Review: Armello (PC)
What would you do to become King or Queen? A prospering land has fallen under a writhing shadow and the king has become wary of his subjects. On a whim he might send his guards to terrorize the townsfolk, or cast lightning bolts across the lands. The king is succumbing to Rot, a corrupting power that is slowly killing him and the clans are vying for power.
Do you have any board games that just play best when there is a certain number of players? Armello is exactly that: the game is balanced around having four players trying to take the kingdom for themselves and thanks to the wonders of AI, there will always be 4 players.
The game revolves resource management, strategy and lucky card draws and dice rolls. A lot of the game has a random element to it, meaning even the player with the best equipment or the highest stats could end up losing a fight against a clever or lucky opponent.
The clock is ticking
Whether through spells, gear or trickery it is up to you to find the best route to winning the game before the mad king dies. The game is split into turns based on dawn and dusk. Every dusk the king gains one more point of rot and terrors emerge from dungeons. Every dawn anyone with rot loses one health, gains money from their settlements and the king declares a new law that is active until the next dawn. The king has 9 health, meaning the game has a set length of turns before it comes to an end. If the king dies, the player with the highest prestige is crowned. Players can also infiltrate the palace for three other victory conditions. They can kill the king, taking the throne and becoming the next ruler. They can collect four spirit stones and exorcise the rot, cleansing the kingdom and ending the madness. Or they can accumulate rot and corruption then destroy the king and rule a kingdom that they plunge into anarchy and ruin.
Of course, choosing how you want to try win the game at the beginning is not always the best option. While gaining prestige should be a standard goal, getting equipment, doing quests or earning money is also important. Thanks to the quests being randomly assigned all over the map, you might find yourself pursuing other options if your quest is always really far away from you. Perhaps the dungeons of the world would be a better use of your time? You could also hunt other players or harass them with trickery and deceit. Whether blocking their way forward, making the royal guard chase them or burning them from afar with spellfire, the board very quickly becomes far too small for everyone. Treachery becomes all too common as uneasy alliances fall apart when a killing blow seems certain, or a friend becomes too powerful to leave uncontested. Add into this the randomness that only dice can bring to a game and you will often find your attempts to win foiled. Dice get used for combat and for surviving perils: traps in areas that will hinder your progress.
Easy to learn
One of the highest bars to entry in a lot of board games is the number of rules, mechanics and resources to keep in mind while playing. Armello looks after a lot of the nitty gritty details, allowing you rather to focus on what you want to do, and can do. You can’t mistakenly take an extra movement step or cast a spell on the wrong place. You also won’t forget that you won prestige and an extra fight die in your last quest, because they are all managed by the computer. This allows for the game to run at a much faster pace too.
Drawn to life
Your equipment, spells and dastardly tricks come from over 120 cards from three different decks, each one specially drawn and animated to make the magic of the world come to life. Spears fly through the air, mirror images form behind a clever magician. A saboteur saws his knife through a rope keeping cargo aloft. It is these small details that ground you in the feeling of this being a board game. The sounds of cards being played and drawn, the dice scattering as they roll all add to the magic that this game is somewhere between a board game, a video game and alive.
Armello is beautiful, dastardly and might make you fight with your friends after you betray them to win. It is one of my favourite “board games” now, even though I seem to be a really, really unlucky dice roller. When your opponent explodes 5 dice into 9 attack and 5 shields when they have 1 health, you will also howl at the moon.