Friday, 1 November 2013

Pathfinder: The Adventure Card Game

Unless you are living under a rock you have seen or at least heard of the Pathfinder Adventure Card Game by now. This review will help you get a better understanding of just what you're getting into if you plan on picking up a copy of the Pathfinder ACG. Lets start by answering your first question, what is an Adventure Card Game? Well I am not entirely sure anyone can easily describe that, the description I liked best reading board game geek was a "deck leveling game" that does pretty well, but in my head it reminds me of deck building games where you are free to acquire cards and construct your deck as you please, this is not the case with Pathfinder ACG. Think of it as an Dungeon Crawl in a card game format, sort of a mashup of Descent and Arkham Horror, but borrows a fair amount from the Living Card Games. The essence of the game is that you and your groups' decks (characters) will level up and get stronger (better / more cards and bonus feats / traits) as you successfully complete scenarios. Your deck will serve as your hit points as well as your means to success. In each Scenario your party's goal is to defeat a Villain, the trouble is you are not quite sure which Location he is hiding at, and to make things worse he will just run away from a fight as long as he has somewhere (a Location) to escape to. That means it is your job to lock down these Locations so you can corner the Villain, to accomplish this you will need to defeat his Henchmen at each Location and then pass a Check corresponding with said location. But it isn't that easy, your adventure is only blessed for so long, and after 30 turns (tracked via the Blessings Deck) your party will fail and your adventure will come to an end.

The gameplay in Pathfinder ACG revolves around 2 key mechanics, Exploring and Checks. Even though they go hand in hand, to properly understand Exploring it is important that you understand how Checks work.

Objective/Goal: Your goal is to defeat the Villain before the blessing deck runs out or your entire party is dead. In order to defeat the Villain he must have no Location left to escape to.

Making a Check:

When you 'encounter' a card via exploring, regardless of what it is you will be required to make a check. Succeeding will result in defeating the monster, acquiring the item, bypassing a trap, meeting allies etc. The card you 'encounter' will decide what type of check you will have to make. When making a check you will refer to your character card to tell you which dice to roll then use any cards in your hand to add additional dice or manipulate the check in other ways. If the traits from the Check are not listed on your character card you can always roll 1D4.

Type of Check: For a lot of people starting out, determining the type of check is the hardest part. I think the fact that this section on the cards has very small print and lists 2 different types of words. It lists Primary stats such as strength, dexterity and wisdom but then they also list other words such as melee, perception and survival this can get confusing because these are secondary traits that are not listed on every character's card and they show up in smaller text on your character card, when a secondary is listed, you roll the primary stat die and then add your bonus listed next to the corresponding secondary stat to the result of your roll.

These are examples of a combat check.
Regardless of the type of check it will always be found along the right hand side of the card.

Here is an example of a check to acquire a boon in progress:
To ensure success a Blessing of the Gods was played to roll an additional die,
and a good thing too because if you fail a check to acquire a boon it is
discarded back into the box!


Exploring is your bread and butter, this is your primary action and where most of the gameplay takes place. On a player's turn they are given 1 free explore action, after that they must meet conditions or spend cards to explore again. Exploring multiple times is not always necessary but remember that you are racing against the blessings deck, so if you have bad luck encountering henchmen, or passing the tests required to close down a location then you will not be victorious with only 1 exploration per turn. It is a good idea to have 1 member of your party keep and eye on the blessings deck and let everyone know when it is under half and then close to running out. You can only explore at the location you are present in and you must complete the checks on cards you encounter with your character's stats, however other characters may be able to give you additional dice to help complete that check.

This is an example of how to explore second time:
Discarding a card usually means you won't get it back until your next adventure.


Combat is pretty straight forward and this is where I get my comparison to Descent. When encountering a monster you must fight or evade it, if you choose to fight you must gather your combat dice, unless you have a weapon or spell that says otherwise, this will always be your strength die. Defeating the monster is like any other check, you must tie or beat the required number with the total of your dice. Most monsters have some sort of extra effect like in descent, these are listed on the card and range from damage, extra goodies, loss of equipment etc and can happen when you encounter, defeat or lose to a monster. If you fail to succeed at your combat check, you take damage equal to the difference of your check, every point of damage is a card you must discard, if the damage exceeds the number of cards in your hand you simply discard your entire hand and ignore any excess damage.

