The original release of the Pathfinder Adventure Card Games were very well received by my gaming group and I. We absolutely loved Rise of the Runelords and Skull & Shackles, and we had a good time with Wrath of the Righteous (if you want to read a more in-depth take on the core mechanics of this system please see our previous reviews as I'll be focusing mostly on what's new and different and less on the core gameplay in this article) even though we started to burn out on the system before reaching the end of that Adventure Path, and so we didn't play the Mummy's Mask version. Each of those games came as a base set and were expanded upon with timed releases of packs containing the cards that you'd need to continue through the story. They were fun, if extremely light on story, and were quite expensive once you'd purchased a base set and then fleshed it out with all of the addons, although they offered a significant amount of gameplay.
Paizo Inc. has decided that this system still has life left in it and has tweaked the formula in multiple ways that make the new Core Set, and the Curse of the Crimson Throne Adventure Path, a worthy purchase if you really enjoyed the system before, or if you are new to this game and want to jump into it for the first time.
If you tried previous versions of the game and didn't like them, then you'll almost certainly feel the same way about this version. The core mechanics are nearly identical, there is still a major disconnect between gameplay and story, and you are still effectively following the same formula as before,. However, if you are like my group and I, and were simply burned out on the old formula, there is enough tweak-age in this newest version to feel fresh and fun, especially considering the much more wallet-friendly price point.
The Pathfinder Adventure Card Game is exactly what it sounds like; a card game with a coat of Pathfinder paint. There is an attempt in this new version to add a bit more story to coincide with the gameplay, but don't go into this game expecting the kind of breadth and depth of story you'll get from playing the pen and paper version of the game. There are bits of story before and after missions, and you take the roll of one of the many iconic Pathfinder characters, but this is a mechanics-first game with the story and theme dusted over it to give it some extra fantasy spice. Those mechanics are largely unchanged, although there are a few tweaks that give players juuuuuuuust a touch more choice in how to play through the game and, more importantly, how to customize their characters.
The biggest and best change to the game comes in the form of Hero Points. In previous versions of the game, you could upgrade your hero by gaining new cards and by gaining Feats. The card upgrades would come organically as you played the game, but the Feats were doled out as mission rewards, and often felt few and far between.
In this new version of the game, you are often rewarded with Hero Points. When you earn them, you can immediately spend these points to gain whatever type of Feat you desire, or you can save them and use them as a re-roll, or to save your character from death. Those three choices aren't created equal, and you are limited to the number of Feats of each type you can have based on the adventure number that you've most recently completed, but having that extra layer of player choice concerning how and when you power up you character feels really good.
The story for missions is a bit more padded out as well. Instead of a small blurb of backstory you now have a page or so of story leading up to a mission followed by a short outcome blurb. It still doesn't add story to the gameplay itself, but it does feel a little more alive. The missions are more varied this time around as well with some missions even being "randomly" generated, which significantly increases replayability and, most importantly, it's easy to keep your character and carry them forward.
In the previous versions of the game you would finish the final mission of an Advanture Path and get a reward, but it felt anticlimactic because you couldn't then take that character into another Adventure Path. Instead you'd have to start over again. Now you can carry your character forward from the Core Set into an Adventure Path, and it helps to add a sense of ownership to your character, as well as making sense thematically.
The Core Set by itself has a mini Adventure Path in the box that consists of 3 Adventures with 3 scenarios each and is designed intentionally to have you carry your character forward into any full Adventure Path that you may pick up, although you can simply start on Adventure 1 of an Adventure Path if you so choose. That's a decent amount of content for a core game, but more impressive is the amount of content in the Adventure Paths. Gone are the days of having to buy each leg of the adventure separately. The first Adventure Path, Curse of the Crimson Throne, contains 6 full Adventures of 4 missions each with a bonus single-mission 7th Adventure. This new product design is a much better value than the old system. The tweaks to the system were already a welcome feature, but the fact that you can get more game for less money with this new version makes this an absolute win-win for the consumer.
If you already like this game system or you've never played before then this new version is a great value, with just enough tweaks to feel refreshing to people familiar with it. It's also easy to tweak the difficulty of the game now, so playing it with new and or younger players is much easier, and the game can be cranked up to be much harder for veteran players who really want a challenge. Powering up your deck of cards is as satisfying as ever, and the new Hero Points system is an excellent way to make player choice more meaningful and satisfying. There are other, smaller tweaks to the rules as well that I'm not going to touch on, but all in all the tweaks and changes to the game add up to this being the best version of the Pathfinder Adventure Card Game to date including the smaller and much more shelf-friendly box size. While it doesn't quite hold the same place in my heart as it used to I'm glad that I have this new version of the game. It's familiar enough that I can easily get it to the table, but tweaked enough to feel fresh and fun again.
A copy of the Pathfinder Adventure Card Game Core Set and the Curse of the Crimson Throne Adventure Path were provided for this article by Paizo inc.