Tabletop Review: Pathfinder Adventure Card Game: Fortress of the Stone Giants Adventure Deck

Pathfinder Adventure Card Game: Fortress of the Stone Giants Adventure Deck
Publisher: Paizo
Cost: $19.99 ($17.50 on Amazon)
Release Date: Feburary 2014
Get it Here: Amazon.com

Well, we got this a little early, so that’s always nice. It’s hard to believe that the core Pathfinder Adventure Game has been out since September, 2013. It feels like so much longer. Fortress of the Stone Giants is the third adventure deck and fourth add-on outside of the base set. The base set, The Skinsaw Murders and The Hook Mountain Massacre decks are all needed to use this one. You really can’t skip around. It’s a linear set of add-ons, trying to use this without the base set simply won’t work and trying to play this fourth adventure deck before the previous two add-ons will get your characters killed because they have neither the items nor experience to survive this. That means with THIS purchase, you will have spent roughly $120 to use the Fortress of the Stone Giants deck, which is probably a realization large enough to give those of you who haven’t dipped into the Pathfinder Adventure Card Game yet reason NOT to. However if you’ve already bought the base game and the previous add-ons, you’re no doubt committed to seeing this thing through to the end, so you’ve already purchased this deck and pre-ordered the final two.

Fortress of the Stone Giants doesn’t bring anything new to the Pathfinder Adventure Card Games in terms of rules, mechanics, character classes or the like. As with the other adventure decks, this deck lets you play the next adventure, consisting of five scenarios, and gives you all the locations, items, monsters, spells and loot you need to play them. By this time you know what to expect in terms of card types, so we’re really just here to look at balance and specific card types. Again, if this review is your first peek into the Pathfinder Adventure Card Game, you should probably stop here as it may get confusing. Instead, consider starting with the review of the base set and working your way through all the previous adventure deck reviews.

As this is the fourth adventure deck (decks two-four are add ons. The base set comes with the first.), everything is a lot harder, but the rewards are more powerful as well. Each of the five scenarios has a specific challenge assigned to it. For example, with “Jorgenfist,” after you defeat a monster with a Giant trait, you have to roll 1d6. If the result is 1, the creature is undefeated (still alive). “The Black Tower” puts an extra spell in each location deck, giving spellcasters a nice bonus, but it also raises the difficulty of killing any Harpy by 2. Ick. The final scenario, “The Ancient Library” turns all Hill Giant Runeslaves into Undead Zombies, making them immune to Mental and Poison attacks. Ouch.

There are four new locations this time around. Giant Lair is chock full of monsters, Courtyard has a balanced mix of things, but oddly no allies considering it is in a town, Scarnetti Manor is a good place to find armor and items, and the Library has a nice amount of spells and blessings. Send your Cleric there!

There are six new Villain cards (one scenario has two Villains). Every one requires at least a 20 to beat, although the two Lamia can be taken down by a Divine result of 16 or higher. Three of the bosses are giants, which shouldn’t surprise you from the name of the deck, and two of the three require a two stage combat check. Giant bosses also get to do 1d4-1 Ranged damage at the beginning of the encounter, and any type of damage is dealt to ALL characters in a location. The big bad of this deck, Mokmurian, reduces fire based damage by 1 and the damage he causes cannot be reduced. He’s pretty nasty, but surprisingly, the bosses are a bit easier in this deck and in The Hook Mountain Massacre one.

A whopping twenty-eight cards are devoted to Henchmen this time around, which seems like a lot. There are seven Harpy Monks, which is odd as the most that can ever be used are five in a game. There are six Jorgenfist Stone Giants, so that’s three cards that could have been used for something else. You have five Hill Giant Runeslaves and four Tyrant Trolls. Trolls are interesting because fire adds 1d8 to a check but acid adds nothing. However, if you don’t use fire or acid on a check to defeat a troll, it stays undefeated. Now, there really isn’t a lot of fire or acid in the game so far, so I was expecting some weapons or spells that use those traits, but as we will see later on, that isn’t the case, meaning Fortress of the Stone Giants is another poorly balanced deck. Paizo really need to put someone new in charge of the playtesting and quality control of these decks, as there are such obvious errors like this one, I’m surprised these issues don’t get picked up until after publication.

