Tobold's Blog
Monday, May 02, 2016
Pathfinder Adventure Card Game

When you play a classic board game like Risk or Monopoly, each player starts out exactly the same. The first game I played back in 1983 that didn't work like that was Talisman, where you made a choice of character at the start and it made a difference whether you chose the warrior or the wizard or whatever. It is from there that I went and discovered pen & paper roleplaying games, so I consider it an important step in my gaming evolution.

30 years later, in 2013, the Pathfinder Adventure Card Game was published. If people weren't already surrounded by so many computer roleplaying games, this would be the perfect introduction to the world of tabletop roleplaying games. Of course it doesn't have the free interactive storytelling of a pen & paper RPG, but it has pretty much everything else: Players with different character classes forming an adventuring group to fight fantasy villains cooperatively with swords & sorcery. There are different scenarios and the DM is replaced by setting up decks of cards according to the scenario and then shuffling those decks to not be too predictable. That way you can even play solo against the scenario. And it is possible to level up your heroes and keep playing them in a campaign. So in many ways the Pathfinder Adventure Card Game is closer to Dungeons & Dragons than for example World of Warcraft is.

I am currently playing the computer version of the game, called Pathfinder Adventures. At least for solo play that is better than the card version, because it takes less table space, and you don't need to shuffle decks all the time. The computer keeps track of everything for you. And as a replacement for the card version, the computer game is actually quite good, even if it has some bugs and is really complicated for a game running on a tablet.

One thing it took me quite a while to figure out was how many characters I was supposed to put into my group. A typical scenario gives you 30 turns to complete, but each character uses up one turn every time you play, so with larger groups you get less turns per player. As in the free version of the computer game you start having access to only 2 characters, playing a group of 2 appears to be the obvious choice. And you notice that if you add more players, you get more locations to complete in each scenario, so it appears that the game becomes harder: 1 player needs to beat 3 locations (30 cards), with 2 players its 4 locations (40 cards), and so on until 6 players with 8 locations and 80 cards. So playing a group of 4 to 6 characters means having only 30 turns to explore 60 to 80 cards, and that appears very difficult.

However each location has either the main villain or a henchman among the 10 cards, and if you beat them you can close that location without having to play the remaining cards there. So on average you only need 5.5 explorations per location, which for 4 players gives you 33 explorations in 6 locations. As some cards allow you to explore more than once per turn, that is quite doable. And it turns out that if you spread out your characters, you can win the game even earlier: When you find the main villain, you can "temporarily close" locations where one of the characters is. So if you have at least 2 locations already permanently closed and your characters are distributed to cover all the remaining locations, you can win way before the 30 turns.

So after some playtesting it turns out that playing a group of 4 is actually easier than playing a group of 2. The reason for that is that in the Pathfinder Adventure Card Game your deck is also your hit points. If you play a card that is discarded (as opposed to one that is "recharged", going back into your deck), your diminishing your character's health. Playing with only 2 characters means that every character gets 15 turns, and needs to be very conservative with his cards to not run out of cards and die. With 4 characters, each character only gets 8 turns maximum, so there is a lot more flexibility and less chance to run out of cards.

I bought the $25 bundle for the computer game, which gives me all the characters and all the adventures. That is cheap compared to buying the same content in card form, which would be over $200, but of course is expensive for a tablet game. You can play the computer game for free and earn gold with which to unlock the adventures and characters. But as I said, playing with 2 characters is maybe not optimal, so it would take some grinding with the starting thief and cleric combo to earn gold to unlock more characters. Paying at least $5 to get the gold to buy a tank and a mage is probably the better option.

I would very much recommend the Pathfinder Adventure Card Game as an introduction to pen & paper roleplaying. Depending on the circumstances you might prefer the card version to play with friends, or the computer version for solo play (or if you want to try the game for free or cheap). However this comes with the caveat that while Pathfinder Adventure Card Game has less rules than the Pathfinder RPG or Dungeons & Dragons, there are still a lot of rules. The computer version takes care of many of those rules and thus is good for learning the game, but it remains relatively complex and complicated compared to other games you might have running on your tablet.

