Armello Hands-On Preview

Armello is the video game version of a board game, but you won’t find the board game on store shelves. That’s because it doesn’t exist. Developer League of Geeks knew they wanted to make a strategy game for iOS and other platforms, but they wanted to make sure the game mechanics were solid before they started programming.

So they started designing the game using hand-drawn boards and cards. For eight months they would get together to play through the game, tweaking the rules to see what worked and what could be improved. They didn’t know exactly what combination of rules and features would make a great game, but they thought they’d know it when they found it.

Based on what we’ve seen of Armello so far, it looks like they might have found it.

Armello is set on a board of hexes, with a glowing kingdom in the middle. Kind of like Théoden in The Lord of the Rings, the king has been corrupted by “the rot” and is going mad. You and up to three other players each control a warrior animal: a bear, rabbit, wolf, or rat. These animal clans are all vying for the throne, and each has its own strengths and weaknesses.

The game progresses as players spend action points to move their characters around the board, engaging in combat and completing quests to become more powerful. Combat is done by rolling dice to determine how many hits and misses each player achieves. To add another layer of strategy, players can play cards during combat that deal extra damage or modify their stats in other ways. Winning a fight means you can move on. Losing sets your character back to his or her starting point.

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On top of this, League of Geeks has built in loads of other variables that can affect the game. The layout of terrain tiles is randomized, so forests, mountains, and settlements aren’t necessarily in the same place twice. There’s a day and night cycle that affects gameplay by letting characters go into stealth mode on certain terrain when the sun goes down. The AI-controlled King’s Guard wanders around the board, breaking up nearby fights.

As the game progresses, the king gradually succumbs to the rot and loses strength. When one player thinks they’re powerful enough to topple the king, they can attack the castle. This also turns the King’s Guard hostile against all players, creating a climactic endgame.

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And we’ve only scratched the surface of Armello– this is a deep strategy game. Each match takes about 15 to 30 minutes to complete, and you can play solo or in online matches of up to four players.

To top it all off, the game is gorgeous. The art is lush and colorful, with constant animation and smooth scrolling and zooming. Each of the 100+ cards in the game is subtly animated and looks fantastic. There’s a lot here already, and this is still the pre-alpha build.

The bottom line is that we’re really excited to play the finished version of Armello. Unfortunately, we’ll have to wait until they’re done, which they say should happen by the end of the year or early next year.

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