Estimated reading time: 6 minutes
We at Chalgyr’s Game Room love board games, some more than others. Seriously, just as Jeff about his board game collection, though I have my share of board games, closing in on 40 board games myself. When Nick offered up a review copy of Armello I hopped on it, given that it is essentially a board game turned video game and it looked interesting. I mean, giant fluffy rabbits and foxes and bears (oh my!) vying to take over a kingdom due to a corrupt lion king? I jumped on the chance to be included in that wildebeest stampede for the throne and am far from regretting it; Armello is fantastic.
There is a certain charm to a board game; whether that is the feeling of the dice rattling in your hand, the subtle plastics and resins of the miniature units, the detailed boards, the fact that you actually play it with real people, something. While I was excited for a go at Armello, I was also apprehensive; board games are like couch co-op, better with company. Digitizing the experience, I feared, would lesson the impact of a story, the tense nature of a close game, or the excitement that comes with an excellent roll of the dice. Fortunately Armello and the great folks at League of Geeks laid my fears to rest as the board game experience is translated quite nicely (minus the shouting and making up of house rules) to the Xbox One. In reflection I think that the reason it translates so well is because of the little things, like the idea that you use the left analog stick to rock back, then forward, to roll your dice for combat, or the hex-based overworld movement; tied that into an intriguing and genuinely interesting premise and it really is a winner.
See, while the characters might look fluffy and wonderful, the world of Armello is quite grim and has a pirate-y meets Robin Hood-esque feel to it. The Kingdom of Armello is in peril; the reining king has become corrupt and the kingdom is slowly crumbling into despair and as a hero from one of the clans of Armello, you are tasked with successfully completing a coup. Depending on how you look at it … you are the bad guy, and I think that is neat. In the base game you can choose from 8 or so anthropomorphic heroes (between original Kickstarter DLC and the upcoming Usurpers Hero DLC, there are a dozen or so more). They range from Thane, the warrior wolf who gets all stabby stabby and has a special where sword cards burned in battle cannot be blocked by shields (and he is great at zerging), to Mercurio, a roguish rat who steals from settlements and can lie his way to the top. My personal favorite is Amber, a relic-hunting rabbit equipped with an Asian-style silk umbrella, fancy adventurer clothing, and a jian (Chinese double-edged straight sword). She is pretty great, has high health, solid intelligence and spirit, and decent fight capabilities. Amber has this neat little ability that increases the chance of finding rewards in dungeons (aptly named the “Tomb Raider” skill) and for loot-freaks like me, well, it works.
Gameplay is quick, easy to get into, and incredibly difficult to master as no two playthroughs will be the same. You move your chosen avatar along a hex-based grid separated by turns for both day and night. Some characters/enemies have bonuses to either day cycle, which adds an additional layer of strategy to an already strategic board game; some fights/situations can be made or broken based on affinity for the cycle. Combat is super easy and is based on the roll of a handful of dice (as mentioned above). As you move through the world of Armello you will land on settlements and gain coin to purchase goods, or gather information that you can use to search out various items. As you work your way towards an eventual confrontation with the Rot-induced lion king, you will dig through forests, caves, settlements, and everything in between in your quest to overthrow the king.
Armello is fantastic. Simple as that. No ifs, ands, or buts about it, Armello is the best digital board game money can buy. With new characters available through DLC, the chances for a duplicate playthrough are nil and every game will be rife with intrigue, luck, scoundrels, corruption, and tension. The sheer scope and intuitive approach to a digital board game is pure genius and Armello sets the gold standard for all others hoping to break into this emerging space.
The Usurpers Hero Pack DLC – The spectacular folks behind The Usurpers Hero DLC were kind enough to forward on a review copy for the latest content. Given that the pack simply adds four new heroes it is a bit difficult to write up a full review of the pack, so I have added this little bit on to the end here.
The Usurpers Heroes pack adds Elyssia, a rabbit that looks has the same terrifying expression on her face as any household cat, is a builder in the world of Armello with the ability to permanently fortify settlements. If turtling is your preferred style of play, then Elyssia is for you. Her play style forces gamers to slow down a bit and is an interesting addition to the primary game. Sargon, the death teller is a rat straight out of the evil side of a Feivel movie and has an ability called Veil Gazer that essentially has all cards facing upwards during the draw phase. Not my favorite, and one of my least-played characters. Probably because he is ugly as sin.
Magna though, Magna is likely my favorite character (sorry Amber!) as she is the wolf clan’s equivalent to a D&D-style paladin. Charismatic, immovable, and essentially a shiny tank. Magna has the Shield Maiden skill that reflects damage back at the attackers, which is great, because her follow up attacks are generally pretty brutal. I mean, she even has a dozen or so fox-tails hanging from her belt! She is awesome. The last hero that the Usurpers pack adds is Ghor, the Wyldkin, or as I like to call him, “Pooh bear.” He is the wild-card; when you are on forest tiles on the map he is transforms and gets a handful of benefits/functions. He is great … when you are on forest tiles, and when you are out and about, well … he just is.
Overall the DLC pack is the perfect excuse to revisit Armello for another go (or eight). While nothing game-changing is added, any reason to get in and play around with the new character is a good reason. The Usurpers Hero DLC is certainly worth picking up, especially if you are picking up Armello for the first time (pick up both, you will not be disappointed).Score: 8 / 10