Pathfinder Adventure Card Game: Rise of the Runelords Base Set
Publisher: Paizo Publishing
Cost: $59.99 (Currently $53.95 at Amazon)
Release Date: 08/27/2013
Get it Here: Amazon.com
I’ll be honest; I’m not the biggest fan of the Pathfinder RPG. I find the emphasis is too much on mechanics and roll-playing over storytelling and role-playing. I felt the same way about Third Edition D&D too, and since Pathfinder is a modified version of D&D 3.5, it’s no surprise that I tend to gravitate towards other games. It also doesn’t help that Paizo lets anyone under the sun release something for Pathfinder, meaning the market is flooded with 90% crap for the system and it makes it very hard for the high quality third party pieces to be found. After all, for every Rite Publishing or Super Genius Games, there are twenty or so that honestly should not be publishing. Still, as much as the bad heavily outweighs the good with Pathfinder releases, I’m always up for trying something new when it comes directly from Paizo, be it the first story arc of the comic book series published by Dynamite entertainment or the brand new Adventure Card Game.
Now the Pathfinder Adventure Card Game is a deck building game rather than a Collectable Card game like Magic: The Gathering or Kaijudo. This means everything you need comes in the box, so there aren’t any further purchases… unless you want an add-on set. In the case of the Base Set, you get a giant box filled with enough cards to play two full adventures – “Perils of the Lost Coast” and the “Burnt Offerings” adventure Deck add-on pack. Basically, you can play “Perils of the Lost Coast,” which consists of three adventures with the shrink wrapped cards that come in the box, and to play “Burn Offerings,” you open the add-on adventure deck that is sealed separately, shuffle those cards into the various decks, and then you can play that as well. On top of all that, the Pathfinder Adventure Card Game will be getting an additional add-on pack every other month for five months until the full “Adventure Path” for Rise of the Runelords is complete. With a sixty dollar price tag for the base set and twenty dollars for each of the five expansions packs, you’re looking at $160 to play the whole storyline, or $180 (plus tax and shipping) if you also want the character add-on pack, which gives you four more playable character classes and raises the amount of players that can be active at once in a session from four to six. That is an insanely expensive prospect – especially when you realize that you can get the Rise of the Runelords Anniversary Edition, which covers everything the full Adventure Card game will offer over the next year… for FORTY DOLLARS. At first glance, looking at that difference is a massive sticker shock, no?
Look, I’ll be the first to admit that Paizo overcharges for their releases more than any other tabletop RPG company in the industry today, but holy crap – almost two hundred dollars for a full adventure path in deck building form? That’s going to be a hard justification for a lot of gamers to make, even the most zealous of Pathfinder gamers. I’m glad I picked this up for only $35 when Amazon had it for that low of a price, and that I locked in the add-on packs for only $15 each. That’s a total of $125 (and I didn’t have to pay tax or shipping), and far saner than the MSRP Paizo is thinking the Pathfinder Adventure Card Game should be selling for. There’s no way in hell I’d pay the full retail price for this game, and even with the discount you get for ordering directly from Paizo’s website, you’re still getting ripped off by the exorbitant shipping costs they charge. No, until the price drops by, say, 33-50%, I have to warn you right out, I can’t in good conscience recommend buying this game for the MSRP, as you could buy, say, all three Dungeons & Dragons Co-operative Board Games for less (and they come with minis!) for a fraction of what the full adventure path is going to cost for this game. Maybe they’ll do a complete set like Descent did, where you can get everything for a lot less than buying them individually. Here’s hoping anyway.
Now, I purposely did that lengthy highly negative rant about the cost of the Pathfinder Adventure Card Game up front, because if I did it at the end, what you’d mostly remember is the negativity rather than what I have to say for the rest of the review, which is all very positive. The Pathfinder Adventure Card Game is a lot of fun and offers flexibility, from a full four player party down to a single person trying out solo play mode. There isn’t a lot of replay value to the game, which merely adds to my assertion that the game is highly overpriced for what you get, but it is honestly the best translation of an RPG into card form yet. I wouldn’t say board game though, as things like Space Hulk, Hero Quest and others do it better, but honestly, out of all the deck building games I’ve played, from the DC Super Heroes one down to Miskatonic’s School For Girls, Pathfinder Adventure Card Game has them all beat – as long as you don’t mind the lack of replayability.
What I like most about the Pathfinder Adventure Card Game is that it feels like playing an RPG. Remember, however, I said earlier that you could get the tabletop version of this game for only forty bucks in a single hardcover book? Well, that version also involves needing a lot of other books, starting with the Pathfinder Core Rulebook, the Gamemastery Guide and the Beastiary. That’s roughly another hundred bucks right there just to play the tabletop version of Rise of the Runelords. Suddenly, $180 for the card version of Rise of the Runelords, compared to AT LEAST $140 for the tabletop version, doesn’t sound so bad once you remove emotion and look at the actual dollar amounts, eh? With the Pathfinder Card Game version of this adventure path, you and your friends will be able to play the game without the need for a DM. We all know that a bad DM can not just ruin a session, but sour someone on a system for life, so this rids you of that worry. Of course, it removes a lot of the storytelling, background information, setting and description, but them’s the breaks. Besides, you and your friends can make the story up as you go. The Location, Scenario and Adventure cards have flavor text on them, so you can make a story happen. I mean, everyone that used to play the old Mythos CCG by Chaosium told a story as they played their game, so you should easily be able to do the same with the Pathfinder Adventure Card Game.
As you complete each scenario, Adventure or Adventure Path, your character will gain bonuses, which act as the equivalent of leveling up. For completing a Scenario, you might get a new item to add to your character deck. For completing an Adventure (collection of scenarios), you might gain a skill feat, which adds +1 to one of your die rolls (STR, DEX, CON, INT, WIS, CHA). For completing an Adventure Path, you might get a card feat, which increases the size of your character deck. So you’ll see your character grow with each adventure until they die, you get sick of the game, or you complete the adventure path. Now, for all of my examples going on, I’ll be using the character I played in solo play and with a full party – Harsk the Dwarven Ranger. I chose him because I like Dwarves, I like ranged characters and he was my favorite protagonist in the comic. Now, let’s talk mechanics.
So, Pathfinder Adventure Card Game is a deck building game, and you’re going to be building many decks. In fact, one could argue that the time to make decks might be longer than the actual playing time if the PCs get lucky enough to find the Villain early on. Each player will make a character deck of fifteen cards (this can grow as you progress through scenarios and adventures). What your deck is made up of will depend on the character you are playing. For Harsk, I had to make a deck of five Weapons, one Armor, three items, one Ally and five Blessings. The back of the rulebook gives you a suggested starting deck, but in Harsk’s case, one of the cards they suggested isn’t allowed as a starting card, and another isn’t in the base set. The rulebook is full of all sorts of errors, both typographical, grammatical and mechanical, so be prepared for that. I used the suggested deck as a guideline, but inevitably changed it up a bit. So I then scoured through the other decks I had made, such as the weapon deck, ally deck, item deck, armor deck and blessing deck and got the fifteen cards I wanted. Then I shuffled them, and that was my character deck.
Then you have to make a location deck for each location in the scenario. The number of locations is determined by the number of players. So you look at each set location and read what the deck needs to be. So if I did, say, the Farmhouse location, I’d have to randomly draw three monsters from the monster deck, a barrier from the barrier deck, a weapon from the weapon deck, three items from the item deck, and an ally from the ally deck. Then you shuffle these nine cards together, and that would be my location deck. Repeat for each location and you’re set up. So like I said, there are a lot of decks you have to make, which then go into yet other decks – and all that is before you start playing. Setup can take a while, especially if only one person is doing it. With each scenario lasting thirty minutes to an hour at most, it’s not hard to see why a bulk of your time is just making and shuffling decks.
