Pathfinder Adventure Card Game – Skulls & Shackles

Jobby’s mates ask him to join them for a campaign of the Pathfinder Adventure Card Game. Here’s how he’s getting on…

Spoiler: Not a Game by Game Report

Initially when I was asked by some friends to join them for a Pathfinder Adventure Card Game campaign I thought it would make for a good scenario by scenario play report. I’d never played PACG before but I read lots of comments on BGG about how it gives a full roleplaying experience with just some decks of cards. Spoiler alert: it doesn’t and there’s really no point reporting the campaign as I play it. Instead, I am writing this after playing through four scenarios which I feel is enough playtime for me to formulate an opinion on the game.

The campaign we are playing through is Skulls & Shackles which has a pirate theme. There seems to be a lot of cutlasses, eye-patches, ships and parrots in this game! I have yet to actually find a storyline, though.

Ah-ha, Me Hearties!

PACG tries to recreate a roleplaying experience without needing a games master. Each player controls a character represented by a card with a full illustration of the character and another card which shows the character’s skills and abilities. The skills and abilities card has little tick boxes so that as the campaign progresses the characters can improve.

There is also a deck for each character representing the gear that they can use. This is a deck-builder so the player will get chances to change the cards in that deck as the game (and the campaign) goes on.

Photograph of the character card for Jirelle, a Half-Elf swashbuckler.
No chainmail bikinis here! Jirelle is tooled up and ready to buckle some swashes!

I chose to play Jirelle, a swashbuckling Half-Elf. Why? Well, since I had no idea how the game worked I just picked the character who looked coolest – always a good plan! 🙂

On the table there are decks of cards that represent locations your character can visit and explore. Simply place your full art card next to the location of your choice and get exploring!

Finally there is a deck of blessings cards which acts as a timer. On each player’s turn they reveal and discard the top card of the blessings deck. If there are no cards left in that deck then the game ends with the heroes defeated.

Hunting Villains and Their Henchmen

What is the goal of the game, then? Well, it seems that the goal is to find the Villain and defeat it. At the game’s start, the Villain and its Henchmen are shuffled together. Then one of these cards is shuffled into each of the location decks.

Before the Villain can be defeated, though, each of the other locations must be ‘closed’. This involves exploring through the deck until the Henchman is found, defeating that, and then performing an action to close the location. The closing action is typically passing a check or discarding a card.

If the Villain is found and other locations are open then the Villain will escape to one of the other locations when it is defeated. So close the locations, find the Villain and defeat it. Simples!

Just Keep Flipping, Just Keep Flipping

I’ve been using the word ‘explore’ a lot without actually explaining what that means in the context of the Pathfinder Adventure Card Game. Exploring is the meat of a player’s turn and must be performed at least once per turn. Once a player has chosen a location for their character to be at then they explore it – this means they reveal the top card of that deck and deal with the consequences. It’s here that things can get a bit silly.

If I reveal a monster or Villain/Henchmen then I will have to fight it. That makes sense. If I reveal an Ally then I must pass certain checks to add that to my character’s deck, again that makes sense. If I reveal an item, such as a weapon, armour or even an eye-patch(!), then I must pass a check to acquire it. Really? My character has just found an eye-patch but can’t just pick it up? What?!

Checks have a target number that must be rolled on certain dice and this appears to be where people seem to think the game is ‘fun’. If I run into a Draugr (no idea what this is but there’s a card for it) then I must fight it by trying to roll a 9 or more. I choose a weapon in my hand, a Rapier perhaps, which will say something like “For your combat check use your Strength or Melee skill +2d4).” So I look at my character card and see I have a Strength of d6 and no Melee skill so I’m fighting this by rolling one six sided die and two four sided dice. The odds look slightly in my favour.

But wait! Looking at my character card I can see that if Jirelle uses a card with Finesse on it then she gains the Melee skill and it is equal to her Dexterity+2. Looking higher up on the card I can see that her Dexterity is d10 (or one ten sided die). So now I’m going to be rolling one ten sided die and two four sided dice and then adding 2 to the result. My odds are looking better.

But wait! Looking further at my character card I can see that if Jirelle uses a card with Swashbuckling on it she gets to re-roll one of the dice used in the check. She’ll have to keep the new result but it’s handy for re-rolling those 1s! So now I’m going to be rolling one ten sided die and two four sided dice and then adding 2 to the result. I can now re-roll one of those dice if I want. My odds are looking better and better.

But wait! Looking at the weapon card I can choose to discard it rather than reveal it and then I can roll another four sided die. I’m not feeling lucky so I’ll do this. So now I’m going to be rolling one ten sided die and three four sided dice and then adding 2 to the result. I can now re-roll one of those dice if I want. My odds are looking better and better and better.

But wait! If it’s particularly important that I defeat this monster then either myself, or the other players, can discard a Blessing card to let me add another die to the pool I’m rolling. Let’s say one of my friends does this, then I’ll be rolling two ten sided die and three four sided dice and then adding 2 to the result. I can now re-roll one of those dice if I want. My odds are looking better and better and better and better.

Photograph of the character skills card and a weapon card. Ballons have been drawn which link keywords on the character card to the weapon card.
This is what it is all about – finding synergies between cards

After all that I roll the dice and get a total of 7 so the Draugr (still don’t know what it is) defeats me and I lose some life which equates to discarding cards.

Now imagine doing this for every single check in the game. Imagine the fun! The people who have commented on what a great roleplaying experience this game is obviously misspelled rollplaying. It’s tiring and hard work.

Min/Maxers Heaven!

And that’s about how this game feels to me. Flip card, figure out what bonuses you’ve got, roll dice, repeat. This game seems to really appeal to gamers who really, really enjoy finding all of those little combos that mean innocent looking cards become overpowered and the game becomes bogged down in “I do this, I do that, I’ll do this other thing and then that thing and then I’ll roll this handful of dice”. The last bit really irks because after doing all of this it still comes down to the luck of a dice roll!

It’s obviously scratching some itch with my friends who seem to love it but I’m struggling to see the attraction. If I want a ‘roleplaying experience’ then I’ll play an RPG that actually encourages roleplaying rather than adding numbers together before rolling dice. If I want a deckbuilder then I’ll play something with a quicker tempo like Legendary Encounters: Aliens. And if I want to roll a lot of dice then I’ll play Yahtzee.

I was under the impression there would be atmosphere, characters and storyline. I’ve still yet to work out why I’m encountering these monsters and who these Villains are. What is the point of this game? What is the scenario?

I’ll keep playing this game but only because of who I play it with not because of the game. Should anything interesting actually happen then I’ll report it on this blog but don’t hold your breath!

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *