Games Review: Australian fantasy genre mashup Armello (Switch, 2018) makes a perfect travel companion

Armello, the fantasy-steeped digital board game by Melbourne studio League of Geeks is very, very good. We’ve known this for a while. The game is available on almost every platfom there is and if you haven’t availed yourself of its strategic, card-based suspense and dice-roll intrigue since its launch 2015 then you really should. Conveniently, the game’s Nintendo Switch port makes a great argument for finally picking it up.

Set in a fantasy world ruled by anthropomorphised animals, Armello begins with the King of Armello under the thrall of The Rot, an ailment that contorts the once wise and fair king into a cruel shadow of his former self. This creates something of a crisis throughout the kingdom and the Great Clans, sensing an opportunity to gain power, all put into action their plans to remove the king. Each clan is represented by a Hero character that players can take control of, all of whom come with their suite of skills and abilities.

Gameplay is a clever hybrid of various styles — there’s a bit of a turn-based hex-hopping X4 Civilisation vibe with a little bit of CCG thrown in, there’s some Edge of the Empire-esque dice rolls to determine your level of success or failure on a given decision and there’s a pinch of JRPG in there too. The general idea is that you move your hero across the map as quickly as possible, take settlements to keep your foes on the backfoot while entering or avoiding combat as you go and get as close as you can to the centre kingdom. There’s a day/night cycle that changes the stakes depending which animals are on the board and their propensity for operating at night, and just like that you have a series of interlocking systems that make for a complex, compelling strategy title.

If you’ve played Armello, I’m not telling you anything you don’t know but if you haven’t then this should be more than enough for you to consider picking up the Switch version. It’s a near-perfect port with, in my opinion, a single glaring issue. This criticism may be a personal thing, it’s hard to tell, but it certainly hindered my experience a bit. The Switch version is at its best when played in TV mode. The game’s colours, models, maps and dialogue all sparkle on a big HD screen and the game hums along as smoothly as it ever has. It stumbles a little in Handheld Mode because the dialogue and text boxes don’t really scale for the Switch’s tablet screen. This meant a lot of squinting at the screen, trying to make out UI elements and lines of helpful tutorial dialogue as I tried to play it on the train. I have no idea if this is something League of Geeks can address, but it is my sole criticism of an otherwise fabulous experience.

This is top tier work from one Australia’s premiere local developers. That it’s taken me this long to publish my review says much more about me and my ability to schedule things properly than it does about the quality of the game. Those who’ve already played it know how great it is. Those who haven’t are in for a clever, layered experience that is well worth your time — doubly so when you can take it with you anywhere.

FOUR AND A HALF STARS (OUT OF FIVE)

Highlights: Storybook aesthetic; Great character work; Strategic systems work well together
Lowlights: Text in handheld mode could be larger for improved readability
Developer: League of Geeks
Publisher: League of Geeks
Platform: Nintendo Switch (and almost everything else, seriously find it and play it)
Available: Now

Review conducted on Nintendo Switch with a retail code provided by the publisher.

David Smith

David Smith is the games and technology editor at The AU Review. He has previously worked as a freelance games journalist and critic, appearing on PC World Australia. He tweets at @RhunWords and plays the odd game at twitch.tv/RhunWords when the internet works.