There’s one more deck to be made though – The blessings deck. This consists of thirty cards, regardless of how many people are playing. Each card from the deck represents a player’s turn, so you have a total of thirty turns to find the big bad of the scenario and take them down. For a one player game, it’s not so bad, as you have a total of three locations with nine cards in each location deck for twenty-seven cards. It’s easily doable. With Harsk in solo play, I found the villain in “Brigandoom!” and won the scenario with a little less than half the blessing deck left. (It helped that the first card I drew in one location was a Henchmen, which let me close that location off…). Now, with four players, you have six locations, or a total of fifty-four cards to get through in thirty turns. That makes things harder. The good news for the larger scale games is that players can help each other, and if they are willing to burn through their character deck, they might be able to pull two or more cards from a location deck in their turn. The catch is that your character deck is your Hit Point equivalent, so once the deck is gone and you are forced to draw… your character dies. With the aforementioned Harsk adventure in solo play, I had a whopping two cards left in my character deck besides the ones in my hand, so I cut it close. Once the adventure was done, I saw the reward was a random item draw, so I got out the item deck, shuffled it and took the top card off the deck. I got a potion of healing! This potion, which is not an item you can start with, would then be able to replace any of the three items in my Character deck in the next scenario I played. Keeping track of your deck and any power-ups you get can be hard, especially if you go days or weeks without playing again, which is why I suggest having a pen and paper to create a character sheet for your warrior of choice. Paizo also offers downloadable character sheets for the game, but you have to go through their website, sign up for an account and download them in their store instead of just having a quick and easy download link. You can also write on the character cards with pencil, but I strongly advise against that.
Playing the game is pretty easy and a lot of fun. On your turn, you flip over the next blessing card from the deck to mark the passage of time. If another player is at the same location as your character, you can give can give them a card from your hand. So for example, if Harsk uncovered an arcane spell and acquired it on his last turn, he could start this next turn by giving it to someone at his location who could use it better. Then you can move to a new location or stay where you are at. Next up on your turn, you can choose to explore, which is revealing the top card on the location deck. If it’s a Bane (enemy, trap or the like), you have to defeat it. If it’s a positive card like an item, weapon, ally or spell, you try to acquire it. After that, you discard down or draw up to your hand size and move on to the next turn. Let’s do an example of each of those acquire/attack sessions, though, to make things more clear.
Harsk is at the Farmhouse and the card he flips over while exploring is a Blast Stone. It’s a neat item that I can add to my deck and use in combat situations. To acquire this, I have to roll a 4 or higher with an Intelligence or Craft check. Well, Harsk doesn’t have the Craft skill, and his Intelligence is a d6, so I have to roll a 4 or higher on a d6 to acquire the item. If I do, it goes in my hand. If I fail, it is banished from the game. I roll that d6 and got a six (YES!), so the item is now mine.
Harsk is at the farmhouse and he unveils a Monster card known as a Sneak. A Sneak requires a 9 or higher in a combat roll to defeat. However, the Sneak has a pre-battle stipulation where I have to make a Wisdom or Perception check at difficulty 8, or I must discard a card from my hand. Harsk’s Wisdom is d6 and he has a +2 to any perception checks, so I must roll a 8 on a 1d6+2. OUCH. I roll a 5, which I add my +2 to, which means I get a 7. I just barely miss. So I must discard one of the cards from my hand. It’s basically taking a point of damage. Now for combat. Harsk has a d8 for Dexterity along with +3 for ranged combat. So I have to roll a 9 or higher with a d8+3, which is hard but doable. I also have a Light Crossbow in my hand, though, which gives me an extra d8 as long as I reveal it (show that I have it and then put it back in my hand). So now, I get to roll 2d6+3, with the end goal being a 9 or higher. My first roll is a 4 and my second is an 8, so my total (with the +3) is a 15. I easily defeat the Sneak. Now, let’s say I had rolled a 1 with that second die. 4+1+3 is only eight, so I would be off the target by one. That means I must get rid of a card. If I had missed by two, I would have to discard two cards from my hand. So on and so forth. By beating the card however, I remove one card from the location deck and get closer to closing the location, finding a henchmen or discovering the big bad behind it all.
