This game is usually described as ‘Game of Thrones’ with anthropomorphic animals. Though to me it associates more with animation, like Redwall or Disney’s Robin Hood. You clearly have a bad guy – the lion-king that was taken over by an Ancient Evil™. And you can’t actually kill any of your opponents – if they fall in battle or something, they’ll always return and rise again from their clan grounds the next turn.
However, comparison with Westeros political intrigue is not without merit too. There can be only one winner and thus any alliance between players can turn out pretty backstabby. Plus, there is more than one way to end king’s madness…
Ways to Victory
There are four paths to victory. For starters, you can kill the mad king and take his crown. Though that’s not easy – just moving onto palace grounds requires a “peril check”. And you also lose all action points, so you wouldn’t be able to try again until the next turn. Even if you succeed, there is a good chance to die in a fight, giving victory to a rival.
However, you can also collect four Spirit Stones that spawn at night on stone circle tiles or given to you as a quest reward. In that case, attacking the king will ‘cleanse’ him from The Rot, and before dying he will declare you his successor. But you still have to sneak into the palace, bypassing guards and perils.
Don’t want to go into the palace at all? You can still have “Prestige Victory” if at the moment of the king’s death you have the highest Prestige. And that moment is inevitable as each day the king’s health is reduced by one point. Of course, you need to complete quests and kill Banes (monsters, who spawn at night in the dungeons) to get the mentioned Prestige. But most importantly, you should prevent other heroes from gaining Prestige and/or killing the king.
The last path to victory is to collect The Rot. That’s the very Ancient Evil™ that turned the king mad and is now slowly killing him. If you get infected by playing certain cards or killed by Banes, Rot that will gradually kill you too. But there are also upsides for Corrupted Heroes (ones who have 5 Rot or more) – gaining health from kills, having increased combat stats when fighting other infected creatures. Essentially “Rot Victory” is just a variation of “Kingslayer Victory”. However, if your Rot is greater than the King’s, you’ll have far better chances to survive the battle with him.
The Cards Dealt
Taking risks and playing your cards right is the key to success. And by cards, I mean actual cards that are drawn by each hero at dawn. You can choose from three decks – equipment, spells, and tricks. There are also follower cards that you can get from some quests or events.
Equipment and followers go to the corresponding slots of your inventory and improve hero stats or grant special abilities. Often you need to pay for playing these cards. Tricks are also cost gold and usually played on empty tiles to lay a “Peril” trap for opponents. Spells can be cast directly at target but require mana that is restored for you every dusk.
Night and day in the game take one turn each. At night you’re stealthed while on the forest tile and need to look for Banes who spawn and move around in the dark. During the day it’s King’s Guards who are moving around. Also, every dawn Prestige Leader must choose one of two King’s Orders, like forcing every player to pay gold or command Guards to go and terrorize the nearest village. King must be really mad if he listens to the one, who is the closest to replace him. But don’t worry, since Rot eating through his health every day, it will be over in about 18 turns.
In a way, Armelly pays like RPG. Every hero has stats: Spirit determines your amount of mana, Body – maximum health, Wits – maximum cards, Fight – the amount of dice in battle. All can be increased by completing quests or equipping items.
It’s Getting Dicey
But the game also has table-top roots. That’s especially evident when your hero faces “Peril” or fights another hero, as the result is determined by a dice roll.
Dice themselves are special. They have six faces but there are special symbols on them – Sun, Moon, Sword(s), Shield, Wyld Tree, and Rot Worm. In “Perils” you must roll dice to match symbols of the particular peril. Success – you go unharmed, don’t cover even one symbol – peril effect will make you lose health or worse.
In a fight, symbols on rolled dice count as hits, misses, blocks, and even ‘explosions’ that add extra die. And there is the whole chart which symbol means which, depending on the time of the day, level of Rot and equipment. There are quite a few items that can add dice or subtract in exchange for another advantage.
But the most interesting nuance is that all cards in your hand have the symbols from the dice in the upper right corner. And if you pull them on the dice area, that will destroy the card but also ‘lock’ one of the dice, ensuring that you’ll have that symbol in the results. Oh, and you can do this ‘card burning’ in perils too, which is even more important.
Random also decides what you’ll find in the dungeon (another few special tiles across the map) and the result of the quest. Though upon completing the quest you can choose if you’ll just take a basic reward or go for extra, risking to lose some health or Prestige.
Table-Top Game Animated
Of course, I can’t finish the review without mentioning beautiful art style and animation. And I refer to both 2d clips that remind of animated feature films, as well as nice 3d-animations when your characters move, fight, and do all other stuff. Despite being released in 2015, Armello still looks great and feels like a tabletop game came to life. Not many “table-top game adaptations” can brag the same.
However, Armello is not without flaws. Many of them are in the interface. During some events (like advising the king which edict to choose) I can’t look up other heroes’ stats. Pop-up tips about tiles don’t contain information about perils. And speaking of information – the tutorial (aka Prologue) misses some key points. Like that Q focuses the camera on quest target and 1-4 keys focus it on players (provided they aren’t in stealth).
More experienced players voice their concerns about balance. Some characters (namely Fang) have quite an advantage over the others. And what is even worse, those characters are in DLCs. There are also some bugs, though I haven’t encountered those yet. And, of course, this game has lootboxes. However, since they contain just cosmetic skins for characters and dice, the situation is not that bad.
Overall, I would definitely recommend Armello for all fans of turn-based games and especially tabletop games. A few rough edges shouldn’t dissuade you from playing this gem that has both pleasing aesthetics and engaging risk/reward gameplay. Despite its age that somewhat dwindled the size of the community, you still can have a great time playing with friends or even remaining online.