Available on: PlayStation 4, Xbox One, PC
We played on: PC
When I hear mention of a digital board game, I’m not usually intrigued. I mean, why would I want to play a digital board game, when the whole point of the board game is to sit around the table and have a good time with friends. But then I had a child and that “time” for anything quickly wilted away, which made digital board games more appealing. Still, not very many of them get it right. This mostly seems to be because traditional board games, like Monopoly, are being forced into the digital space. But Armello isn’t like that. It was designed from the ground up to be a digital board game, and it’s a really good one.
The basis for the game is that a kingdom of animal tribes is ruled by a Lion King. Unfortunately, the king is suffering from an illness called The Rot, which is chipping away at his sanity as well as his health. His erratic and often harmful behavior in the kingdom has made the animal tribes believe someone else must defeat the king and take the thrown. There are four different animal clans – wolf, bear, rabbit, and rat, all with different characters and abilities.
The gameplay in Armello is actually quite complex. After playing for a week, I was starting to grasp some of the more involved strategies. But the game does a really good job easing you into the mechanics through a “prologue” where you play as four individual characters in short tutorial-style games. I highly recommend playing through these prologue games, otherwise you’ll probably be completely lost.
You start the game by selecting a character. Every character has different stats and abilities. Once you select your character, you also select two items that boost certain stats or give you special abilities on the board. The game itself is played on a hex-style board with the king in his castle in the center. You can move three spaces in any direction during your turn. Or two spaces if you choose to go into the mountains. Speaking of mountains, each space on the board falls into one of six types, each with its own stats. For example the mountains offer you a defensive stat boost, while a the stonehenge looking spaces provide you with one health. There are also towns you can capture. Captured towns will produce coins for you every morning.
Beside the end goal of defeating the king, you’re also given quests. Completing these will help with your stats or provide valuable items. At the beginning of each turn, you draw cards based on your wits stat and make your moves. This can involve playing cards or battling other characters on the board. Battles are done with dice rolls where you attempt to line up enough offensive moves and defense to defeat your opponent. Winning or losing a battle will increase or decrease your prestige stat respectively.
The prestige stat can be a very important as it offers you the ability to influence the game. Every morning, the king will confer with the player with the highest prestige. That player can select two board-wide options that may play to their advantage, like making all of a certain type of space off limits or make all characters pay the king all of their coins.
The game proceeds in this manner until someone is able to penetrate the castle and defeat the king, either by a straightforward battle or collecting enough spirit stones to simply defeat him. Defeating the king becomes easier and easier as the game goes on because he loses one point of health every morning. If he dies before anyone defeats him, then nobody wins.
Like I said, the gameplay is pretty complex, but it’s also not terribly difficult to pick up. Another great thing about Armello is that the games are pretty short. Turns happen every day and night and the game ends when the king dies, which accounts for about 18 turns in a standard game.
Armello is rated E10+ for Fantasy Violence, Mild Blood and Alcohol Reference. Much of the gameplay involves attacking other characters, though everyone plays as an animal. During the battles some red flashes occur, but it’s not overly bloody. In fact the most blood you’ll see is actually in the opening cinematic of the game where you can see blood dripping from a sword. The alcohol reference comes in the form of some cards that offer stat changes.
Armello is a complex, but really good digital board game. I found it satisfying to simply play against AI characters, but multiplayer was fun too. There’s no chat, so you don’t have deal with any objectionable behavior from other players. The developers recently released an expansion pack that adds more characters that you can play as. I really liked this game and very much recommend it for someone whose looking for a strategic board game experience, but can’t get the friends together to have one. Though you could all play Armello together from any location.