By Dan Spezzano
The ultimate quest of any ex-role player to board gaming convert is to find that one game that allows you to have the rpg experience in another, less time consuming form. Until a few years ago, these games took the shape of standard role and move board games.
That changed as fresher ideas were introduced into the marketplace. But, even most of those games required tiles and miniature pieces. A few publishers have taken on the task of creating a fantasy rpg game by the use of cards, dice or dexterity type activities. Most of these games have met with varying success.
When Paizo announced that they were releasing a card game not only on the Pathfinder game system, but based on the award winning Rise of the Runelords adventure path, interest was, shall we say high.
I witnessed firsthand at GenCon the line around the Paizo booth get bigger and bigger by the minute. I watched as box after box of the Pathfinder Adventure Card game was sold and I knew Paizo had a commercial hit on their hands.
It’s very rare that any publisher matches the lines usually found at the FFG booth, but this year the hype belonged to Paizo and Pathfinder. GenCon was in August, so why has it taken me so long to write a review of this game?
Simple…I can’t stop playing it. That is not some hyperbole statement that I might throw in a review. It’s an honest to God fact. I think the game is set up on my gaming table 25 days out of the month.
Since starting my new job, my time for gaming and writing has become limited. However, when I have time, my first choice is always the PACG. I play it solo mostly, seeing if I can run a solo character or two characters through the first adventure path.
I can play it with my wife, or a group of friends. The great aspect of this game is you can have multiple campaigns going on and play them out. Whether it is a one off scenario, an adventure or an adventure path it’s a very easy game to get into and play. However I’m getting ahead of myself.
It’s a card game, so you get a lot of cards. The base game supports 1-4 players and comes with somewhere near 500 cards. It includes a very large box with a divider for storing the cards. It also comes with the first adventure deck in the Rise of the Runelords adventure path.
If you add the optional character deck, you’ll get another 110 cards which will allow you to play with 5-6 players. This add-on gives you 4 new classes in the form of a barbarian, druid, monk, and paladin.
Also included are a set of dice. You will use these to roll checks much like an rpg. Finally, there is a rule book. Simply put, the rulebook leaves a lot to be desired. There are numerous typos and ambiguities throughout. The thing is, they don’t detract from play. In fact, until the FAQ was posted I really only saw one that jumped out as a glaring mistake.
Having said that, it is rather bad form to release the rules in this state. Paizo is well known for updating their rpg books and making them available online. Perhaps, we will get an updated rule book.
I also sprung for the Ultra Pro character mats. They aren’t needed and in fact there are already better fan made mats. So, if you see these, I advise a pass on them. A final note on the card quality, it is really good. I’ve played a lot of games and they are holding up well.
Scenarios, Adventures and Adventure Paths
Before I get into a description on game play, I think it would be a good idea to explain the above. The game can be played in several ways.
If you’re just looking to play a one off game with friends, you can pick any scenario in the box, set it up and play. This is not where the game shines however. The game is at its best as you build your character deck from playing adventures.
An adventure is a linked set of scenarios. The base games comes with a 3 scenario adventure called the Perils of the Lost coast. As you play and finish each scenario, you get rewards and your characters can even gain new feats. This allows you to customize your deck and character as you go.
If a character dies, he is done and you need to pick a new one. If all characters die, you lose the adventure. It adds the element of permanent death seldom found in a table top rpg.
Think about it for a second, how pissed would you be if your DM killed off your PC. Well, it’s literally impossible to be pissed at an invisible DM in the game. The added tension of a whole party dying while on the last scenario of an adventure is a lot of fun. Of course you may feel differently about that and it’s very easy to ignore this rule and repeat the scenario.
Also included is the first adventure deck in the Rise of the Runelords adventure path called Burnt Offerings. This is a 5 scenario adventure deck. As I write this, I just got notification that the second deck will be available shortly.
An adventure path is the ultimate challenge as your characters will become more powerful in both skills and equipment. But, the challenges you face will also become harder. I’m giddy with excitement just thinking about the next adventure deck.
Now, the end game of each scenario thus far is pretty similar. You’ve got an ultimate bad guy of the scenario and you need to find him and defeat him. Scenarios have a number of locations based on the number of players. If you encounter the main bad guy and defeat him, he can escape to any location you haven’t closed.
So, in essence you need to close every location by defeating the henchmen there and then defeat the main villain. There is room to grow here. I can see ways to make for different victory conditions, but right now, this is what you’re doing.
On the surface it sounds rather boring, until you add the other elements such as monsters, barriers, spells, allies, items etc. With each scenarios deck being randomized to an extent you could be facing a goblin at the city gate or a Siren.
I’m not going to spend a lot of time going over the turn structure and specific rules. I’ve got a game play video you can watch for that, or you can watch any of the dozen already out there.
Perhaps the only downside to the game is the set up and clean up time. It’s really not that bad once you get used to it. But, I find it better to play a few scenarios if time is permitting, then a one and done.
Also the game can be very tough. I still haven’t completed the burnt offerings adventures solo and my 4 person group I play with the wife is also still battling to save Sandpoint.
The post discussion on this game is immense. I don’t think I’ve ever seen a game garner so many threads on board game geek as this one. Part of that is the rules as people, myself included, tried to read things into them that weren’t there. Plus, there are always those typos I discussed.
It really is a love or hate relationship with this game for most people. Most people I have talked to who didn’t like it, played the one scenario option, which again I do not suggest.
In the end, the Pathfinder Adventure Card Game had not only entered my top 5 games of the year, but also of all time. I like it that much and thanks to a devious poster on BGG, I’ve begun the task of scanning the cards into Card Warden so I can play it even more.