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Pathfinder Adventure Card Game Strategy #1—The Three Resources

Tuesday, September 13, 2016

Today, we begin a strategy blog written by game historian Shannon Appelcline. As Shannon says, these are strategies for one way to play the game, based on tabletop playthroughs of all three current Pathfinder Adventure Card Game Adventure Paths, plus about a gazillion plays of Obsidian Entertainment's addictive Pathfinder Adventures.

The Pathfinder Adventure Card Game is a complex game that supports extremely high replayability. That's because you can play it in many different ways. The core of playing PACG is understanding the three crucial resources that form the core of the game: time, cards, and decks.

Time is the First Most Valuable Resource

PACG has a constantly ticking clock. Normally, if you advance through 30 player-turns without completing your goal, you lose the game. It's a balance between two hourglasses: the blessings deck timer, which counts down the turns, and the location timer, which lays out what still needs to be explored.

That means that everythingshould be seen through the lens of time. If you fail to defeat a bane, that's not necessarily disastrous, but it does cost you a turn. Conversely, if you play a blessing or an ally that allows an extra exploration, or a detection spell that successfully enables an exploration, you gain a turn. Minimize your lost turns and maximize your gained turns and you'll practically guarantee a win.

With that said, running out of time and losing isn't a big deal. It just means that you need to play the adventure again. Don't put your character's life at risk to win an adventure, and if you get to the point where you decide you're losing, look toward other priorities (like improving your deck).

Corollary #1: Build decks to take extra turns. Give your character cards that will maximize your turns. This is easy for Kyra, who has tons of blessings, and Lini, who recharges her animal companions. It's trickier for Ezren, who has no blessings, and Sajan, who needs to conserve his blessings for super punching. Though most characters should give preference to allies who give extra explorations, that's particularly important for these blessing-impaired characters. Characters like Ezren also need to concentrate on gaining turns via other means, such as the Detect Magic and Haste spells.

Corollary #2: Play cards to take extra turns. This mostly refers to blessings: you want to be conservative about using them for their extra dice effect when they could otherwise provide extra turns. It's particularly easy to misuse blessings when you're trying to save a character who got backed into a dark alley by a bad combat. If you're looking at spending two or four blessings to save him, carefully consider whether it's worthwhile. Is saving the cards in his hand plus killing the monster really worth those two to four lost bonus turns? (Maybe, but you should make the calculation.)

You should even think about whether it's worth recharging a card like an ally that you could otherwise discard for a new turn. This is a tougher calculation because it's advantageous to keep cards in the deck, and you will probably eventually get to discard that card for its extra turn when it drifts back up through your deck.

The idea of focusing on cards' turn-gaining ability becomes moot if you've played aggressively enough that your blessing timer has caught up with your location timer. When this happens, become more willing to play your blessings and allies for purposes other than just pushing forward—particularly for improving your deck, another PACG priority.

Corollary #3: Don't worry about player count! When you have more players, it feels like you need to play faster, but that isn't necessarily true. Whatever your player count, you just need to close two locations, then you have the right number of characters left to spread out and be ready to temporarily close all the locations when someone stumbles upon the villain.

With that said, player count does change the way that PACG plays. Lower player counts bring the blessing timer and the location timer into balance, but they decrease the amount of support you get from other players (in the form of blessings) and the amount of coverage you have for different skills. PACG is probably tougher with a smaller party… but that's not necessarily due to the timer.

Cards Are the Second Most Valuable Resource

PACG has another ticking clock: the cards in your character deck. If they run out, your character dies. And you're encouraged to run out because playing more cards generally helps you accrue time, and that's the biggest ticking clock in the game.

This means that Cure is the most important card in the whole game. It lets you recycle 1d4+1 cards, which could easily be 1d4+1 extra turns. If you know there are Cures in the game, then you can play more aggressively and make it more likely that you'll complete the scenarios.

The other healing spells and powers are important too. Kyra is likely the most powerful character in Rise of the Runelords because of her heavy density of blessings combined with her Heal power, which gives her the ability to return cards just by spending one of her plentiful Divine cards and a first exploration. Seelah is probably the second most powerful character if you take the Hospitalizer role, because she can freeform heal by burying Divine cards. And that's to say nothing of cards like Father Zantus, Staff of Minor Healing, and others.

Corollary #1: Give multiple heals to Divine casters. Consider giving any Divine spellcaster in your game two Cures so that they'll come up frequently, and so that you can use one to recover the other if you roll badly on a recharge. At higher levels a Mass Cure or even a Pillar of Life can, of course, substitute for one of those Cures.

