The Pathfinder Adventure Card Game is deck building and narrative card game set in the world of Golarion and based on the Pathfinder RPG. I've owned the base set for a few years now, and I've played a few scenarios with friends, and once we got up to speed on how it worked, we enjoyed it. I've been meaning to play through an entire adventure for years now, but until recently I just haven't had the physical space to set the game up and leave it "running" over the course of the weeks it would take to complete the story. Having set up my new office space, however, I built in room for an ongoing game, whether it's Pathfinder Adventure Card Game, Dungeoneer, Dark Cults, or anything else I happen to try. So I've started the Rise of the Runelords adventure, and I've decided to keep a log of how each scenario goes.
Pathfinder Adventure Card Game is a unique game, and I love analysing its, frankly, ingenious design. I could go on and on in my praise, but for now I'll only describe briefly how it works so that someone who's never played it can imagine basically what playing this game is like.
The idea of the game is to replicate a pen-and-paper role-playing game. I often think the game designer accidentally invented a blueprint that's arguably better than existing delivery methods for RPG adventures. The elegance of an entire adventure being detailed on a set of playing cards is hard to beat. It manages to explain everything that's required, without the pages and pages of prose to read through. Here's how it works.
So the premise is set by each scenario card ("Protect Sandpoint from a goblin raid!") and the story is told by the location decks. It's streamlined and efficient, and perfectly captures the spirit of an RPG without a DM, without needing anyone to play with, without lengthy prose and source books, and without extensive character sheets and game notes.
If you're looking for a solo RPG experience, or a fun multi-player RPG-like experience, then this should be near the top of your list.
If you've ever played through Rise of the Runelords, then you already know the story of the game, so it's no surprise that this adventure opens with goblins raiding the town of Sandpoint. As a soon-to-be local hero, you must defend the town by clearing out each location until you find and defeat the goblin leader.
I'm playing this solo because I seem to be more fond of complex card games than anyone I have on hand to play along with me. I've played a scenario or two solo before, and found the strictly solo experience a little lacking, so this time around I chose to play two characters (Valeros the fighter and Seoni the Sorcerer). This goes against everything I normally believe about game play: I usually hate it when a game requires players to add an extra invisible player for a game to work, but in this case I find it more engaging to play twice.
Having two characters means you get to add more locations, and it also means you get to play more options. For instance, there wouldn't be much spell casting with Valeros, and likewise melee attacks aren't quite Seoni's area of expertise. Playing both means I get to draw from more decks. Maybe because I DM a D&D game every week, I have the expectation of running more than one creature, or maybe it's my experience with the parties of video game RPGs and Magic the Gathering.
The first scenario is pretty brutal. It's got a lot of henchmen, a double big boss (as it turns out, the goblin leader is riding a giant lizard, so you must defeat both). To add insult to injury (actually, injury to injury), your character takes 1 damage every time you kill a creature with the goblin sub-type (because the goblins actively setting fire to the town). There's a lot happening in this scenario, and it kept my two characters very busy. Luckily, Seoni found the boss pretty early, and Valeros was able to close his location so the boss couldn't escape to it. However, the boss did escape to a third location, so I had to hurry to close locations before uncovering the boss again to ensure that the final fight would indeed be final.
There are only 30 rounds to each scenario, so turn economy is absolutely vital. I was a little too aggressive, in retrospect. I had Seoni discard blessing card after blessing card to get bonus exploration actions, trying to get through each location quickly. In the end, this meant that Seoni's HP (which is represented by the player deck) was very low by the end of the game. In fact, she technically died, but I didn't want to give her up entirely because she's one of my favourite iconic Pathfinder characters, so I ruled that when Valeros drew a potion of healing, he administered it to her and got her back on her feet. I believe the rules as written don't allow for that, but I'm the only one playing, so I let it happen. Seoni failed to kill the big boss, but after many power-ups, Valeros was able to bring the scenario to a close.
Using Seoni's blessing cards as free exploration was smart, but I should have been buffing her from Valeros's deck to make up for the loss.
Neither character deck was optimal. I gave Valeros way too much armour (which acts like healing in this game), and I didn't give Seoni near enough healing or card recharges. I was using the same logic I would use in building Pathfinder characters, because I'd forgotten that the character deck also serves as HP in the card game. I have the option of rebuilding the character decks before the next scenario, which I'll definitely do.
The first scenario puts you right into the thick of it. Big baddies, lots of goblins, lots of damage, resource management, HP stress, big rewards. No complaints. This is a big and bold way to start the game.
In retrospect, I should have played the adventure included in the base set first, just to get myself back up to speed.
My character decks would have been better for it.
However, I did survive with only a little bit of
cheating healing required, and I've learned some valuable deck building lessons.
Next scenario, I'll be ready.