Let’s face it: I am, and always will be, aggressively introverted. Dealing with people exhausts me, and gaming is one way I’m always able to recharge after a day at work or socialising with friends. Gaming alone. By myself. Where no one can judge my sometimes questionable skills or make me break my keyboard in half via rage quit; where I can quietly struggle my way through a level that all of the forum posts describe as "easy", even though I’ve been here for three days now, my hands aching with RSI and my hair falling out from the stress.
For those reasons (and because I’m usually too poor to afford online memberships anyway), I’ve avoided online multiplayer games like the plague through my entire gaming career. But now, I've discovered Armello.
I’ll be honest, I wasn’t expecting a digital board game. Either I wasn’t paying enough attention to the trailer (read: I was too distracted by how pretty it is), or it didn’t make the nature of the game abundantly clear – but either way, once I got into it, I was pleasantly surprised. Perhaps it’s my fairly recent induction into the world of tabletop games helping me along, but I adore this game. It’s a very clever, very challenging, and very beautiful marriage of dice- and card-based tabletop games, and despite my almost constant crushing defeat at the hands of much more talented players, I haven’t been able to stop playing it for weeks. Even my partner’s recent discovery of Stardew Valley hasn’t made me happy enough to give up access to my Steam library for her to play that – at least, not without some complaint.
Armello combines elements of cards and dice into a strategy-based struggle for power. The king of Armello, the game’s fictional word, has succ*mbed to the rot – a dark disease that drives him insane and gradually drains him of life. Your task, as your clan’s chosen hero, is to take the throne and save Armello from the king’s madness. There are four clans to choose from – Wolf, Bear, Rabbit, and Rat – and two heroes per clan (or three, if you purchase the Usurpers DLC), each with their own strengths and weaknesses. In-game, cards are used for tactics to outsmart and outmanoeuvre your opponents, and dice are used in battles and to overcome traps. There’s a myriad of tactics to apply depending on your character and your preferred playing style – each game is different, which makes it very hard to get bored.
I will say that the single player mode is fairly easy, most of the time. The AI isn’t terribly intelligent – it can make for a challenge sometimes, but more often than not, it’s not too difficult to come out on top. I played through single player until I’d unlocked every bonus I could, and then I decided to give multiplayer a go, as the allure of single player wears off a little when there’s nothing more to work towards.
Given my previous aversion to multiplayer games, I was nervous. And naturally, due to my inexperience, I was given a sound trouncing that first game (and in many games besides). But it’s ruined single player for me, in a good way – the challenge of playing against real people is addictive, and I finally understand why everybody seems to love online multiplayer games so much. I almost never bother with single player now, unless I feel like I need a win to boost my poor, damaged self-esteem, or to practice a certain tactic I want to put into play. With the exception of one game that, I will admit, reduced me to sulking for several hours afterwards (being the target of all three other players through half the game is far from the most amusing thing in the world), I haven’t yet been put off playing it. In fact, I’m probably going to go straight into another game once I’ve finished writing this.
Praise aside, Armello isn’t without its faults. I understand the need to avoid making a game too easy or too predictable – but the random chance seems almost to be actively against me sometimes, dealing me rubbish card after rubbish card and making me trek all the way across the map for every quest, while my opponents seem to be able to reach their destinations within a single turn. Add to that the random chance of the dice rolls, which can see you thrashed in a battle that should have been an easy win, and it can get very frustrating sometimes. My flatmates have heard me rage quitting from my room more than once (and have been very entertained by it. You’re welcome, flatmates).
I’ve noticed that certain games seem to be pre-determined to have a certain level of luck, too – one game I played, everybody was getting upwards of three gold or magic from dungeons almost every time, when it’s usually a challenge to get even one. Sometimes my quest rolls are nicer to me, sometimes they absolutely detest me – and it doesn’t change throughout the entire game. I’ve won 30% chance rolls and lost 80% chance rolls, which makes things… predictably unpredictable. I’m all for a certain level of unpredictability in a game that could otherwise get dull very fast, but when winning or losing something is a constant through one game, it can take away from the enjoyment very quickly. And when a multiplayer game can last over an hour, the prolonged torture makes the whole experience painful – I don’t want to toss my toys and quit just because I’m having a run of bad luck (and miss out on unlocking shiny, shiny new dice), so I just have to grit my teeth and push through the torture.
Of course, I could just be kind of bad at it. ¯_(ツ)_/¯
Either way, I highly recommend that everyone at least give Armello a go, especially if you’re into tabletop games. It’s great fun – and has the added bonus of feeding my “ooh, pretty pretty dice” habit, without making me spend all of my money. And if it can drag me out of my near-indestructible “I hate playing games with strangers, wah” bubble, it must be good.
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