I always feel a bit of secret relief when the results of a Kickstarter project finally makes it into my hands. Kickstarter is both a great tool for people to gain funding for, and put forward ideas for, projects they are passionate about. It’s also a recipe for disaster. Projects often over-promise and under-deliver, much like the last decade for Peter Molyneux. And there’s no guarantee that the people behind the projects have any concept of how to manage a small business, which is essentially what kickstarter is enabling.
Fortunately, the Kickstarter that is Armello did not over-promise and ended up resulting in a great game. League of Geeks, backed by Screen Australia and Film Victoria, have developed a digital board game, and one of the first that I know of that isn’t an adaptation of an actual board game. To explain how this game works is also to explain why I like it so much. You play a representative of one of the four animal clans that all competing for power in the kingdom. Each clan comes with its own trait, and each within that clan also comes with its own trait. The aim of the game is to replace the current king (a lion) of Armello.
Each game has a randomly-generated, hexagonal kingdom with a palace at the centre. The kingdom also consists of forests, mountains, settlements, ruins, crags, swamps and stone-circles, each tile having a different interaction, or effects on the player. One advantage that a digital board game has is that the system can be reasonably complex, but not bog the player down with information as all the maths, thinking and systems is done for you. Whenever you play a new board game for the first time, it can often take several additional hours as everyone is still learning. With Armello, you don’t need to spend three playthroughs learning to play, just learning the strategies. That being said, I won’t get into too much detail around how the game works because it is reasonably complex.
You have to complete a series of quests which help develop your character, gain items and gain followers that will allow you to achieve one of 4 end goals:
- Become strong enough to enter the palace grounds and defeat the king in combat.
- Gain enough prestige so that when the king finally succumbs to his rot, you ascend the throne.
- Collect all the spirit stones and rid the king of his corruption.
- Become corrupted yourself and then defeat the king in combat.
Armello use dice to resolve combat (role swords for attack, role shields for defense – and various other symbols for other effects). You pit your die against there’s with any extra die gained from items, followers or traits. The developers have made an interesting game choice where all combat resolves at the same time. This means that if you enter combat, both combatants can potentially die.
This is interesting considering that half of the ways to win the game is to defeat the king in combat. If you both die, the king is dead but so are you. Therefore the individual with the most prestige wins the game. If nobody wins the battle, then you lose all your prestige with the king, as well as gain a bounty on your head (which other players can cash in on for prestige and gold).
The game cycles between day and night, triggering different events and bonuses. At the start of each day, the prestige leader can choose a proclamation for the king to announce, although they’re all bat-shit crazy so you’re generally just choosing the one which affects you the least. The main thing I love about Armello is that the game mechanics tie into the lore. The interaction of the king, clans, bounties and prestige seems natural to the world and its inhabitants. Even the tutorial is half game introduction, half lore introduction.
But what makes Armello a great game is its use of the digital medium. It does things that most other board games couldn’t. There are several different game systems which make this a complex game, but complexity is fine in this medium. When you move into forests at night, you become invisible, something you couldn’t do with a hardcopy game. It also allows the NPCs to be a force of nature in themselves. The king and his guards have their own agenda, the banes that spawn out of the rot also act individually. But the best thing about having a digital board game is that there’s added character and personality in the game. The guard dogs sniff the air as they stand to attention. Some of the cards have animations. Day and night is actually day and night. You have a little advisor which pops up when you need to choose a new quest.
I’m yet to play with other humans, which will definitely provide a stronger challenge than playing with AI (one difficulty setting), and I’m looking forward to it.
While I’ve seen many video game adaptations of video games, this is the first time I’ve seen a board game developed entirely in the digital format. Hopefully the first of many.
Armello is board game of a similar palette of King of Tokyo or the Arkham Horror games. It has a similar card and battle system, yet still effectively uses the video game medium.
|Armello is currently available from Steam and the Humble Store for US$19.99, Playstation Store for AU$29.95 and soon to be available from GOG.com (and possibly others that I can’t find).|
The next review in 3 weeks will be on Grow Home