E3 2015 – Tabletop gaming comes to PS4 in the form of Armello

Armello is a turn-based strategy game wherein you and three other players fight for control of the throne. It’s essentially a virtual tabletop game, as evident by its use of cards and dice and how they’re presented. It’s a bit formidable at first, what with all the systems and mechanics at play (especially as someone who played the E3 demo mid-match), but also surprisingly simple and easy to learn.

The premise is that the king of Armello is dying, meaning the throne to the kingdom is up for grabs. As one of four neighboring clans, you attempt to seize the opportunity by taking the throne by any means necessary. The victory conditions are varied. You can outright slay him in combat, naturally ascend by becoming next in line by holding the most prestige when the king dies naturally, collect spirit stones to power yourself up to help cleanse the king of his affliction so he can pass peacefully, or take on the corruption yourself and continue the spread of darkness across the land.

You choose one of two heroes from one of the four clans (wolf, bear, rat, and rabbit), each with their own stats and skills. Thane from the wolf clan, for instance, is highly skilled in combat and can pierce enemy armor, whereas Amber of the rabbit clan is more of a jack-of-all-trades, able to uncover better rewards from exploring tombs. I was already assigned Brun of the bear clan, one of the four new heroes coming with the final version, whose proficiencies lie with magic and combat.

The general flow of the match is rather relaxed. Each player has three action points they can spend either moving or attacking other players or NPCs. If anyone has any open spots in their hand, they can draw cards at the start of their turn from one of three decks: item, spell, and trickery. Items are consumables that restore health and mana and pieces of equipment that bolster your attributes, such swords and shields. Spells allow you to cast buffs on yourself or deal damage. And trickery enables you to undermine your opponents through political manipulation or general underhanded tactics.

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Playing cards requires gold, mana, or prestige. The first two are earned at a fixed rate every turn, but prestige can only be gained from completing quests and bounties or slaying banes, demonic creatures that spawn at night. Earning it isn’t the difficult part, however, it’s holding onto it. You lose prestige every time you die or attack one of the king’s guard. It can also be stolen through acts of trickery.

It’s a lot to take in. I picked up on it all with relative ease (thanks in large part to assistance from one of the developers), but mostly because it isn’t nearly as complex as it sounds. Armello intelligently lays out all its systems in a way that doesn’t immediately overwhelm. The interface is clean and unobtrusive, presenting everything in a clear and intuitive manner. I was able to figure most of it out just by playing around. Even on a controller, the UI was easy to navigate despite not being any different from the PC version.

Just playing around isn’t the best road to victory, though. Ideally, you have a specific plan in mind, but you also have to be able to adapt and react quickly. In my case, starting at a disadvantage meant I had to hustle to get a foothold. Just fighting my way into the castle may have gotten me to the king, but I was also unlikely to win in a straight fight. I picked up the game mid-match, so I didn’t have a whole lot of options available. I had no prestige to my name and I certainly wasn’t going to get enough to earn a victory, as the AI player who had the most had around eight points of it. Couldn’t best him in combat, either, so whittling it down by slaying him wasn’t an option. My best bet, then, was to gather spirit stones to give myself a better chance against the king. And it worked. Sort of.

I made my way around the board collecting stones both from shrines and as rewards from quests and dungeons. Once I had four of them, I was all set. I stormed the castle, cleared out the guards, only to be foiled by an obstacle – a peril, as they’re known, which require you to roll certain symbols to bypass. Under different circumstances, I could have better planned ahead, maybe engaged in a bit of subterfuge. But time was short, so I had to make a move. I don’t know how the match ended, as the appointment was over, but at least I went out with a bang.

Armello is currently available on Steam Early Access and is coming to PS4 in September.

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