Armello: What Videogames Have (or Haven’t) Learned from Boardgames


Armello is hard to define. Part boardgame, part PC game, part RPG, part Redwall. A little bit of everything. It is quite good and does some interesting things. In recent years we have seen a surge of card games becoming digitized and using technology to do things that are not possible with traditional cards (such as Infinity Wars’s simultaneous turns or some of Hearthstone’s RNG cards) so it makes sense that board games were to follow suit.

Card games have transitioned very well into the digital realm, so how does Armello stack up? When it comes to crossing the board game / video game divide, the person to turn to is Quintin Smith. This year, he has written two articles for The Guardian comparing board games to videogames. He has specifically highlighted what videogames can take from board games, and what videogames can’t do that board games can. So that seems like a good starting point.

Throw the Dice

In Let’s Throw The Dice: What Video Games Can Learn from Board Games, Quintin states the following 3 things that videogames can learn from boardgames:

Alliances:  Board games generally foster uneasy alliances. Think Monopoly or Risk, two classic family games that makes everyone hate each other. Armello uses a Hearthstone style of communication, meaning that instead of being able to chat with the other players, you can only select emotes from a list. With how most people behave online, this is probably a good thing. While there are cards that are beneficial for two people, most of the game is pretty cut-throat. Point is, an alliance can be “signaled” by playing one of the mutually beneficial cards on someone, but that is it.

That being said, Armello is full of moments of backstab and uneasy peace. The systems are random, the players are random, and the benefits of being in an alliance only last for so long. While you may not have the feeling of berating and scheming as you would in, say, Diplomacy or even Monopoly, there is a reason some reviewers have compared this game to Game of Thrones.

Economics is more terrifying than wars:  Besides Offworld Trading Company, I can’t think of any strictly economics based multiplayer video games. Armarello has an economy, kind of…not really. You get money based on the settlements you own but they can be almost impossible to hold on to for very long. Yes, more games about economics and other things more interesting than war. Well, this does not apply to Armello at all.

Absurd physics: Shortly put, Quintin describes how some board games use physics in fun and weird ways, while videogame physics try to mirror reality and its not as fun, or creative. Armello is pretty flat, physics wise, but the dice seem to have some weight and they bounce around the screen like they were made out of rubber. That’s pretty absurd so I think Armello nails this one.

Two out of three ain’t bad, on-wards to the next one.


Don’t Worry, Armello Didn’t Steal Anything

In Don’t Worry, Board Games: Video Games Can’t Steal What Makes You Great, Quintin continues on about how much cooler board games are.

Bluffing: Quintin claims that bluffing exists in videogames, but that the AI is terrible at it. There is no real part of Armello which opens itself up to bluffing. You can see all the information you need, although you might need a few clicks. The bluffing-est part is the perils, which players can use for many things, one of which is to try to block their movement. When a  player steps on a peril, they have to past a dice roll test or something bad can happen. You can play perils directly on heroes, and the effects will happen immediately but by placing them on the map you can discourage players from moving in certain directions.

The effects of the peril are not revealed until someone steps on them, so there is a slight bluffing aspect to it. But because most perils are bad, every player knows that they should avoid the tiles with perils on them. In bluffing, Armello fails.

Physicality: We can touch board games, we can’t touch videogames. I have written about physicality and Hearthstone before, and I completely agree. I can’t touch Armello. Although HBS’s Golem Arcana might be the only “videogame” that effectively has physicality in this sense. There is nothing physical about videogames so another fail.

Ownership: Quintin talks about how even if we have a bad board game, we can use its assets to create something better because we can do what we want with it. Of course, videogames have mods, but it is so much harder to mod a game than to re-invent the rules for a board game. I mean, even chess and checkers use the same board. Armello has absolutely no mod support that I know of and my copy isn’t even DRM free. Although the new update included house rules, which are a bit bare bones but there are more on the way.

Zero out of three, ouch!

armello playing board

In Conclusion

Well, it doesn’t look like Armello bridges the gap between board games and videogames as it didn’t seem to learn much either. It feels like playing a board game, but it doesn’t feel like the experience of playing a board game. It takes many complicated systems and calculations and does all the hard work for us, which is nice, but it is still apparent that there are still a few things Armello (and videogames in general) could learn from board games, but I am not sure it should.

While some games, like the aforementioned Golem Arcana, try to enhance board games with a videogame element, Armello is not a game like that. Quintin makes some very good and agreeable points about the general differences between the two types of games and what they can and can’t take from each other. I believe that there are some things that one will never be able to do that the other can, and vice versa.  I’m quite happy to keep them separate, each playing to their respective strengths.

As for Armello, the developers just released the first big patch which added more, made turns much faster in single player, introduced house rules, and much more. They say they will continue to release big, free, patches for the game. I find the game an absolute delight despite a few short comings and I feel confident that the game will only get better and better.



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