Anthropomorphic animals have long been a favored tool for many story-tellers. Their impact stretches as far back as classic fables and influential literature, having gained special prominence with the advent of modern media animation. Yet, games featuring worlds populated by anthropomorphic animals are uncommon, with most exceptions treating it as a mere curiosity while human characters drive the plot forward. This adherence to an often unexplored motif ensured a niche spotlight for Armello, which proved instrumental during last year’s Kickstarter campaign.
The Kingdom of Armello introduces players to a dark fairytale setting though its gritty tone is softened by the cute residents. This peaceful land is ruled by a wise king who united all animal clans under one leadership. However, an unknown corrupting force known as “The Rot” has been spreading across the realm. Anyone infected by this unknown threat is driven to madness before succumbing to death; it’s also responsible for the return of ancient, dark creatures of legend. Among the first to be afflicted by this disease was Armello’s king. Now, driven mad, he sees enemies everywhere and plunged his domain into chaos.
Embarking on a quest to become the new king, players are given a choice between the wolf, bear, rat and rabbit clans with an additional option of two heroes per faction. At its core, Armello offers a mix of grand-strategy with that of a board game though the process has been streamlined for short playthroughs.
Matches feature a total of four characters who must reach their goal in just ten turns or less before the current king collapses. Characters may move up to three times per turn, so planning ahead of time is essential. Maps are littered with strategically relevant locations, including towns which grant daily taxes, healing locations, health-draining swamps, defense-boosting mountains, dungeons to explore and stealth inducing forests. You only control your main character, though he can be upgraded with new gear and followers.
You may also play cards which can inflict direct damage, add or remove movement points, place enchantments or even add traps to specific board tiles. Some cards can even form temporary alliances with other factions. Use of these enhancements require characters to spend either gold or mana, which can be gained by capturing specific locations, raiding dungeons or even completing NPC quests.
Combat is handled via dice rolls, as your hero gains new upgrades he may either earn more die or persistent defense/attack bonus upgrades. Once all die have been cast, characters will issue a certain number of strikes and blocks depending on the roll. Should a hero perish, he will be sent back to his starting point.
Certain hexes may feature perils, traps or require you to complete a quest. These special conditions issue a challenge to one of your hero’s stats, and players must roll the number of die equal to that specific stat. Failure to achieve this often translates in either losing health, or a debuf. Should a successful roll be thrown during a quest, you will also receive a new card.
Though your aim is to overthrow Armello’s king, there are four paths in which to achieve this. The most direct path involves defeating your ruler in direct combat, yet it involves overcoming perils, royal guards and of course, your leonine ruler who is by far the most powerful foe. Luckily, the king loses one point of health with each passing turn due to rot infection, so it’s not uncommon to see the game’s final moments turn into a race to storm the castle.
Players who prefer underhanded tactics might enjoy playing the political game instead. Through this method, the player with the most prestige wins so long as the king dies from rot and not at the hand of any other clan. Prestige is earned by completing quests, defeating other clan leaders in combat, liberating towns under siege or through special cards. Conversely, prestige can be lost by dying in battle, attacking the royal guard, defying your king’s orders or through specific cards. Every two turns the king issues a random proclamation which will change the game’s rules. During this time, the player with the most prestige will become his loyal confidant and be allowed to choose one of two possible new decrees providing a clear strategic advantage.
Anyone seeking a darker path to governance can achieve a rot victory, which is achieved by killing the king while being more infected by this disease. Having more rot adds additional dice to your pool, yet you lose a health point for every turn, forcing players to stay on the move.
Finally, if you favor a non-violent approach, you can achieve victory by collecting four magical crystals and banishing your king. This method is reliant on completing quests and being lucky enough to have a crystal magically appear on a tile near you. This method is perhaps the most luck-reliant of all victory paths in Armello.
This mix of objectives creates an interesting gameplay mechanic in which players could compete for different goals while unwittingly helping/hindering others. Royal guards and rot monsters also roam the land, resulting in a brilliantly engaging and chaotic experience, which is further enhanced by the aforementioned unique art style. It’s odd that with such an interestingly crafted ruleset, players are limited to only ten turns per match, with no option to extend gameplay time.
Sadly, this is Armello’s greatest weakness, as it never acquires the necessary maturity to evolve into a deep web of war and conspiracy that is often found in titles like Civilization or Age of Wonders III. It’s true this bite-sized formula works well for tablets and mobile devices, but when playing on a computer, Armello leaves much to be desired in scope. Regardless, the potential here is immense and I can only hope it sells well enough to warrant a sequel addressing these issues.
Armello was played on the PC with review code provided by the publisher.
Developer: League of Geeks
Publisher: League of Geeks
Release date: September 1, 2015
Price: $19.99 via Steam