(2013 – Paizo Publishing)
Role-playing in tabletop format saw an early insurgence in the mid 1970’s with the publication of Gary Gygax and Dave Arneson’s Dungeons & Dragons RPG system. Players were able to customize a personal character with race, class, and attribute characteristics, taking these characters on various adventures, upgrading their skills along the way, while making different decisions based on their character’s personalities. Gamers were introduced with a completely new immersive experience, and one that continues as an ever-expanding genre in the gaming community today.
Published in 2009, the Pathfinder Roleplaying Game was published by Paizo Publishing, modifying the rules based on the Revised 3rd edition (version 3.5) Dungeon & Dragons rule set. Beta tested and built around the suggestions and comments from the community on how to improve the old D&D system, Pathfinder was able to streamline many of the issues that people found with the old system and has become one of the most popular RPG systems in the last few years.
In early 2013, Paizo Publishing announced that designer Mike Selinker was working to develop a card game based on the Pathfinder series whose goal was to embody the role-playing system and use the mechanics and elements found in Pathfinder.
– Story Cards
– Character Cards
– Location Cards
– Bane Cards (Villains, Henchmen, Monsters and Barriers)
– Boon Cards (Armor, Weapons, Spells, Blessings, Allies, Items and Loot)
– Set of Dice (d4, d6, d8, d10, and d12)
– Burnt Offerings Adventure Deck
Pathfinder: Adventure Card Game is made up of a series of scenarios that collectively walk through an ongoing story arc, the first of which is entitled Rise of the Runelords. There are 6 adventures that make up the Rise of the Runelords story arc, with 5 individual scenarios included in each adventure. This means that over the course of the Rise of the Runelords storyline, players will be able to take their characters through over 30 individual scenarios. The Pathfinder ACG Base Set comes with 3 introductory scenarios and the 1st of the these 6 Adventures, entitled Burnt Offerings. Subsequent Adventure Decks #2 – 6 will be released over the course of the year, bi-monthly.
Since player characters will increase their attributes, items, and skills over the course of each scenario, cards called Banes (Villains, Monsters, Henchmen, and Barriers) and Boons (Armor, Weapons, Spells, Blessings, Allies, Items, and Loot) will both increase in power and difficulty with each Adventure. Cards are broken into different tiers, and as Adventures are completed and the next introduced, the lower tiered item cards are replaced with higher tiered item cards in order for the difficulty level to scale appropriately with the increased character’s abilities. While this review will basically discuss everything revolved around the Base Set, I felt it was important to briefly mention how uniquely the game can adjust and scale itself during the further adventures.
In each scenario of Pathfinder ACG, players will cooperatively work to complete a certain objective (usually the destruction of a particular Villain, or Boss) before either all the players have died, or time has run out and the Villain escapes. A number of locations are available for players to explore that may provide new Boons to add to a character’s arsenal, but a majority of time they will include Banes that a character must deal with, including the final Villain himself. Each scenario comes with particular rules and setup that are unique to that particular scenario, so while the setup for each scenario is somewhat similar, the gameplay and feel of each session is quite varied. For the most part, players must work together to close the various locations in order to corner the Villain and defeat him.
I.) Insert Setup:
Before starting the initial introductory scenario for Pathfinder ACG, it’s a good idea to assemble the various cards into individual decks. Because particular card types are meant to be drawn at certain points in the game, the game’s box insert is designed to house all of the individual card types separately. It is a massive, well designed insert that will make setup and gameplay flow very easily. There are four main sections to the insert.
The top area houses all 6 of the Adventure Decks as well as the Character Add-On Pack, should a player wish to add them (Adventure Deck #1 – Burnt Offerings is included with this Base Set).
The two column sections of the bottom left area of the insert houses all of the Character cards, Story cards, Location cards and all of the individual Bane decks, which include the Villains, Monsters, Henchmen, and Barriers.
The two column sections of the bottom right area of the insert will individually house all of the Boon cards, which include Armor, Weapons, Spells, Blessings, Allies, Items, and Loot.