There are six unique Henchmen in the deck: The giant Cinderma, the kobold Enga Keckvia, the Forgefiend, the Headless Lord, the giant Lokansir and the red dragon Longtooth. Oddly enough, the hardest of the unique Hechmen is probably Enga the kobold, simply because his check number to beat is the highest. Forgefiend is pretty annoying too, as you’ll want a non melee character to take it down.

It’s a bit shocking that there are only sixteen new monster cards compared to the sheer amount of Henchmen this time around. Eight monsters are unique and four have a duplicate. The cards with two monsters each are Harpies, Stone Giants, Hill Giants and Trolls. All four are pretty straightforward. The Trolls, however, require a combat check of 18 to beat, while the Tyrant Troll Henchmen only require a 15. Odd, wouldn’t you say?

The eight unique monsters are an eclectic bunch. The Cave Bear does extra damage. The Deathweb is a zombie spider thingy and gets to deal 1 point of damage to every character in its location before combat begins. Ick. The Ghoul Bat causes any spells played to be buried, the Mammoth is pretty straight forward, the Redcap has an ability simulating teleportation, as does the Roc… although in its case, it’s probably flying. The last two are the most interesting. The Shining Child has one of the highest Combat checks in the deck and it is immune to Fire and Poison damage. The Wyvern forces players to make a CON or Fortitude check, and if they fail, the player can’t reduce damage done by the Wyvern. All in all, the monsters are a really nice bunch this time around.

There are four new Barriers in this deck and five cards total. There are two Reduction Fields, which increases the difficulty of all STR and Melee checks by 4 until it is dispersed. Invasion Plans test your WIS and Survival, and if you beat it, you can examine the top three cards of the location’s deck and put them in any order you want. That’s helpful. Circles of Binding act as a monster summoning gateway if you don’t defeat it, and Arcane Lock has the highest check to defeat in the entire DECK… unless you use Arcane or INT traits. Then the difficulty is cut in half.

There are four new spells: two divine, two arcane and there are two of each card. First up – the arcane spells. You have Poison Blast, which adds 2d12 to your Arcane roll and gives it the Poison Trait. This is fine, except for the sheer amount of creatures immune to Poison in this deck. The other spell is Teleport, which lets you discard this card to move your character and any number of willing characters at the same location to a different location. Yep, that’s it for arcane. Considering how important Fire and Acid are in this deck, you would think there would be a spell with one of those traits. Nope. The divine spells are Restoration and Mass Cure. Restoration is pretty terrible actually. You discard the spell and let another player at your location take the top two cards of his deck and put them in his hand. So, it’s utterly useless in a single player game, and it doesn’t actually heal because taking those two cards from the top of the deck essentially whittles down the character’s hit points. Restoration should actually do what the card’s title says and RESTORE cards from your discard or even banished pile to your hand or deck. Badly designed drek. The last spell in this deck is Mass Cure, and it’s the only good one of the four. All you have to do is reveal this card, and then you and another character at your location get to shuffle 1d4+1 random cards from your discard pile back into your deck. NICE. Of course, it should be ALL characters at your location since it is a MASS cure, but once again, the Pathfinder Adventure Card Game isn’t really known for getting things right. Seriously, who does the balance and playtesting for this game? As you’ve probably noticed, this deck has more issues than most.

Next up are weapons. You have four weapons, each with two cards. There is the Shortspear +3, the Runechill Hatchet +3, the Greatclub +3, and the Giantbane Dagger+1. Again, nothing with Acid or Fire. Sigh. The weapons are decent, although you have to wonder why they put a Runechill Hatchet into a deck heavy on the trolls. It’s still quite a nice weapon. The best of the bunch is actually the Giantbane Dagger+1. It has the lowest + bonus, but it can give you up to an additional 3d4 on your checks again giants – including the bosses in this adventure. NICE.

We have five armor cards this time around – one shield and three suits, one of which has two cards. The shield is Reflecting Shield and it can only be used with one handed weapons. Revealing this card reduces Acid, Cold, Combat, Electricity or Fire damage by 2. Pretty cut and dry. The Chainmall of Cold Resistance reduces Combat and Cold damage by 2, while the Breastplate of Fire Resistance (two cards) reduces Fire and Combat damage by 3. You can also banish these armors to reduce all damage down to 0. The last armor is Lesser Bolstering Armor. It’s the only Light Armor of the bunch, and it reduces Combat damage by 2. As well, when you take damage you can also draw a card. Nifty.

