You know, games on the computer that simulate tabletop games are a mixed bag. The strategy games, even if they're good, take forever. The card games, and yes I am including Hearthstone in this, tend to slip in a little of the pay to win. They usually beg the question: why play this when I can play an actual board game? Still, I'll try anything and Armello sounded like it may actually be pretty good. Well, I was wrong. Armello isn't merely good or palatable, it's a great game. The limited characters play incredibly differently, the four ways to take victory are incredibly different, the games are a decent length, and the rewards for playing are actually rewarding while not being overpowered. This is a wonderful light strategy game for the Switch and, as long as you aren't looking for grand strategy-level complexity, you will find a home in the kingdom of Armello.
Armello is available in the Nintendo store for $19.99.
The King of Armello, once a proud and benevolent monarch who united the four clans under his glorious reign, has been corrupted by the encroaching darkness called The Rot. Now a cruel and insane despot, he seeks to retain his power and spread misery by any means necessary. The four clans of Wolf, Bear, Rabbit, and Rat have rescinded all treaties and have sen out heroes to claim the throne and victory in the name of their clan. There isn't much by way of gameplay driving narrative except in the prologue where you get a bit of a sense of what each of the clans are all about and the overall situation, but once you're done with that you make your own story. This is all well and good, because though I wouldn't call this a role-playing game, there are enough elements in there to allow you to make your own story for your hero as the game progresses. Thane from the Wolf clan could just as easily be a valiant knight who wants to take the crown for peace, a maniac who just wants to see blood, or a Rot-corrupted husk of a being who aims to let the Rot to dominate the land. Sana the bear could be a peaceful cleric who wants to see the Rot purged from the king, or she could be a glory-seeker who just wants to cozy her way up to his majesty until he kicks the bucket. It all depends on the victory you want and the quests you pick.
Before the beginning…
Before you start, you have your selection of eight heroes, two from each tribe. Each one has their own set of stats and their own unique ability. There's attack, which governs how many dice you roll in combat. There's Body, which is just another name for your total hit points. Your wit governs how many cards you can have in your hand, and your Spirit governs how much magic you will have available to you. These stats coupled with the abilities make it so that each of the characters behaves extremely differently even if they belong to the same clan. You then pick one of the various rings, which are different depending on which clan your character belongs to. Finally, you pick an amulet that enhances one of your skills by 1. This is good customization, almost like a roguelike, which helps keep the experiences unique for every game without requiring you to re-learn everything.
We shall call it…this land
Each player has only one character to control, so I'm sorry grand strategy buffs you won't be excecuting a precise pinsir maneuver or doing any real tactical battles with squadron tactics. The board is a hex grid, and you have 3 action points per turn, which you can use to move one tile with mountains counting as two. The game is divided into day and night cycles, and each player and the king make their move on both. Scattered around the board are all sorts of hazards and bonuses that can either make or break your strategy. Swamps deal one damage, but if you can hit a stone circle afterwards you would heal that one health and break even. Mountains cost two action points to move over, but maybe it's either that or attacking a King's Guard and slapping a bounty on your head. Speaking of his majesty…
God save the king, but preferably not.
What really makes this game different is the addition of the King. He moves at the beginning of the day and night cycles, and he provides a nice neutral, albeit hostile and unpredictable, presence on the board. He stays in his castle and directs his royal guards, but if you have the most prestige (which you gain by killing other heroes and monsters as well as completing quests), you are called to the King every dawn to help him choose between two policies that will effect the board. There is never anything that will avoid you as the prestige leader entirely, but if you're wise you can use this to your advantage. Maybe you have a lot of gold but you know another player closer to the lead is left a bit more wanting financially speaking, you can have the King choose the policy that makes everyone pay a tax. Or perhaps the King is under attack and you have the opportunity to recall his guards, which would really give that attacker a hard time.
This is all well and good, but how do I win?
Like many strategy games there are many ways to victory. However, rather than taking the typical Civilization style victories (I'm talkingdomination, science, diplomacy, and culture), they are all a tad different. The most obvious method is regicide, with you attacking the King and upon his death, you become the new ruler of Armello. However, you could also aim to gain all of the Rot you can and then confront the king as the new Lord of Corruption. You could aim to cure the King by gaining spirit stones through quests, dungeons, and gathering them across the map, then using their power to cure the king of the Rot. Finally, you could take advantage of the King's rapidly declining health. Every dawn the King loses one health. If you have the most prestige when the Rot finally kills him, you are his successor to the throne upon his death.