Finally, the top right area of the insert are areas to keep player’s Character decks. A deck of cards is created for each Character upon their initial scenario. As players continue through the Rise of the Runelords story, they will keep their same deck from scenario to scenario, adventure to adventure, working to strengthen the items and abilities in this deck. So, the insert is designed to hold these cards in a separate area for each player’s character.
II.) Scenario Setup:
Each scenario is set up according to the number and type of locations tied to that particular scenario. There are 3 cards which will reference the current story arc, the current adventure, and the current scenario that players are completing. As seen below, the current Adventure Path is the Rise of the Runelords story arc.
This card lists the 6 Adventures that make up the Rise of the Runelords story. The next card references the current Adventure for the session and lists the various scenarios that make up this Adventure. The final card references which of these particular scenarios that players are currently making their way through. Each time players sit down to play a game of Pathfinder ACG, they will set up the game according to the rules and locations of that single scenario.
On the back of each scenario card is a list of locations that are to be used during setup. The number of locations are dependent upon the number of players in the game. The scenario card lists which locations to use according to how many players there are. Taking a look at the 1st intro scenario in the Base Set, “Briganddoom!”, we see that for a 3-player game, the Woods, the Waterfront, the Farmhouse, the Wooden Bridge, and the Academy locations are required. If a player was doing a solo-run through this scenario, only the first 3 of the these locations would have been used.
Before we set out the locations, we first need to construct a deck that will act as the timer for the game. We’ll discuss the further use of this deck later on, but to begin, 30 random cards are drawn from the Blessings deck from the box insert, shuffled and placed face down as a Draw Deck. The first thing that a player will do on his turn is to flip over 1 card from this Deck. If players have not completed the scenario objectives by the time this Deck runs out, the players lose.
Next, the locations being used for the current scenario are spread evenly around the Blessings Draw Deck. Each location has a reference list on it as to what types and amount of cards make up this location. These are then randomly drawn from the respective decks in the box insert, shuffled together, and placed in front of each location.
For instance, the Woods location deck would be comprised of 4 Monsters, 2 Barriers, 1 Weapon, and 2 Items.
Now that the locations and their individual decks have been created, the boss (Villain) and his henchmen must be added. The type of Villain and Henchman are listed on the front of the current scenario card. Each location will contain 1 one of these cards.
(Though it may be hard to see here, the Villain type and Henchman type are listed below the main picture on the scenario card.)
In this scenario, Jubrayl Vhiski is the current Villain, joined by a henchmen group of Bandits. Since there are 5 locations, the Villain card and 4 Bandit cards are drawn from the box insert and shuffled together. Then one of these cards is placed on top of each location deck. Then each location deck is shuffled. We now know that Jubrayl Vhiski is secretly at 1 of the 5 possible locations, with his Bandits at the other 4, however we are not sure which one.
For the most part, the scenario is set and ready for play. However, for the initial game, players still need to select their character and build their character’s deck.
III.) Character Setup:
The Base Set comes with a total of 7 characters to choose from. Ezren (Wizard), Harsk (Ranger), Kyra (Cleric), Lem (Bard), Merisel (Rogue), Seoni (Sorcerer), and Valeros (Fighter).
Each of these characters come with a corresponding player token card as a reference for which location the character currently resides, as well as a set of character cards referencing their individual stats and attributes. We’ll only focus on the 1st character card for this review, as the 2nd one corresponds with when players can choose a particular role for their character, which won’t take place until that character has completed the 3rd Adventure of Rise of the Runelords.
The back side of each character card shows which types of cards can make up that character’s deck and how many of each card can be chosen. There are a variety of cards in the box insert that players can choose from to make up their deck. However, only “basic” cards can be chosen when creating this character’s deck. This is notated on the top left corner of each Boon card.
For instance, looking at Seoni’s character card, we see that her character deck can contain 3 Spells, 3 Items, 4 Allies, and 5 Blessings. She starts with no Weapons and no Armor. Numbers listed to the right of these initial amounts represent how a character can increase the types and quantity of each card their deck can hold. These can be increased in different ways throughout the Adventure. Though characters can acquire items, armor, weapons, etc during a scenario, they must reset their deck accordingly based on the character’s card limitations before starting the next scenario.
