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A Pathfinder: Adventure Card Game Review (Rise of the Runelords)

By Gene Capar

Recently, one of my board game buying friends, Ryan, picked up the Pathfinder: Adventure Card Game. More specifically the Rise of the Runelords adventure. Since then we have played it three times, and I thought it might be about time I did up a little review for the blog.

The Good

Mechanics – In my humble opinion, the most important thing about a card game is the mechanics. And here I feel Paizo almost hit it out of the park (see below). After only a few turns we understood how game play worked, and I feel it represented the idea of being on a D&D-esque quest properly.

To give a quick synopsis; there are several locations players can move to, and decks put together for that location from random decks of monsters, barriers, allies, items, etc. Pretty much all cards have a challenge on them players must meet or exceed; this is done with a skill roll to either defeat or take the card that has come up. Besides cards the game also requires a set of D&D dice for rolling, ideally, each player should have their own set.

If a player fails a challenge against a monster the character takes damage, represented by discarding cards from his hand. At the end of the turn a player re-fills his hand, if his deck runs out, that character has died.

In the center of the board there is a deck of blessings that flip over each turn, when the deck runs out, the players loose if they have not defeated the scenario’s villain. The villain is randomly shuffled into one of the locations, the players have to explore each location to find him.

Co-operative – Pathfinder is a co-operative game, which strongly rewards group play. My buddy Bill decided to play the role of the cleric, and helped keep us all alive. I have played a bard each time, and as a support character, I helped the heavy hitters with challenges they were having a hard time with. Meanwhile, I couldn’t fight my way out of a wet paper bag, so the ranger or the monk took care of that.

Deck Building…In a Long Term Sense – During a game, players recruit companions, find items and learn new spells. These are added to the character’s deck for the duration of the game. At the end of the game a player can use the new cards to build the deck that character starts the next game with. So, for example, Lem’s (the Halfling Bard) deck has been improved three times, once after each game I’ve used it for. After certain milestones I can add more cards of certain types to Lem’s deck, but we haven’t reached that point yet.

Re-playability…Kinda – Okay, so this is a bit of an odd statistic. The starter set for the adventure game comes with 9 scenarios (3 tutorials and 5 parts of the first adventure) the players can play through. So, assuming the players are successful every time (we failed our first scenario) a group could play 8 times before they ever start repeating quests. However, the core set comes with the first adventure, there are 5 more after that, each with 5 quests (see below how I feel about that).

The Bad

Finding the Right Deck – Each of the character classes plays a bit differently. So, it is entirely possible that a player could pick up a deck and just not enjoy themselves. Because the starting decks are set, and classes have their direction pretty much mapped out for them, we have had several players start new decks already. In fact, Ryan (the guy who bought the game) has played three different decks before finding the right one. He said he just found the fighter and the ranger kinda boring, compared to what the cleric and the bard were doing. This puts him at a bit of a disadvantage, and thus makes it hard for the party.

Filling the Roles – In each game we have played we have had a cleric to heal us. More than that we have had an unselfish player, who will get to where he is need to help out another player. If you don’t have someone willing to fulfill that role, you might be in for a lot of frustration.

Win, but Don’t Win Too Well – Okay, here is the one mechanical issue as far as I am concerned. Among the cards at a location are henchmen, which give the players the opportunity to close the location. The party needs to close the location because if the villain is defeated and he has somewhere to run, he randomly jumps to another location. However, once the location is closed all the cards that were at that location are put back into the box. So if there was super-awesome sword of killy-ness under that plague rat you just killed, and now you close the location, it goes bye-bye. If you don’t close the location, and some things go wrong, suddenly the players run out of time (what happened in our first game). Now, the rewards for winning, apparently get better as you get to higher level quests, but in the beginning they are mostly regular random items.

Wasting Perfectly Good Rewards – My play group are pretty fluffy players, so generally easy going. Which is good, because when you watch the grumpy old wizard fail his third recruit ally roll of the turn and another card my charming bard could have had goes back to the box, I could see some people getting frustrated. In all fairness, he probably feels the same way when my bard fails a roll to grab a spell and it’s now gone.

The Ugly

Price Tag – So the standard price listed on Paizo’s website is $60 for the starter set, it was more up here, on this side of the border. But considering, there is questionable re-playability after 8 times played it makes me wonder.

Of course, you can buy another adventure pack, which is 5 more games, for $20. Oh yeah, and not all the characters are included in the base set, so to get them all you have to buy the Character Add-on Deck for $20.

So, by the time you played the entire Rise of the Runelords storyline you’ve put out around $180, if you are American and can get them for the price listed on the Paizo website. If you are in a similar situation to us here is Canada we are looking at $220 (approx.). Assuming you don’t buy the other add-ons, character play mats, etc.

However, that money is to play the game 33 times, once again assuming your group succeeds every time. I think for me, it would be too much money for one person to buy. However, I sure won’t mind pitching in and grabbing one of the adventure packs for the group along the way.

Appearance – While the box is really nice, I found the cards cluttered, and often too similar. We are a pretty experienced gaming group, and even we found them a bit confusing. I could see this being truly daunting for a group of brand new players.

Overall

Solid A – While price is certainly an issue, the game is really fun. I wish I was playing tonight. As a side note, the bard, Lem, is fun, but probably not for everyone.

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