In the land of Golarion, there are many adventurers seeking fame, glory, and heroism. Some fight for themselves, some fight for others.
Now it’s your chance to go on that quest. Build your team, assemble your decks of items and weapons, and set out for Sandpoint where adventure awaits… in the form of the digital board game, Pathfinder Adventures.
How It Plays
Once upon a time, we reviewed the Pathfinder Adventure Card Game, a legacy-style card game/RPG mashup that let you build your character in the form of a deck and some limited stats over a series of adventures. Now, Pathfinder Adventures is a digital version of PACG available on all platforms – including Steam – and part of Asmodee Digital’s prolific board game app library.
The app is a faithful translation of the game, from artwork to card design to gameplay. A summary in brief: Your characters are represented by card decks containing items, weapons, spells, allies, etcetera. Taking turns, each character will encounter the top card of a location deck, playing cards and rolling dice to overcome checks that represent knowledge, perception, combat, and other abilities. Defeated enemies are “banished” while items and allies are added to your character’s deck.
Once you’ve found and defeated the Henchman of a particular location, you can close it. The goal of each scenario is to find the Villain card at one of the locations and defeat it like anything else. However, if any locations haven’t been closed yet, the villain can escape there, and you have to find them again. If you can’t find and defeat them within the time limit, you lose the scenario and have to try again.
From game to game, you will craft your character decks, replacing cards with new ones you encounter. Each character is unique by the types of cards allowed in their deck, cards they’re good at using, the size of dice rolled for different abilities, and a few unique abilities. The monk is better at fighting without a weapon, for example, while the rogue gets a sneak attack bonus if she’s alone at a location. Each character also has a specific number of weapons, armor, items, spells, blessings, and allies allowed in their deck, so you don’t get to keep everything youf ind.
As you complete scenarios, you unlock rewards that let you gain new abilities, increase your deck size and ability bonuses, and gain special new cards.
To Find a Path, Find a Path Finder
There’s one immediately obvious massive boon to the gameplay experience in the Pathfinder Adventures compared to the physical game: it completely cuts out setup time. Seriously, that alone was one of the biggest roadblocks to playing more frequently. For every scenario, you’d have to collect specific cards from several different decks and shuffle them to form a location. Then you’d do that five more times. Eesh.
In the app, it’s just a “start” button. Jump right in, folks!
Let’s not forget about the math, either. With all the discarding, recharging, burying, and shuffling going on, it’s easy to lose track of all your bonuses, which dice you should be rolling, and how many. In the digital realm, you just drop the card in the right corner of the screen and up pop your dice.
Yes, Pathfinder Adventures is a faithful adaptation that does great work in streamlining the tedious stuff so you can dig right into the gameplay. As with many board game apps, however, this is both a blessing and a curse.
Here’s what it comes down to: PACG is a simple game. Despite the breath of items, characters, weapons, enemies, blessings, and location cards in the box, almost every action you take boils down to bumping up the value of your die rolls as much as you can. You play cards that let you roll bigger dice, or more dice, or add small bonuses. Playing a flaming longbow feels no different than a dagger or a great war axe, other than the amount of bonus your characters gets by playing it.
There’s very little choice in playing your hand. Occasionally you’ll decide to bury a card instead of recharging it because you need the extra bonus, and the biggest recurring decision is whether you’re going to spend a blessing in combat or save it for an extra exploration later. Sometimes, you have to decide which cards you will discard from your hand when you take damage.
The app shows your % chance of success for every roll. This is useful, especially since a digital screen can feel a little abstract making it hard to judge intuitively if you need a little extra boost. On the other hand, it makes many decisions even easier. Do you really want to go into combat with a 66% chance of success when playing one blessing will bump it up to 90%? If you lose combat, you end up losing more cards anyway, so you might as well play what you need to succeed.
The physical board game makes up for this in many ways. I mean, I still criticized the game for this simplicity in my original review, but at least you have a solid hand of cards to hold and a fistful of dice to chuck on the table. There’s something satisfying about rolling real dice, and there’s definitely something to be said for sitting around a table with three of your friends, questing through an adventure.