For Seoni’s initial character deck, we have chosen to give her the following cards:
Spells – Arcane Armor, Cure, and Force Missile
Items – Blast Stone, Bracers of Protection, and Potion of Fortitude
Allies – Night Watch, Sage, Standard Bearer, Troubadour
Blessings – 5 copies of Blessing of the Gods
Players will then shuffle these cards to create their character deck. Each card in the deck also represents a single point of health for the character. Therefore, if a character’s deck is ever completely depleted before the end of the game, that character has died. Hand and deck management amongst these cards is highly important. Before the game begins, players can set the token card representing their character below any of the available location decks. This will represent at which location that character is currently in. There is no limit to the number of characters that can be in any one location at the same time.
At the end of setup, the play area should look something similar to this:
During a game of Pathfinder ACG, each player will complete a turn before play moves clockwise to the next player. Each character card references the amount of cards that a character can hold at the end of their turn. At the beginning of the game, players will draw cards from their character decks equal to the hand size listed on their character cards.
Taking a look at the character cards for Valeros and Ezren, we see that under the Powers section of the character card, Valeros’ base hand size is 4 cards, while Ezren’s base hand size is 6 cards.
During a player’s turn, cards can be played from his Hand in various ways according to the text description on the card. In general, these are the basic ways in which cards can be played:
– Reveal a card: The actions on these cards can be used continuously as long as they are in a player’s Hand. The player will basically reveal the card, then once the action is taken, place the card back into his Hand.
– Discard a card: Sometimes an action may require you to discard a number of cards from your Hand (such as taking damage from an enemy), while some cards may require you to discard them in order to take the action off of the card. These cards are placed into a discard pile and can not be used again by a player, unless a special action (such as healing) allows for it.
– Recharge a card: While some actions will force players to discard a card, some cards may give players the opportunity to attempt the “recharge” ability before doing so. If the player is able to complete the recharge successfully, the card can be placed on the bottom of the Character deck as opposed to being discarded.
– Bury a card: This is a similar action to discarding a card, however when a card is asked to be buried, it is placed under the character card. While it is considered out of play for the rest of the scenario, much like a discarded card, it can not be retrieved when taking actions such as healing (healing will allow players to pull cards from their discard pile and place them back into their Character deck). Buried cards will be added back into the Character’s deck at the end of the scenario, so that it may be used in the next scenario.
– Banish a card: When a card is banished, it is placed back into the box insert and is no longer considered part of a Character’s deck. Also, enemy cards are banished to the box once they are defeated.
Taking a look at the Guard Ally card, we see that a player can either Recharge the card by placing it from their hand to the bottom of their Character deck. When doing so, that player may roll an extra 6-sided dice when performing a Perception skill check (which I’ll cover later). Or the play can choose to banish the card by removing it from their hand and placing it back into the game box. This allows the player to reduce 3 damage dealt to a Character.
On their turn, players can take various actions that may give them the opportunity to play cards from their Hand. The only required action that a player has to do on their turn is flip a card from the Blessings Deck. All other actions are optional. Remember that there are 30 cards that make up the Blessings Deck, therefore each player’s turn makes up 1 of these possible 30 turns in a game before time runs out. Actions are taken in the following specified order (seen below) according to the rules.
1.) Discard a Card from the Blessings Deck – This will always be the first action taken by a player on their turn and is always required. While the Blessing Deck’s mainly functions as the game’s timer, there is also importance as to which card is face-up on top of this discard pile at a given time. Any player that currently has a Blessing of the Gods card in their hand has the option of playing it as if it was the current Blessing face up on top of the Blessing discard pile.
As I’ll explain later, certain cards must be discarded upon use. This is true with all Blessing cards. However, if the current Blessing being used by a player matches the Blessing type on top of the discard pile, this Blessing can be placed back into a player’s character deck instead of discard. Which basically allows a player to play a Blessing without the loss of a health point.
