Thursday, February 22, 2018
This is the fourteenth installment of our strategy blog written by game historian Shannon Appelcline. You can read all the installments here.
Building a party is only half the story; you also want to improve those characters over time. This article talks about how to do so in a general way, then next month's article focuses on thinking about precise cards (and traits). Most of this general advice is strategic, affecting overall play.
Start with the pregen decks
It might seem like strange advice, but it's often best to begin inefficiently. If you start with the pregenerated deck for your character, listed in the rulebook, then you have great ground to build from: you can spend the "Basic" adventures, which don't give out many feats, adapting your deck to your own liking.
(This also has the benefit of making it really easy to start your first game.)
Corollary #1: If cards aren't fun, dump them. But don't go too far. If it looks like a card is never going to get used and doesn't add to your fun, dump it. The goal of this starting advice is to make the early parts of your PACG campaign more fun, so make sure that's what happens.
Assess what characters need before each game
At the start of each scenario, review your characters' weaknesses and what categories of cards might help them. These might be group-wide inadequacies, such as insufficient healing or inability to deal with traps. More likely, they're weaknesses in your own character, such as not having leveled up your combat cards or having items that just aren't that useful. Use these needs as a guide for play throughout the session.
Corollary #1: Make card needs a priority in location choice. Once you've determined what sorts of cards your characters could benefit from, consider positioning them at locations that are full of those cards—though do so as part of a total strategy for choosing locations, as outlined in "Choosing Location Decks."
Tag-team your deckbuilding
Remember that this is a cooperative game. You should help other characters get what they need. When you discover a gap among your skills, or a character that needs a specific sort of card, your next step should be to determine who can best acquire those cards. Then send them in! You can always trade cards at the end of the game.
Corollary #1: Toss cards that are useless to you into your discard pile. You should never be afraid to toss cards that are clogging your hand into your discard pile. This is particularly true when you acquire a card for someone else, and it's not that useful to you.
Make deckbuilding a priority in play
In order to constantly improve your characters, you need to make sure that deckbuilding is a priority in your play. Send characters to locations where they can get stuff that your party needs, then consider spending blessings or playing other good cards to make sure they get that good stuff. It shouldn't be your first priority; that should be winning. But it should probably be your second priority, and something that you're always considering.
Corollary #1: Make deckbuilding the first priority if you're losing. If you're already losing, why not making deckbuilding the first priority? Talk with your group, and if you decide your current mission is hopeless, refocus on getting as many boons as you can before the timer runs out.
Corollary #2: Perhaps making deckbuilding the first priority if you're running behind. This could be controversial, but sometimes you may want to go into a game with a losing attitude. If you feel like your characters are behind the curve and haven't picked up enough of the more recent cards, then you're likely to be losing some games in your near future anyway. So, why not cut to the chase and start going after boons now? If you get lucky and close some locations, then you can reassess.
You can also play a few tactical tricks to improve your overall deckbuilding.
Purposefully void a category during play
You can improve your group's decks by purposefully creating a void in a category of cards. It works like this: one or more characters have bad cards in the category; you don't collect anything new for the category during the adventure; and you banish some of the bad cards through play. For example, you can void items by using up potions, you can void armor by using their banish effects, and you can void spells by casting them without the right skill. Some locations also require card banishment. At the end of the game, you will then be able to choose specific cards from the box to fill that void.
This is probably only worthwhile if you realize midgame or later that you're not acquiring a card type. But, if that's the case, consider taking advantage of it.
Corollary #1: Use card feats to create voids. It's even easier to create voids during adventures where victory gives you a card feat. You can take card feats in categories where you're short on cards or have just enough, and that will instantly allow you to draw from the box!
Corollary #2: Push on this tactic starting in adventure #3. This advice isn't that strong while you're working on the first two adventures, because you can only replace voids with Basic cards. But, starting in adventure #3, you can retrieve any card from two boxes earlier. That's the deckbuilding jackpot for this tactic.
Be careful what you take
If you're purposefully voiding a card category, be careful what you take. You don't want to fill that carefully constructed void with some card that you don't care about. Remember that when you encounter a boon, you do not have to try and acquire it. Just reject it if it would fill a void (unless you really need the hit point).
Corollary #1: Also reject Basic and Elite cards late in the game. Rejecting cards is also good advice late in an adventure path when Basic and Elite cards are removed from the game when you banish them. Reject them and they'll be gone instantly; this will also improve your long-term deckbuilding, because it will improve your pool of cards.
Don't give characters cards that will get stuck
Here's another way to be careful about what you take. When you're rebuilding decks, don't give characters cards that will get stuck in their hand, clogging it for a whole game. What this means is different for different characters. If a character can recharge (like Lem) or bury (like Amiri) or discard (like Lirianne), they can get anything out of their hand. But, if a character instead has to depend on the actual cards for deck cycling, then be sure to give them lots more recharging cards, particularly allies, armors, and (if it's possible) items.
I've got one more article for this series, which is going to talk about specific types of cards to acquire. I hope to see you back in a month to bid my strategy discussion bon voyage.