- Board Game Paradise
The land of Armello is in turmoil. A magical infection known as The Rot eats away at the King’s body and mind, driving him mad as it consumes him. Now, four champions vie for his throne, but there’s only room for one at the top and time is on no one’s side.
Armello is a digital board game by the fine folks at League of Geeks through the power of Kickstarter. Four champions compete for the throne by completing quests and using cards to gain weapons and items, cast spells, and set traps for the other competitors. The entire game is exquisitely illustrated, including some masterpieces by members of the Armello fan community.
The kingdom of Armello is the game board, made up of a series of six-sided tiles that can feature randomly distributed terrain and structures, making for a new board every time you play. There are four types of terrain: mountains, forests, swamps and plains. Mountains, being arduous to climb, take twice as many action points to cross. Forests hide players from site during the night turns and allow for ambushes. Swamps are awful places full of bugs and disease, so you lose health when you enter a swamp tile. Plains are just there, no special effects, because sometimes you need a rest. There are three types of structures, only ever found on plains: settlements, stone circles and dungeons. Settlements are villages you can claim to receive extra gold at each dawn. Stone circles are mystic sites of ancient power and can manifest Spirit Stones if the Wyld is feeling generous. Entering a stone circle also heals one wound of your character. Dungeons are volatile places. These ancient ruins are the spawning grounds for the vile Banes, creatures so lost to The Rot that they become nothing more than berserk monsters. But dungeons also hide gold, magic, treasures, Spirit Stones and even other explorers whom you can recruit as followers.
As you traverse the randomly created kingdom of Armello, you control a champion from one of the four Great Clans in their journey to claim the throne. Characters have four attributes: Fight, Body, Wits and Spirit. The Fight stat controls how many dice you roll in combat, Body represents your character’s maximum hit points, Wits dictate how many cards you can have in your hand as well as how many dice you roll to avoid non-magical perils, and Spirit controls how many points of magic you gain at dusk in addition to how many dice you roll against magical perils. In addition to their individual stats, each character has a unique special ability, such as gaining extra dice when fighting Banes or stealing money from opponents. But the best part is the customization of the characters. At the beginning of each match, you choose a ring and an amulet to augment your champion. You choose your ring selection of four that are specific to your hero’s clan, each with their own ability, but everyone chooses from the same pool of amulets, that provide less interesting boosts. This is where one of Armello’s few downsides shows up: not all of the rings and amulets are unlocked right away. The character customization through these rings and amulets lets you play each character in a variety of ways and gives a lot of player choice, it’s just a shame you have to finish 10 games with each clan to unlock all of that clan’s rings.
In your adventures, you’ll find that there’s more than one path to victory. If you’re a pacifist like me you can wander the countryside, doing heroic deeds and winning the hearts of the people, so that when the King dies of his horrible illness, you win by having the highest Prestige. If that’s a little too passive for you but you’re still against bloodshed, you can complete quests and explore dungeons for Spirit Stones. When you have four, you can preform a purification ritual on the King, tragically relieving him of his blight and life simultaneously, making you the new ruler. But if combat is your style, then you can ascend the throne in two ways. Your first option is to storm the castle and slay the King in a duel. If you win, you become Armello’s newest monarch in the most common method of medieval power transfer. If you kill the King but die as well, whichever hero has the highest Prestige is the winner, because when you take a shot at the King, you can’t miss. Your other combat option is to infect yourself with The Rot, preferably more than the King. The dark plague will empower you in combat and, assuming you survive the duel, Armello will replace a corrupt and insane monarch with an even more corrupt and insane monarch. So, no one really wins except for you. Enjoy your inevitably short reign!
The game features a Day/Night cycle that also serves as a turn limiter on the game, because not everyone can stay up until 3:00 in the morning. Every dawn, the King dies a little more. At the dawn of the ninth day the King will die of unnatural causes, so heroes have until then to complete their plans and claim the throne. The limited time forces players to be more purposeful with their action and dares players to delve into the corrupting Rot for shortcuts.
Finally, I have to address the elephant in the room. Armello is an Early Access game on Steam, which reasonably frightens many potential players away. The game still has noticable bugs and not all of the content is available now. But League of Geeks is doing a commendable job of regularly updating the game and communicating with their player base, so while it is unfinished, it’s going to be a real gem when all the polishing is done.
Overall, Armello is an incredible game people will enjoy, tabletop gaming enthusiasts doubly so. The gameplay and graphics are wonderfully executed and the atmosphere draws you into the beautiful, haunted world of swords and sorcery. I encourage everyone to get it now. But I suppose if you’re gun-shy of Early Access games, you can wait until it’s finished before you pick this one up.