2.) Transfer a Card (optional) – On his turn, when the character is currently at the same location as another character(s), this player can give 1 of the cards from his hand to the hand of another one of these characters. This action is only limited to once per turn and a card can only be given “from” the character who is currently taking a turn; a card cannot be given “to” him from another character in this way.
It is currently Valeros’ turn, and Seoni and Valeros are both currently together at the Farmhouse location. During a previous turn, Valeros acquired a Holy Light spell. Valeros however is not a spell caster and will never be able to use this card, though he held onto it because it is an Elite rank spell that would be great for Seoni. During his turn at the Academy location, Valeros gives this Holy Light spell card to the player controlling Seoni.
3.) Move (optional) – At this point during a turn, the player can decide to move their Character to any other location space. Players will need to constantly strategize about where characters need to be on the board, whether to aid each other or attempting to close locations separately to trap the Villain.
4.) Explore (optional) – Whether moving to a new location or staying at their previous one, players can choose to explore that location’s deck of cards. When choosing to explore, the player will flip the top card of the location deck and resolve it accordingly.
If the card is a Boon (Armor, Weapon, Spell, Blessing, Ally, Item or Loot) player can attempt to acquire it by making a skill check. Checks are done by rolling dice against the required type of skill and amount needed to obtain it. The skills of each character are listed on their character card, along with the type of dice that can be rolled when checking that skill. Cards can also be played from a player’s hand that can help to increase a particular skill needed for the check.
For instance, Harsk chooses to explore the Wooden Bridge location and flips over the top card on that location’s deck. What a find! An Elven Chain Shirt. To acquire this piece of Armor, we must see what is required.
The Armor’s card list that a check must be made with skills of Constitution and/or Fortitude (listed on the right-hand side of the card). A die roll of 6 or higher must be made for this check to be successful.
We then take a look at Harsk’s character card. Not only does he have the Constitution skill, but he also has the Fortitude skill that will help boost his Constitution. When rolling a check for the Constitution skill, Harsk will roll a 12-sided dice (the largest dice in the game). Since he also has the Fortitude skill, he will add +2 to the 12-sided dice’s roll.
Harsk attempts this check and rolls the dice. He rolls an 5. However, because he also has Fortitude, he will add +2 to his roll, giving him a total of 7. Since this is higher than the required 6 needed to obtain the item, Harsk is now the proud owner of an Elven Chain Shirt. This card is placed into his hand.
Most of the time, characters will come across Bane cards when exploring a location. These can range from Monsters, to Barriers, to Henchmen, or even the Villain himself. While some of these can require a skill check, most of them will require a combat check. Players will play different cards from their hand to help defeat these Bane cards.
Valeros chooses to explore the Waterfront location and is greeted by a Goblin Commando that according to this Monster’s power, will deal 1 damage to Valeros before the encounter begins. The Valeros player must then discard 1 card from this hand to his discard pile (thus losing 1 health point).
A combat check must then be made to see if Valeros is successful in defeating the Goblin Commando. According to the Monster’s card, a die roll of 9 or higher must be rolled to defeat it.
Valeros decides to use his Longsword during this check. According to the text on the card, he only needs to reveal this card and show that he is using it, therefore it does not get discarded from his hand. When revealing the Longsword, if the player is making a Combat Check using the Strength or Melee skills, the player can add an extra 8-sided dice to the roll. He could also choose to discard the Longsword to add an another 6-sided dice to the roll (though he would lose the Longsword and essentially, 1 health point in doing so).
Valeros not only has the Strength skill, but also has Melee. The Strength skill allows him to roll a 10-sided dice during a combat check, with the Melee skill adding 3 to this dice roll. The Longsword allows him to add an additional 8-sided dice to the roll. When rolling these two dice together, he gets a total of 12, plus the 3 additional points from his Melee skill. The total of 15 is far more than needed to defeat the Goblin Commander.
If a combat check is unsuccessful, the difference between the die roll and the number needed to defeat the enemy is the amount of damage that the character takes. The amount of cards in a player’s hand equal to this damage amount has to be discarded by the player. Ultimately, since a player’s cards are part of the characters health, discarding them will lower the character’s health. If for some reason the player ever needs to discard more cards than are in his hand, simply discard the entire hand and ignore the rest of the damage.