Corollary #2: Give healing ability to other characters! This can take the form of Father Zantus, Staff of Minor Healing, or even Potion of Healing. This lets these characters play aggressively too, without worrying about having to hook up with Kyra, Seelah, Lini, or Lem.

Corollary #3: Back off if you need healing! You never, ever want to lose your character to death in PACG. Do your best to ensure it's not a possibility. If you're getting to the point where your draw pile is the same size as your hand size, give up adventuring. Stay in a nice, safe, closed location while the rest of your fellows continue on. (And tell someone to come heal you!)

Decks Are the Third Most Valuable Resource

One of the trickiest aspects of PACG is that you're not just trying to win an individual game. You're also trying to improve your character to make it more likely that you'll win future games too. That means that you sometimes have to spend your short-term time resources and card resources to improve your long-term deck resources.

Corollary #1: Don't worry about gathering boons you don't want. If you encounter a boon that's clearly not going to improve anyone's deck, and if it's not likely to give you extra turns or other notable advantages in your current game, don't expend resources to collect it.

Corollary #2: Do worry about gathering boons you do want. If a card would improve someone's deck, expend the effort to collect it. If it's a big improvement, you should do this even if you have to spend turns (blessings) to do so, and maybe even if you might lose the game as a result.

Next time: Playing your cards.

Shannon Appelcline
Game Historian

More Paizo Blog.
Tags: Adventure Card Game Strategy Pathfinder Adventure Card Game

Pathfinder Card Game Subscriber

Very interesting. I prefer to give RotR Ezren cards to help him acquire magic boons. It deals with resources 1 & 3. And lots of times those cards recharge when he plays them, helping resource 2.

Looking forward to more.

By the way, I think the blog title is from a previous blog.


I don't like using blessings to explore. Allies? Fine. detect magic and its fellows? Even better. But I hate losing the dice a blessing will give me.

If I do use a blessing to explore then it'll be early game and I'll be fairly confident I can get it back in my deck somehow.

In fact, to avoid the quandary of using a blessing to explore I'll often opt for characters with low numbers of blessings in their starting decks


Also the date of publication :)

Should we expect a Warpriest preview sometime soon as well?

By the way, I currently built my S&S Damiel with the Alchemist class deck in OP to provide a lot of non-blessing explores. Given he only has 2 allies max, but he can recharge the allies he uses, and I can cycle through my deck a lot, I can probably get 4-6 extra explores in a game off that alone, provided I cycle through my deck a lot.

Also, from reading Shannon's profile, I knew something I didn't before - that Mayfair was actually created in the 80s.


Pathfinder Card Game, Class Deck Subscriber

I'll grant you that - 'Hospitalizer' is one bad-ass name for a Paladin order!


Pathfinder Card Game Subscriber

I too tend to explore with allies first, since blessings are generally more versatile.

Paizo Employee Designer

Hawkmoon269 wrote:
I too tend to explore with allies first, since blessings are generally more versatile.

Me too, though it depends on the AP as well. Wrath seemed to strongly push the style of using allies to explore but saving blessings to assist on checks by a combination of allies that gave an extra explore "+", situations that were nearly one-hit kill without blessing support (for instance in B, things like "Enora faces Carrion Golem") or impossible to otherwise win the scenario without blessing spam (like "That army check your whole party doesn't have in 6 player") whereas in Runelords, monsters were generally pretty easy and things like find traps could help with barriers so it was much safer to just blow through everything for turns. I am rarely tempted to use allies that can't explore; I will admit, though, that the stained glass golem in the alchemist class deck is so powerful a lifeline in allowing reckless checks with fewer blessings that I was willing to give up on having an exploring ally to take it.

Shadow Lodge

Pathfinder Adventure Path, Campaign Setting, Card Game, Cards, Class Deck, Companion, Maps, Pawns, Roleplaying Game Subscriber; Pathfinder Comics Subscriber
Hawkmoon269 wrote:
I too tend to explore with allies first, since blessings are generally more versatile.

As do I.

Another problem is which blessing to use if there are multiple players who could contribute a blessing to a check. Obviously you'd rather not use blessings from somebody who is getting low on cards in their deck; similarly, if you're far enough along in the game that you often want to use more than one extra die to make a check you'd rather not take the last blessing from somebody's hand if there is somebody else who could supply an equivalent blessing. And, of course, you often want to save a particular blessing for a check where it will be able to add two dice. But one little detail that is often overlooked is that, everything else being equal, you probably want to use a blessing from the player who will first be able to replace it (often the person whose turn it currently is); the fewer turns players spend with a hand missing one or more cards, the more chances you have to win.