There are nine new items cards, seven of which are unique. Here’s where we finally get to see some Fire traits for PCs to use (although still no Acid). The Amulet of Firey Fists adds 1d8 to your Combat check, as well as the Magic and Fire trait. However, you can’t use a weapon on this check. This means its helpfulness is limited. The other fire item is the Necklace of Fireballs, and it’s a one time use item. Banish the card to get 3d6+12 with the Fire trait added to a combat check. Holy crap that’s high. Unfortunately, as I’ve said, it’s only one use and then banished, so save it for when you truly need it. There are two of the Headband of Inspired Wisdom card. Reveal it to add 2 to a Wisdom check. That’s it. There are also two Magic Spyglass cards. Reveal it to add another die to a perception check. You can also discard Magic Spyglass to examine the top three cards of your location and put them back in any order you wish. Kind of helpful. Bracers of Greater Protection reduce Combat damage by 3 when you recharge them. Greater Luckstone lets you add 2 to any check when you discard it, or you can buy the card if you miss a check by 1 or 2 to turn the roll into a success. Finally the Staff of Heaven and Earth has you recharge it and discard a spell into order to defeat a barrier or add 1d4 to a combat check.

We’re nearly done. There are five Blessings of Gozreh in this deck, and they are your typical Blessing card. There are also three pieces of Loot that you will earn along the Adventure. The Emerald Codex lets you banish it in exchange for three random divine spells. You can also choose to buy the Codex to have all three spells face up next to your character card. You can then use these spells at any time as long as you banish them afterwards. This could be quite helpful. Mokmurian’s Club lets you add 1d10+2 to a STR or Melee check. You can also discard a card from your hand to roll an extra 1d10. If using the Club lets you defeat a monster, you get to recharge a random card from your discard pile. Not too shabby. Last is the Robe of Runes. Reveal this card to add 2 to an INT check and play another card. You can also recharge the Robe to add a spell of your choice from your discard pile into your hand. This is by far the best of the loot pieces.

The last type of card to look at are the Allies. You have seven cards, although only six are unique. The ally which gets two cards is CHARMED RED DRAGON. Holy crap is that awesome. Finally, HERE is your troll killing option. Recharging the Charmed Red Dragon gives you an extra 5 to your check, bearing the Fire trait. However, each time you recharge, you have to roll 1d12. If it comes up 1, every character in the location takes 1d4 Fire damage. This simulates the charm spell wearing off. The Bear adds 2d4 to your Combat check if you discard it, the Lizard lets you succeed at a Stealth or Survival check and the Eagle lets you look at the top card of any location deck by placing it back on the top of your deck. That’s all the animal cards. There are two more allies still though. First is the Clockwork Librarian. Recharge this to add 2d8 to an INT or Knowledge check. You can also recharge it to automatically succeed when you try to acquire a spell. The last Ally (and card in this adventure deck) is Conna the Wise. He is a friendly Giant Sorcerer who can be banished to let you look at the top three cards of a location deck. Pretty lackluster.

So there we go. That’s the Fortress of the Stone Giants deck. Like all the decks, it feels like it needed a once over in terms of balance and cards that players could obtain which matched the weaknesses of monsters. At the same time, there are some pretty awesome cards in the deck, and I think everyone’s favorite will be the Charmed Red Dragon simply due to the concept. Would I pay $19.99 for what is here? No, it’s not worth that, nor is it worth the $17.50 price tag Amazon is offering at. Ten dollars is probably the appropriate price, considering you have to have $100 worth of stuff to even use this deck AND you can really only use it one time unless you want to start the game all the way over. Of course, Paizo overcharges for everything it puts out and Pathfinder fans eat it up, so although this deck is as flawed as previously ones (actually moreso) and it costs far more than it should, people who already have the previous decks for the Pathfinder Adventure Card game are going to buy this no matter what, and will also pick up the next two decks just to finish the game. That’s right, you’ll have to pay $160 to have the full game – $160 for the extra characters. That’s a bit sickening when you think about it on a purely monetary level, but again, that’s Paizo for you.

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