When a check on a Boon card is successful, that card is added to the player’s hand. If the check is unsuccessful, the Boon card is removed from the location and placed back into the box insert. When a check on a Bane card is successful, that card is removed and placed into the box insert, while if the check is unsuccessful, it gets shuffled back into the location’s deck.
5.) Closing Locations (optional) – When a Villain is defeated, he can actually escape to another location as long as that location is still active. The only way to kill a Villain is to defeat him when all other locations have been closed. Each location card shows three different characteristics of that particular location: special rules that apply when a character is at this location, special rules that apply when attempting to close the location, and special rules that apply when the location is permanently closed.
Taking a look at the Prison location, a player may attempt a Dexterity or Disable check of 8 or more instead of the usual check required by a Boon card to acquire it. When a player attempts to close the Prison location, he must be successful in doing a Diplomacy or Charisma check of 6 or higher. When closing the location, the closing player may shuffle an Ally card from their discard pile back into their character deck.
A location will automatically close if all the cards of that location’s deck has run out. Otherwise, players may attempt to close a location by defeating either one of the Henchmen cards or the Villain card in that location’s deck, and then completing the “when closing” requirement of the location card. Each Henchman card reminds players of this ability (seen below) when it is defeated.
If a player has defeated a Henchman, but fails the closing requirement on the location card, the only way to close this location is to either get rid of all the cards in the deck or defeat the Villain here. Remember that the Villain will escape to another location if he is defeated but another location is still open, therefore it is possible for a Villain to appear in a location where the Henchman has already been defeated but the location is still open.
Also of note, when a Villain is encountered by a player, all other players can attempt to temporarily close a location that their character currently resides at. Players will attempt to complete the “when closing” requirement, and if successful have temporarily closed that location before the Villain is dealt with. This gives players the opportunity to close out all locations so that the Villain will have nowhere to escape to, though these locations are not considered “permanently closed”, therefore the special rules that apply to a location when it is permanently closed will not apply in this situation. Obviously, if even 1 location other than the one the Villain currently resides in fails to close, the Villain can still escape.
If the Villain does escape, a number of Blessing cards are randomly drawn from the box insert equal to the number of open locations minus 1. For instance, if the Jubrayl Vhiski is defeated in the Woods location (thus permanently closing this location), but the Academy and Wooden Bridge locations are still open, 1 Blessing card is pulled randomly from the box (2 open location minus 1 = 1 Blessings card). The Blessing card(s) are then shuffled with the Villain card and then a card is placed on top of each open location’s deck (these decks are then shuffled). In this way the Villain still remains hidden amongst the open locations.
6.) Check Hand Size – At the end of the player’s turn, he must make sure that the number of cards in his hand equals the character’s Hand Size. If a player has more than the required Hand Size, he must discard down to that number. If he has less than the required number, he must draw from his Character Deck. The player can choose to discard any number of cards from his hand before drawing from the Character Deck. But remember, with each card drawn from the Character’s deck, that character is losing a part of his health.
At the end of the player’s turn, play continues to the next player with that player flipping over a card from the Blessings Deck.
After a scenario has been completed, the scenario card will list any rewards that player may obtain. This can range from randomly acquiring Boons from the box as well as gaining feats. Feats are possible upgrades listed on a character card.
For instance, at the end of introductory Perils of the Lost Coast adventure, players gain a skill feat as a reward.
The Ezren player decides to use this feat to increase his dexterity die rolls by +1. He would then check the appropriate box as reference to this upgrade.
At the end of each scenario, players must also reset their Character decks. As players go through the various scenarios, they will accumulate a fair amount of Boon cards from exploring the various locations. However, players must reset their character decks to their original limits listed on their character card. For instance, remember that we discussed Seoni only being able to hold 3 Spells in her Character deck. While she may gain 2-3 more spells during the course of a scenario, either by exploring locations or gaining them from other players, she would need to discard down to 3 spells at the end of the game.
