Armello Review

As I’ve been playing it, I’ve found Armello to be this odd combination of too simple and too complicated. It feels simple in terms of how you win the game – there are four victory conditions, three of which are basically “defeat the king,” while the last is “if he doesn't get defeated and just dies on his own, then the person with the highest prestige just wins." Let me break it down a little more. 

Victory condition 1: Fight the king and just outright kill him. This is probably a better late game win because he loses health every day. 

Victory condition 2: Fight the king and defeat him but ALSO have more rot than him. This is probably a better early game win, as he gains rot every day. 

Victory condition 3: Enter the castle and attack the king, but you have four spirit stones so you don’t have to defeat him. This is a good whenever victory, because it’s not related to the king’s stats in any way, just pickups you’ve gotten. 

Victory condition 4: Every dawn, the king takes a point of damage, so after seven days in-game, he’ll just die. If you’ve been collecting prestige points, this is when you cash them in for a victory. 

As a four-player game, my problem with Armello is that only one of these conditions really give you much of an incentive to interact with and compete with the other players, and that’s the prestige victory. You can buff yourself up to fight the king without interacting with anyone else, get spirit stones, gain rot, all without even crossing paths with them. Ideally, of course, you’ll be checking on other players and seeing how you can screw them over, ambush them, make their chances at entering the castle more difficult, but your movement options are so limited that I never felt like I really had a good way of doing much to counter another player. 

Prestige is the only one that can be directly earned by fighting and defeating other players, but even then it can also be earned with items or by doing quests, still making it so that there’s not much reason to go do anything regarding other players. Which, for a multiplayer board game, makes it feel weirdly empty and lonely. 

I feel like Armello would be a little more fun if you could agree to have the people in your group just focus on one victory condition. Prestige was the one I had the most fun with, for example, because you could put in kingly decrees that mess with everyone else if you were the leader, and you paint a much bigger target on yourself when you’re ahead. Your mileage might vary, but this was how I had the most fun! But without specifically changing the rules like that, it feels that if Armello was a real board game, you'd play it a couple of times and then go back to Catan instead. 

Meanwhile, I feel like the game is a little too complicated with how combat works. It’s nothing too out there in theory – it's just a dice roll with some scores becoming attacks and some defends, but I never had a great grip on why sometimes I came in with seven dice and other times I came in with maybe three. It’s a combination of equipment, if you were ambushed or are ambushing, and character skills, but I wish it was foregrounded a little better. And same for the quests – if there was a way to increase your percent likelihood of succeeding, I don’t think I ever found it. With the quests being another one of the big systems in the game for getting guaranteed loot, I wish it all amounted to more than just “go here, do a dice roll or not, move along.” 

The part I appreciate the most about the game is the presentation – while I wish it was easier to see what other characters had, something you’d be able to in a real board game without having to dive multiple menus deep, all of the cards are gorgeous. Card art always feels like it’s underappreciated, but they really shine here, in no small part to the animation on them. Whether it’s subtle or big, it really lights up your hand to see them all glistening at you in various ways, and new ones always stopped me to admire what I was seeing.  

Some other digital board games play it safe by just making the characters in-engine renderings of meeples or pieces, but having the characters actually moving around was nice too. It sort of heightened the game to see them moving around, not just a stiff presentation like they were game pieces. Especially when it was against AI, it gave the characters and the game itself a lot more personality.

And the presentation winds up being the thing that makes me most excited when I think of Armello. In terms of tactics and board games, and with the announcement of a bunch of other board game classics coming to the Switch, I can’t really think of a reason to pick up Armello in comparison. It’s alright, and a decent take on a fun way to represent an analog idea within video games, but the game itself doesn’t really have much to hold you beyond a couple of plays.