Sunday, October 14

Review: Armello [Nintendo Switch eShop]

Typically when I think of digital board games familiar gameplay styles and mechanics that I’ve come to associate with classic family titles come to mind. However, buoyed by the huge resurgence of new physical game ideas as well as fully embracing what’s possible in a virtual space games like Armello are changing expectations. If you’re looking for a strategic game ripe with possibilities and paths to victory, this won’t be a title you’ll want to overlook as more of the same.

Set in a kingdom in peril as its ruler descends into madness, there’s opportunity in the air for the ambitious. By choosing your anthropomorphic character you’re hypothetically buying into your likely path of victory, whether that’s by storming the castle to kill the King by force, accumulating influence to assume the crown when he succumbs by proxy, and more. A nice touch is that while each character you can choose has strengths that point to their ideal course of action if you find yourself in the right position you can choose another, perhaps leading to choosing someone in the hopes of denying a likely means to victory to someone else.

Starting out with a pretty thorough and helpful tutorial you’ll have the core understanding you’ll need to get started but this is definitely an experience that reveals itself to you in waves. The sheer number of cards and smart ways to apply tactics go far beyond what the game could hope to explain to you directly so while your first few games may be a struggle the lessons you learn for your next attempt will typically be pretty invaluable. Controlling more areas of the board and being able to influence the King’s daily decisions (usually with the intent of screwing over your enemies) is certainly a temptation but you may find your energies are better spent elsewhere depending on your intended path to victory. You may be unable to control the outcome of the somewhat fickle random nature of the combat that plays out with a roll of the dice, but you can certainly put together a strategy to strengthen your odds and use your deck to impede your enemies.

While it may be a surprise that you can only opt for solo or online play, with no option for local multiplayer, the fact that everyone would be able to see each other’s cards and positioning on the board would ruin that experience so it’s understandable. Building up your deck plays a central role in your success and will inform your choices for how best to proceed. If everyone knew what you were holding or where you were trying to hide it would seriously compromise any element of surprise you could hope for, so the options are no accident. Aside from this there are times when the pacing can drag a bit, especially playing against others online, but nothing that would be inconsistent with what you’d expect for a strategic game of this kind. It’s also worth noting that due to the information-heavy nature of the game handheld play isn’t likely optimum.

If you’re a fan of strategy gaming or the current board game renaissance Armello will likely be right up your alley. With its multiple paths to victory and deep deck it’s a great test for your ability to adapt and make what you’re given work against the odds. Since not all paths are ones that play out as dramatically for all to see the fact that you can somewhat stealthily plot your way through is fun. While you won’t be able to share it with friends locally Armello stands out in the current Switch lineup as unique and refreshing for the right crowd.

Score: 8.5

  • Multiple paths to victory
  • Deep strategic play and possibilities
  • Online play offers even more opportunity for challenge

  • No cross-platform online play could limit your opportunity to find competitors depending on the sustained interest in the game
  • Handheld play is a bit cramped and tougher to read with scaling
  • While understandable, no local multiplayer is a bummer