This Year’s New (to Me) Boardgames, Vol III: Pathfinder Adventure Card Game

I played even fewer games in the third quarter of 2013 than in the second. And with only a couple of exceptions, none of them really wowed me. New titles were Qwixx, Medici, Tzolk’in: The Mayan Calendar, Divinare, Sushi Go!, Via Appia, The Great Zimbabwe, and Trains. Of those, I liked The Great Zimbabwe and Medici. The others were okay, nothing special. There was nothing there I really disliked. However, I’m not here today to talk about any of those, but another new one I played.

The Pathfinder Adventure Card Game is an odd thing. It’s a cooperative card game based on the Pathfinder RPG (which, I’ve never played, but from what I can tell, is Dungeons and Dragons 3.5 but without anything that WOTC has copyrighted). Your characters head out to track down some villain and his henchmen. There are various locations that have to be searched and secured, or else when you do find the villain, he’ll just run off to another place. All of this is happening in a set number of turns, after which the heroes lose. In that respect it’s like a million other fantasy games.

What’s different is how PACG handles this. Each character is a deck of cards consisting of weapons, armor, items, spells, allies, and so forth. You either construct these decks in specified ways or build them yourself following easy construction rules. Each character also has a stat card saying what her abilities are. On your turn you’ll encounter other cards such as monsters, barriers, or loot, and you’ll fight, overcome, or acquire them. Loot goes right into your hand and immediately helps beef up your character. That’s still not completely novel, but here’s the part that is: you keep those characters and their loot from game to game. Along the way you’ll toss out your basic starting equipment in favor of the new stuff you’ve gotten. Some items can only be used once per game. Some items, once they’re used, that character can’t get them back at all. You can also level up your characters, increasing their skills and abilities.

Within the cards are scenarios, which are a single attempt at a villain. Multiple scenarios make up an Adventure, and multiple Adventures make up an Adventure Path. It really is an adventure system in a box, with all kinds of potential.

Matt got the game and we cautiously tried it out the same night. Turns out the rules are actually pretty simple, it’s the card interactions where things sometimes get hairy. We were able to complete a scenario that same night, even going through the rules first. We won that scenario, and were a little put off by how easily we did so until we found out that there’s a very unfortunate typo on one of the main cards. The game is much harder when you play that card correctly, and things haven’t been as easy since (we won again last night but were helped some by the fact that I sort of cheated through the first part of a game because I read a card wrong. In our defense, I don’t think the mistake affected that much.) Unlike a lot of co-op games, though it’s difficult, the difficulty isn’t really the main appeal. The focus is instead on the adventure. In fact, if you fail, you still keep all the loot you got, and you can consider it “grinding” in the way you can do in a videogame (unless you die, then that character has to start over.)

There’s really not a whole lot to Pathfinder, but it’s a lot of fun. It doesn’t make a lot of sense (if I have a crossbow, why can’t I use it until it gets in my hand?) but you still get the feeling of, if not an entire storyline, individual scenes unfolding. It reminds me a lot of the dumb, exploring fun of Talisman, only without the way that Talisman kind of gets old long before the game is over.

The other interesting thing about Pathfinder is that you can play it solo. This is something I’ve never been inclined to do before; I’m usually wary of games that even have solo rules. But sure enough, earlier today I ordered a copy with the intention of playing it solo. I can see the appeal there. (My only wish, and I know it’s falling on deaf ears, is: why can’t we have this kind of game but with a setting that doesn’t include wizards and goblins?)

Lord knows I don’t need any more games for which I can buy extra cards. I’m already drowning in Thunderstone and Nightfall. But man, I can’t wait to dig into this. And if they were to make an iPad version? Let’s just say that Paizo Publishing should be very interested in making an iPad version.

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