An ancient evil sits stirring in Varisia. A dark magic haunts the halls of ruins, cultists commit murder in the name of chaotic deities. The town of Sandpoint is about to fall siege to an onslaught of goblins. Terror is making its way back to the land, and it’s up to brave heroes to set back the evil that is appearing. Pathfinder comes to the tabletop in a different manner than ever before with the Pathfinder Adventure Card Game, a cooperative strategy card game for 1-4 players. In the Pathfinder Adventure Card Game, players take the role of iconic heroes from the Pathfinder universe, each with their own skills and proficiencies, and embark on a journey through the Rise of the Runelords Adventure Path. Players will need to keep their wits about them, playing cards strategically to stop a villain from escaping before a certain number of turns pass by. If they fail, the land of Varisia will be doomed.
Out of the Box
The Pathfinder Adventure Card Game comes in quite a large box. Luckily, the box has its own storage tray, and packed inside you’ll find these components:
-500 cards, which include:
- 7 of the iconic Pathfinder Characters: Wizard, Rogue, Fighter, Bard, Cleric, Ranger, and Sorcerer
- Perils of the Lost Coast Adventure (3 scenarios)
- Burnt Offerings Rise of the Runelords Adventure Deck 1 (110 cards on its own with 5 scenarios)
-A set of dice: D4, D6, D8, D10, D12
As mentioned above, the box does include a storage tray that has specific places for each type of card. Added to this, the only other components you may need yourself are extra sets of dice.
Setup in the Pathfinder Adventure Card Game is what takes the most time in the game. To start, you’ll select your character. Each player chooses from one of the characters included in the box, taking their token card and character information card. You’ll then build a character deck using the Cards List on the back of your character information card. In the Pathfinder Adventure Card Game, cards are divided into types: items, weapons, armor, blessings, monsters, barricades, henchman, villains, locations, and more. It’s important to keep these separated into their different types for easy setup when playing the game.
For quick setup, you can use the rulebook’s suggested decks, and it’s recommended you do so until you’ve played the game a few times. Alternatively, you would build your own character deck using basic items, weapons, armor, and the like in the amounts listed on the character information card.
Once your character deck has been made, it’s time to decide what you’re playing. You’ll need to choose from an Adventure Path, Adventure, or Scenario. A scenario is a one-off session, where an adventure is made of different scenarios, and an Adventure Path is a series of linked adventures. Scenarios are best played when you’re introducing players to the game, learning it still yourself, or if you want something quick and easy to get into. If you’re planning a game night around the Pathfinder Adventure Card Game, however, an Adventure Path or just adventure would work great.
Setup is a bit different for each type of mode you choose, so here’s how they work:
Setting up an Adventure Path: Take the Rise of the Runelords Adventure Path card and place it face up on the table. This lists the adventures that make up the Adventure Path, which start with Burnt Offerings. It also tells the reward you’ll get for completing the Adventure Path. When you start a new adventure, add all of the cards from that adventure deck to the box, sorting all of the cards by type and combining them with the cards you have already in the box.
Setting up an adventure: Place the adventure card face up on the table. This lists the scenarios that make up the adventure, as well as the reward you’ll receive for completing the adventure. You’ll then choose a scenario from the selected adventure to start with.
Setting up a scenario: Place the scenario card face up on the table. The card describes the goals and rules used for this session, as well as lists the locations you’ll be using. Each scenario is made up of different locations, which each have their own decks. When setting up a scenario, you take all of the location cards listed on the back of the scenario card for your current number of players from the box. Each of those locations has a list similar to the one found on your character information card.
To setup each location, shuffle each card type (as mentioned above) and deal the number listed for that type face down into a deck. Don’t look at these cards, as they need to remain secret from all the players. Once you’ve added all of the cards listed on the location card to the deck, set the deck face down next to the location card and proceed to the next. Once you’ve gotten all the location decks built, it’s time to add the villain and henchman.