Lone Shark Games

1 person marked this as a favorite.
zeroth_hour2 wrote:
Should we expect a Warpriest preview sometime soon as well?

You should.

Silver Crusade

I suspect this "use blessings to explore" logic will be extra handy in Mummy's Mask, with its precision aspect, as well as what seem to be more specific blessings.


Pathfinder Battles Case Subscriber; Pathfinder Card Game, Class Deck Subscriber
Hawkmoon269 wrote:
I too tend to explore with allies first, since blessings are generally more versatile.

Especially in a large group where you can play many blessings on a single check and can rely on other characters rather than allies to pass a specific hard check.


I really love in depth conversations like these, especially once you've gotten over the initial hurdle of "how do I play this game?" :)

I've noticed I really don't like using my allies for explorations; I'd rather keep them for their powers? (*insert comment about Mother Myrtle recharging Cats and Lizards and Toads here*)

Quite often in Pathfinder Adventures I'll find myself with 10 turns left and no chance of defeating the scenario, so I'll go all out on boon hunting. Our table had to do that at the latest HawkCon as we had too many locations open and Brielle was very low on cards (she had 9 or 10 cards buried, NONE by any of her own powers) and we didn't want to risk it. Upgrades ahoy!

(Theyron, now I'm self-conscious about my comments not adding to the conversation!)

Scarab Sages

Pathfinder Card Game Subscriber

I don't mind exploring with allies and blessings, more explores the better usually, it's team work and having couple blessings available with whole party is often enough. Unless you know that you are facing a really tough fight, then we like to keep more resources available. We generally use allies before blessings, unless you want to keep them for powers or similar.

After reading the healer part of the blog I have to say Cogsnap makes fun healer sometimes. Brewing potions and recycling potions of healing can be a lot of fun. He became my favorite character when I got my alchemist class deck. ACG is a lot easier with healers in party, it can be tough without a proper healer in party.

Also can't wait for warpriest! My favorite pfs class for sure, I hope it's as awesome in acg as it is in pfs.


Interesting.
I feel advice like this is often tough to write when there's a well-established audience with their own strategies, who are as likely to disagree as not. Maybe tough is the wrong word. I know I'd be intimidated, so kudos on laying some nice groundwork.

That said - "Characters like Ezren also need to concentrate on gaining turns via other means, such as the Detect Magic and Haste spells." No mention of his free exploration ability? How many players have seen him go thru the Academy or Thassilonian Dungeon in one turn thanks to it? :)

In fact, not to sound over-critical, but the whole discussion of turns and timers failed to mention character abilities like that.
Most wizards get some version of the "acquire magic, go again" power; a handful of characters get their own "defeat something, go again" power; another handful get their own "do your special thing, go again" power (Olenjack, Ranzak, Imrijka, Duelist Jirelle, Unstoppable Force Amiri, Stargazer Alahazra, Smuggler Merisiel, and so on [this list got longer than I was expecting when I started it *grin*])
And there's the locations that do it for you. Love top-decking a monster or an ally at the Academy or General Store, or burning thru Holy Isle or Coastline in one or two turns.

As to the discussion of allies vs boons, I use both to explore, but not very aggressively.
I'm very math oriented, so I keep re-checking the overall situation to give me an idea of whether I a) need to rush, b) have plenty of time to be cautious, or c) can do whatever I feel like. As she notes, it's largely about how many blessings are left vs how many location cards.
In a statistically perfect world, three players rarely need to explore more than once per turn. Crank it up to six, and each one should generally explore twice per turn.
And I can guarantee that that mentality is the culprit of most of our games that come close to running out of time. ;) Hey, it's not my fault when the villain and most henchmen are towards the bottom of the locations. And only encountering the villain in the final open location seems to be the norm for us.

Of course, sometimes the math breaks down and I just want to dig a location before anyone else does, so I push it. Or something like that - Brielle gets bored with a handful of items, which leads to carefree ally use when she gets a bunch of them together. *chuckle*


Pathfinder Card Game Subscriber

In larger groups (4+) I tend to explore rather conservatively at first. Every time around the table, I take stock of what the location decks look like. If we've got a few closed in the first turn or two, I keep conservative. If we get to halfway through the blessings deck and nothing is closed yet, then it is time to pump out explorations like there is no tomorrow. I find that works well the vast majority of the time. There are a few times I'll lose, if the villain is really buried and at one of the locations I didn't start at, but it generally works well.

