Board game reviews, strategy tips & session reports
Armello is a digital board game set in a lush world with a dying king. You must battle the other players and triumphantly claim the throne before he dies.
Armello is a video board game but unlike most digital board games I talk about there is no analog version of this game. You play an animal representing one of four animal clans. There are two bears, two bunnies, two rats and two wolves. Each of the eight playable characters has a unique ability and plays a little differently.
Like I said the king (a lion) is dying of rot and you are trying to gain his throne. There are four ways to accomplish this and win. You can wait until he dies and have the highest prestige, attack and defeat him, eclipse his rot level and defeat him or collect four spirit sines and confront him.
On your turn you have three action points to spend on movement. The board is made up of hexes with different type of terrain. Each terrain affects you differently. Mountains cost two APs to move through but grant you extra defense. Swamps make you lose one health but sacred circles heal you one health. Settlements get you income every round and dungeon randomly gets you gold, some magic, a companion or summons a bane.
You complete quests to gain permanent stat increases, prestige and possibly other goodies. Once you finish a quest you select another to go after.
The rounds are divided into two phases, day and night. Each morning the king and any characters with rot lose one health and characters gain income from their claimed settlements. Then the character with the highest prestige helps the king decide his decree for that day. Often the decree hurts are bad for everyone but the prestige leader can choose something that hurts them the least. Before the characters move, the king’s guards move and attack banes or characters with bounties. Each evening the king gains one rot and the characters regain magic. Then banes might be summoned at dungeons and any banes on the board move and attack.
There are four stats, fight, body, wits and spirit. Fight determines how many dice you roll in combat. Body determines your health. Wits are used to build you dice pool for perils and how cards you can hold. And magic is spent to use spell cards.
Cards come in three types, items, spells and trickery. You can have three items equipped to your character and they help you for offense or defense in combat and sometimes for overcoming perils. There are some items that are consumed instead of equipped too. Spells can buff your character, damage another creature, or be played as a peril on a hex. Trickery cards are mostly perils cut some can help you gain gold or other resources.
Each card also has a symbol in its corners. These symbols match the faces of the dice in the game and the symbols you need to roll to pass a peril. You can discard cards that match the symbols you need to beat. But each match costs one die. In the same way you can discard sword and shield cards to gain those symbols in combat.
Speaking of combat, it is resolved anytime two characters enter the same hex. Your fight stat determines how many dice you roll in a fight. The dice have the following symbols; shield, sword, rot, moon, sun and tree. In combat each sword is a hit and each shield blocks one sword. Each sun or moon that matches the current phase is a hit. Every tree rolled gets you another die and counts as a hit. If your hits are greater than your opponent’s current health they are killed.
If you are killed you return on your next turn to your starting position. You will gain one rot if you are killed by a bane.
The game ends once a player reaches a victory condition or the king dies of rot. If the king dies of rot the prestige leader wins the game. You gain prestige by completing your quests or killing banes or other players. You lose prestige for dying or attacking guards. The latter will also get you a bounty.
Armello is a beautiful game. It has some other positive things besides looking fantastic, but also has some flaws. I am going to start talking about the things I like, follow up with the issues I see and then wrap things up.
I know I already said the game looks great but it is worth mentioning again. That is how good it looks. The attention to detail is amazing; the cards have animations on them.
I like how you can burn cards to automatically gain symbols that help you succeed in combat and against perils. It can create some tough decisions when a card you want to use has a symbol you need.
The animals you play are customizable to an extent. I am not sure they are balanced but the unique abilities of each animal are cool. And when you start you choose to increase one stat by one point. This combination lets you create a character to match your strategy.
The day and night phases and how they differ create a nice ebb and flow to the game. Gaining gold in the morning and magic at night affects how you manage those resources. The time of day also affects combat and the die faces hit or miss.
There are a few things I do wish were different though, especially when Armello is approached as a board game. Board games have rules and give access to the inner workings of the game. I wish Armello had a rule book and told me the distribution of the different cards and symbols.
The pacing of the game can be slow, especially in multiplayer games. I’d be nice to fast forward through AI turns to reduce downtime. And other players turns take a while as there is a lot going on and to consider. This might be reduced s players learn the cards and don’t have to read each one as they draw them.
I also feel the balance is a bit off in a few areas. First the wits stat seems too powerful. A high wits stat helps you solve perils and hold more cards. The extra cards are super useful. The cards are also not created equal. Trickery cards are not as useful as items or spells. There are some that can be really good but by and large you get better cards from the other piles.
Armello can also be frustrating when you are killed near a quest halfway across the board. You will respawn far away and sometimes it is no longer worth finishing the quest as it is too far away and game might end before you get there. It can be hard to get back in the game once you have a setback like this.
The win conditions are not equal. I have yet to see or achieve a rot victory. It is pretty much the same as a combat victory, only harder. Spirit stone victories are easier than a rot victory but still seem to happen by chance. Combat victories are possible but you need to survive the king’s onslaught or the game ends and the prestige leader wins. Winning with prestige can lead to conservative play and drop player interaction. This happens more against other human players than the AI, but makes the game less exciting.
You should also be aware of the amount of randomness in this game. The dice and cards can work against you. And you’ll be rolling and drawing a lot of them.
So should you get Armello on Steam or your PS4? I think it depends. If you like the description of this game, give it a go. If you are on the fence, I suggest you read more reviews. And I could definitely see wanting it if a pdf rulebook is released and some of the balance issues I mentioned are addressed. That is the nice thing about video games they can be tweaked after release. In fact a patch for Armello was just released.