Here are some examples of weapons:

Here are some examples of spells:

Here is an example of a complex combat:

As you can see above playing is relatively simple, in fact I have read complaints that there aren't enough options! However when you hear that a game is deep, or there is more too it than first glance that is a mere understatement for Pathfinder ACG and it will only get deeper as more addon packs (expansions) are released. To demonstrate the wide array of deep choices I will show an example of how a round went during one of our 5 player games in the second scenario.

Let's meet the villains:

Battling a Villain is fairly straight forward, if you succeed and there are locations open for him to escape to, you must shuffle the Villain into that new location deck. The tricky part is closing the locations, you have the opportunity to do this whenever you defeat a henchman or the location deck has been depleted.

Handling the Henchmen: 

Example 5 Player Round:
To save space I have left out the following:
1. Blessings cards being turned over at the start of each player's turn.
2. Players' hands and discarding/drawing to your hand size at the end of each turn.

My Thoughts: Well, I will be honest my first couple plays we probably made more than a few errors, and I did not enjoy the game at all. However after reading many great reviews and spending the cash on the game I decided I wanted to give it more of a chance, I am very glad I did. It wasn't until I tried my 3rd character that I really 'enjoyed' the game, before that I felt kind of like a car salesmen trying to hook my friends on it in hopes that the game got better as we learned the rules and more adventure decks are released. I found that I did not enjoy the recommended decks for any of the characters I tried and that was the verdict from the rest of my gaming group, there were some that only needed slight tweaks and then some that felt way off. Since I started playing as Lem I have felt much more involved in the game and that is probably my biggest point to stress about the Pathfinder ACG, the more involved you are the more fun it is. I will delve a bit into my thoughts on each character below. Regardless of who you choose to play as you can easily keep track of your deck and progress through the scenarios by using this excellent spreadsheet found on bgg. Finally I would like to add that I love how well this game scales, probably better than any other game I have played. I enjoyed the solo play a lot more than I thought I would and we have played with every number of players from 2-6, excellent with any number and 1-6 is an odd number for a cooperative game which I think it handles the too easy or too hard problem better than other cooperative games.

I would also recommend using the following files from BGG to really get the most out of  The Pathfinder ACG.
 Card Errata Highlighting Misprints and the Corrected Wording

Character Standees Because Moving Card Characters Around The Table is a Pain and Way Less Cool

Character Playmats to Help With the Clutter

Lem: Lem has a lot of options for customization, you can make him very offensive so that he can explore and handle almost any situation on his own, he can help other characters in the same location as him, he can be a very effective healer by using cure and his passive ability of changing cards in his hand with his discard. What I like most about Lem is the speed at which he churns through his deck, recharging cards to assist other players and still having the resources left on your turn to handle an exploration is awesome and can be done almost every turn with Lem.

The cards I used in Lem's starting deck are a little different than the recommended cards. I used these cards to help with Lem's weakest checks so he is more effective at solo play and exploring on his turn, while still being able to aid his friends.

Weapon: Sling.
Items: Mattock, Thieves Tools
Spells: Cure x2, Lightning Touch, Invisibility
Allies: Standard Bearer x2, Sage

If anyone is curious the first feats of each type I selected were Another Spell Card, Charisma +1 and +1 to aiding other characters.

Included Adventure Deck: Burnt Offerings

If you are someone who has been on the fence about Pathfinder after trying it, try the first adventure deck. It adds some much needed variety.

I think the 'weapons' additions were boring to say the least but the Barriers, Monsters, Villains, and especially Henchmen were all done exceptionally well. The Pit of Malfeshnekor is very cool, it gives you the option to take a free item but at the expense of damage and I was wondering where the Fiery Weapon was in the base set. The new blessing is much needed, it adds bonus to combat checks against monsters. The henchmen have some variety in the adventure pack with most scenarios hosting more than just a generic type of henchmen.

Who Would Enjoy the Pathfinder ACG?

It is hard to recommend Pathfinder in the way I usually recommend games, To make this quick I have compiled a list of features that I think are done exceptionally well or are deeply intertwined with the game's mechanics. If you enjoy half of them then I say you are safe to get a copy of the adventure card game. Pathfinder is a really unique game but you have to be willing to invest the time, it definitely gets more fun as you play.

Push Your Luck
Table Talk
Tactical Decisions
"Campaign Mode"
Fantasy Theme
Lots of Card choice with plenty of expansions already on the way
Seemingly Infinite Replay Value (Variable Setup)
Random Monster Encounters
Hand Management
Variable Player Mechanics
Infinitely Customizable with Player Made Additions
Small Expansions Sets (Adventure Decks)
Deep Strategic Choices
Dungeon Crawling
Dice Rolling
Deck Construction Between Plays

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