Corruption, exploration and sabotage; just another day in the land of Armello, a turn-based strategy game that pits you against others in a ruthless battle to become the next ruler of the realm.
Centered around the political and martial actions surrounding a corrupted, dying king, Armello plays like a board game beautifully brought to life — down to its visual style and identity, long play length, and gameplay.
A fight for the throne
Armello is centered around a dying, heirless king, corrupted by the Rot. With the throne to the realm up for grabs, people from various clans fight it out, outsmarting or outright killing the opposition in order to become the next king or queen.
There are four clans in the game, each with two different playable characters: the wolf clan favor combat, the rat clan are deceptive, the rabbit clan prefer exploration, and the bear clan are most partial to spiritual resolution.
Each character has varying stat weights — the fierce wolves are best at combat, whereas the crafty rats can hold more options at one time to cause trickery and mayhem — as well as unique perks. Zosha from the rat clan, for instance, is always stealthed at night, meaning other players cannot see her movements.
Each stat is very important to various elements of the game: fight determines the number of dice rolled for attacking an enemy and raises the potential for killing them, body represents your health, wits impacts how many cards you can hold in your hand (more on those later), and spirit impacts the number of dice available against perils, as well as how many magic points you’ll have to spend each day.
A prestigious invitation
Armello offers multiple win conditions for players to choose from and work towards, meaning that you’ll have to keep an eye on your enemies to figure out their preferred approach to winning.
Killing the king outright is an instant win, but is very difficult early on while he’s still relatively healthy. Collecting four spirit stones, which spawn periodically around the map, and taking them to cleanse the king will also win the game. Finally, if enough turns pass for the king to perish from his corruption, whoever has the highest prestige rating is declared the winner.
Prestige is earned by winning combat, completing quests and surviving perils around the map, and has one important benefit beyond the prestige victory condition: At the start of each day cycle, the king asks the player with the highest prestige to choose from two different laws that will be effective immediately. These are random and the choices aren’t always clear-cut; you may have to choose between more aggressive king’s guards around the map versus sacrificing your prestige to be shared amongst all players, for instance.
A perilous journey
Of course, venturing around the board in order to complete your quest won’t be straightforward. Besides other players, many tiles on the board will have perils on them, including the entire palace surrounding the king. These are minor tests which require you to roll dice and hope they match up with the peril’s required icons.
Fail to match all of the required symbols and you’ll pay a price — often a hit to your health, or loss of important stats or prestige. Perils are usually to be avoided, but can be played to the board by players with the necessary cards. You’re also able to burn cards in your hand to guarantee corresponding symbols on a peril, but this reduces your options.
Beyond perils, the main danger is of course, other players. Running into another player will trigger combat, with both players rolling dice equal to their fight stat to see how many attacks and blocks they’ll perform. As with perils, players can burn cards to earn additional rolls, although if a player is ambushed — such as an attack from stealth — then they’re unable to burn cards.
Losing a fight makes a player retreat unless health is reduced to zero, in which case they lose prestige and will respawn at their home. Winning fights is the primary way of gaining prestige for combat focused characters.
The game-changing nature of cards
We’ve been talking about cards here and there; what exactly are they? At the start of each day cycle, every player draws cards until their hand reaches the same as their wits stat — more wits means more cards. You’re able to choose freely from three different deck types: item cards, which boost stats and are great for combat-focused players; trickery cards, which add perils to the map and can make life tricky for those trying to reach particular areas; and magic, which can buff, debuff or damage players.
Magic cards cost magic, which replenishes at the start of each night cycle, whereas items and trickery cards usually cost gold — something in short supply. Again, you’ll want to play to your character’s strengths for gold income; combat characters will want to kill opponents with bounties on their heads, tricky characters will want to sneak around and capture settlements for their daily income, and adventurers can plunder dungeons for greater-than-usual rewards.
Despite its array of complexities, Armello does a fantastic job at easing you into the game with its initial tutorial campaign, which introduces you step by step to different mechanics; once it’s over, you’ll feel like you have a good grasp of the game.
You’ll definitely want to spend some solid time playing single-player matches against the AI before jumping into multiplayer, however — Armello has a lot of nuances and interesting little strategies that aren’t obvious until you’ve put some time into the game.
With multiple players dashing around the board, seeking stones, completing quests or simply trying to kill off everyone else, the game can be a little difficult to follow for others who haven’t played the game. Armello requires a decent time investment to sit down and play the game, absorbing the various mechanics and subtle distinctions that determine who is in the lead at any particular moment, but the investment is worth it.
Sitting down to play for an hour or two is a fun venture, and especially satisfying when you’re able to sneakily pull a victory from under an overly-confident opponent. While the board-game motif and slower pace won’t be for everyone, for more patient players and those who can appreciate playing a long game to achieve victory, Armello is perfect.