Pathfinder Adventure Card Game Review: New Core Set Offers an Optimized, Easy to Learn Experience

The Pathfinder Adventure Card Game's new Core Set provides some much needed updates and a streamlined gameplay experience. Back in 2012, Paizo released the Pathfinder Adventure Card Game, a cooperative deck building game that adapted some of the tabletop RPG's iconic storylines. Players took on the role of one of Pathfinder's iconic characters and worked together to investigate multiple locations in order to corner and defeat a specific villain. Players could collect boons (items, weapons, armor, spells, or allies) and defeat banes by completing checks, which were made using a d4, d6, d8, d10, or d12 depending on your character's abilities. As players completed scenarios, they could level up their character by unlocking new abilities, increasing the number of cards in their deck, or by adding bonuses to their skills that added points to their checks.

The Pathfinder Adventure Card Game was fun (Obsidian released a digital version of the game that served as an intro course for many players) but had a few major flaws - it had a major cost barrier to play as you needed to buy a Base Set and several scenario expansions to play through a single storyline, the storylines were somewhat poorly adapted as scenario descriptions were condensed to fit on the size of a card, and many of the cards were bogged down with huge blocks of text that repeated standard rules over and over.

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(Photo: Paizo)

Last month, Paizo released a new Core Set for the Pathfinder Adventure Card Game, which is essentially a soft reboot of the game. While the core gameplay hasn't changed, the Core Set streamlines many of the game's flaws, offers some much needed variability, and strives to fix some of the rather complicated rules with universal keywords. The gameplay itself hasn't changed much - the game still revolves around exploring locations and making checks to either obtain boons or defeat banes, but there are a few key differences to the rules that make things more strategic. In the original game, players could freely assist with another player's check through the use of Blessings and other cards. Starting with the new Core Set, players can collectively use only one of each type of boon per check, meaning that you can't just bless your way out of every problem. There's also a few tweaks to how some cards are used - armor can be displayed (meaning that it gets removed from your hand and thus frees up space for other cards) and some cards can be reloaded on the top of the deck instead of "recharged" and placed on the bottom of the deck.

Another big change is the use of a storybook that provides details about each scenario in a campaign. Each scenario now has a full introduction via the storybook, which serves to better immerse players into the storyline and tease some of the locations you might be exploring later in the game. The system isn't perfect - most scenarios don't really explain who or what you're fighting until after the scenario is complete - but it's a big improvement over how the game originally displayed the storyline players were following.

There's also now some increased variability to how scenarios are set up. When building location decks, players can choose from one of three deck sizes, which can either increase or decrease the game's difficulty. Players can also select wildcards (variant rules) that also increase the difficulty of scenarios. Between the rules tweaks and the new scalability of scenarios, there's a lot more to challenge veteran players than what was available in past sets.

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(Photo: Paizo)

From a monetary standpoint, the Core Set also represents a big upgrade from past sets. Unlike other Core Sets, players can use the Core Set as the foundation for all future adventures, meaning that players won't need to buy a new Core Set plus five $20 expansions if they want to complete a storyline. Instead, players can buy this Core Set and then use it over and over again when Paizo releases future storylines. For example, players can buy the full Curse of the Crimson Throne storyline for just $50 and play through it by combining those cards with the Core Set. That's a lot cheaper than the $150 that players had to pay to get through past storylines.

While the new Pathfinder Adventure Card Game Core Set offers a lot more options and streamlined gameplay, it's not perfect. There are a handful of elements that are poorly explained, especially the new "Danger" mechanic that is occasionally required to close locations. More than once, I had to turn to the Internet for help as either the rulebooks or individual cards left too much vagueness to make a definitive ruling. Also, the actual components were flimsy - the review copy provided came with cardboard pieces that were cut multiple times, resulting in some weird shapes, and some of the cards had slight color variations on their backs, which isn't ideal when playing a game in which you're not supposed to know what's coming up in a deck.

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To be clear, the Pathfinder Adventure Card Game isn't a replacement for playing a tabletop RPG. Each scenario only has a single victory condition and there's no branching storylines or consequences for failing a scenario. But it does leverage one of the strengths of the Pathfinder franchise - the fantastic storylines and unique characters - into a fun gameplay experience. The new Core Set offers a simplified and streamlined ruleset that makes the game much more accessible, and adds much more variety to keep players from growing bored once they complete their initial playthrough. This is a fantastic update to a fun game and is well worth a look by anyone who likes deckbuilding games or campaigns in fantasy worlds.