Tales of heroes, fantasy, dark deeds, corrupted kings and twisted magic permeate the land of Armello in this truly innovative digital board-game that combines some elements of Magic the Gathering, with beautiful animated graphics, and lite-RPG systems. Thanks to Xbox UK for our review code for this one, because it truly is a great title and if you're even the slight bit interested in something different than the usual run of the mill shooters, you need to check it out.
A call to Arms
You are cast in the role of one of eight heroes/anti-heroes all struggling to take the throne in Armello. You're not the run-of-the mill heroic types in this game either, no red-haired barbarian women, or wily mages. Armello is very much in the tone of Redwall, using anthropomorphic animals to tell the story of a crown up for grabs. See the king, a lion, is quite mad and has been infected by the usurper force of the game - the Rot.
You have a limited amount of time before the king dies, each night he gains 1 Rot, and each morning he loses 1 health. If he runs out of health, then the hero with the highest prestige wins the game.
The race is on between bear, wolf, rabbit and rat clans to deal with this problem once and for all.
Victory comes if you either kill the king, wait out his worsening health or use 4 spirit stones to heal him.
Once you've chosen your hero, all with various strengths and weaknesses, you pick a ring and an amulet from the ones you have unlocked.
Now the game begins in earnest and you're vying for power with the other 3 heroes, either other players online, or the AI if you're playing a single player game. The AI in Armello is also pretty good, and it's capable of pulling some pretty human-like surprising moves against you/and each other.
Turn based Fantasy Strategy
Armello is a gorgeously made turn based game, the quality of the presentation and the atmosphere, aesthetics, and art style are excellent. Each turn plays out in a bright, colourful manner, or a great looking board with superb animations and brilliantly designed characters. It oozes quality from the get-go and it's hard to pick just one element to talk about, it's all good stuff.
The game systems (complete with guide) come across well, they're not mystifying or as confusing as some of these style of games tend to be. They're just about right, and there's a heck of a layer of strategy there which rewards planning, a bit of luck, and tenacity. So far I've won several games as the Wolf Clan heroes with a mix of guile, and ensuring I have a higher prestige than my fellow heroes at the time the king dies of the Rot.
I've also had that strategy smashed by the AI a few times, when they've rushed the palace, killed the king's guard and managed to beat the king.
You'll begin in your Clan Land and then move up to 3 Action Points worth of tiles across the hexagonal board, capturing settlements to generate income, or questing in little dungeons to get coin, treasure, or another reward. You'll get little quests and have to negotiate perils, some played by the king, some played by the other heroes vying for the crown. You can usually move 1 tile per AP, with 2 AP required to enter mountains. Some tiles like mountains provide defence bonuses, some like forests give you stealth at night.
It's worth playing the Prologue to learn how this all works.
It might sound complicated, but its not. Perils are risk tests and depending on your Wits stat you'll have a varying chance at finishing them. If you succeed you'll get the reward, fail, you'll take the punishment/penalty for failing that test.
There are collectible cards (hence the Magic the Gathering comment earlier) which can be used to give you bonuses, like extra dice in rolls, or help with Perils. Equipment, Spells, Trickery, and so on. They usually cost gold to activate, such as equipping a weapon or shield for a fight.
You can only hold a few cards at any one time, so don't hoard them. Use them to get what you want, or play evil tricks on the other heroes - throw a bounty on them, nick their items, or even forge an alliance until you or they die.
Eventually you'll have to get into a fight, with a fellow hero, or a Bane (monsters that roam the map), or the king's guard. Someone is going to come after you. You'll get bonuses, or penalties depending on your cards, you can Burn cards (shield symbols give you defence, swords attack) and roll some dice. Depending on the symbols that show up, the battle plays out a bit like a tabletop RPG would do. Someone gets hit, someone might die.
Death removes Prestige and sends you back to the Clan Land.
Armello plays out each day from Dawn till Dusk, each player takes turns during this time and goes about their own quests, fights, challenges. When dawn comes the next day the player with the most Prestige gets to issue an edict via the king. These are usually things like: Steal 2 gold from each hero, and anyone who can't play loses Prestige. Or terrorise all settlements, or... well, you'll find out!
Eventually someone will win and the game will end. So far I've never felt cheated, short-changed, or ripped-off by the AI too. I've enjoyed a few victories, and some defeats, gaining points to unlock my next ring or amulet.
It really is great stuff.
Pretty as a Picture
Armello is a pretty game, a fantastic looking title, and has one of the best animated intros to a game I've seen for a long time. The animation and art style of the game itself oozes through in every single moment, especially in the battle scenes and the cards themselves, which are animated with lots of cool touches.
It's a truly beautiful work of art.
Game of Thrones with Animals
With all the strategy, combat, political intrigue and skull-duggery ahoy in Armello it is apt to think of Game of Thrones. It's a superbly done game, there's lots to unlock, and whilst I think the DLC is a tad on the pricey side for 4 new heroes and some rings, it'll probably be worth it if you tire of the eight on offer in the game. I love it, and I'm usually not a fan of board games mixed with cards. Give it a go and you might just feel the same!