Each scenario card will list one or more villains and one or more henchman. These are the major enemies you’ll be facing during the game. Make a stack of cards starting with the villain(s) and then add henchman, working from the top of the list on the scenario card down, until your stack has as many cards as you have locations. For example, if the card lists Jubrayl Vhiski as the villain and Bandit as the henchman and you have 5 locations, you’d build a stack of cards that is, from the bottom-up, Jubrayl, and then 4 Bandits. You’ll then shuffle this stack and deal one card face down on top of each location deck. Finally you’ll shuffle the location decks.
The last step in setting up a scenario is putting together the blessings deck. You’ll draw 30 random blessings from the box and shuffle them together. This forms the blessings deck, which is a countdown clock for the game while you’re playing.
After all this, you’ll need to arrange yourselves around the table, and place all of your completed decks in a manner where all players can see them. A typical setup looks like this once things are complete:
It’s standard for the blessings deck to be in the center, along with space for a discard pile. The location cards need to be arranged so that player token cards can be placed next to them, along with space for the location deck. In front of you, you’ll have your character card and character deck. The scenario card should be by the blessings deck. After this, you choose a location at which to place your character token and draw your starting hand, which is listed on your character information card (it will say Hand Size). Lastly, determine who will go first and you’re ready to start the game!
Playing the Game
The object of the Pathfinder Adventure Card Game is to explore locations, find the villain, and defeat him with no means of escape. You stop the villain by exploring locations and closing them, which essentially shuts down an avenue that the villain could use for an escape. You have to be quick, however, as the blessings deck acts like a time clock, counting down each turn. If the deck runs out of cards before your defeat the villain, the heroes lose.
Gameplay progresses through a series of turns. Each player will take a turn, taking actions and playing cards during their turn. Once a player completes their turn, play proceeds with the player to the left, continuing this way until the heroes either defeat the villain, or lose. Here’s a breakdown of what happens on your turn:
-Advance the blessings deck: before your turn begins, flip the top card of the blessings deck face up onto the discard pile. If there are no cards left in the deck when you’re supposed to flip a card, the heroes lose the scenario.
-Give a card: you may offer one card from your hand to another character at your location.
-Move: you may move your character token to any other location. Moving triggers any effects that happen when you enter or leave a location (listed on the location card).
-Explore: flip over the top card of your current location deck. If it is a boon (weapon, item, blessing, armor), you may attempt to acquire it; if you don’t, banish the card (return it to the box). If it is a bane (monster, villain, barricade, henchman), you must try to defeat it; if you do, banish the card. If you don’t, you will take damage and shuffle the card back into the location deck. Players are limited to one explore action per turn, unless they play a card that gives them an extra explore.
-Close a location: if your character is at a location that has no cards remaining in its location deck and has not been closed, you may make one attempt to close it. Each location has a fulfillment cost to close it, which is located on its location card. When you successfully close a location, check the deck to see if it contains a villain. If so, the villain becomes the entirety of the location deck and all of its other cards are banished. The location is not closed, but players now know where the villain is. If the villain is not in the location deck, simply banish all the cards.
-Reset your hand: you may discard any number of cards from your hand. Immediately draw back up to your maximum hand size. If you end your turn with more cards in your hand than your maximum hand size, you must discard down until your hand size matches your maximum.
-End your turn: once you’ve finished taking actions, your turn ends and play passes to the player on your left.
These are just the actions that you can take on your turn, but wrapped within are a few things we need to cover. First, let’s look at exploration. Each card in the game has a number on its right side. This is a target number that needs to be met or exceeded to either acquire the card (boon), or defeat the card (bane) when it is encountered. On boons, the target number will usually have a skill associated with it, listing the type of “check? needed to be rolled in order to acquire it.
