The Switch has always seemed it would be the perfect way to experience tabletop gaming digitally and on the go. While Asmodee is set to bring the popular board game Carcassonne to the system later this year, you’ll be able to get your tabletop fix on the Switch before that, thanks to League Of Geeks’ Armello. Admittedly, Armello doesn’t also have a physical board game, but the inspirations are there in plain sight: Risk, Redwall, maybe even a dash of Disney.
The hex-based board game come strategy title never feels like a copy of any of these titles, rather utilising their influences to make something new and original. The world of Armello, though only briefly explained, is developed to a nice level that wouldn’t necessarily be expected from a board game. The story is that the once benevolent King has been corrupted by rot and has become increasingly sinister in his intentions. Naturally, the unrest caused by the King’s tyranny leads to several characters vying for the throne. You pick one such hero with the aim to reign victorious and take the throne (unless you choose to rid the current King of his rot).
There are several ways to do this: A prestige victory is gained by holding the most prestige (which is in effect reputation around the Kingdom) when the King dies of rot. A combat victory is achieved by killing the King. A spirit stone victory occurs from curing the King of his rot. Finally, a rot victory happens when your rot is higher than that of the King and you defeat him in battle. Herein lies one of the game’s biggest problems — the victory conditions are simply not balanced. In my time playing the game, the only victories that could be gained with any sort of ease were combat and prestige victories. More damning, these are the only victory conditions where any sort of considerable fun could be had; fighting for a rot or spirit stone victory is too much of an uphill battle to be fun.
Planning starts before you set foot on the map, as characters are inclined to specific victory conditions. Thankfully, this leads to a feather in the cap of Armello — the presentation. Music is serviceable, if unspectacular, but where the game shines is in its visuals and its character designs. This game has charm. From the moment you start, the tone and presentation are reminiscent of Disney’s Robin Hood. Much like that film, the game blends the straight-faced actions of weapon-clad animals with a healthy dose of goofy details.
Armello throws cards into the mix too. These add an extra layer to an already convoluted system. Nevertheless, the card system does have its moments. Cards can be used during a turn as buffs, debuffs, and traps; new cards are drawn at the beginning of every turn. Despite this, the best use for cards is almost always to ‘burn’ them during battles and when capturing objective points. This mechanic guarantees a symbol necessary to capture an objective point given a card bearing the symbol is ‘burnt’. As such, what could have added depth just applies another layer to the game that adds little to nothing.
Of course, your hero is not the only character who wants the throne. Here is where your fellow players come in, if you can notice them, that is. In spite of other characters aiming for victory, whether they are controlled by friends online or AI, the result is often the same — they barely factor into your thinking. Due to the structure of the game, it doesn’t feel like you’re facing one another in a challenge for victory. Rather, you have your own goals, and somebody else largely irrelevant to you has similar goals. For a game that is so clearly made with multiplayer in mind, everything feels oddly lonely and isolated.
Armello is a game that has a promising concept and a top-shelf presentation but falls far short of its potential. Despite its adept systems the game often proves a slow, monotonous affair that suffers from balancing issues. Tabletop enthusiasts and strategy game fans may glean some joy from this game. However, your time would still be better spent playing a myriad of other games that offer more entertainment than Armello.
A review code was provided by the publisher.