A Game of Armello
When you play the game of Armello, you either win or you don't
Armello is a boardgame played on computer, if you can imagine such a thing. It takes place in a fairytale kingdom populated by anthropomorphic animals who compete with each other to become monarch in what seems to be a very unsustainable governmental system. The game encourages both straightforward combative play and devious skulduggery.
It’s difficult to usefully describe a game like this; I can tell you that it’s a boardgame-like game which takes place on a hex board with card-based character progression and dice-roll combat, but you could get that information from a screenshot. So how about I play a game and take you through it?
The first thing you’ll notice about Armello is that it’s strikingly beautiful. The artwork is sumptuous, from the title screen to the in-game cards with their animated illustrations, the models and textures of the game itself, the pleasing but unobtrusive menu animations — even the loading icon is beautiful. Someone cared about the artistic direction of this game, and it shows. It’s a warm bath of lovliness.
Anyway, let’s play.
The path to the throne
I’ve played a few games of Armello. Steam says I have 9 hours in it, but I wouldn’t describe myself as skilled. Or competent. And it’s been a while since I played. I’ll do my best though.
My first choice is which of the eight characters to play as. There are 2x rabbits, bears, rats and wolves. I’m tempted to choose one of the rabbits because she’s holding a parasol and rabbits clearly have the best emblem. The rat called Zosha looks very sneaky though, and I do like sneaky. And Sana, one of the bears, is interesting too. I think I’ll go with Zosha the rat, he gets stealth at night and that sounds good.
After choosing my character I get a choice of rings and amulets to wear, affording a bit more customisation. These are unlocked as you play a particular species and, since I’ve played a bit, I have a few options. I’ve chosen a ring that gives me scout on settlements at night and an amulet that gives me +1 fight, one of the base stats.
The main character stats are:
- Fight, which determines how many dice you roll in combat
- Body, which is health
- Wits, which determines how many cards you can hold and influences trickery perils
- Spirit, which affects your ability to cast spells and resist spell perils
At the start of the game I’m asked to choose a quest.
Quests are the main mechanic by which your character gets more powerful and gains prestige. You receive a new one each time they’re completed and they tend to involve going to a specific place and undergoing a challenge. I want my rat to be quite fighty so I’m going to choose the one with the +1 fight reward.
Now the game starts. The objective of the game is to defeat the king who is, of course, a lion, and to take the throne. There are numerous ways to achieve this, most straightforward being simply to become strong enough to fight him. The king is being slowly corrupted (which is why we’re trying to usurp him, we’re not monsters) and this corruption will eventually kill him. If no player has claimed the throne by the time the game ends then the one with the highest prestige wins. But that’s not a proper victory.
At the start of the game you are dealt some cards based on your wits. I have 4 wits so I get 4 cards; rats are known for their wit. The cards represent equippable items as well as skills, spells and traps that can be used on the game board or other players. I’ve started with an Oak Spear which gives me +2 swords when defending. That sounds good so I’ll equip that.
Ok, it’s time to start! My plan is to be opportunistic. Or maybe that’s my rationalisation for not having a plan. Either way, there’s a settlement just ahead of me and, since you get one gold for each settlement owned every dawn, I think I’ll go capture that.
I capture the town by walking over it and then carry on towards the nearby dungeon. I’ve used my three action points and so the turn ends. Night comes with the next turn and that’s good for me since, being a sneaky rat, I’m stealthed at night. I enter the dungeon, failing to notice that someone’s played a peril card on it.
In order to beat the peril I have to roll my dice and match the three symbols in the middle. This is a spirit peril and my spirit is low so I don’t get many dice. Burning cards with matching symbols also counts. I promptly burn all my cards since they’re rubbish and I want new ones next turn. I survive the peril and am rewarded with 3 gold from the dungeon.
I carry on towards my current quest objective and stumble into Brun the bear. We were both stealthed, which is why I didn’t spot him, so this ends up as a mutual ambush — ambushed characters can’t use cards during fights. Since I’m much better at combat than Brun I win easily and Brun retreats. I decide to follow and go for the kill since I have a big combat advantage. I kill Brun (he respawns back in his base, which is only a couple of tiles away) and I end the turn.
