Anthropomorphic animal board game of thrones.
I knew Armello had board game influences going into playing it, but I didn’t quite realize how wholly a board game transformed into a video game it was. I’ve played board games similar to Armello, but the trick is that since it’s a video game, it allows for more complex systems and mechanics to happen behind the scenes, making for a deep, engaging experience. While a lack of local multiplayer is disappointing, the solo and online play still makes for a masterful blend of video game and board game ideas.
At the heart of the randomly generated game board is the ailing corrupted king and his castle. The goal is for the four heroes, from different animal clans and with different abilities, to usurp the king. Multiple victory conditions are possible, whether it’s slaying the king, waiting for him to die of rot, purifying him of rot, or becoming more rotten than him. Every game has a set turn limit as well, as the king slowly rots away to his death. If none of the other win conditions are met, the player with the highest prestige level (basically like stars in Mario Party) becomes the winner and new king. Right off the bat, you have so many choices and directions in which to go. It’s overwhelming, but a great tutorial, smart tooltips, and a detailed rulebook make it a little smoother to get into.
The complexity definitely makes it a little harder to introduce new players to, but it’s not that much unlike board games of a similar ilk. Thanks to the video game concepts here, there is a way to kind of just play out the game and learn as you go, since so much is automated behind the scenes. The learning curve isn’t necessarily gentle, but it’s steady enough to not really leave interested players behind. For example, you can get into battles, and very likely your character will die. Death isn’t a major punishment, however; your turn just ends and you respawn back at the start. Failure isn’t quite as demoralizing, though with good strategy you can totally screw with your friends.
Whether you primarily rock it solo or venture online, Armello is packed with depth, replayability, and options. Quests provide immediate goals that can upgrade stats or provide new items. Cards make up a hand that fills up every turn, giving more options for buffs and interactions. While it’s advantageous to acknowledge your hero’s optimal win condition, with the right upgrades and boosts any victory is possible. Armello is successful by bringing in a lot of aspects of various board games and giving them an effortless video game twist. This doesn’t feel like it’s constrained by being on a virtual board; it feels like this is how it was meant to be played.
The Switch port has some longer load times but for the most part, it ran perfectly fine. The graphics, while nicely animated and pleasant, are a little cluttered in handheld mode. The UI is similarly very busy. While a lot of these issues wash away on a TV, it does hurt the ability to play this in tabletop mode. Online multiplayer ran fine in our experiences with it, but the lack of cross-platform play limits the user base. Your mileage will vary on how active the Switch community is.
Armello is a brilliant combination of board game ideas poured into a video game. A variety of ways to play mix well with the layers of strategy and charming presentation to make an impressive addition to the Switch multiplayer library. This is a grand, polished experience that is fun by yourself and even better online. It’s shame about the lack of local play, but it makes up for it by being so good otherwise.