For example: on your turn you choose to explore. You uncover the Spyglass card. It’s an item with a target number of 4, but lists the Wisdom and Perception skills above the number. This means that, in order to acquire the boon, you would need to succeed at a Wisdom or Perception Check 4. You would look on your character card and see if you have those skills, and check the type of die associated with them. Let’s say you’re playing as Ezren, the wizard. His wisdom stat shows a D8. This means, when making a wisdom check, you would roll a D8. In this instance, you’d simply roll a D8 and check the outcome. If your result is 4 or greater, you’ve succeeded and acquire the card. All acquired cards are placed directly into your hand.
Some characters have specific skills, for instance, perception. This would be a skill listed underneath wisdom on your character card. Harsk, for example, has perception listed at wisdom+2. This would mean that, when making a perception skill check, Harsk would roll his wisdom die (a D6) and add 2 to the result. When encountering a card, you only need to satisfy one skill listed for the check. If you happen to not have any of the skills listed, you may try any check using just a D4. If you fail to acquire a boon, it gets banished to the box.
Characters also have special abilities or powers. These powers can be used at any time, though only once per check (when they pertain to helping a check). Valeros, for example, has a power that lets him add a D4 to another player’s combat check at his location. He can use the power for multiple players, but only once per player. Character powers vary, though they are self explanatory.
Now let’s look at banes. Banes have a target number as well listed as a “check to defeat?, but instead of skills they mainly just list “combat?. I say mainly because some of them actually have skills that are required in order to defeat them. When encountering a bane, if it is a combat check, most of the time you’ll play weapons from your hand to make a combat roll, and try to defeat the bane.
An example: you choose to explore and encounter a Harpy. This card requires a check 14 to defeat it. Valeros is holding a mace, and decides to use it to try and defeat the Harpy. The mace allows Valeros, when making a combat check, to reveal the card and roll his strength or melee die, adding an additional D8 to the roll. This means Valeros would roll a D10 + 3 for his melee strength, adding a D8 to the roll from the mace. As long as he gets a 14 the Harpy is defeated. If not, he will suffer damage.
Let’s say Valeros gave his all, but only managed to roll a 12. The Harpy would not be defeated, and Valeros would take damage. When you take damage in the Pathfinder Adventure Card Game, you discard cards from your hand. To determine the amount of damage you take, when you fail to defeat a bane, you subtract your result on the dice from the target number needed to succeed. In this instance, Valeros would subtract his result of 12 from the target number of 14, resulting in 2 damage. He would immediately discard two cards and shuffle the Harpy back into the location deck.
In the Pathfinder Adventure Card Game, your deck is your life total. If at any time you would draw from your deck and it’s empty, you are out of the game. You could restart in the next scenario, but you won’t be able to act again in the current one. Card management is crucial.
Now we’ll look at playing cards. There all sorts of cards in this game, and they all operate differently. Playing a card means activating a card’s power by revealing, discarding, recharging, burying, or banishing the card. Here’s how each of these keywords break down:
- Reveal – show the card from your hand to the other players
- Discard – discard the card to your character discard pile
- Recharge – place the card on the bottom of your deck
- Bury – place the card under your character card (you cannot use the card for the rest of the scenario)
- Banish – put the card back in the box, shuffling it into the rest of the cards of the same type
When playing a card, you may only play 1 card of each type at any given time. As an example, you may not play more than one weapon to modify the same combat check, or more than one spell to prevent damage from a single encounter. Other players may play cards to help you, such as spells or blessings to give you extra dice, but they must also follow the 1 card rule.
Players will take their turns playing cards, exploring locations, and moving around in attempts to smoke out and defeat the villain. Villains are powerful, and most have effects that happen the minute you encounter them. In line with the villain are his henchmen. Henchman cards are more powerful than normal monsters, and they offer added effects. When you encounter a henchman, you roll your check to defeat as normal. If you defeat the henchman, you may immediately attempt to close the location where you encountered it by fulfilling its “When Closing? requirement.
