Yep, it's pretty.

Armello is coming to iOS next week and, yep, it’s pretty good

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.

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.

The Rat clan is good at sneaking, stealing, and stabbing the others in the back. I like Rat clan.

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.

I’m not a huge subscription fan, but $22/year for a really good game that continually gets new content doesn’t seem that bad. [wait, who’s writing this? -ed.]
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.

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Notable Replies

  1. js619 says:

    Didn't really play the beta all that much despite having Kickstarted it - is it sync or async?

  2. MP is real-time only. One can play cards during other players’ turns, which is typically done based on their actions and the state of the board.

  3. So another worthless app for me. Sigh...

  4. i remember that all attempts to play a Hearthstone tourney had miserably failed in the old days on PT.
    and HS games are much shorter and only 2 players have to meet at the same real life time.

    a much longer 4P game won't never ever function for tournament play.
    in fact it will be tough enough to get a private game going in realtime at all.
    sigh...sniff :cry:

  5. I've ranted about it before; heck, a search of all the Stately forums will probably reveal a compliant from me in most threads for non-asynch games. It is just so frustrating to me, though. I imagine a couple coders in their own insular world working in cubicles next to each other and having fun playing/testing their game over lunch. But that isn't how so much of the real world works. I don't care if a game takes 30 seconds, 30 minutes, or 30 hours to play, the issue is finding the specific chunk of time with a group of friends in different locations and different life stages. We simply cant get the time to play real-time games.

  6. Well said, Mirefox. I’ve been looking forward to the iOS release of Armello for a long time, seemed like it would suit the platform perfectly. To then find out that it doesn’t support asynchronous multiplayer is a right kick in the teeth :tired_face:
    I play tons of TTA online with my friends and I have zero chance of getting them to check out new titles that don’t have asynch. Sometimes we have 5 minutes to spare, other times we’re all online at the same time and it feels like a live game, it really should be a standard by now.

  7. It does make me wonder if there is more to it that we don’t realise. I suspect (based on no coding knowledge) that real time games pass the game state onto the next player, then the next and so on. If a player is offline then the game state needs to be stored somewhere, a server perhaps. If you’ve got to set up a server just for people to play async, then I can see why that might be an expense that’s skipped.

    In the old days of pbem we just emailed the turn to each other. Maybe iOS and it’s walled garden won’t let us do this as it won’t let us load and upload these unique file types.

    All speculation, but there’s got to be a reason. Like there’s got to be a reason so few apps have reliable app badges when it’s your turn

  8. Yeah, there's no simple way to pass the game state cross platform without some sort of server architecture in place. Even in the case of PBEM you're using email servers to pass the state. On the same platform you can probably pass the state around via notifications.

  9. I understand that I don't know anything about the coding, logistics, or cost about asynchronous data, and I understand that there was likely a cost-benefit analysis done to decide if it is a cost-effective feature. That is why I am vocal about my displeasure, because all I can do is raise the issue and vote with my wallet. I may be a drop in a bucket, but I am disappointed one.

  10. js619 says:

    Fully agreed. The lack of async makes me sorry I kickstarted this 5 years ago!

  11. another "kind of async" architecture is the "VGA Planets" or "Diplomacy" structure.
    all players take their turns simultaneously and send the data to a server by email.
    the server calculates and processes all data and sends the results back to all players by email.

    an own dedicated server is needed for that.
    i think iOS dedicated async games can use GC for running their games and need no own server infrastructure.

  12. The game is out now.

    I know it’s free, but the multiple currencies and monthly subscription models are so off putting that I’m not really all that inclined to download it right now.

    I’d love to hear more impressions from those of you that do download it, though.

  13. js619 says:

    I kickstarted it and thought I was supposed to get a bunch of stuff... I don’t remember, honestly. Send them an email, we’ll see what the response is.

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