Killing a sick and deranged lion king in Armello


The King of Armello is dying, though not quickly enough to serve my purposes. In a land populated by magic bears, warrior wolves, cunning rats, and adventurous rabbits, there's going to be a showdown to take the crown from the ailing king, and for several games in a row I've been late to the party.

Armello is a bit of a genre blend. It's a real-time strategy, a bit of a card game, a bit of a dice game, and includes some RPG elements. Four adventurers prowl a hex map, completing quests, exploring ruins, drawing cards, and dice-battling monsters and each other as they slowly attempt to build their power to the point where they can enter the king's castle, survive his traps, kill his guards, and take down the king himself to become the new ruler of Armello.

Let's talk about the king. He's a lion. He's also, uh... well, he's a huge unhinged seething lunatic. He's slowly dying of Rot, a health-draining disease that's spreading through the land. He issues dangerous proclamations each morning, which can add traps (called Perils) and monsters to the countryside, put bounties on players, sap their health, or tax their gold. Basically, every time the king opens his mouth the world becomes a worse place. As the king gains Rot and loses health, it's left to one of the players to take him down.


There are four victory conditions. There's a Prestige victory: if the king dies of Rot, and you've got the highest Prestige, you become the new king by default. You can best the king in combat, which is dicey: attacking the king strips you of Prestige (and if you kill the king but die in combat yourself, the player with the highest Prestige wins the crown).

You also can gather four spirit stones, which appear intermittently around the map and let you defeat the king without a battle (though you still have to reach him). Finally, there's a Rot victory, wherein you kill the king while possessing even more sickening Rot than he does. It seems like a bad idea, running around the map with the specific intetent to infect yourself with Rot, but as horrible as it sounds it does provide some bonuses.


I played a few games without ever winning, and typically this was because I never felt powerful enough to fight my way through the castle and kill the king, so I'd keep questing and collecting until I noticed someone else was invading the king's castle, by which time I was simply too late to get in on it. The cards and dice also lend a great deal of randomness to Armello, so my various plans—once to gain a ton of prestige, another time to become the sneakiest rat in the world—just didn't turn out how I wanted.

(Quick observation: I think it's cool that when you use a card in Armello, or look at it in your library, you can hover over it to see the name of the artist/animator. A lot of games have no traditional moment to roll the credits, and they probably go unseen most of the time. I think this is a great solution to get players familiar with the names and talents of the people who make the game.)

Combat takes place in a single round on a separate screen and is mostly dice-based. The number of dice you roll is determined by your fight stat and any bonuses or penalties you currently have based on time of day, terrain, and other effects. A die roll can result in a sword (a hit), a shield (which blocks a hit), a sun or a moon (a hit or miss depending on the time of day), a worm (always misses), or a wyld, which gives you an additional die to roll. The cards you've drawn come into play as well. Some give you attacks or defenses, and you can 'burn' cards as well. Each card has a symbol that corresponds to a side of a die, and burning a card sacrifices it while guaranteeing you an automatic hit, block, sun, etc. When everyone's dice are rolled, the results play out, and the fight ends even if no one is killed.

In my current game I'm playing as River, a wolf archer. I picked her because I'd been typically getting my ass handed to me in combat, and River has a preemptive strike: before battle, she fires a single bowshot into her enemy, stripping them of a health point. It sounded useful, though it hasn't been doing a damn thing for me. I've gotten some scouting cards that let me spot enemies, and an evasion card to safely flee fights. Those are both great, but it also means I simply haven't had much opportunity to use my preemptive bow at all. Again, the randomness of Armello has thrown a wrench into my plans. The only fight I get into is with the rabbit character, Amber, and she ambushes me, meaning I don't even get to use my preemptive strike or even burn a card. As a result, Amber kills me, and I respawn back at my starting point. I'm not a huge fan of Amber.


After a number of rounds, The King is down to a handful of health points due to Rot. A quest has taken me quite close to the castle, and none of the other players appear to be nearby (though they could be stealthily hiding in a forest). I feel like I'm making my move too early, but I decide to go for it anyway. I'm going to take down the king before anyone else tries. I use a follower card that helps reduce Peril (the castle has powerful Peril spots), and then I bravely step into the palace... where I'm immediately defeated by the Peril. It doesn't kill me, and facing a Peril removes it from the hex it was on, but it does end my turn and forces me back outside the palace walls. Nuts.

While I'm waiting for my next turn, I see Amber, that stupid rabbit who killed me earlier, slip into the palace hex where I just was, which is now Peril-free, thanks to my extreme wolf-bravery. Oh, no no no no no. That won't be happening. I have a throwing axe card that takes two health points from a target, and Amber has two health points. I can play a card even when it's not my turn, so I whip my axe right into that stupid rabbit's back. She dies. My turn comes, and I step back into the castle.

The Peril gone, the king and I face off. I finally get to fire my tiny preemptive bowstrike—plink—before huge handfuls of dice are rolled by the enormous lion king. He rolls a ton of swords, but I've got just as many shields, bolstered by a card that outfits me in a huge clunky set of armor, taking away one of my movement points and replacing it with three extra blocks. I swipe at the king twice and he blocks my attacks. He swings at me with his huge sword a hundred (okay, four) times, and I block each of them. Then we retreat to our original hexes, fight over. Huh. I'm both surprised I survived and disappointed the king went unscathed.


Unlike me, however, the King has backup. One of his patrolling guards marches over and swings at me with his battleaxe. Again, I'm untouched. I've got so much stock in defense I block everything, and somehow manage to take the guard out with my few feeble attacks. The next round, I advance on the king again, plopping him first with a bowshot, and then entering standard battle, which results in the same thing: he blocks my attacks, I block what feels like fifty or sixty of his, ending the fight. This sort of stinks. I'm not losing, but I'm not winning, either.

Another guard wades into me. I block everything, and just barely take him down. Then, Amber, the stupid rabbit I just killed a few rounds ago, having respawned and hippity-hopped all the way back across the map, enters the palace again and attacks me. Will I never be free of this confounded bunny? She takes two of my four hit points, but I take all of hers, and her dumb dead bunny body flops to the ground outside.

Back to fighting the King, then, I guess, in yet another ridiculous block-fest where neither of us can so much as scratch each other. Except, no! I've forgotten about my tiny preemptive bow attack! Each time I've faced the King, I've taken off a single one of his hit points with my bowstrike. And he's now down to a single health point. I feebly plunk him and he flops face-down, dead before the fight even begins.


Cool! I'm the new king! Plus, I feel like I've invented a fifth victory condition: mosquito-style! Just sip a tiny bit of health while avoiding the giant swatting paw, until there's simply no blood left to drain.

So, yeah, I'm enjoying Armello a lot. Strategy and cards aren't usually (or ever) my thing, but I'm having a really good time. There's a lot of waiting while other players do their thing (kind of why I don't usually like turn-based games), but since you can play cards whenever you want, it gives you a chance to look for opportunities to drop a nasty card on someone or place a trap where you hope they might stumble. (Just don't forget where your traps are—I've stumbled into several of my own.) The art style is excellent, and I love the idea of a mad, sick lion king that all the other animals are sort of waiting to grow so ill that he can be usurped. And frankly, the idea that the king will eventually die even if no one confronts him means games can't last forever. Good stuff! You can learn more about Armello at its official site.


The first PC game Chris owned was Choplifter in 1982, and since then our staff writer has played at least three other games. He has a love/hate relationship with Early Access survival games and an odd fascination with the lives of NPCs.
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