Game Review: Pathfinder Adventure Card Game

20140209-154415.jpgA forgotten evil stirs in the ancient land of Varisia. Dark magic once more thrums amid crumbling ruins, giants gather in titanic armies, cultists murder in the name if foul deities, and maniacal goblins plot a fiery end for the peaceful town of Sandpoint.

First unleashed at Gen Con 2013, designer Mike Selinker and Paizo Publishing have melded roleplaying, card gaming, and dice rolling into the entirely unique and wildly entertaining Pathfinder Adventure Card Game. The Pathfinder universe (it is much much larger than a world) experienced its Big Bang moment in 2008 with their beta RPG of D&D’s version 3.5 system. Officially released to critical acclaim the following year, Paizo has since taken Pathfinder to extraordinary levels with unending expansions, novels, miniatures, comics, and now a card game. By diluting the intricacies of a pen and paper RPG and adding CCG and Magic elements, Pathfinder Adventure Card Game has broken down gaming boundaries to appeal to the masses…and it does so masterfully.

In a nutshell, a party of adventurers (1-4 players, I’ve played mostly solo) set off on a quest to explore various locations and find and defeat villains. The base set (nearly 500 cards, ~$50) and all six expansions (110 cards and ~$18 each) is considered the Adventure Path, while the individual expansions are called Adventures, and each Adventure consists of multiple Scenarios. Players can choose to do a standalone Scenario, or work through each consecutive Adventure in the path. The base set comes with the first Adventure, Burnt Offerings, but each additional expansion is sold separately.

Each individual game comes with some set up. First, players must pick and assemble their character deck, then the individual locations are assembled from a randomly selected set of boons (weapons, spells, items, etc.) and banes (villains, monsters, henchmen, barriers). At times, and especially when a new expansion is shuffled in, this can get tedious.

Set aside 30 blessings cards, which are important in your deck or at locations, but in this instance are simply a game counter (flip one per turn)…and you’re ready to go. Players choose a location and ‘explore’ it on their turn. You attempt to acquire boons and defeat banes. Attempts are called ‘checks,’ essentially a dice roll. As you will come to find out, there are times it turns into a Russian nesting doll of checks, with one action requiring three or four dice rolls…and can get confusing if you don’t keep track. Death or end of game (which can roughly take up to 90 min) comes when you can no longer draw a card from your character deck or you run out of blessings cards. Winning comes when your band finds and defeats the villain. Success adds additional cards to your deck and/or skill and power feats to your character, which can all be carried forward to the next Scenario.

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The single most frustrating aspect of this game is the dependency on the rulebook, and in the case of the base set, an incomplete rulebook. As the designer admitted, assumptions were made that shouldn’t have been made, and dozens of questions remained that forced players to turn to web forums and message boards for answers. Selinker and Paizo dutifully created an updated PDF version, and still actively visit sites to respond to pleas for help.

I’ve also heard the “all you’re doing is flipping cards and rolling dice” comment. Yes, at its core, that’s what it consists of (aren’t most games?), but it can be so much more than that if you let it. Read the card descriptions and backgrounds, check out the Pathfinder Tales (there are free chapters online), and immerse yourself in the story. If you’re going to monetarily invest in it (and that you will, trust me), then you should intellectually invest in it as well.

The initial factory line product was far from perfect, but the transparent response from Selinker and Paizo, and subsequent attempts to rectify errata, card conflicts, and unanswered questions has made me a true fan. Detailed artwork, fantastic mechanics, and an immersive story will see this successfully through to this summer’s second follow-up Adventure Path, Skull & Shackles. Though I’m still working through Burnt Offerings, I’ve purchased and neatly placed Adventures 2 and 3 and the Character Add-on Deck in their allotted slots. Hours have been put into this game, and there are hours to come…some frustrating, all worth it.

Designer: Mike Selinker
Overall: 9 Recommendation: Buy

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