Video Game Recommendation: Armello

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My addiction to board games started when Wil Wheaton’s Tabletop sprung up on YouTube. Like a mushroom in a dank cave, I sucked up every episode with greedy abandon, transforming into a massive fungus made of equal parts cardboard, wooden cubes, and meeples. Fast forward and the closet next to our upstairs bathroom – oft used for linens or as a pantry by sane folk – is home to a treasure drove of nerdy tabletop delights, including many that have graced the lineup found on Mr. Wheaton’s internet production. Small World holds a special place in my heart above all others because it was the first game ever played on Tabletop and I instantly fell in love with the Risk-style mechanics and cartoon world on display. Once that got its hooks in me, I was well and truly screwed. I had become a collector of board games. May the force, and my bank account, be with me.

Of course, this need for nerd heroin led me to Kickstarter, the crowd sourcing website where it seems all the new hotness is coming from, be it gaming, gadgetry, or anything else a creative can imagine. Come to think of it, two-thirds of my collection are probably games I’ve backed on Kickstarter, to the dismay of my wallet. This wonderful website is where I stumbled upon an intriguing little idea: a digital board game set in a fantasy world filled with anthropomorphic animals in the vein of Redwall and Mouse Guard meets Dungeons & Dragons. Suffice it to say, I couldn’t back Armello fast enough.

While the theme of the game is light, it should be more than enough for the fantasy lovers out there. The king of Armello is succumbing to an infectious evil known as the Rot which is, for all intents and purposes, driving him insane. He sends out his guard to terrorize settlements and no longer has the best interest of the kingdom at heart. Four clans – Wolf, Bear, Rabbit, and Rat – have sent out heroes to claim the throne in hopes of bringing peace back to the land. You play as one of these heroes; two available from each clan with their own stats, strengths, and specialities (three if you purchase the Usurper’s DLC). There is a fourth Bandit Clan available but, from what I can see, they are still only available for backers and cannot be played in multiplayer games. If you want to play as a badass fox lady and didn’t pledge during the Kickstarter, you’ll just have to keep waiting, I’m afraid.

Bandit clan

Look at these (exclusive) scoundrels! (Sourced from the Armello Kickstarter page).

Armello is a gorgeous game. It has a great art style and each tile – whether it be mountains, plains, settlements, etc. – are nicely detailed. Every game the board is procedurally generated, so you never play the exact same game twice, which is always a plus for re-playability. The characters themselves are rendered well and have an abundance of personality. I find the original four a bit plain compared to the second batch of heroes they added, along with the Usurpers DLC, but that does not make them any less interesting to play or watch move around the board.

The combat system is a simple one, but elevated by the cards a player draws and the card art itself. Every turn players can draw cards up to their hand limit from three decks – Items, Magic, and Trickery. Not only do these cards give you various benefits, be they extra dice in battle to being able to see stealthed opponents, they also have symbols on their top right corners. Whatever cards you have in hand when you enter battle or step on a peril – a trap that can be placed on tiles by the game or other players – can be ‘burned’, making one die from your available dice pool automatically roll that symbol. In perils, this can help you bypass them automatically if you have enough cards to burn with the various symbols needed to succeed, while in combat each symbol can be beneficial depending on whether you are attacking or defending, fighting when its day or night. That isn’t even including the rot system! Add to that some amazing, animated artwork that adorns every card, you have one pretty game that can be as simple or as complex as the players involved demand.

Now, despite all my love, and there is much, I do have a few issues, some inherent to board games as a whole, but exasperated when turned digital. The main obstacle here is that, while it is fun, it isn’t a video game in the traditional sense. Besides choosing cards, moving your hero around, and flicking the dice with your cursor, there is not all that much to do, especially on other player’s turns. In tabletop gaming this wait time is mitigated by the fact you are playing with living, breathing humans, most often friends and family. You can chat, joke, try to mess someone else’s turn up, all that good stuff. Here, those interactions are gone, most noticeably when you play online multiplayer against random people like I do. Having a second monitor to watch Netflix on helps, but that might not be available to everyone. A windowed mode could also come in handy but, alas, it’s full-screen or bust.

What path will you draw from? (Sourced from the Armello Kickstarter page)

What path will you draw from? (Sourced from the Armello Kickstarter page).

Another wrinkle is luck over strategy. I can only speak for myself, but I found that for a lot of my games, luck just was not on my side, no matter how I tried to stack things in my favour. This was showcased most often when it came to perils and searching caves. When you move to a cave tile, you have a chance to acquire one item, be it money, magic, a treasure, or the summoning of a bane – dark raven-like creatures that give you rot if they kill you. It seems that even though there were more options than the bane, I would summon one in place of getting something useful. This same disappointment happened during perils where I thought I had enough dice, but would usually lose because of one or two symbols. I don’t know the percentages in place that the computer is calculating, I just wish the positive and negative outcomes felt even. At the moment, it seems like I’m playing against the RNG rather than the other players.

The final problem I have only cropped up once, but it definitely left a bad taste in my mouth: online disconnection. This happens when you’re playing online games, I get that. However, when you have a game that does not involve a high degree of interaction like a MOBA or FPS, the frustration of having another player disconnect, thereby locking the game and forcing you to quit and restart, is greatly amplified. Games seem to last an hour on average and when the player I was playing with disconnected, I lost a half hour of time with nothing to show for it. That’s far worse than losing to other players.

What's that smell? (Sourced from leagueofgeeks,com)

What’s that smell? (Sourced from leagueofgeeks.com).

Do not think that because I have these criticisms that Armello is not worth your time or money, because it is. If you’re a board game lover, buy this game. If you love wolves wielding swords and spell casting bears, buy this game. If you like pretty games, buy this game. Yes, it has some frayed edges, but at its heart, Armello is on par with some of the best tabletop board games out there. I’m quite content to watch Gilmore Girls on one screen while bringing the Wolf, Rat, Bear, or Rabbit clan honour on the other. Give the Aussies at League of Geeks a chance and try out their game. It’s worth a roll of the dice or two, for sure.

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