Classic Disney film-quality animation. Swords and sorcery and anthropomorphic animals. Settlers of Catan-like hexagons on the board. Just looking at pics, Armello easily dug its hook into my cheek. Armello was up for vote as a possibly free PlayStation Plus game. But democracy sucks, so Grow Home won that November election instead of Armello. Instead of free, I ponied up 20 bucks to get League of Geeks' inaugural role-playing board game on PS4.
First, I really like it. Second, it's kinda hard. Third, I want to play Metal Gear Solid V: The Phantom Pain, but Armello won't let me go. That last one has more to do with the kind of mood I'm in—it's a strategy-game-starved mood—but that should tell you something about this Armello's chops. I'm not even into armor-sporting rabbits and druid-cloaked bears, but it's a nice picture nonetheless. Perhaps cute animals make the four-player espionage more palatable. Perhaps a lion king gone mad is easier to sympathize with. Perhaps a...forget it: Thane the wolf has attacked me, unprovoked, two turns in a row. Time for him to die.
I use up my action points during the day, moving across open fields, deadly swamps, and snow-peaked mountains. I get a pssst in my ear, hear of a Spirit Stone lost in the clutches of some ruins, then make my way past Banes and the mad king's guardsmen in order to grab the stone. The sun sets, the moon rises, and I take stealthy refuge in the woods. I'm ambushed by another character and we start burning item cards and rolling dice against each other. The fights are harrowing. Any one conflict could end me and send me packing back to my corner of the game board. Nice that there's no perma-death, but the board is newly rife with perils as I begin my mission again. Rot drives the king even more mad. Rot breaks apart the land and spreads plague. Rot infiltrates my veins and pulls me down into a dark spiral of backstabbing and dark magic. I take over a settlement and tax the populace, then run around a stonehenge that would leave me dead in the middle of its stone circle.
Armello is meant to be played in one or two-hour bites. It's not a grand strategy game in any days-long sense. That disappointed me at first, but the board churns with danger and opportunity in every day and night cycle. The writing is clean, concise, and adventure-ready. The animation is beautiful, but just choppy enough to remind you it's hand-drawn. There's a layer cake of strategy I'm only beginning to cut into with a knife. It takes entirely too many weird button presses to do what you want to do (Armello enrolled in the School of Use All the Buttons). I'm glad it's finally on PlayStation, though. Strategy games are all too rare on console, as you can already tell. But Armello may be blazing a trail for more as we speak.
Due to the overzealous controller button presses, I hold the gamepad and let my five-year-old make strategic decisions. She's aggressive. She's more into magic and trickery than arms and armor. I'm actually a little concerned and will continue monitoring her psyche's development. But Armello has been a perfect companion to the old Redwall novels I started reading to her at bedtime. As a parent, Redwall is a tad more violent than I realized as a child. And, on a tangential note, I wish Armello's gameplay was a tad more cooperative. But the naturalistic settings, cut into hexagons, rampant with traps and treasures, frothing with more cutthroat politics than a friendly game of Monopoly, makes for fascinating package. I thought this game would be a cheap diversion. Instead, it's got a healthy amount of my attention.
Now if you'll excuse me, I have a mad king to depose, the Rot to eradicate, and three other cute little animals that need me to stab them to death in this gorgeous game of thrones.