When you encounter a villain, each other player at an open location may attempt to fulfill the “When Closing? requirements for his location. If he succeeds, the location is temporarily closed. Then the current player encounters the villain, making a check to defeat it as normal. If you defeat the villain, close the villain’s location permanently. You don’t need to fulfill its “When Closing? requirements. All of the cards at the location are banished. Then you check to see if the villain escapes.
If there are any open locations at this point, the villain escapes to one of them. To determine where the villain escapes to, take the total number of open locations, subtract 1, and take that many random blessings from the box. Shuffle the villain in with those blessings and deal them one at a time, face down, to each location and shuffle their location decks. If you did not defeat the villain, do the same process, only take damage as normal and instead of retrieving blessings from the box, take them from the blessings deck.
Once the villain has nowhere to escape to, and the players defeat him, the heroes win the game.
Does the Game Find the Path to Success?
The Pathfinder Adventure Card Game is not an RPG. I know it may sound stupid to say that, but it’s important for Pathfinder fans to know this. The Pathfinder Adventure Card Game is not a deck building game. Yes, you can build your own character deck and you do acquire cards to add to it throughout the game, but this doesn’t play like a deck builder. At its core, the Pathfinder Adventure Card Game is a cooperative card game. It’s that simple, and it’s a lot of fun.
Pathfinder players wanting to check out this game may be a little turned off to the new system, though I feel it makes sense. You don’t roll a D20 for each skill. Your character actively exerts their strengths and weaknesses in the form of rolling different dice for each skill. To some players this could be a turnoff, especially veterans of the RPG. For new players, however, I feel this is a great way to introduce them into what an RPG feels like. Each character has different abilities, and some are better at things than others. Yes, the fighter does have trouble when rolling his intelligence die to acquire that spell that’s got a target number of 12. Yes the wizard does face hardship when making a combat roll with no spells to fight off an ogre.
One of the things I really like about this game, and it obviously pulls from the RPG, is the way it rewards players through gameplay. Players who make it through adventures and Adventure Paths will receive rewards either in the form of items, or sometimes feats. Gaining feats allows you to advance your character, either by adding more to their rolls, having a bigger hand size, and more. Character development in the card game is one of the best things about it.
Another great thing about the game is that, while it takes a while to set up (seriously, it’s the LONGEST) part of the game), it’s a ton of fun. I’ve not sat down to play this game and not enjoyed it once. Having played with both Pathfinder players and those who have never touched an RPG, I can say that the game works well with both groups. It’s engaging, has a ton of player interaction, and really sets up adventures like you’re really involved in something, even though the main objective is the same every time.
The scenario and location cards offer different effects make each session interesting and fun. Though you’ll be doing the same thing each game (finding the villain and beating him to a pulp), there’s plenty of diversity to keep the game going strong. It conveys a real strong sense of action no matter how many times you run through it.
I may not be a huge fan of the countdown blessing clock, but that hasn’t stopped me from enjoying the game. I do think that the game is a bit difficult enough through encounters, though, so adding a countdown clock forcing players to make swift decisions in the heat of battle. It does get gritty, however, and keeps you on your toes. The solo mode is also really fun, and though it takes a bit away from the narrative, the fact that this game can be played solo gives it a ton of credit. With as many scenarios as it packs in, it’s nearly worth it for just a single-player game.
Finally, my last little miff about this game is that I feel the character pack should have been added to the game from the start. It comes with a bonus Adventure Path when you purchase it, and I really think the extra characters should have just been included. It would have supported 6 players out of the gate, and players would have even more options at their fingertips. I picked up the Character Add-On Pack as soon as I could, and it’s made the game even better.
I know a lot of gamers were skeptical about this at first, but it’s definitely worth the hype. The game offers a lot to players, and the more you play the better the game gets in my opinion. As a Pathfinder fan, I was a bit turned off at first to the way the dice work for skills, but I agree it makes sense and have warmed up to the system. This is a game that requires teamwork and adequate strategy, but it’s also fun and something refreshingly new. I feel Paizo did an amazing job with the game, and Mike Selinker has got a prize on his hands with this one.