Is this available for PCs or only tablets? You seemed to be implying that it was available for PC, but I couldn't find any sign of that on their website?
Currently only on iOS or Android. Apparently the PC version will be on Steam somewhere next year.
By the way, if you can't wait, you can play Android games on your PC with an emulator.
I wonder if it contains any scythes that do nothing much then massive damage? >:) Probably not
Not all classic board games are symmetric: for example, Fox And Geese.
My D&D4 group has moved to playing this. As the DM for the group, I've been completely slammed for time and have been unable to prep, so we've taken a break from D&D proper, and spent some time doing boardgaming. PACG came up, we've tried it and have been having fun with it for the past few months. For me, it's been wonderful getting a chance to play alongside instead of "against" my group. A wonderful vacation from D&D. Now if I can just get enough time to prep again...
Started playing this, and it is pretty fun even if it wrecks my Kindle's battery life.

The thing that took me off guard at first was the idea that your hand size is also a vulnerability. Strong, tanky characters have less cards in their hand, which means less flexibility...but also a lot less danger.

The first scenario I got wrecked when my cleric ran into an explosive runes at the very start, rolled some 1s, and discarded her entire hand of 6 cards, including my heal. She lasted 2 or so more turns before losing another fight and promptly dying. I was pretty blindsided by that. There is definitely some learning curve that isn't quite explained so much as thrown at you.
Actually, I have a question since you are playing there some way to trade cards between player characters? In that first losing campaign, my rogue found a cache of four weapons and apparently gets to keep them. As awesome a Longsword +1 and a spiked chain are, she only has 2 weapon slots and the crossbows seem super useful. But my cleric sure could use some other weapons...
There are two ways to trade cards: During a scenario at the start of the turn, if both characters are at the same location you cab press the first icon (purple cards) on the top right of the screen to trade a card. And after a scenario finishes and you discard extra cards, you can then select the other character and pick those cards up.

Note that playing a scenario isn't always about winning. Think of two extreme cases: All the villains and henchmen are on top of their location decks, or they are all at the bottom. In the first case you can win quickly, but you don't find any new cards. The second case is automatic loss, but you did draw cards for 30 turns and might have found a lot of nice new ones.
Hmmm, thanks. The interface is quite confusing about things, so I am not sure if I discarded those weapons at the end or kept them but on the rogue. It did prompt me to move cards out of her deck at the end because I had more than the max number of weapon cards but I'll be damnded if I had any idea what I was doing beyond moving them to the bottom of the screen.

Do you have to juggle an exact amount of cards in each character's deck or can they stock cards that aren't in their "active" deck? It's really hard to decide what I should be using, what is valuable, etc, especially since most cards can be used multiple ways.

Blah, I have other questions but I don't want to bog down your comments with them. Guess I have to learn the hard way.

Feel free to send me an e-mail with your questions.

You have to juggle an exact number of cards in each character's deck. If you start a new story group, you can use the big button in the lower right corner of the world map to select the starting cards you want, but only before you start playing the first scenario. This is highly recommended, e.g. for giving the thief two light crossbows instead of dagger and darts, or for giving your spellcasters more useful spells like Cure or spells doing damage instead of utility spells.
I played the card version of this, and the main issue I had with that was that it did a very poor job in telling the story of the adventure you were having. Who are all these characters you're fighting? Why is one of the locaitons the glassworks? The app does a better job of that, but there are some very good resources on boardgamegeek to help fill in background, such as this one

The other main advantages for me are set up time (can be significant with all the card decks to set up) and cost, the app is 10% of the cost of all the cards.
I had no idea you could tailor your deck at the start! I will do this now I have purchased the bundle :)
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