Review: Armello (Early Access)


Videogames have long been influenced by board games, from RPG mechanics to actual strategy games like Risk and Monopoly being realised in videogame form. It seems fitting, then, that developers are creating actual board game experiences on PC.


Armello is just such an experience. In its world, the King is infected with Rot and it poisons his mind, in turn poisoning the land of Armello. It falls to the other clans: Bears, Rabbits, Wolves and Rats (with more promised for the final version, as Armello is currently in Early Access on Steam) to purge the realm of evil, or succumb to it themselves.


The ultimate goal is to either kill or cure the King, and there are currently four ways to achieve your victory. You can straight up kill him; you can become corrupted and kill him (essentially replacing him, thus dooming Armello further); you can wait for him to die from the corruption; or, and this is the best “ending”, you can gather four Spirit Stones in order to cure the King of his corruption and save the land.


Once the game begins, you select your character from the four currently available. Each character has their own stats, from Thane the wolf’s increased fighting strength to Sana the bear’s increased magic. Each character has a different number of starting cards too, randomly selected abilities that can be played while on the map (some outright harm other players, which can feel cheap when they can be used at any time – sometimes resulting in instant death) or burned during combat/perils for the chance to add extra attack/defence before rolling your dice.


The game board itself is a standard hex system. Each player gets 3 action points (AP) to move, with each hexagonal tile costing 1AP – except for mountain tiles, which cost 2AP to move on to but with the added bonus of adding 1 defence in combat if you’re attacked while on that tile. There are several different tile types, each with their own perks/perils. Swamps will cost 1 health point (HP) to cross; stone circles restore 1HP; settlements can be claimed and will reward the owner with 1 gold per settlement at the beginning of each day; forests offer stealth at night, which negates any attacker’s ability to burn cards during combat; mountains offer 1 defence as previously mentioned; and dungeons sometimes yield rewards, but often require the player to undergo Peril trials.


Perils are brief trials that often bar your way to a treasure or to the King, if you’re  attempting to win the game. Much like combat, you burn cards and roll dice in order to fulfil the victory conditions. The combat/peril system seems quite overwhelming at first, as the burn meter ticks down (limiting the time you have to select cards before rolling your dice) and you have to match symbols in order to boost your defence or attack, or to wipe out the perils in a dungeon. However, after my first game, I found myself enjoying the entire experience as I started to learn the game’s systems.


All these systems do sound complex and they are, but it’s absolutely possible to enjoy the game without learning everything. I certainly found myself confused during that first game but, after an hour had passed and the game ended, I managed to win and have a great deal of fun doing so.


The visual style is wonderful, bringing to mind Warcraft with its colourful anthropomorphic characters and fantasy setting. It breathes life into a world that would otherwise be static in a real board game, and the 2D sprites visible in combat scenes are just as vibrant and stunningly animated. Studios with $100m budgets often don’t have this level of detail in their animation.


Armello certainly has its flaws though, which hopefully will be fixed through the feedback received during its time in Early Access. Cards aren’t always easy to read, with their text being too small, which can be especially troublesome when that burn timer is counting down. Changing the resolution doesn’t help either.


The Rot system isn’t explained very well, only that reaching a certain number will result in your character becoming corrupted. This changes the way the game is played quite significantly, so it can be quite frustrating to find your character’s Rot number increasing without really understanding why.


Each game can seem quite short too, even despite taking 45 minutes or more to complete, meaning that Prestige victories (when the King dies naturally and the player with the highest Prestige number wins by succession) are a little too common. This could be fixed with a simple option to change the amount of starting health the King has, at least in single player games. Multiplayer games are nicely handled though, employing counters to limit each player’s turn and keeping the game moving.


Multiplayer is where this game could really shine, though its limited player numbers right now mean that it can take a while to fill a lobby and start the game. Luckily, you can continue playing alone until the lobby is ready to go, which is a nice feature and a welcome one. A total lack of local multiplayer is a huge shame though, as Armello could shine as a party game, especially as you can employ the chat system to suggest alliances or even taunt your opponents.


Overall, Armello is a gorgeous, fully animated board game that is a delight to play. From physically rolling dice by dragging them across the screen with your mouse, to playing sly cards that ruin an opponent’s attempt to win the game, there is a certain charm that keeps you entertained throughout.

It has its flaws, as does every Early Access game, but a small developer like League of Geeks is likely to listen to player feedback and fix problems or make suggested changes in order to improve its game.


At £18.99 it’s hard to recommend to those that may not like board games, but its strategy-RPG elements could entice many fans of those genres. Any board game fans will know that £18.99 is a great price, and they’re the ones that will enjoy the experience most – and they will shout from the rooftops about Armello’s quality.


And it oozes quality.

Jim Smale

Gaming since the Atari 2600, I enjoy the weirdness in games counting Densha De Go and RC De Go as my favourite titles of all time. I prefer gaming of old where buying games from a shop was a thing, Being social in person was a thing. Join me as I attempt to adapt to this new digital age!

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