iOS Universal, PC/Mac/Linux, PS4, Xbox One •
Sorry I was AWOL yesterday, but unbeknownst to me (and for no reason I can ascertain) my two younger kids had off school yesterday. This allowed me to do real-life things with them like fix my attic stairs and teach them a slew of new curse words. Today’s a new day, however. The new attic ladder appears to be functional and I can’t wait to get a call from the school’s office today informing me that my kids decided to share their new vocabulary words. Oh, I also got a chance to play Armello on both my phone and iPad and it’s good. Very, very good.
Does anyone remember Armello? It made a huge splash way back in 2012 when Owen first spotted the trailer that was, for a mobile game, jaw-dropping. Back then it was set to debut in 2013, but was stalled in Kickstarter and development hell until September of 2015 when it arrived on Steam without much talk of a mobile version still in the works. After some prodding, League of Geeks promised us mobile was still in the cards, but over the years the Steam version kept getting more and more add-ons and updates and the mobile version seemed less and less likely. In fact, at Gen Con last year Brad and I were talking about Armello and we both assumed the mobile version was dead.
You know what happens when we assume, and it happened again because it is coming to mobile and it’s coming next week on March 15. I was lucky enough to sneak into the beta and the game is quite stunning on my iDevices.
Armello's geography has always confused even the best of navigators, yet our course to iOS is sure.
— Armello (@ArmelloGame) March 2, 2018
If you’re not familiar with Armello, it’s a digital board game in which the king is dying of something called Rot and the four animal clans are vying to take his place. It’s Game of Thrones for the furry set, and the gameplay tilts toward adventure board games such as Runebound rather than high strategy games. You’ll have a hand of cards which will allow you to equip items such as weapons and armor, cast spells which can be either beneficial for you or painful for your adversaries, or lay traps using trickery. You’ll travel across the land interacting with quests, dungeons, the king’s forces and, yep, even taking out the other players in combat. Each game has a strong narrative feel and there are enough quests and cards in the game that you’ll never get the same hand of cards twice. There are even rare cards that you can stumble upon as rewards for quests that you can only find if that quest pops up and you succeed at it. In other words, there’s a lot to do and see and you won’t find it all in one (or two, or three) playthroughs.
What really makes the game interesting is the fact that there are four ways to win, and all of them are viable. You can simply buff up and go try to kill the king or you can wait for the Rot to take him and be the one with the most Prestige. Another method is to search for four Spirit Stones, while the last involves becoming corrupted with Rot yourself. I’ve played them all and, while I haven’t won using each method, they all seemed doable if the dice would have gone my way.
Yes, as most good fantasy adventure board games do, Armello has dice. Lots of dice. It also has shiny, pretty dice that you can buy via an in-game currency. Armello has two in-game currencies, gold and shards. Both are earned in-game, but you can also spend real money for the green shards which are what you need to unlock things like expansion characters and a new clan. They could have just had a store where the new characters cost real money, but here you have the option of grinding for shards if you’d rather not spend the cash. You’ll be grinding for a bit, however, as the new clans need a whole bunch of those shards to unlock.
Gold is another story, and is used for mostly cosmetic things, such as themed dice for each clan. Unfortunately, you can also use gold (or shards) to purchase loot boxes called Wyld Chests. I’ve earned a few so far and each has only contained a new die for me to use. I’m not sure if they hold other goodies or not, but if they’re just dice it’s no big deal. What might be a big deal is the jewelry that can be purchased via gold. These do have game-influencing powers and you’ll choose a piece of jewelry before each game. Some of the jewelry is more expensive than others, so it could be seen as a pay-to-win scenario. Luckily, all the jewelry is fairly inexpensive (the most expensive I can find is 330 gold, which I earned exceptionally quickly) and the powers don’t seem all that overpowered. Then again, I’m far from an expert so there may be some jewelry that’s better than others right off the bat and having it behind a paywall is a bit problematic. If you’re into the solo game, I doubt it’s an issue but Armello also has a strong online multiplayer mode for 4 players, and there it might be a problem. That said, the Steam version has the same system going and it doesn’t seem to be a big issue on that platform.
There is also a subscription, if you’re into that sort of thing. The subscription basically unlocks everything: all heroes, clans, skins, dice, etc. It also gives you a 10% off discount on Chests, which if they only contain dice seems a silly thing to buy if you’re getting all the dice as part of the subscription. This leads me to think that the chests can contain all sorts of stuff, but what that might be is still a mystery to me.
Don’t let all the IAP distract from the fact that the game is quite excellent, fun to play, and truly tells a story as each game unfurls. I have some issues with following what the hell is going on with the other players sometimes, but there is a log that keeps track of everything. I’m sure my issues will pass as I become more familiar with the game terms and whatnot. Graphically, it’s stunning and gameplay-wise it’s a winner. Yet another great board game coming to iOS, and we have only a week to wait before our forums are busy setting up a tournament. I think I’ll jump in on that.