Armello feels like Game of Thrones except everyone is a cuddly animal and death-by-fireball is the preferred method of execution. Across a lavishly detailed, hex-based countryside, players cross and doublecross one another in a bid for the King's throne. This seat will soon be vacated by the ailing King, who is also a lion wearing a crown. You are a member of the Wolf, Rabbit, Bear, or Rat clans, and by successfully bamboozling up to three friends (or AI players) you will ascend to the throne as the new ruler of the animal kingdom.
It also helps if the dice roll in your favor. Like any good board game, success in Armello relies on rolling high, drawing the right cards, and ensuring those Wolf clan bullies turn their swords on someone else. Glory to the Rabbit clan! Ahem. Dice rolls are how you do battle with the other players, and you can give yourself an edge by equipping item cards or casting spell cards. But even if the board game gods are being stingy, you can make up for their shortcomings through skillful diplomacy.
Armello doesn't allow for formal alliances, per se. Instead, the term director Trent Kusters uses is "soft cooperation" which is a nice way of saying "shaky, unreliable alliances that can blow up in your face at any time." A typical game of Armello presents dozens of opportunities for you to really screw over the other players - and they're hard to resist. So if you actually leave someone alone or even help them, such acts of kindness won't be forgotten. For a few turns, at least.
If you've been following Armello on Steam Early Access, then you'll be excited to hear there are several additions and improvements coming when the full game is released this September. Among them is a new Wolf clan member named River, who Kusters described as a sort of female Aragorn from Lord of the Rings. Her special ability is sniping any target she attacks for one damage before entering combat. Should she kill her target with a snipe, she will hold her ground but still expend AP for the attack. Basically, if you're on low health you better stay far away from River.
One character you certainly didn't have to worry about before was Sana of the Bear clan. Poor Sana; in too many games have I watched her repeatedly wander out of her starting area only to throw herself into an impossible fight. Kusters acknowledges parts of the AI weren't as challenging as they could've been, and in response the team has performed a full AI pass to toughen up the competition. In particular, the team wanted AI characters to be strong contenders for the prestige victory - one of the game's several victory conditions - which means avoiding those unwinnable fights.
A complete graphical overhaul, intuitive controller support, and tons of new cards of all varieties help round out the list of updates and additions coming in Armello's full release. "You know, I've worked in games for almost 10 years now," said Kusters, "and the end always feels so far away right up until it all somehow comes together. We're all super proud of how Armello has shaped up, and a lot of that is due to the community who really helped us identify where the strengths of this game lie." You can try and usurp the throne yourself when Armello is released on September 1 for PC, Mac, Linux, and PS4.