What I like about these methods is that they do draw every player into conflict, so this isn't like a strategy game where you sit around trying not to make enemies while you slowly build up your technology. Everyone is your enemy, and everyone has reason to kill the others. Especially if you're playing against an AI, these games can sometimes get drawn out over too long a time. The multiple paths to victory in Armello somehow make the game a fast-paced turn-based game, which are usually mutually exclusive but Armello finds a way to marry the two concepts with ease.
If I have to have criticism, and I do, it's that the variation in victory methods is good, but it isn't great. Though they vary in the subtleties, the victory methods do all boil down to "kill all the other heroes and maybe the king if it suits your fancy." This isn't (and it is the big kid on the strategy block so I'm going to name drop it yet again) Civilization where you can win in many completely separate ways. It isn't a grand strategy game, it's a light strategy game with some roleplaying and roguelike elements. Keep that in mind.
You've activated my trap card!
Though I meant this sub-title to be meme-y, it really is apt. Throughout the game you have four different types of cards: equipment, which provides passive bonuses of varying quality if you pay the gold to equip them. There are treachery cards which you can either slap on an opponent to throw a wrench in their operation or you could set as a peril to give someone a bad time later. You could also choose to draw magic cards, which use your accumulated magic to buff or debuff depending on the spell. These three are all cards that you can draw at will from their decks at the beginning of each phase, so you can really work with your strategy. The fourth kind of card you can only get from quests, and these are followers. They may be tough to come by, but they are usually incredibly worth it. The bonuses they provide aren't game changing, but they certainly can give you a massive edge.
It's time to duel!
Yes I made two Yu-gi-oh references, they're apt, leave me alone. When the time comes for you to finally fight another character, your victory is determined by a roll of the dice. you have dice equal to your fight stat, but you could get more depending on equipment and time of day, or you could have less if someone played a treachery or magic card on you. I won't go into all the subtleties, I'll just say you can roll an attack, a defense, a miss, or a reroll. Your defensive rolls cancel out your opponents attacks, any overflow comes out of your health. You are living and dying on the RNG at this point, which is something I am always wary of, but if you die you just go back to your starting tile missing one prestige while your opponent gains one, so it isn't as though losing a battle is game over. The strategy is still relevant, but if you are very lucky or unlucky you could wind up completely destroyed by an unexpected adversary. It isn't completely up to chance, just enough to keep things a little unpredictable. Still, I know that a lot of people who play strategy games like as few surprises as possible, so I could again see it enfuriating people who love planning every meticulous detail, but I love it.
Want to go again?
The nature of this game and its small scope means that each time you sit down and play it may take between a half hour or 45 minutes tops to finish a game, but thanks to some certain roguelike elements, you could go back for a new experience. See, thanks to some unlockables and achievements you could wind up with new rings and amulets to modify the gameplay ever so slightly. Even if you lose you have the chance to unlock something new because, for example, you played one more match as a rabbit. Even if you lose the match it keeps the incentives to play coming, which is something I love in a game. This isn't something that you'll play from 9am to 9pm, it's a quick one or two matches, but it's good at keeping itself from becoming stale over a long period of time.
Graphics and Audio
This game looks alright. I was never wowed by the majesty of the visuals, but it's all competently done. I like both the 3d and 2d character designs well enough, I could tell each of them apart. I do like the decision to choose anthropomorphic animals for each of the characters, it really helps to give the game a quirky fantasy vibe in a game whose themes are death, corruption, and regicide. Playing the game almost feels like a moving storybook, which is a very nice vibe on a limited budget. Nothing I would hang as a print on my wall, but it is, at the very least, appealing.
The audio is kind of in the same boat here, nothing grating, but nothing spectacular. The music feels like fantasy music I've heard before, but it still sounds good. The sound effects aren't viscerally satisfying but they aren't annoying.
To call Armello a "grand" game may be a bit of an overstatement, but that doesn't mean it isn't a great game. The scope is small, four characters, a king, and his few guards, the map is small, and each game is rather short. These are all reasons I absolutely adored Armello, but I could see how it could turn off some of the more hardcore strategy gamers. As for me, I loved it. I think that the action was fast-paced and well balanced, the gameplay had just enough chance to be surprising, and the short games mixed with the unlockables really helped to keep the whole thing flowing. I don't think I could play it for 10 hours straight, but I don't think that's how Armello is made to be played. What it is is a short, sweet strategy game with some unusual elements that make it it's own animal. It has earned itself the rare distinction of being a game that I keep downloaded to play even after I have finished my review. Now if you'll excuse me, I have a mad king to dethrone.
|+ High replayability||– Not as complex as other strategy games|
|+ Quick games||– RNG can ruin a good strategy|
|+ Multiple ways to win||– Small map|
|+ Fast-paced strategy|