Pathfinder: Adventure Card Game Review

Pathfinder Adventure Card Game in play

In my opinion, one of last year's most anticipated titles was Pathfinder: Adventure Card Game. And, after a friend told me about how much he enjoyed it, I decided to try it out.

In Pathfinder, you take control of a (wimpy) character, and you go on adventures (hence the name).  Your specific adventures will be to go around to various locations, hunt down an evil villain (while thwarting his henchmen), and bring him to justice.  Along the way, you may get loot!  (Let's not ask questions like "where is this loot coming from?" or "is my adventurer really a hero if he smashes everything in his path and steals whatever he finds?"  Asking these questions ruin lots of fun games.)  Essentially, the gameplay is very straightforward - each turn you can optionally move, and then you can "encounter" a card at a location.  This location might be a monster, item, weapon, armor, spell, or blessing.  Whatever the card is, you will either have to defeat it, or (if it is some form of loot) you will have an opportunity to add it to your hand.  Either of these things requires you to pass a skill check.  Skill checks are based on rolling a die (which die depends on your character's abilities), and then getting bonuses and additional dice if cards are played.  After rolling all of your dice, if the total value that you rolled equals or exceeds the difficulty of the check, then the check is passed (monster defeated or loot acquired).  While going around to the locations, you are ultimately trying to defeat all of the henchmen (which allows you to "close" locations), and once all of the locations but one are closed, you defeat the villain in order to win.  (Note: I've used the term "loot" here as a generic term to mean "sweet stuff that you might acquire", though there is an official card type in the game called "Loot" (which is something cool that you can acquire).  Perhaps I should have used "booty" instead, but the phrase is "loot and pillage", not "booty and pillage.")

My first pro for Pathfinder is the looting.  I love looting things.  (In games!  Not in real life.  Sheesh…)  The first time that I was able to get my wife (girlfriend at the time) to play video games was in Gauntlet: Dark Legacy.  What appealed to her about it?  It was very straightforward - kill the bad guys, and collect cool rewards while doing it.  That is the formula for the Pathfinder card game, and it works fairly well.  What's more, through the deck allowances (or whatever they're called), the game does a good job of letting you loot while still keeping your character true to their nature.  For example, if I am a wizard, then I can keep a lot of spells in my deck - I can gain weapons and such, and I won't (always) just throw them in the trash while we are adventuring, but at the end of each scenario I will have to adjust my deck back to something that is legal for my character.  This is a great balance.

My second pro for Pathfinder is the customization that you perform while playing the game.  You start with a wimpy character and very basic cards.  However, as you play through different scenarios, you will get both loot and character rewards.  The loot allows you to customize (improve) what is in your deck.  If you like to play the "Hulk Smash" character, then you can add all of the gigantic weapons that you find, and replace the smaller daggers and short swords.  If you like to play as the dryad/animal adept character, then you can switch out which animal allies you have to work well with your style of gameplay.  However, in addition to customizing your deck, you also get other rewards as you play the game.  Some scenarios (or adventure paths (which is a set of scenarios)) will give you character bonuses - such as your character getting a permanent +1 bonus to a skill, being able to hold additional cards of a certain type, or getting special abilities.  However, the bonuses that you get are infrequent enough that you probably won't get to upgrade everything (at least not for quite a while).  So, you must pick how you want to play your character.

Another image of the Pathfinder card game
Cards and piles everywhere!
The two pros that I just mentioned really both blend together for the key pro for the game - Pathfinder ("Adventure Card Game") is very engaging.  You become attached to your character as you play.  You see them improve, and you want to keep playing so that you can try to add more stats to them, and to improve their stash of cards.  I found myself generally wanting to play "just one more" scenario as I was playing the game.  (As a note - you can actually play the game as just a single scenario instead of taking a character through the various adventure paths, but that doesn't really have any appeal to me at all.)  However, if you truly play the game by the rules, then if your character "dies" (runs out of their deck of cards during a scenario), then you are supposed to completely start over with a different character, thereby losing all of your customizations.  I haven't had my character die quite yet, but I'm not convinced that I'm going to do that instead of just restarting the scenario.

However, as great as the pros are, there are some equally strong cons.  The first con is that there are massive rules ambiguities and places where the game is unclear.  Even some of the things that are covered (such as evading) are covered so briefly that it is almost impossible to find the rule that you're unsure about in the rulebook.  Pros and cons are often hard to quantify, but take this into consideration: according to my colleague from Board Game Quest, BoardGameGeek had 600 rules questions within the first two months of the game's release.  Ouch!

The next con for me is that all of the adventures are the same.  Honestly, I'm going to give them the benefit of the doubt for now, and assume that this will only be true in the base game.  However, in all eight of the scenarios included in the base game, you are playing with the same formula - setup locations, close all of the locations and then defeat the villain.  Whereas this works, variety is important for ensuring that the game has lasting appeal.  (And, based on the fact that they are already planning five more expansions, I would say that they are banking on the game having lasting appeal.)  The game that Pathfinder is most often compared with is Lord of the Rings LCG.  But, one big difference is that Lord of the Rings has used it's formula of going through objective cards in a variety of very different ways - even in the base set.  So far, Pathfinder does not have that diversity - and unless it starts to have some diversity in the upcoming expansions, I do not think that it will have the longevity of Lord of the Rings.

My final con for Pathfinder deals with quality of components.  Before I even started playing the game, I had some cards that were marked, and others where the printing simply wasn't clean.  This is very disappointing as Paizo is generally a very high quality publisher.

Overall, I give Pathfinder an 8.0/10.  I love the looting and customization of the game, but, as with Risk: Legacy, I find myself enjoying these meta-game elements more than the game itself.  (Though to a much lesser degree than with Risk: Legacy.)

If Pathfinder: Adventure Card Game sounds interesting, you might also check out Dungeon Command, Mice and Mystics, and Dungeon Lords.

1 comment:

  1. I found it fine when my mate bought it and tried it out with the basic scenario. The rulebook is bad though and for me, I'm opposed to buying it for myself due to (a) the cost sink for having to keep expanding it and (b) the theme issue where all you are doing is flipping cards from location decks, wash rinse repeat.