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Game Info:

Armello
Developed By: League of Geeks
Published By: League of Geeks
Released: Sept. 1, 2015
ESRB Rating: E10+ (Fantasy Violence, Mild Blood, Alcohol Reference)
Available On: Windows, macOS, Linux, PlayStation 4, Xbox One, iOS, Nintendo Switch, Android
Genre: Fantasy Tabletop Strategy, RPG
Number of Players: 1 Offline, 1-4 Online
Price: $19.99
(Humble Store Link)

It is my second to last turn in a game of Armello and my goal is clear; move Thane, a handsome wolf prince, inside the castle this turn in order to duel the king for my final turn, hopefully killing him and living to tell the tale. This will grant me a kingslayer victory, one of the four unique victory conditions in Armello. But before I can enter the castle I must pass a devastating peril, and even then, the real threats still lurk only a few hex tiles away: a sneaky rat assassin, a giant bear wielding a hunk of tree, and a snow-white hare with a parasol on her hip. One of us will take the throne, but with the momentum of the game able to shift in a single turn, it’s anybody’s guess as to who it might be. This is the strength of Armello; a balance of skill and random chance that often requires quick strategy change in order to squirrel your way toward whichever victory condition is closest at the moment.

Armello is a compilation of a few game genres, most notably a virtual tabletop strategy experience but with some RPG elements mixed in as well. Set in a sword/sorcery time period of much turmoil, several anthropomorphic animal clans have decided that their corrupt lion king must be dethroned. The variety of heroic/devious animals on a quest to better their clans reminded me of a widely popular book series I read as a child by English author Brian Jacques: Redwall. I’m not sure if League of Geeks took any inspiration from Redwall when developing their excellent game but the feel of the world in the opening cinematic had me in flashbacks. But Armello absolutely stands on its own. With high replayability, a complex but not exhausting strategic system that rewards those replays, and a variety of characters and victory conditions to keep things new, Armello is one of the best virtual tabletop experiences I have ever played.

The opening cinematic is beautifully animated and introduces the player to some of the key players in the battle for the throne. There is some blood visible and a murder just offscreen, but neither last very long. Following the cinematic is the tutorial which I at first found unique and informative, but once I actually started to play a few games I found myself frequently needing to check the game guide for rules. The tutorial splits its time between four playable characters and teaches you the game by showing you each character’s strengths during their respective turns. This layout works well and any player can get a sense for how the wolf, rat, bear, and rabbit clans operate. Unfortunately, the tutorial doesn’t explain in depth any of the victory conditions other than a one sentence description of how they might be achieved. The tutorial also fails to show the king lose health at the beginning of every day and gain rot every night, an integral part of the game that gives the quest for the throne its sense of urgency. The game guide is a more exhaustive reference tool and contains all of the necessary information absent in the tutorial.

The pattern of an Armello game will be confusing at first, but this is a game that rewards, and deserves, multiple playthroughs. Character selection functions similarly to many RPG’s, where the goal is not necessarily to pick a “best” character but to pick the character that suits the player or their preferred playstyle the most. The 8 characters in the base game are all outfitted with different combinations of 5 basic skills: Fight, Body, Wits, Spirit, and Gold. After selecting a character along with a ring and talisman to complement the chosen playstyle for that game, the player begins in their clan grounds at one corner of the map.

Armello
Highlights:

Strong Points: Good mix of strategy and RNG; quick games and high replay value; numerous paths to victory
Weak Points: Tutorial could be improved; confusing camera; some graphics/texture issues
Moral Warnings: Vague occult references; some blood spatter; references to alcohol

The game map is a hex grid with different tiles that affect the player’s movement, status, or provide rewards. These include plains, forests, swamps, mountains, stone circles, settlements, and dungeons. Castle Armello takes up 5 tiles in the middle of the board and houses the king, which is the ultimate destination for nearly all victories. Players are given 3 action points per turn, and they use those points to navigate the hex tiles around the kingdom. The player will also get to draw and play cards each turn (dependent on their Wits stat) that affect the game in numerous ways. Every game starts with a choice of three quests offering different rewards. These quests show up as a coat of arms above tiles, ringing them in a halo of importance. As a player moves across the map, they might reach these quest tiles and receive guaranteed buffs to a skill, along with the possibility of extra rewards if they’re lucky. But quests aren’t required to win, and often times will be neglected in favor of a shot at one of the four victory conditions as the king grows ever closer to death.

As mentioned at the beginning of this review, a kingslayer victory requires you to kill the king in a duel and survive the ordeal. Battle involves rolling a certain number of 6-symbolled dice determined by your Fight skill and any effects from cards you might have played or items/followers you might have equipped. You can also burn extra cards you might not want in order to guarantee one of your dice displays a certain symbol. Battles are quick and flashy with satisfying animations and sound effects. Hits landed will show some light blood spatter. Battles happen frequently between characters and the outcomes often call for changes in strategy.

