My first time playing Pathfinder The Adventure Card Game was a two-player session between myself and Loretta, who you may be familiar with if you listen to our Saga podcast (plug!). We picked Merisiel and Seoni for little more reasons than we enjoy their personalities in the Pathfinder comic book. This proved to be an amusingly disastrous choice as the characters complimented each other like ice cream compliments cabbage. However, battered and bruised we still managed to save the day, but just barely.
For our second game we decided to play things a bit more tactically, we studied the character cards of the entire seven person cast. Finally we settled on two that seemed like a good match. This time things went much smoother, we played the same scenario, which meant constructing the same location decks and hunting for the same villain. You’d be forgiven for expecting us to encounter familiar obstacles, but the game was entirely different. We fought different monsters, acquired new weapons and the final showdown had a brand new backdrop. This variety is one of the strongest features of the game, and why this second session was far from our last.
The general overview of the game is that you work as a team to burn through a certain number of locations, represented by their own separate decks. The location decks are constructed at the start of play straight out of the box, they contain a set number of random cards per category, the box itself doubles as a storage place for any unused cards. This means just because you tore through the town hall with ease last time you shouldn’t let your guard down, this time you could be up against completely different obstacles.
The objective of the game is to find the villain, a unique powerful card that’s especially picked for each scenario. Raiding Blackfang’s dungeon? Then surprise! Blackfang the dragon is your foe. But if you’re skulking through the city streets for a different scenario, then you’re up against a completely different villian with their own gang of henchmen. The twist is that not only is the villain randomly within one of the location decks, they’ll flee after their encounter with you to another location, which one? Well, it’s up to you and your team to find out.
Now at this point you might be wondering how the hell does the villain card sneak away and hide itself in a deck? That’s handled by the requirement to shuffle in particular cards with the villain, then distributing these cards one by one, face down, to each location. When you clear out a location, or manage to close it early through special requirements, the villain can’t return there and the remaining cards are put back in the box. Meaning you close out locations until there’s nowhere else for the villain to run. If you tactically split your team, then you can temporarily close off other locations when the villain is discovered, but splitting up means you’re not going to get any support when you come across a challenge you’re unequipped for.
Combat is handled simply, through the use of positive cards in your limited character deck, you can increase the power of your attacks. Whether you blast through these cards as soon as you get them, or save them for tougher encounters is up to you. Whether you’re fighting a goblin or trying to dodge a trap you roll dice based on your characters stats. One fun perk of the game is that your character actually grows. Yep, like actual tabletop RPG’s or even video games, your character gets stronger the more you succeeded. You even get to keep the loot you find. Set limitations on your characters stats ensure you don’t acquire too many cards, but even this can be expanded if you earn it.
The best thing about the game is that it avoids feeling stagnant or predictable. After multiple games it’s still exciting when you realise you’ve only got a handful of turns left to seize victory. The mechanics are open enough to encourage strategies too, especially at those tense later game moments. Do you team up to blitz through one location, or do you split up to try cover more at once? You’ll have to eye up your situation and try make the best call. The blessings deck acts as a timer and keeps you on your toes. Sure, as Kyra you can spend a couple turns using your healing power to revitalise the group, but the timer isn’t going to wait for you. Risking it and pushing on your wounded character could prove a vital move, or it could be a devastating choice as a giant tears you to shreds on the next turn. Fail to take down the villain also results in taking a hit via the blessings deck, further reducing the amount of time you’ve got to hunt them back down.
Now with all this variety it still would get old after a while, surely slaying Blackfang for the seventeenth time would start to get a bit stale. That’s where Pazio have really come up with a good idea. Releasing bi-monthly are expansion decks, which can be freely shuffled into what you already own. With each expansion you get new scenarios and villains to run, as well as entirely new encounters, cranking up the amount of variety in the game even more. By default the game has enough cards to allow up to four players to take part. Sneakily there’s a character expansion set that kicks the number up to six players, it’d have been nice to see this included in the base set but it’s not much of a significant loss.
From my own experience I can confirm this is a great game for couples. There are plenty of opportunities to support one another and build up your own strategies. The game downsizes or expands based on how many people are playing too, so you don’t have to worry about being at a disadvantage if you can’t muster up enough friends to play. You could even play entirely on your own.
I’m sure by now my enthusiasm for the product has oozed through the review plenty. If not then allow me to be more blunt: this game rocks; it’s one of the most fun board games I’ve ever played. The characters feel varied and unique adding actual consequence to which character you choose to play as. By developing your character over time it’s impossible not to grow attached, building them towards your ideal playing style.
Due to the reliance on building randomised decks, each time you sit down to play it’s a different experience. It’s all about variety. There’s also a loving attention to detail in the product. The cards are covered with beautiful artwork which adds heaps of atmosphere to each game. Even the location cards have a representation of where you are, letting your mind fill in the blanks around the landscape of the entire scenario. It may sound silly but it feels like you’re in a entirely different location when you’re down in the dungeons in one game, and then out in the city streets in another.
The one complaint I do have though, is that there’s very little in terms of flavour text. This version of the game, and its expansions, are going to follow the Rise of the Runelords storyline. For those of us who’ve not played it in its original tabletop RPG form, there’s a feeling that you’re missing out on the details. The basics are easy enough to grasp, for instance the town is being attacked by goblins, that’s not a problem. But if you’re looking for this card game to completely replace a real GM and simulate a proper tabletop RPG in terms of story, then you’d be disappointed. This could have been a deliberate move by Paizo to avoid blatantly spoiling the story though. I could definitely see fans of the card game then seeking to try the original Rise of the Runelords story, so including the plot here would indeed ruin it. Therefore whether this is a negative, a positive or completely irrelevant is down to your own tastes. Personally we didn’t find it to be a big deal, but it’d have been a nice touch.
One smart move is that the game’s box has sections for every type of card, it even comes with recommendations for where everything should go. Couple this with the fact that it’s got room for the expansions, means you can keep absolutely everything in the box. It makes setting up new games, or cleaning up after them, a breeze.
You can just feel the pride emanating off this release, and they certainly have something to be proud of. It’s easy for me to recommend Pathfinder The Adventure Card Game because there’s plenty of people this can appeal to. Even if you’ve never even heard of Pathfinder, the cards are filled with enough dependable fantasy tropes to ensure you never get lost, you might not know who Blackfang is but I’m sure you know that a big scaled black dragon is probably a pretty formidable foe. If you’re looking for a fantasy board game to play with friends, your partner, or even alone, then go check this out. I highly recommend it.