The dice roll animation is lovely by the way, all physicsy. Certain symbols on the dice spawn new dice and when this chains it results an explosion of dice bouncing around your screen; it’s very satisfying.
During Brun’s next turn he attacks me and we both die. I respawn back at base and lose one prestige. On my next turn I get new cards to replace those I burned; each turn you are given cards up to your wits value and can choose between items, spells and trickery. I choose all items in the hope of getting some good combat equipment and get a sword which I immediately equip.
During my next turn I try again to get to my quest objective. I go across the dungeon since it’s the shortest route and the random reward roll ‘rewards’ me with a bane. We kill each other and I go back to my base again. It’s starting to feel like home.
I have picked up an Allies’ Pact card though. I can play this on another player and we each get +1 prestige per turn until one of us dies. Since we’re both on zero, I think I’ll play this on Brun if I can find him. That might increase my chances of actually getting to my quest location.
I completed my quest! I lost the peril that was on top of it, robbing me of all my magic, but that’s fine as I’m not really using magic. I’m offered a choice of rewards — the basic stat increases OR a riskier option where I get a chance of acquiring a Royal Pardon card or losing 2 health. Things haven’t been going great so I choose the safer option.
I choose my next quest, one with a body reward this time since I need to survive fights. The next few turns go surprisingly well, I acquire a spirit stone (getting four allows you to banish the king and claim the throne) and manage to play the Allies card on Brun. I make my way to my next quest marker. On the way I stumble upon Sana, another bear, and kill her in a mutual ambush. I get one prestige for killing her and she loses one making me, humble Zosha, prestige leader.
Each dawn the prestige leader gets to enact one of two laws. Unfortunately they’re both bad for me…
The losing an item one is bad as, well, I have items and I don’t want to lose them. The other one is bad because I wanted to heal at a stone circle before attacking the bane who has, annoyingly, decided to sit on my quest objective. I need to heal so I’ll choose the losing an item one, hoping that I don’t lose the really good one.
Ahh, I notice that Mercurio the rat is on that stone circle I wanted to go to so I may as well choose that card. I do so.
Things go poorly over the next few turns. I’ve still not managed to get to my second quest and I lost, and then regained, the prestige lead. Sana has enough spirit stones to banish the king and everyone is infected with the rot.
Rot is an interesting mechanic. You get rot by playing certain cards and failing certain challenges. A few rot means that you are infected and you lose one health each dawn. If you have 5 or more rot you are corrupted and the rules change in interesting ways (the rot becomes, if played right, an advantage). If any two characters with rot fight, the character with the higher rot gains their opponent’s rot level in extra dice.
I currently only have three rot — not enough to make it an advantage. If I’m going to win this then I need to get my act together and perhaps even adopt a plan.
The only thing I’m good at is attacking and, even then, my low health really limits me. I’ve enacted a law that weakens the king and my plan is to complete enough quests to get into the palace and then try a direct assault on the king, working on my combat stats as I go. It’s a long shot but it’s also my only shot.
The next turn goes well, I use the night to my advantage and ambush Sana, killing her easily, and get within striking distance of my next quest.
The king is
a dick dead, long live the rats!
And on the very next turn… the king dies of rot and Mercurio wins a prestige victory. Well, at least a fellow rat won. That’s the main thing, right? Right?
Ok, so let’s talk about what I did wrong. If I were to sum it up I would say my main mistake was playing very poorly indeed. Let’s break down what that means in detail:
- I feel, in retrospect, that not having a plan was possibly a mistake
- I should’ve paid attention to the king’s rot status
- I didn’t really make use of my night-time advantage
- I lost too many fights meaning I had to keep trekking back to where I was
- I didn’t even complete my second quest. Yeah, that might’ve helped
Armello’s a great game with a lot of RNG to it and plenty of opportunity for dicking people over — I’ve only played with AI so far and I’m really looking forward to playing with humans, there’s nothing quite like backstabbing a friend.
It’s beautifully presented with a luscious aesthetic style and an attention to fine design detail. It doesn’t feel like a boardgame played on PC, it feels like a boardgame-like game made specifically for the PC, it feels at home here rather than feeling clunky and compromised.