A rot victory also requires battle and is without a doubt the hardest victory to achieve. Rot is an active, corrupting force in Armello and gaining a little isn’t hard. But gaining more rot than the king before you kill him (the only way to achieve a rot victory) is a task requiring the most skill and game knowledge of any victory condition, largely due to the king gaining 1 rot every night. If you can’t match that pace you can say goodbye to your rot victory. The other two victories don’t require an end battle and either involve collecting 4 spirit stones and touching the king (Spirit Stone victory) or simply having the highest prestige total when the king dies (Prestige Victory). Armello’s chaos often forces players to abandon one victory goal for another as their plans go awry.

I’ve put around 115 hours into playing Armello and I was still discovering new things even after hour 100. There are several hidden experiences that can only be discovered under the right circumstances, and these can sometimes turn a hopeless game into a winnable one. There are over 160 different cards and you won’t see all of them for a while. The strategies I employed in my first few games were certainly not the ones I used after 20 games or so, and because of Armello's volatile power dynamics I never felt like a game was over after a particularly rough early setback. Excluding any in-game antics that might affect the king’s health, there are 18 turns in a game, so most sessions last only about an hour or so. Another big bonus is the achievement list. While other games often fill their achievement list with awkward and obscure tasks that don’t have anything to do with in-game progress, Armello’s achievements encourage a player to play the game in different ways and discover new strategies to become the next ruler of the castle.

Armello
Score Breakdown:
Higher is better
(10/10 is perfect)

Game Score - 90%
Gameplay – 19/20
Graphics – 9/10
Sound – 9/10
Stability/Polish - 4/5
Controls – 4/5

Morality Score - 84%
Violence/Blood/Gore – 7/10
Language – 10/10
Sexual Content – 10/10
Occult/Supernatural – 5.5/10
Cultural/Moral/Ethical – 6.5/10

While I was mostly enamored with Armello there were a few issues I consistently encountered during my games. The worldview camera can be engaged or disengaged, which means it will either center the current turn-taker in its field of view or it will simply follow your cursor around as you look across the game map. There is never much of an issue with the camera during the player’s turn, but when other creatures are acting the camera must be engaged or it won’t capture any of their movements on screen. Sometimes the camera will automatically engage itself, such as at the start of a new night or day, but any movement of the cursor to a screen edge will disengage it once again. A small eye icon must be clicked on in the top left corner of the current turn-taker’s portrait to re-engage it. There are also times when the eye icon shows the camera is engaged but it is not following the action on the game map. Picking a new quest while other creatures take their turn will also obscure the game map and will disengage the camera, so I found it helpful to wait until the beginning of my next turn to choose a quest. There are several hotkey options for camera engagement on the different creatures scattered about the map but overall the camera takes some practice to figure out how it works.

The game’s performance on my Macbook Pro was another issue. I by no means have an optimized computer for gaming, but the game did tend to run a little slow, mainly during day/night switching. I slightly lowered my graphics settings which helped tremendously, but I still encountered one bug during several games where the game would freeze during the king’s turn on his last night alive in Castle Armello. The only way to circumvent this was to quit and reboot it back up. Luckily, autosaves trigger after every turn and continuing a previously unfinished game takes no time at all. Still, at its worst, the bug happened two to three times in a row before I could finish my game. Along with some texturing issues in the graphics, actions in Castle Armello seemed to be a weak point for performance.

For morality concerns, there is nothing blatant. The opening cinematic implies that the banes (purple, undead raven-like creatures) might be part of some animal sacrifice ritual but this isn’t highlighted in an actual game. The game does revolve around overthrowing the ruler of the land but it is stated clearly in the game and in background source material that the king was once good and has since been corrupted totally by the rot. To this point, I thought it might have been an interesting twist if a Spirit Stone victory were to restore the king instead of killing him, but the point of the game is to become the ruler of Armello so I can see why this wouldn’t work. Some cards reference alcohol, but these are treated as any other consumable magic potion and serve only as buffs or debuffs for strategic play.

Overall, Armello is a unique virtual tabletop gaming experience with colorful characters, an excellent blend of strategy and random chance, and a game experience that encourages replay and experimentation. If you find the base game as enjoyable as I did there are several DLC packages with more playable characters, dice, rings, and other accessories. Whether you embrace the rot or follow the purist’s path, there is always a way to the throne…if someone else doesn’t beat you there first.

About the Author

William Miracle

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Christ Centered Gamer looks at video games from two view points. We analyze games on a secular level which will break down a game based on its graphics, sound, stability and overall gaming experience. If you’re concerned about the family friendliness of a game, we have a separate moral score which looks at violence, language, sexual content, occult references and other ethical issues.

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