I also find it hard to resist recharging an ally when their power applies to the check. I know Amiri doesn't really need that extra 1d4 from the Soldier, but using it feels so good. I credit the Farm House with teaching me to look for opportunities to recharge my allies.


Pathfinder Card Game, Class Deck Subscriber; Starfinder Charter Superscriber

That strategy works fairly well for my group as well. When we do lose a scenario it usually comes down to horrific luck and terrible rolls.

I usually favor using allies for a recharge function unless I acquire them during exploration, then I almost always use them to explore. Same with blessings, but those are rare in most scenarios.

I also find that characters with the ability to evade banes can set up some really great strategies for cornering villains quickly.

Paizo Employee Chief Technical Officer

Iceman wrote:


As she notes, it's largely about how many blessings are left vs how many location cards. ..

This Shannon is a "he."


1 person marked this as a favorite.
Hawkmoon269 wrote:
I also find it hard to resist recharging an ally when their power applies to the check. I know Amiri doesn't really need that extra 1d4 from the Soldier, but using it feels so good. I credit the Farm House with teaching me to look for opportunities to recharge my allies.

Recharging feels so good. Card economy. Yum.


When I recharge, I like to recharge everything (eg Alchemists)

And if I get to put stuff I need to reuse on top of my deck (eg Zarlova), all the better.

Paizo Employee Designer

Characters with abilities to recharge allies for their discard abilities (and allies that are just flat out recharge to explore) are some of my favorites since I can explore and recharge; special mention to Adowyn's even more powerful ability to selectively grab allies from her discard pile (or her deck, I guess, but mostly her discard pile) every time she plays an ally.

Silver Crusade

I like to play Ramexes for the explores. Discard all my allies, then bury all my allies. Or better yet, discard my allies, cure my allies, discard again, then bury. Bwahaha. Their entrails pave my way!

Paizo Employee Designer

Eliandra Giltessan wrote:
I like to play Ramexes for the explores. Discard all my allies, then bury all my allies. Or better yet, discard my allies, cure my allies, discard again, then bury. Bwahaha. Their entrails pave my way!

In Season of the Runelords, our group's Reta has been having success with the similar strategy of:

Step 1 : Acquire boons that no one in their right mind would normally want to acquire (but goblins aren't in their right minds and they love junk!).
Step 2: Discard said junk boons at end of turn if not used for damage (or for step 3) during turn.
Step 3: Bury useless boons to explore after combat, all the while never taking up her hand (or polluting her draws if she gets healed).


Mark Seifter wrote:
Characters with abilities to recharge allies for their discard abilities (and allies that are just flat out recharge to explore) are some of my favorites since I can explore and recharge; special mention to Adowyn's even more powerful ability to selectively grab allies from her discard pile (or her deck, I guess, but mostly her discard pile) every time she plays an ally.

Recharge to explore allies are ridiculously powerful, which is why they are either very hard to get or come with a drawback of some kind. Carbuncle shuffles itself into a location on encountering a monster, Nurah Dendiwar betrays you if you roll badly, Blessing of Bark Breaker damages a character at your location, Grillixbee and Jerribeth are limited to a single scenario IIRC, and only Hanelius Fitch has no drawback.

But I like them too, which is why I built Damiel to take advantage of them :)

Paizo Employee Designer

zeroth_hour2 wrote:
Mark Seifter wrote:
Characters with abilities to recharge allies for their discard abilities (and allies that are just flat out recharge to explore) are some of my favorites since I can explore and recharge; special mention to Adowyn's even more powerful ability to selectively grab allies from her discard pile (or her deck, I guess, but mostly her discard pile) every time she plays an ally.

Recharge to explore allies are ridiculously powerful, which is why they are either very hard to get or come with a drawback of some kind. Carbuncle shuffles itself into a location on encountering a monster, Nurah Dendiwar betrays you if you roll badly, Blessing of Bark Breaker damages a character at your location, Grillixbee and Jerribeth are limited to a single scenario IIRC, and only Hanelius Fitch has no drawback.

But I like them too, which is why I built Damiel to take advantage of them :)

Yep. I'm a fan of Carbuncle on a character that has easy scouting to make sure not to fight a monster. I managed to keep the little guy with Adowyn without ever losing him until I gave him up after the power of playing animal allies just became too much.

But yeah, allies with the alchemical trait that normally banish are delightful for alchemists.