What did I mean in the above paragraph when I mentioned closing a location? Well, if you encounter the Villain and beat him, but a location is still open, he, she or it runs away and you have to track them down AGAIN. As your time is very limited in the Pathfinder Adventure Game, you don’t want this, so you want to close locations to prevent the Villain from getting away. If there are no open locations, the villain can’t run away. So if you beat him with all locations but the one you are currently in closed, you finally kill him. If the other locations are closed and you don’t beat him… well at least you know where he is, as he can’t move. To close a location, you have to finish off a location deck, then complete the closing task or encounter a Henchman, beat them and get a chance at closing the location even with location deck cards remaining. In my first ever solo play, a Bandit Henchman was the first card I drew from the top of the deck. I beat it and performed the closing task, at which point the remaining eight cards of the location deck went back in the box. The good news is I saved a lot of time, but the bad news is I missed out on the rewards I could have gotten… like a +1 magic bow that would have helped me later on against a Ghost, which can only be permanently put down by magic. Ah well, I think that closing a location down right away was worth it.
So the game continues until you run out of the blessing deck, kill the big bad or all the PCs are dead. After you beat a scenario, you can either stop for the day or move on to the next scenario, which means remaking your character deck (whittling it back down or up to the starting size), pulling out the new locations for this scenario, making location and blessing decks for the new scenario and repeating the same process. As I’ve said, the game is a lot of fun, but there is limited replay value in the campaign or single session experiences. I wish there was a way to create your own adventures or even have random location and/or villain drawings instead of everything set and somewhat linear. The end result is that the linear nature of published adventures really works in tabletop games… but not so much for a deck building game. Again, I had a lot of fun with the Pathfinder Adventure Card Game, but when you’re done with an adventure or add-on pack, you’re kind of stuck unless you want to start back at square one and play everything in the same exact order you already did the time before, but maybe with new characters or customization this time. Mileage will vary greatly in this respect.
Pro: The best tabletop to card game conversion I’ve ever seen.
Con: Way overpriced for what you get in the box.
Pro: It feels like playing a tabletop RPG what with characters growing and gaining new abilities, feats and powers.
Con: Limited replay value.
Pro: Far easier to learn and far less mechanics than the tabletop version of Pathfinder.
Con: Harder to carry around than a book or PDF, and you can’t buy, say, a replacement card or two if it gets ripped, torn, burned or lost. You have to buy the whole game again.
Pro: You can play the game by yourself, something you can’t really do with the tabletop version of Pathfinder.
Con: There is far less story, setting, background and character development than in a tabletop game.
Pro: Character customization is nicely done (including two prestige classes per character to choose from).
Con: Game requires a lot of setup time; even more so than most deck building games.
Overall, I do feel the good outweighs the bad here, and I strongly prefer the Adventure Card Game to the tabletop min/max’ing and rolling dice for every little thing instead of the actual role-playing experience a lot of people turn Pathfinder into. It’s far easier to teach the card game version to a newcomer than it would be to teach the many tomes of mechanics behind the tabletop version. If you can get the core base set for $35-40 like I did, then yes, by all means, pick this up and try it out. For $60 dollars though, the core set is too expensive for the limited replay value unless you just wanted to play the limited content (eight adventures) over and over with new characters. For the same price, you can get a core rulebook (or two) of a tabletop RPG and make all the adventures you want, get a board game or two with more replay value or buy a video game RPG that will give you 40 or so hours of content instead of the 4 to 8 this game has to offer. I hate sounding that negative about a product I enjoyed, but you do have to consider replay value and cost as well as the fun factor. Again, the good slightly outweighs the bad here, but if the cost drops (especially on the add-ons), one of the big things holding me back from fully recommending this deck building game will dissipate.