Wandering around Sony’s private showroom at E3, I had the chance to do something that rarely happened at E3 – play a game I had heard absolutely nothing about. Armello isn’t new, having been released on Steam Early Access a few months ago after a successful Kickstarter campaign. It is, however, a new game for the PS4, and fans or any sort of table top, card-based adventure games should quickly take note of it.
Speaking to some of the minds behind the game, I started getting a good sense of what Armello was about. Behind the cute, rather gorgeous aesthetic lay a deep, intricate mix of complex game systems – all of which you’d find in popular boardgames involving dices rolls, RPG elements and surprise card plays. Although you’d struggle to find one that incorporates all three, it’s exactly what the strict nature of digital design allows Armello to do. All of the tabletop fun, none of the mess.
Players assume control of one of four races, each with their own strengths and weaknesses. The Bear clan, for example, featured more fortitude during fights, as well as an affinity to use magic with great effect. Playing against Rabbit and Wolf clans, I quickly learnt that even the Bear clan’s strengths didn’t exactly dictate how I should play. Sure, focusing on magic yielded good results, but only if the game played out in a way that would make it effective.
The playing board is split into hexagons that reminded me heavily of Civilization. Although instead of controlling a city, I only controlled a single Bear piece that represented my entire clan – moving him around strategically while burning action points. Play rotates clockwise, allowing each player to take their turn separately. What makes Armello different, however, is the ability to play cards at any point of play. Should you want to see what your enemies are doing, you can immediately, out of turn, and spy on every single turn they take. Want to weaken an enemy before they battle neutral enemies? You can do that too – should your cards allow it.
It gives the game a more dynamic feel, forcing you to focus not only on your turn, but others as well in real-time. When you do engage in direct conflict, cards comes into play once again. Casting spells increases the likeliness of getting more dice on the board – the mechanic used to determine attacks and defence – as well as whether you’re able to diminish your opponents supply. Other factors – like controlled neutral villages and equipment currently equipped – all make a difference too. There’s a lot going on at the best of times, and it takes a game or two to come to grips with it all.
That’s magnified by the various different ways games can end as well. Ultimately, all players are trying to regain control of the kingdom from a corrupt Lion King, who is slowly dying from his exposure to a dark magic that grips the land. Vaulting over castle walls without any real power is suicide, demanding that you scour the map, build up strength and even recruit some allies along the way. Conversely, players could choose to aid the King himself – gaining is favour and winning by default should no one topple him in time.
This transforms the game from a slow burning wait into a frantic dash to either attack or defend the monarch, with players able to form unstable relationships as they see fit. There are no implicit rules barring co-operative play, but there’s only one victor in the end – bringing a very real, tabletop dynamic to a digital space. Should you not have friends to play with though, the AI should do a decent job of replicating an entertaining game, although it’s certainly one you want to play with not too easily shaken mates.
Armello might be a complicated game to explain without actually getting your hands dirty, but the experience it offers is a far more enticing one to describe. I love playing boardgames, but hate the setup, so Armello brings all that I love without any of the baggage. It also helps that it’s as deep as most popular RPG boardgames – despite the childish, colourful clothing that it so confidently flaunts. It’s out on Early Access right now and soon heading to PS4 – so be sure to look out for it in the near future.
Last Updated: June 25, 2015