A Song of Rats and Bears

So you play as wolves, bears, rabbits and rodents for salvation or dominance? Sounds a lot like a game of thrones plot and anything game of thrones-ish gets me by principle. So when the League Of Geeks asked me to join their ranks in Armello, I was really excited. I’m a board game buff, but I’ve never played a video board game. So here’s to first times and my review !

The story in Armello is simple, which is classic good vs evil, with a lot of grey in between.The lion king of Armello is infected by an ancient evil, which *cough* is the evil part. The once noble and just ruler is now insane and it’s up to the 4 clans to stop him, which is *cough* the good part. How you accomplish this goal is up to you, this is the grey part. You can either muster up the strength to slay the king(really hard). You can be a politician and win by having enough prestige to be the next king(some what easy). Acquire more corruption than the king and usurp him! Or what I think is the hardest win condition…collect 4 magical stones, and banish the king from Armello.

You choose a character from the 4 clans, 5  clans if you backed the game. Theres thane of the wolf clan who is  a warrior, there is Sana of the bear clan who is a mage, Amber of the rabbit clan who’s an aristocrat, and lastly Mercurio of the rat clan who’s a sneaky little assassin. There are other characters available for you to play as within the clans. They become unlocked once you complete the tutorial. The wolf clan is a little more offensive, the bear clan focus mainly on magic, the rabbit clan is more of political clan, and the rats are more of an opportunist clan. You’re not restricted to these roles though. the secondary characters help broaden your playstyle.

Players can work together, and betray one another, all on a flip of a dime. One moment the wolf and the bear clan are siding together to take out the rat clan, only to find out the rats and the bears had it out for you since the beginning! I’ve played as Thane many times, and worked with other players, just to be betrayed in the end. This is very much a game of thrones inspired board game, where there can only be one. Learn this fact immediately!

Remember what happen to the Starks? They tried being the noblest of noble. But now they’re practically wiped out. I’ve tried the good and the just path. But it never works in my favor, be that as it may, this is a game where you decide how you play! What I love most about Armello is the way turns are done. You start with 3 random cards pulled from the games item, spell, and trickery decks. Items can be equipment cards and single use cards. You can equip up to 3 pieces of equipment. Something very basic is equipping an axe to give you an extra dice in combat. This helps tremendously with your attack rolls.

Magic cards are spells that vary from healing, damage and grease ball spells. And I say grease ball because I’ve come close to completing quests, only to be killed by a spell out of nowhere. But hey I’m no saint, I usually play health, and action point reducing spells to mess with a player. Trickery cards are some of my favorites! These are cards that let you steal from other players, put bounties on them, and even set up traps. If you’re all about gaining an advantage and sabotage. You’ll love these cards, when players try to gang up on me. I just play a bounty card to put a target on someone’s back. Then immediately follow that up with a mercenaries card if the target is weak, and claim it for myself.

Everyone gets a restock of cards depending on their hand size. When this happens you get to choose a specified amount of cards from each deck. This lets you really focus on a particular character build and playstyle. You can find me going all in on item and trickery cards when I play. Everyone is also given a quest of their choosing, and 3 action points at the start of the game. Quests can reward with influence, followers, soul stones and much more. I stress being very selective with your quests. They set the tone for a big part of how you’re going to traverse the board. I usually go for quests that reward me with followers and fight since I focus on a kill the king victory. Turns are also conducted in a day and night phase. Each comes with its own faults, and merits. During daytime everyone is visible unless they have a card that says otherwise. More importantly the king takes 1 hit point of damage each sun rise.

You have about 9 turns to win or lose the game. Pro tip! If you fight the king and die, it grants him a bonus hit point. So if you need prolong the game, you can! Also the player with the most prestige gets to choose the kings decree for the phase. Only they can see the card their choosing. These vary greatly from cards from bad to not so bad. One moment if you have an awesome setup and are about to attack the king. But then morning comes and the prestige leader decrees the king needs more security. Now that walk right strategy turned into you fighting 3 kings guards. Try to stay on top of the prestige ranking for this bonus. During night, the king gains 1 rot point which is important if you’re trying to go for a corruption win. Another tip! If you want to go for corruption, play as the mice. Their lower health will come in handy. Also during the night phase rodents are invisible, and forests provide invisibility as well.

Combat is my favorite phase of the game. Each player is given a set of dice that can increase or decrease in volume. You have symbols that add to your attack, defense, and ones that only have an effect during day or night. On average I focus on attack rolls, so I’m always overkilling other players. But this works against me. Since I’m all in on attack, my defense is usually really low.  Both players attack within the same combat phase, so I can overkill someone first and they can do the same to me. Boom! You both die, go back to your bases. This also applies to AI battles. This is actually my one and only gripe with Armello. I dislike that if I first strike someone and kill them, they can still kill me.

I’ve lost games simply because an opposing player was able to kill me after I killed them. I see the balancing factor to it, but it’s something I just don’t like. You and I need to be a tactician when it comes to building our characters. Or else every time we try to accomplish something…we’ll fail.

None of this gameplay would come to life if it weren’t for the design of Armello. Each house is distinctively their own entity, as they should be. The game board stands out beautifully and the combat sprites play out like a 3D painting. Armello is definitely one of the prettiest game I’ve seen. It’s not over the top or underdone. Its etched just right. Here’s some of favorite pieces of art, from the game.

Armello is now available on PS4 and PC.

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