Build your deck! Roll dice! Fight monsters! Gain skills! Die permanently! Read the Pathfinder Adventure Card Game review!
Today we're taking a look at the Pathfinder Adventure Card Game system published by Paizo.
PACG is a fully cooperative campaign driven game system with persistent characters, permanent character death, RPG elements and limited deck building mechanics, with many of the cards focused around mitigating the luck of the dice. Your party of adventurers (or a solo adventurer!) will fight monsters, encounter traps, gather allies, loot, items and spells and attempt to defeat nefarious villains and their henchmen.
Paizo has marketed this game system as a Pen and Paper RPG experience in a card game. I think that is disingenuous because the only way you will get a true PnP experience is to play an actual PnP game. That being said this game is excellent, especially if you enjoy cooperative games or are looking for a game to play solo. It is easy to learn and the rulebook is well written and easy to follow.
Each base game comes with 7 character classes for players to choose from and can accomodate 1-4 players out of the box. Each set also has an additional Character Add On pack that includes 4 additional classes and allows you to expand the game up to 6 players. Each base game also includes an introductory mini scenario and the first of 6 adventure decks that make up that set’s campaign.
Each adventure consists of a series of missions that are played in order with each giving a small reward for completion. Larger rewards await the players at the conclusion of each full adventure. Rewards range from simple, such as drawing an item card from the box to add to your deck, to allowing you to choose a powerful specialty class for your character. Players are allowed to replay completed missions if they so choose, effectively allowing you to grind for card upgrades, although you can only receive each mission and adventure reward once per character.
To begin a campaign each player will select a character class and build a starting deck of 15 cards. This deck will grow and change over time as new cards are earned and weaker cards are replaced with stronger cards. The types of cards that characters will build their deck from include weapons, spells, items, armors, allies and blessings. For players unfamiliar with the system and how their deck should be built the rulebook includes recommended starting decks for each of the character classes. Players will then travel to various locations as laid out by the current mission and encounter cards at those locations in an attempt to find and defeat that scenario’s villain.
One of the game’s most innovative mechanics is that your deck also represents your character’s health. As you play through the game you are forced to make choices between using cards to add dice to your rolls, thus mitigating luck, or taking a bigger risk but keeping more cards in your hand. Every card discarded also effectively counts as a hit-point lost. If you ever run out of cards in your deck and you are required to draw a card your character is killed. If your character dies you will need to create a new character to continue. This lends a press-your-luck mechanic to the game which can lead to some very exciting encounters.
The base sets play nearly identically to each other with the only major difference being theme. Rise of the Runelords has a more traditional fantasy theme while Skull and Shackles carries a pirate heavy theme. You can choose either game without having to worry about picking the lesser version. There is a caveat here though. A series of 7 Class Decks were released alongside Skull and Shackles.
The class decks were released for organized play. The organized play system uses the Skull and Shackles base set but will use entirely separate adventures and missions which Paizo plans to release at set intervals. The idea behind organized play is to get players together at their friendly local game store. Participating stores will provide the base set with each player needing only a single class deck. That deck will contain all character upgrades for the entire adventure. More information on organized play can be found here.
A note on compatibility: Technically all cards from all base sets, adventure decks and class decks are cross compatible. I would recommend against fully combining the cards from the various sets as this would heavily dilute the theme and loot pools. Using a character from a different set or a class deck is as much mixing as I would recommend.
A note on solo play: PACG is an excellent solo game. The entire campaign can be played by a solitary hero although I would recommend playing at least two characters. Managing two decks can be cumbersome, but this allows for a more balanced game as each character has their own strengths and weaknesses.
A note on “chrome”: The game comes with cards for each character to mark as your character gains power over time. Paizo offers free character sheet downloads here for you to print and use in place of the character cards provided with the game. Also, each base set comes with only a single set of dice. I would highly recommend buying additional sets as you will often need to roll multiple similar dice.
The game box insert does an excellent job of keeping everything organized but there isn’t room if you’d like to sleeve all of your cards. Thankfully Broken Token makes an aftermarket insert specifically for the PACG that will hold everything fully sleeved with room to spare.
The bottom line:
I highly recommend the Pathfinder Adventure Card Game system. It is an excellent solo or co-op game that offers a satisfying sense of progression. The system is easy to learn and the possibility of permanent character death gives the game an added layer of excitement and tension.
Get this game if:
You enjoy cooperative games.
You want a campaign driven game with persistent characters.
You like chucking dice with the option to mitigate luck.
You are looking for a solid solo experience that scales and plays well with up to six players.
Avoid this game if:
You are looking for a pen and paper Pathfinder RPG experience.
You can't stand the thought of potentially losing a character permanently.
Rulebooks for both base games can be downloaded as free PDFs here.
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