The app streamlines things so much that the heavy emphasis on luck and simplistic nature of the gameplay really shine through. The screen separates you one level from the physicality of it, and you can’t even really play cooperatively. There’s no online or LAN mode to speak of. The mobile app has a pass-and-play mode, but for how much I switch between the characters to play extra Blessings during combat? Phew, sounds tedious.
Mostly you just control all four characters (or however large your party is, I think 4 is what the game is really balanced for).
As all the math, all the shuffling, all the recharging, burying, discarding, etc. is basically handled for you, all you’re left with are the decisions, which are few. So you smoothly roll through turn after turn of: play the obvious cards, push your % success number as high as possible, roll your dice, hope you don’t fail. At times you won’t even have cards you can play, so you just click-and-drag to roll the dice again and again.
There are a lot of things in this game that affect you by pure luck. The cards you draw in your hand at any given time, the cards you encounter with any given character, how far down in each location deck the henchman is, whether you encounter the villain too early or after you’ve had time to close a few locations. So many of these things are out of your control, and the app makes it a lot more obvious than the card game. This game in general lacks the roleplaying elements that make Pathfinder itself fun to play, despite also relying a lot on lucky dice rolls to resolve actions.
All that being said…
Well, I don’t think Pathfinder Adventures is a horrible game. There are definitely interesting elements to it. The whole idea of crafting your character’s deck over time, adding new cards that you find, increasing the number of cards you get in your deck, adding new abilities and boosts, all of that is still pretty cool. This app has allowed me to progress through the campaign and have fun tinkering, whereas I could never pull a game group together for thirty sessions of the same game with all our schedules.
Even though you don’t have real dice, you at least get a bit of tactile feedback. There are buttons for everything, but you can also tap-and-drag cards to the discard pile, to your deck to recharge, or to the scary chain icon to banish. You “grab” the dice and throw them to roll. Not quite as satisfying as real dice, but it’s something.
You also get a ton of content that doesn’t take up a lot of space in your home. “Gold” can be earned through playing the game, or by paying real money. This gold can be spent on unique cards, treasure chests that drop various items, runes, dice – all sorts of things that get added to the mix for you to encounter.
The story of the game is spiced up with “cutscenes” with your chosen characters interacting with NPCs through dialogue. Nothing is fully animated, but you get lush animated backgrounds and character images. The gameplay, too, is enhanced with flashy effects for when you defeat an enemy, banish a card, or take damage.
I will say that this app does seem to really burn up my laptop battery, despite the lack of 3D renderings or full animation. I’m not really sure why it’s such a beast. The android app does drain my phone battery, although not quite as much. I did notice the load times between… everything… were a lot faster on my laptop than on my phone.
So this is a review of the Steam version of the app, if you hadn’t gathered that already. I highly recommend playing on a touch-screen (I have a Surface Pro 3), as the mouse isn’t quite as nice to play with. If you don’t already own PACG and are interested, you should buy the Steam version. With this release, you can now log in to your Asmodee account and sync your content across multiple devices. The Steam game costs $25 and gets you the whole Rise of the Runelords campaign, and then you can install the mobile app for free and sync your content. If you start with the mobile app you can buy content in smaller chunks, but you can’t sync back to the PC without paying another $25 to install the game.
If you already have the mobile app and have put some money in it, Obsidian Entertainment is offering a way for you to at least upgrade your content to the deluxe version ($39.99) on Steam for free. The deluxe edition comes with a boatload of legendary and rare cards and the promise of future expansions including the upcoming Goblins adventure, and starts you out with 5000 gold to spend on those fancy treasure chests.
Let’s wrap this up. Is PACG a perfect game? No. It’s kind of a stupid game that is mostly enjoyable to play. It is simplistic and relies heavily on luck, two features which stand out a little bit more in the digital version. On the other hand, the app brings other enhancements to the experience, and makes the game much easier to play.
I’d probably choose to play the app mostly on mobile, for the convenience and easy access. On my PC, I’d much rather be playing a fully-featured RPG than a digital implementation of a card game. At least it’s nice to be able to sync your content on multiple devices for free if you buy the steam version.
iSlaytheDragon would like to thank Asmodee Digital for providing a review key for Pathfinder Adventures.