Pathfinder Adventure Card Game (PACG) is an adaptation of the Pathfinder RPG system to a cooperative card game format. The mechanics of playing the game work really well, you just have to decide if the theme and pricing are a good fit for your budget.
Pathfinder is an offshoot of the Dungeons & Dragons family of tabletop, pen and paper role-playing games. The rules are sometimes described as D&D 3.75 for those with strong opinions about which flavor of D&D is best. Paizo, the publisher of Pathfinder, has done a great job publishing content to support the system and broaden the brand. An example of that brand expansion is this card game.
The game mechanics are straightforward, easy to learn and offer a lot of fun. First, the game is fully cooperative. No one player is the Game Master, that role is played by the rules and text of the game and cards. You can play the game with all your cards showing, and probably should. This not only reinforces the cooperative RPG aspect of the game, it makes the game very accessible and positive for family play, or play with varied levels of player interest in gaming.
Characters are represented as a deck of 15 cards, in addition to the attributes given on a basic template card. The cards can represent armor, weapons, spells, allies, and other aspects of the character. The character attributes are the traditional D&D attributes of strength, intelligence, charisma, etc. extended with some per character perks and bonuses. The cards in your deck and your base attributes can be improved as you play sequences of games, so your character will ‘level up’ just as in an RPG over time.
Cards also represent locations, monsters, barriers, villains and henchmen – all the things that will keep your characters from winning the scenario. Most importantly, cards also represent blessings which are opportunities for players to interact and help each other. 30 blessings are also taken to be used as a count-down timer to manage game progress. Each turn by a character takes one card off the timer deck, and if the party hasn’t defeated the villain of the scenario before they run out, the players lose.
Playing through a single scenario can take 60-90 minutes.
PACG is packaged as a base game that comes in a large box with many storage slots for the different card types and for add-on expansions. Three of these base sets have been published so far. For each base version of the game, there is a character add-on deck and six adventure decks. (The first adventure deck is included in the base package.) Each deck supports additional cards for a sequence of 5 scenarios. If you play through the sequence to the end your character will have leveled up significantly as the challenges increase.
I’ve played with the Rise of the Runelords base set and adventure decks. In this set, the theme varies considerably from traditional D&D fare to gothic horror, slasher films, and Lovecraftian occult. Yes, that is what the Pathfinder Adventure Path does as well, so points for a faithful adaptation, but also points off for being an odd mishmash in the first place. It also means that some of this content might not be family-friendly – be advised.
Other base sets and adventures are more consistent, thematically. Skulls and Shackles has a good pirates theme, for example.
Fun and replayability
There are enough random and deck-building aspects of the game to assure replayability. The mechanics are easy enough to learn that players can spend more time role-playing their character. Giving blessings to other characters to help the player make a die roll means no one is stuck watching someone else for too long. I had a blast playing 6 characters in solo play – 5 female character (girls night out!) and Harsk the dwarf ranger, who thought he had gotten lucky but was totally friend zoned.
The timer is the ultimate opponent. This is true in family play or solo play, whether one character or six. The last few turns can be quite tense as the players strategize about which character should do what, given the remaining play order. When you do beat the clock you feel that have accomplished something. If your group is having trouble winning a specific scenario just adding a card or two to the timer deck can make the difference.
All of the sets are available, discounted, on Amazon and Barnes and Noble. I liked being able to look at the products in the expanded Game section of the local BN store before purchasing. Given the replayability, I thought the games were a good value.