As nice as a Pathfinder card game is, I still wait and hope for a single player Pathfinder RPG Game like Baldur's Gate or Neverwinter Nights. :D


Iceman wrote:

That said - "Characters like Ezren also need to concentrate on gaining turns via other means, such as the Detect Magic and Haste spells." No mention of his free exploration ability? How many players have seen him go thru the Academy or Thassilonian Dungeon in one turn thanks to it? :)

In fact, not to sound over-critical, but the whole discussion of turns and timers failed to mention character abilities like that.

There are some more specifics in future sections, but I also plan to give Mike some articles on the 11 initial characters. It might be a while in the future though, depending on how fast he runs through the 10k words of strategy (!) I gave him.


Pathfinder Card Game Subscriber
Shannon wrote:
Corollary #2: Do worry about gathering boons you do want. If a card would improve someone's deck, expend the effort to collect it. If it's a big improvement, you should do this even if you have to spend turns (blessings) to do so, and maybe even if you might lose the game as a result.

I've actually risked failing a scenario (and maybe even have failed a scenario) because of a card I really, really, really wanted. Usually when another character who would be horrible at acquiring it encounters it. It takes a lot of blessings to make a d4 Intelligence viable to acquire a good spell.

Interestingly, I don't do that in organized play, even though every card of the same deck number is potentially the best card in my class deck of that deck number. I don't even feel the desire to do so. I don't know if that is because the card we are actually encountering isn't the actual card I'd want or if it is just the social norms of organized play.

Silver Crusade

Hawkmoon269 wrote:
Shannon wrote:
Corollary #2: Do worry about gathering boons you do want. If a card would improve someone's deck, expend the effort to collect it. If it's a big improvement, you should do this even if you have to spend turns (blessings) to do so, and maybe even if you might lose the game as a result.

I've actually risked failing a scenario (and maybe even have failed a scenario) because of a card I really, really, really wanted. Usually when another character who would be horrible at acquiring it encounters it. It takes a lot of blessings to make a d4 Intelligence viable to acquire a good spell.

Interestingly, I don't do that in organized play, even though every card of the same deck number is potentially the best card in my class deck of that deck number. I don't even feel the desire to do so. I don't know if that is because the card we are actually encountering isn't the actual card I'd want or if it is just the social norms of organized play.

I think there are a couple of factors with organized play. One is that we have been playing SotRi, which means that we really need those blessings to succeed at the dexterity/acrobatics 16 BYA check against the villain. (Even though there's no way Seelah is making that.)

I also feel like because organized play is more scheduled, and because often you are playing with strangers, there is more pressure to win. The strangers thing creates social norms of playing optimally. I don't like replaying scenarios in my home games, but we already have so much replaying to catch up to other people in weekly OP that I don't want to replay because we lose.

That said, I really do want that blessing of Norgorber in my deck. And I definitely spent a blessing in SotRu to get that level 5 Headband of Vast Intelligence because Alahazra needs her Blindfold of the Night Sky. So often I am expending resources on boons I don't really want for themselves but that I can replace with better items from my class deck. But there often reaches a point in adventures where you already have all the upgrades you want. A common question is, "Does anyone want a 4 item?" And if the answer is no, away it goes.


ShannonA wrote:
... the 10k words of strategy (!) I gave him.

Dang, Shannon. That is both impressive and enticing. I don't get to play the ACG very often, but I always feel the itch. I loved this blog post and I'm looking forward to all the other 10k words you've got dedicated to the topic! =)


Vic Wertz wrote:
Iceman wrote:
As she notes, it's largely about how many blessings are left vs how many location cards. ..
This Shannon is a "he."

Dammit! Sorry, Shannon. I looked at the erzo page, but didn't go all the way down to the facebook link. :)

Scarab Sages

Pathfinder Card Game Subscriber

Axiom #3, Corollary #2 is all I really needed to read from this - it heralds the greatest thing about this entire game, boon-grabbing. Of course, others (like cartmanbeck) may disagree, but...*shrugs*.


Eliandra Giltessan wrote:

I think there are a couple of factors with organized play. One is that we have been playing SotRi, which means that we really need those blessings to succeed at the dexterity/acrobatics 16 BYA check against the villain. (Even though there's no way Seelah is making that.)

I also feel like because organized play is more scheduled, and because often you are playing with strangers, there is more pressure to win. The strangers thing creates social norms of playing optimally. I don't like replaying scenarios in my home games, but we already have so much replaying to catch up to other people in weekly OP that I don't want to replay because we lose.

I agree with Eliandra here. When you play with strangers, or even in a regular group sometimes, there's this feeling of "session success is a valuable thing because our time is valuable".

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