REVIEW: “Armello” brings an animal fantasy board game to your screen

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Since the original publication of this review, “Armello” has been released on iOS, Xbox One, and, as of September 2018, Nintendo Switch. The game has seen several tweaks and additions since the first version, including plenty of additional playable characters made available as an extra purchase. The price of the base game is $19.99, but a $39.99 “Deluxe” version includes all of the extra content. The Deluxe extras can also be purchased separately as an upgrade after buying the base game if you’re holding out to see if you like the game before committing to the entire thing.

“Armello” is a great addition to the Switch library, although the game still occasionally shows text legibility issues on the Switch’s relatively small screen. The game is dense at first – this is a fairly heavy board game with a lot to absorb – but once you get the basics under your belt, it is a very rewarding experience. The original review follows.

  • PS4, PC / Rated E10+ / $19.99 / released September 2015
  • FINAL: You WANT this game. 4 out of 5 stars

When a board game becomes a video game, it’s typically either an established name brand or it leans heavily on arcade skills. “Armello,” however, comes to the table from a different direction. Featuring animal clans warring over the fate of their poisoned king, “Armello” is the work of programmers who started by imagining the project as a board game before developing it for TV or computer screen.

Each game of “Armello” puts four players on a map of randomized forests, swamps and towns, with the king’s castle at the center. The playable avatars – ranging from noble wolves to sneaky rats – all have various strengths and weaknesses that lean into the game’s mechanics of die-rolling, card-playing and moving around the board. Zosha the rat is a ninja, so she can hide from others, for example, while Amber the rabbit is better at locating treasure. “Armello” is like if the Muppets got together and decided on doing a really serious sword-and-sorcery epic.

The goal of each game is to improve your character’s abilities in fighting and spellcasting, and then make a play at defeating the computer-controlled king. There are four victory conditions, but the most common is to simply have the highest Prestige – a numerical count earned by defeating other players and completing quests – when the king dies. The other victory conditions are a bit more complicated and the ticking clock provided by the king’s impending demise does not provide much time to make them happen.

“Armello” struggles with that balance between deep strategy and speedy turns. Being a video game, there’s an need for fast gameplay since you do not have that “table talk” to fill in the gaps while playing board games with friends in real life. The death of the king puts a reasonable time limit on each “Armello” match – pinning games around 45 minutes in length – but results in a frantic endgame if your plans are not already in place.

The game’s greatest miss is that you can only play multiplayer online, rather than taking a stab at solving the puzzle of how to do a deep, detailed board game for video gamers sitting in the same room. Of course, you can always play against AI critters without going online to look for opponents. Their turns will be faster than human players, but they’ll make weird choices like sacrificing themselves so another AI player can win.

Where “Armello” really stands out isn’t in the gameplay, but in the gorgeous artwork and dramatic presentation. The real reason why “Armello” is a video game and not a board game is that this form allows the game to come to life. The animal cast is full of personality, and the cards you draw are each like a beautiful moving painting. Top to bottom, “Armello” leaves no artistic opportunity untouched. That attention to detail helps “Armello” weave a narrative as you play, building your turns into a living medieval saga.

“Armello” is available for both PlayStation 4 and PC. If you have the choice, you might want to go with PC, since the game’s reliance on tiny onscreen text makes playing on the PS4 somewhat less appealing.

This review is based upon product supplied by the developer. “Armello” is available for PlayStation 4 and PC. Image courtesy League of Geeks.

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