the cards have a similar look. The artwork is fantastic and I really liked that the artwork on a lot of the cards are actually animated instead of being still images. The beautiful artwork is not exclusive to the cards though since the entire game looks great.

Let’s Roll Some Dice

Dice, some board gamers love them while others hate them. While Armello does utilize dice, thankfully they aren’t used for movement. Movement is actually done by using action points that each player receives at the beginning of their turn. Outside of mountains, each space requires one action point to move across. I like that all movement is handled in this way so it is not up to luck. Some characters have more AP than other characters allowing them to move more but in exchange they have other weaknesses. Since movement is not controlled by dice, a player’s strategy is not dependent on rolling the dice well.

The dice rolling in Armello comes into play for battles and peril encounters. The dice in Armello feature various different symbols on them with each one doing different things. There is an sword which counts as an attack and a shield that counts as a defense. The sun and moon shapes count as a successful attack in their respective times of day/night. The worm is a wasted roll. Finally the tree counts as a successful attack symbol and gives you an additional die to roll.

Battles work like you would expect. Players first have the option to burn some cards (discussed above) in order to guarantee the symbol for one or more of their dice. Next players roll their remaining dice and the game totals the attack and defense of each player. Any attack higher than the opponent’s defense will cause damage equal to the difference between the attack and defense. If either player loses all of their health they will be killed and be respawned with some negatives attached due to having to be revived.

Dice also come into play for the various perils you will face when entering certain spaces. Most perils are placed on the board by either the King or by one of the other players. In order to pass a peril, the player needs to roll all of the symbols attached to the peril. By burning cards and rolling dice, the player avoids the peril if they match all of the symbols. If they fail to get all of the symbols they will be hit with the penalty from the peril.

Overall I though the dice rolling was well designed. I am not always the biggest fan of dice rolling since it usually adds too much luck into games. In Armello though there are plenty of opportunities where you can use strategy to try and manipulate the dice rolls so they aren’t so reliant on luck. In particular I like that you can burn your cards in order to guarantee the outcome of a dice. You can also mitigate a  lot of the risk by equipping items that give you additional dice or guarantee the outcome of some of the dice.

How About A Quest

The final main component in Armello are the quests. The quests are an interesting idea that build a story for your character as you complete them. I liked the idea behind the quests since it makes the game feel more like a RPG.

Quests are set up in a way where you are given a choice between three different quests at a time. Each quest is based around one of your character’s statistics like attack, health, magic, etc. In order to complete the quest you must travel to the location indicated on the map. When you reach your destination you will have a choice between different options of how you would like to complete the quest. If you take the safe route you will be rewarded with one prestige point and one skill point for the statistic that the quest was based around. Players can choose to take a riskier option which will give a larger reward for success but will have a punishment if the player is unsuccessful.

The only real problem I had with the quests is that it is hard to see where each quest is located before you pick one. I don’t know even know if you can find out where a quest is located before selecting one. I wish the game would have a way to see where a quest was located before selecting it since the distance you have to travel will have an impact on which quest you would like to choose.

Will Take Some Time to Get Used To

After reading all of the previous sections you should be getting a good idea that Armello is not the type of game that you will master after a single game. I have played two games of Armello and while I am getting the hang of it, I still don’t know all the fine details and I definitely have not developed a sure fire strategy at this point. While none of the mechanics in the game are particularly confusing, there is a lot to the game which will take some time to get used to.

I see this as a good and bad thing for the game.

The bad news is that you might be confused at first. I know I was pretty confused for at least half of the first game that I played. Towards the end of my second game I was really starting to understand the strategy behind the game. If you aren’t willing to put in the time to learn how to play the game you may get frustrated with it and give up.

The good news though is that while somewhat complicated at first, Armello appears to have a lot to it which could provide a lot of strategy and thus replay value. While it is not the type of game that I would play for hours at a time, I could definitely see playing a game every so often for quite a long time. I have only begun to scratch the surface of the game and it looks like a game that could have real lasting power.

Bang For Your Buck

While at this time I have only played two games of Armello, I think I will be playing quite a few more before I get sick of the game. I would say that that on average a game will take between 45 minutes to an hour and 15 minutes. If you really ponder your moves I am guessing that games will last on the longer end of that range. Games will take longer if you are playing with human players instead of computer bots since human players will take considerably longer than a computer AI to make a decision.

If you are not big into board games, you may not get a lot of value out of Armello.

If you like strategic board games I think you can get a lot of value out of Armello. After two games I have just scratched the surface. There is a lot to the game and it looks like there are a lot of different strategies that you can implement. This is the type of game I could see playing occasionally for at least the next year or more.

At this time Armello retails at $20 and if you are a board gamer I think that is a good price. If the concept of the game sounds interesting to you, I think you could easily get your money’s worth out of the game. Also if you have three other friends to split the purchase with, you can purchase a four pack and get the game for $15 each.

Final Verdict

While I haven’t played Armello a lot, I can tell that it is a great game if you enjoy strategic board games. The game offers multiple different paths to victory and the other mechanics ensure that there are plenty of opportunities for strategy in the game. I doubt two games will ever be the same. The artwork and atmosphere of the game are phenomenal and you can tell that the developers of Armello had a passion for this game.

Since it is a digital board game, if you don’t like board games you won’t like Armello. If you like strategic board games with a fantasy setting though I think you will really enjoy Armello.

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