Armello would fit great on your living room table complete with beautifully crafted figurines, cards that may as well be works of fine art and a game board so big that it leaves no room for pizza and beer. It’s unfortunate that this version of the game doesn’t exist, but the digital version is the next best thing capturing the spirit of those table top games in fine fashion.

This is a board game played with mouse and keyboard and for those not used to the pace it can feel slow and deliberate. That being said, Armello does a splendid job of fulfilling its niche delivering an experience that is somewhere between Sid Meier’s: Civilization and Settlers of Catan as far as depth and approachability.

The grand premise is this: the king of Armello is afflicted with rot and is on his way to becoming stark raving mad so it’s up to one of the various clans in the land of Armello to step up and battle for the right to take his place. If that sounds grim then imagine every single character is the animal version of your favorite fantasy trope with an artstyle befitting a beautiful hand drawn children’s book.The noble wolves, backstabbing rats, crafty rabbits and druid bears all invoke Brian Jacques’s set of children’s fantasy novels Redwall, injecting a sense of whimsy into a plot that is akin to Game of Thrones or Lord of the Rings.

The aesthetics really make the game approachable and helped make learning its elaborate set of rules a lot more palatable. This isn’t a pick-up-and-play type game so it took a fair bit of patience to learn and several sessions against the computer to really get the hang of. Armello features a handy tutorial that doubles as a prologue, which helps mitigate some of the learning curve, but trial-and-error was ultimately the best teacher. The gameplay is elaborate, but also well put together, blending RPG elements with board game sensibilities. There will be plenty of dice rolls and card draws right alongside a quests to complete and a slew of statistics to pay attention to.  

Armellobattle

Armello relies heavily on chance, which adds a quite a bit of unpredictability to the experience. At times it can be demoralizing for a player to make sound tactical decisions, yet still be undone because some dice didn’t roll your way, but it’s equally as exhilarating to be on the other side of that. Just knowing that fortunes can swing so fast really kept me in a few games that looked bleak early. I had my fair share of heartbreaking losses balanced out by several come-from-behind wins so the game felt balanced and fair.

Where the game could use some balancing is in its winning conditions. There are quite a few ways to take down the king, but unfortunately not all of them are created equal which really kills some of the strategy. Getting a prestige victory is the default path and the end result when nobody succeeds in killing the king before his natural death from rot. Since taking down the king is so difficult, this is often the surest path to victory and the least likely to be fouled by chance. This gives many of the hardier characters like Thane, Sana, Brun or River an advantage simply because dying puts players at such a disadvantage. That makes Mercurio, Zasha, Amber and others that rely on guile to win less palatable options, which is a shame because it can be plenty satisfying weakening characters with spells or using trap cards to deny areas of the board.  

ArmelloBoard

Armello is at its best when the action is hot and heavy. Combat and encounters are the best parts of Armello because it highlights the exciting risk-reward elements of the game. Choosing exactly when to roll the proverbial (and literal) dice and fight another player or walk into a town in peril is a matter of strategy. Engaging in combat uses the player’s strength statistic to determine the amount of dice will be used to attack or defend with so it may be advantageous to actively hunt other players to earn prestige. Characters with high wit have the advantage when faced with perils, which are negative events that require a certain combination of dice to escape, because they have a more dice to work with when throwing for a favorable outcome. That makes them a lot more maneuverable than classes that rely on strength. Throw in a system where cards can be burned to lock in certain outcomes and the experience becomes even more layered.

Armello is meant to be played with other people and works best when the foes are familiar faces, yet the game does not make it easy to communicate with friends in game. There is no in-game chat, so the only option to communicate with other players is through a set of stock phrases. Part of the fun is razzing your friends over a battle gone awry or lamenting a bad break, but the game offers no way to do that in your own words. While some games can live with a multiplayer mode where nobody has to talk, it makes a big difference when turns may take several minutes to resolve.

There is plenty to love about Armello with its well polished aesthetic and nuanced gameplay coming together to create a fine digital board game. It serves as a firm reminder that the tabletop experience certainly has a place in the realm of digital games.     

About The Author

Editor In Chief

Jose is a straight shooter who always goes the paragon route. He joined the team at Indie Haven to spread the word about indie games all across the galaxy. When not aboard the Normandy, he lives in the San Francisco Bay Area playing video games and plotting ways to rid the world of games like Colonial Marines.

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