A few years ago the Pathfinder Adventure Card Game was such a phenomenally hot seller that game shops couldn’t keep it in stock. Nerds everywhere were into it. The game stood out as a legitimate spark of excitement in a board game market that’s typically about as exciting as week-old popcorn, 44 ounces of Mr. Pibb, and Creed.
Excitement always wanes, but Paizo continued to provide excellent support for the game with organized play and the production of oodles of character decks plus a few big box releases that allowed players to play through more of Paizo’s great adventures. That, and there was also an iOS app.
Years have now passed and Paizo has just released a 2nd Edition. First I’ll give you a brief overview of the basics of the Pathfinder Adventure Card Game, then I’ll share some thoughts on this 2nd edition. Warning, this won’t be a typical review as I’ll talk little about game specifics. I’ll instead spend my words on stuff like network effects, shelf space, and one-off experiences.
The Pathfinder Adventure Card Game has always had an excellent engine under the hood. Players have a stack of 15 cards–a combination of weapons, armor, items, spells, allies, and blessings–that represent their character. As the story progresses, players earn more powerful cards that levels up that deck.
Other cards represent locations, monsters, and barriers that character decks must overcome. It’s a slick game. And fun! It’s also very expandable, thematic, and story-driven.
It’s impossible to talk about the Pathfinder Adventure Card Game 2nd Edition without comparing it to certain aspects of the 1st Edition. Although there are a few dice and the 2nd edition adds nice cardboard standees to represent the characters, the game is 90% cards (of a nice weight, I should add).
As previously mentioned, Paizo released a ton of character decks with the first edition, a product that was essentially the equivalent of a couple of standard 52 card decks bundled together side-by-side. The old big box games (and I do mean BIG when I talk about the boxes) had slots in the plastic insert that allowed players to store these expansions.
What was initially great quickly became a logistical nightmare. Game store owners suddenly had a gazillion ISBNs to keep track of and dozens of card packs they needed to make peg space for. It became confusing for customers as well; an issue made worse when multiple big boxes were introduced that didn’t share a common set of core cards. I had no idea what order to buy things in, so I just stopped buying altogether.
Second edition solves all that. Now customers buy a core set that includes a wonderful storybook that provides lots of adventures, plus the standees, dice, and anything else you’d need. Future releases will take advantage of that core set of cards while adding a new storybook with just the cards needed for that story, all in a compact box.
Listen, I know it’s boring to talk about packaging and storage, but these things matter. The 2nd Edition of the Pathfinder Adventure Card Game will be easier for shops to sell, as well as being vastly easier for customers to understand when it comes to knowing what to purchase. Buy the Core Set; then add expansion storylines. That’s it.
The Pathfinder Adventure Card Game can be pretty darned challenging at times. There is certainly an element of strategy in determining if and when multiple characters go to a certain location. And you always need to be cognizant of manipulating the dice pool in your favor. Sure, a monster might be defeated with a 7, but no way I’m taking those odds with a single d8! I’m adding another d6, which strains resources.
But the difficulty is part of the appeal. As I said before, the game is smoooooth. And to make a long story short: 2nd edition improves the already rock-solid 1st edition in nearly every area of significance.
It’s a great game for a game night, but the real highlight for the Adventure Card Game (ACG) is as a solo game. In fact, I’d list it as one of the absolute best solo board games. If you don’t have a regular roleplaying or gaming group, I urge you to consider give the Pathfinder ACG a try. You won’t regret it.
Paizo always has great art and the ACG is no exception. Character art is beautiful and the cards are colorful and engaging. The graphic design bugs me a bit however. Some of the text boxes have rounded corners, while others have sharp corners. But that’s a minor complaint and likely has more to do with the fact that I’m a weirdo about such things.
Everything is worded clearly and the instructions are helpful when it comes to the issue that plagues all card games: what do you do if two cards are seemingly contradictory?
Finally, the games drips with theme. Sure, it’s not a full roleplaying experience but it captures well the flavor of one. The storybook addition is a delight and the storybook for the Curse of the Crimson Throne expansion is even better. I’m eager to hear what the next storyline will be.
Is the ACG a game for you? Well, are you looking for a one-off or do you appreciate a game that will be supported in the future? Let me explain.
Paizo is really good at something called network effects. In short, they really support their products and do all they can to encourage the play of them. So, if a Paizo game captures your interest, you can rest assured that there is a community out there that you can engage with.
In fact, Paizo has an organized play program for the ACG. I think it’s called the Adventure Card Guild or Society or some such thing. I’ve never participated but I’m glad it exists because it’s a network effect that allows continued development of the game.
As I mentioned, I enjoy the ACG as a solo game, but I appreciate the community that Paizo fosters around it because it means I can find tips, strategies, and hacks on a message board should I wish. 99% of board games are one-off experiences (no one is fostering a darned Monopoly message board community for example), but I’m the type of guy that appreciates when there is a community feel that surrounds a game.
The Pathfinder Adventure Card Game has deck-building and dice-chucking. There is a feel of exploration to it and it creates a real challenge. It is story-driven and thematic.
If the above things sound interesting to you, then I encourage you to give the ACG a look. The 2nd Edition improves upon the 1st Edition in significant ways and has a more understandable pathway to entry: buy the core set, then add an expansion should you wish. Those links will take you to Amazon, but look for it at your FLGS. They might even host organized play.
[Disclosure: Paizo provided Nerds on Earth with a copy of the ACG in exchange for an honest review.]