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Swords and Whiskers

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    Rating: 3.5 – Good

    Swords and Whiskers

    The King is in danger. He is losing his sanity from the ‘Rot’, and to take his mantle are the heroes chosen from their respective clans; wolves, rats, rabbits and bears alike are the selective few of the animal kingdom brave enough to join in an adventure to retire the fledgling ruler by any means necessary.

    A plot like this can apply to any genre, but as a board game, League of Geeks had fun in shaping every aspect of the design to shape Armello up as it is now. A chimera-like hybrid of a card game, tabletop board game, and role-playing game all in one, and a strong dosage of those funny animals to produce a stand-out title in the PC, PS4 and XB1 market today. It mostly succeeded as I will outline everything in this review.

    On top of the story that sets the tone, the four animal clans are varied enough in having one major skill and a few decent stats. At least one of the characters will suit a well-rounded playing strategy and no two characters of the same species plays the same, bringing up to eight characters in total. Now there are four methods to win the game; kill the king in battle, overcome his rot disease with your own, banish him with spirit stones, or simply by having the highest amount of prestige when the rot does him in.

    Reaching him at the centre of the board will take several turns as everybody starts off severely underpowered compared to the almighty lion, so in true role-playing spirit, improving every aspect of your chosen player is a must to understand the Armello rules. Any clan is capable of winning using any method and that truly is left to the player’s choice in pursuing a riskier victory while having fun with the game’s customisable ruleset.

    Non-playable foes appear on the board also to keep the board flourishing with activity and not feel empty (the king’s guards move by day and Bane, the evil rot-manifested devil birds, terrorises the playing field at night). Repeated plays will grant the option to speed up or pass CPU turns completely at risk of losing the unpredictable movements though, naturally making multiplayer a better fit. More of these perks like new stat-enhancing rings to play around with are unlocked this way.

    Playing quests fuel the purpose of your goal and give you the chance to win equippable cards to tip the scales in your favour, most of which have variable effects. These are ranged from offensive/defensive weaponry or up to three assisting travellers each with ongoing perks. To earn your prizes in these quests, probability counters are played depending on the amount of your character’s attributes, otherwise cold turkey for you until you take on a new quest on your next turn.

    The common rule here is to pursue these missions across the board while landing on spaces that can have a unique array of benefits or curses. Dungeons are one thing to receive a randomised item and stealthy players can surprise the enemy by hiding in forests. Also, protect a town to earn gold needed for playing the effects of your cards. It gives them a reason to exist in the game as power plays to call upon at the right time.

    Combat is very essential to keeping other players off your back. When one-on-one fights occur, Armello shifts into a nice graphical change from the board’s realistic setting, now with anime-style cel shading for the characters (you can see this impressive style up close in Armello’s opening cutscene). Character stats provide strike and defend counters when the sides of the dice match up to them with the day or night feature to grant extra hits or a miss. Losing a fight depends on who is dealt the heaviest blow and will surrender the current space if they survive, whereas a death will send them back to their starting point with no penalties. Perils share the combat system too for the sake of a dice roll to match with assorted counters on a peril card, otherwise the player will be penalised with that card’s effect. More of a real-time motion is felt in that you can spectate battles besides your own.

    Good thing is, a passive play can be called upon in order to improve your hand. Armello directly warns us that not every battle is winnable, hence the multiple objectives for winning encourages the players to try everything the rules provide. Prestige is a powerful force to be reckoned with, which causes the king’s favourite player to choose one of two declarations to be in effect for the next two turns. Usually for me, this became my preferred way to win first place as far as personal skill is concerned, but relying on one trick alone would remove the possibilities of a more satisfying experience. Next time I fancy putting my hopes on a sword-wielding rat with lots of rot to share.

    Graphically, Armello looks tremendous if not similar to trying out a very well-produced tabletop that just came out of its box. The characters in their anthro guise are likeable and easily identified by colour and shape in design, to borrow more real board game conventions. With one board layout and two skins for decoration, it could benefit with more tile arrangements or terrain to generate randomly at each game. Kudos given for the anime look in the more animated sequences.

    The digital process of the controls should be of comfort for seasonal board game strategists. Since I’m not up to scratch on the tabletop basis myself, gamer opinion says that the controls are alright. One issue I have though are the mapping of the card placement (D-pad) and dice roll (right analogue) which confuses me during a battle or a peril when I needed to draw cards for a free counter. While this action had to be done under a short time limt, two times out of five I would trip myself over in pushing the analogue stick to roll before I discarded any unwanted cards.

    For the audio, expect something from Game of Thrones or Redwall and a similar kind of soundtrack applies to Armello. It’s appropriate enough and doesn’t interfere with the game although no voice is provided other than the background music and the animal sounds. Now for reply value, the home consoles are not currently lapping up the engaging community that the PC edition is enjoying. Try that out if you are after an upgrade of any sorts to join with players who share the same love for Armello’s appeal.

    To sound off, I found the use of anthros to be the selling point for trying Armello in the first place, something to sink into while studying the game. Yet it’s friendly enough for general game fans also, or at least I hope so. Apart from some control flaws and a rigid board for all the mayhem to happen in, I owe a lot to LoG for taking the tabletop medium further and fit so much of the board game lore into an accessible digital format. It’s a strong start for their software debut, so let’s see where they will take us next.

    Gameplay ****
    Mechanics keeps the rules fair and beautifully constructed animation

    Controls ***
    Straightforward, although cards and die can get mixed up in battle

    Audio ***
    Like a period piece, laid-back even

    Replay Value ***
    Nice variety of playing styles and strategies to try out with and against

    Verdict – 7/10

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