“‘Game of Thrones’ meets ‘Redwall'” in new digital boardgame

The Australian League of Geeks, developers of “Armello,” describe the game as “Settlers of Catan meets Kung-Fu Panda” with elements of Magic: The Gathering and Studio Ghibli’s “Spirited Away” thrown in just for fun. Technically classified as a “role-playing board game,” the goal is to control your anthropomorphic character around the board and eventually become the next ruler of the kingdom Armello. One can play with up to four others, with each character representing a different faction, ambitions to the throne.
Originally announced in 2012 as an iPad exclusive, League of Geeks expanded their idea in the spring of 2014 after receiving government funding and running a Kickstarter for a Steam port, which earned the company over $300,000 and allowed them to set a release date on Sept. 1 of the year. It now exists for all computer-based platforms as well as PlayStation 4.

The art of “Armello” is absolutely stunning and one of the best parts of the game. The main method of action is drawing and playing cards — there are over 100, all unique and individually animated. It was a nice touch to have artist and animator credits appear if the player mouses over the cards; too many games neglect to do that. The characters may be animals (the studio chose animals as characters to “transcend cultural boundaries … as well as being cute,” according to producer Trent Kusters), but “Armello” avoided getting silly or cartoony. The storyline is straightforward but edges towards the kind of gritty fairy tale that’s been popular for the last couple of years. It’s not necessarily bad that the plot is so spare, but it’s not enough by itself to carry the game. Thankfully the art and individual character background stories stepped in to pick up the slack.

Overall, the player classes are fairly well-balanced. There are eight different characters to choose from, each one with a special power related to their clan, so both of the wolf characters have melee bonuses, the bear characters have spirit/magic bonuses, etc. The prologue of the game, which doubles as a tutorial, lays out the specific strengths of each clan, though it only includes four of the playable characters.

I’m not a fan of multiplayer games, but “Armello” has an online multiplayer option if you’re into that. Local multiplayer isn’t possible yet but it’s rumored to be coming soon as an expansion. If, like me, you prefer single-player, you’re in luck, because the artificial intelligence (AI) system in the game isn’t nearly as stupid as AIs usually are. There are multiple ways to win and the AI players will choose the method that their clan favors. The player is free to pursue any of the end options or spend their time messing up the computer players’ attempts to win.

One of the only downsides of the game is that you can’t skip the turns of the AI players. It makes sense, considering that you can play effect cards at any point, whether it’s your turn or not, and you can be attacked by any of the other players or enemies in the game during their turns, but it can get a little irritating watching the King’s Guards attack the same Bane over and over without being able to click through it. And while the plot of the game is simple, it’s still interesting to watch as the characters make their motives known.

I highly recommend “Armello.” Games are a decent length, about 20 turns per player, and it’s very easy to get sucked into the “Just one more game” trap. “Armello” is available through Steam and the PlayStation Store for $19.99.