In a way, this is how Pathfinder ACG treats upgrading. All players start the initial scenario with “basic” Boon cards. During scenarios, player will obtain higher level tiered Boon cards that will eventually replace these Basic ones in their character’s decks. While the character deck limitations and hand size stay the same from scenario to scenario (unless gaining a feat allows you to increase one of these) the power and ability of cards in a character’s deck can increase overall.
Players are also allowed to freely disperse cards they may not want with all other players at the end of a scenario. Think of this as if all the characters are meeting together at the local tavern after their adventure. While characters need to be in the same location during a scenario to give another player a Boon card, this action at the completion of a scenario can be done freely and there is no limit to the amount of cards one player gives another. Do remember however, that after these transfers are complete, players must still discard their character decks down to the limits listed on their character cards.
Players can treat Rise of the Runelords as one long campaign, using the same characters and upgrading their experience and abilities at the completion of each scenario and adventure. Like many RPG’s however, death in the Pathfinder ACG is permanent. Once a character is dead at the end of the scenario (a character is considered dead when they can no longer draw cards from their character deck when needed), that character is permanently dead. Players do not have to begin the Rise of the Runelords story arc from the beginning, though. They can simply create a new character by starting from scratch, using the same character setup rules as before, then continuing to the next scenario. Each adventure deck is numbered 1 through 6. All cards from a particular deck references this number in the top right corner of each card to represent which deck it belongs to (all cards belonging to the base set have a “B“ listed instead of a 1-6).
Looking at the top right-hand corner of the card, we can differentiate that the Archer Ally card is part of the Base Set, while the Grizzled Mercenary Ally card is part of the Burnt Offerings (Adventure Pack 1) set.
When creating a new character during the middle of an adventure, Boon cards can be used to complete the character’s deck can be made up of any Boon cards from adventure decks that are currently 2 levels below the current one being played. For the introduction adventure, as well as the first 2 adventure sets, cards used to build a character’s deck during these adventures are limited to only the cards with the “Basic” trait.
For instance, Merisiel the Rogue has died during a scenario in the 4th adventure set, Fortress of the Stone Giants. The player then decides to build a new character and chooses Lem the Bard. When constructing Lem’s new character deck, this player can choose any Boon cards from the base set, the 1st adventure set (Burnt Offerings) and the 2nd adventure set (The Skinsaw Murders).
Though players have completed the 3rd adventure set (Hook Mountain Massacre), he would not be able to use cards from this set to complete his deck, as the rules state that a new character must use cards from adventure sets that are no less than 2 levels below the current adventure.
Since its major published release in 2009 the Pathfinder role-playing game, like many in the RPG genre, has mainly been limited to dice and pencil & paper driven mechanics mixed with in some cases, miniature style gameplay. The Pathfinder Adventure Card Game however broadens the scope of the franchise in ways that can both appeal to gamers unfamiliar with role-playing games in general, and fans already dedicated to Pathfinder, albeit now with a varied style of gameplay. While essentially a card game at its core, Pathfinder ACG sets out to build on this element while not distancing itself too far from the base mechanics that embody the Pathfinder RPG Core Rulebook.
While not a game that will, in any shape or form, replace the engaging depth of a tabletop RPG, that doesn’t seem to be its purpose. What players will find is a uniquely geared game that presents the RPG genre in a card-based form. Skill and combat checks, gaining feats for upgrades, tiered weapons, armor and spells, as well as all of the lore, characters and settings that can be found in the Pathfinder series are present. For a card based game, the amount of depth in the Base Set alone should encourage gamers interested in ultimately delving into the entire set of Rise of the Runelords Adventure Decks. While LCG’s such as Lord of the Rings: The Card Game have included various scenarios and deep customizable deck-building, the Pathfinder ACG is the closest I’ve seen to an RPG style card game.
Pathfinder ACG provides a basic, easy to learn rule set that will please those new the genre, while the heavy focus on customization and the depth of scenario driven content will adhere to the more involved RPG players. The inclusion and organization of the box insert not only makes individual cards easy to find, but is a tool used in the playing of the game itself. Above all, Pathfinder ACG is a unique and refreshing take on the role-playing genre that sets the foundation for something to be expanded upon for years to come.