Armello Review

There's that special touch.

Armello is a kind of title I haven't had a chance to review yet, the digital board game. Though even in that, it's a bit interesting, because it's not actually a digital conversion. This is a rare beast, a digital-first board game. It's still got all the hexes and cards and stuff, of course, but how does it all fit together? Let's talk about it.

First, we've got to talk premise. Armello begins with a fantasy world at the brink of disaster. The King has fallen ill to a corruption known as the Rot. He is doomed, and he will drag his entire kingdom down with him into the grave if given the chance. You, as one of four players in a given match, have to make sure his good legacy outlives him.

Also, everyone is animals. I should have mentioned that. The King's a lion(of course), and you play as a member of one of four clans: Wolf, Rabbit, Mouse and Bear. Each clan has two members available, male and female each, with their own unique power. (There is also an upgrade DLC that puts, like, a dozen more characters into the mix, but we were only provided the base game for this review.)

So, okay. You've got to keep the kingdom safe (probably). How do you do that? Let's start at the core gameplay loop. Armello is a turn-based, hex-based game. Every turn, you're going to do a few things. You're going to move across hexes, you're going to attack foes such as the King's Guard, the other Heroes, or terrible beasts known as Banes. And you're going to play cards from your hand. The cards come in a few varieties, but that's getting too deep into the nitty gritty.

The real trick to Armello is that none of the victory conditions are ever far away. There are basically four ways you can win a round: You can kill the King. You can cleanse the Rot using four Spirit Stones you collect around the map. You can be the most prestigious Hero when the King falls to his corruptive illness...Or, you can get more Rot yourself, be stronger in the darkness than him, and strike him down.

Yeah that last one's a bit grim.

The thing about all of these is, none of them are ever far away. The King can (barring special events) only live for 20 turns, losing one health every time the Dawn arrives. A lot can change in those 20 turns.

And while Prestige and the Spirit Stones take some time to build up...Someone can get enough fighting capacity to go take down the King, or rack up a ton of Rot, real fast.

So there's always this looming idea that victory could come at any moment, for anyone. You've got to play a careful game, always paying attention to what anyone else is doing, and being ready to start dragging them back. But of course, in turn, victory can hardly ever come if you're solely focused on defeating your fellow Heroes and sending them back to their clan grounds again and again.

It's a wonderful little balancing act, and while this isn't the first or only time I've seen it, Armello makes the tightrope a real joy to walk.

On top of that, there's a lot of satisfying little touches to make the 'digital boardgame' feel come alive. Not only are your moments of peril, both combat and otherwise, resolved with dice, but actual physics-engine operated cubes that bounce and roll in a defined space until they come to rest on a given face.

There's a lot to like here, is what I'm saying.

So...What's not to like.

Well...A couple things.

The first is that, while the game actually performs quite well after a performance patch, and its controls are solid, there are times where it still feels like it was clearly made for a touch or mouse interface. A lot of the tutorials and tooltips reference dragging and dropping, even when playing in docked mode, for instance.

Similarly, the text is sometimes scaled way too small. I know I play on a bit of a small TV, but that's not an excuse for poor design for a six-foot environment.

Individually these are kind of small-ish things, but they do stack up to make it feel like the mobile and PC versions are the intended way to play, with a big screen closer to your face. (Hell, there's even the settings touchbar in the corner in docked mode, where there is literally no way to touch it)

But the big thing that sticks out like a sore thumb?

The multiplayer is online only. Now, I mean, I get it, the game was designed around an interaction during all turns and control of information in a way that limits things like hotseat play...But, I mean, this is the Switch version. I'd at least like a local LAN multiplayer between two Switches. And of course, on top of that, there's the issue that online play recently became premium on all platforms.


Except for mobile and PC.

Really, the mobile version is the single biggest looming thing over this one. Because on iOS, it's actually an F2P game, with the DLC available piecemeal for in-game currency yada yada you know how mobile games do their deal.

It doesn't come with as much, only the original four heroes, but even buying the additional content from the Switch port...It's not much cash you have to spend. And you'd have free multiplayer, on what's probably a larger platform.

So here's where things stand. Armello is a good game. The Switch version isn't even a bad port. But the value's honestly real hard to justify when there's a better bargain on other platforms. And that's why, despite really liking the game, I can't put a full recommendation out. Not on this version.