Pathfinder Adventure Card Game Review
Looking for Rules?
This review doesn't focus on rules explanation as much as my overall impressions of the game. If you're looking for a review that goes in-depth with the rules, you can easily find them online!
What Is It?
Pathfinder is a tabletop roleplaying game based on a modified version of Dungeons and Dragons 3rd Edition. The company that makes it, Paizo, creates many RPG products, including comic books and novels. The Pathfinder Adventure Card Game (PACG) marks the first time they've tried to break into the world of card games.
The game itself comes in a colossal box. It's got almost 500 cards in the base set. By the time all of the expansions are in the box, that number will be well over 1200 and the box will weigh the better part of fifteen pounds (6.8kg). In fact, the game itself is designed to be the first part of a year-long series of game expansions. Paizo plans on releasing a new "adventure path" every two months. This may seem like a clever way to get your money, because it is. They're confident that people will like the game with this kind of up-front investment. But will we?
Each player takes control of a character from the Pathfinder universe. There's a warrior, ranger, wizard, sorceress and many others. These characters have built-in specializations and abilities. A Warrior is better at breaking things and combat in general, while a Rogue is better at disarming traps and evading monsters.
You play the game by going through Adventure Paths, which is a three-tiered adventure system. From top to bottom you have:
1: The Adventure Path: Think of this as an entire television series, from the pilot to the finale.
2: The Adventure: These are like a season within that series, complete with story arcs and twists.
3: The Scenario: These make up the individual "episodes" of a TV show.
This structure is also how characters get rewarded for completing adventures, since there's no XP to track.
A typical adventure sends characters to several locations to search for (and kill) villains and henchmen. Each scenario has a different villain. For instance, in one scenario, the villain is a bandit leader whose henchmen are (surprise!) bandits. Another has a massive dragon villain with ancient skeleton minions. There's a nice sense of variety between missions. Others mix things up by having you race to recruit allies or save villagers before their town sinks into a swamp.
Once at a location, the character flips the top card and resolves it via a skill check. All the characters have a card depicting their stats, so you just roll the appropriate die to see if you win the item or kill the bad guy, then end your turn.
There are three ways to lose this game: Either by running out of time, having all of your characters die (and yes, death is permanent) or by players forfeiting a scenario. Whichever happens, you can always try again later (though if your character dies, you lose all of your loot and levels).
Is It A "Deckbuilder?"
People have referred to this game as a "deckbuilding game," but I think that's incorrect. Building your deck isn't part of the gameplay, but rather something that happens after. It's not like Magic the Gathering where you can optimize your deck between games; you're limited to what you find during gameplay.
In other words, no. Not in the traditional sense.
Perhaps the best (and certainly most popular) feature of the game is how your characters progress. Since all of the character abilities are represented by the cards in their decks, improvement comes in the form of better cards. After you complete an adventure, players are allowed to freely trade everything they acquired during the session. It gives a real sense of camaraderie when you can give a magical crossbow to someone who can really use it. Even if you don't personally get a single upgrade, the strength of the group as a whole has increased. I've never seen anything like it.
The other way to level up is by completing scenarios, adventures and adventure paths, with rewards for each "tier" of adventure. In the box you get eight complete scenarios, each of which grants cool rewards when you finish them. Some rewards allow you to check the little boxes on your character card, improving your rolls in a big way. It's very rewarding and really connects you to your character, perhaps even more than Descent 2E's ability cards.
Who Is This For?
If you're already in an RPG group, you can probably skip this game. It's not an RPG in a box, but rather an RPG-flavored card game. If you're a person who no longer has time to play RPGs, this might be a good way to scratch that itch in dramatically less time.
It It Fun?
On the surface, this might seem boring. After all, you're just flipping a card and rolling dice, right? Well, yes, but there are lots of things that can happen. This might be categorized as a "push your luck" game that rewards resource and risk management. Your cards are your health, which means you have to walk the line between playing a lot of them during your turn and reserving for the really "big" enemies.
There are a variety of skill checks and challenges, meaning you have to figure out which characters will be better for the location. There are also cards called "blessings" that can be played to help others. It helps reduce a problem some cooperative games have where one player dictates everyone else's move. This game keeps players asking, "what can we do right now to win while keeping our good stuff for later?" Because you KNOW that villain is out there and you'd really, really like to have your +2 Longsword when you find him.
It's almost hard to describe why this game is so entertaining. It has the emotional highs and lows of a good RPG but without a GM or the typical time commitment. It's got a similar feeling to proper Pathfinder without requiring players to know anything about the universe or system. In my first game, we played for three hours straight. I wasn't planning on doing that; after all, the game only takes about forty minutes to play. Like Civilization's famous "one more turn" gameplay, the PACG has a "one more scenario" feeling that might even motivate you to play it solo to improve your deck. There's always more loot to collect, a deck to refine and skills to unlock. I can't wait to play the rest of the expansions.
PACG vs Pathfinder RPG (MSRP)
Pathfinder Adventure Card Game
Base Set: $59.99
Core Book: $49.99
Character Expansion: $19.99
Player's Handbook: $39.99
5 Adventure Expansions: 19.99/ea
Pros and Cons
+ Simple to teach
+ Fun, fast gameplay
+ Character customization and persistence
+ Box is designed to fit all cards from the entire product cycle
- Can take some time to set up
- Fairly long wait between adventure deck expansions