At BGG.Con, an attendee wins a stack of games while playing the Pathfinder Adventure Card Game. Photo by Brian Bagenstose.
A few weeks ago, most of the Pathfinder Adventure Card Game development team landed in Dallas with a mission: to play all 30 sessions of the Rise of the Runelords campaign by the end of BoardGameGeek.Con. That meant six sessions a day for five days, playing adventures we hadn't opened since the playtests in February. For us, it was a trip down memory lane.
But for more than a hundred gamers, it was an exposure to the future of the game. Sure, they knew how to beat goblins. Staring down gargantuan dragons, giant thaumaturges, and succubus queens was another matter entirely.
We'd built six characters: Valeros, Merisiel, Lem, Ezren, Kyra, and Harsk. Developer Paul Peterson arrived a day late, so he didn't get to make his personal favorite character, Lini. (This was a tactical decision on my part: If we included Lini, Paul would never let anyone else play her.) With our sextet ready to go, we waded into BGG.Con hoping to find some people who wanted to play a game with us.
Developer Tanis O'Connor had built us a schedule which we intended to carefully adhere to—and then I blew it out of the gate by launching the Attack on Sandpoint an hour early. Tanis is used to this. I'm not the easiest person to keep on a timetable.
Within an hour, our Wednesday signups were overflowing. We barreled through "Burnt Offerings", teaching new players and giving veterans a chance to show off their skill. But then our big problem evinced itself: At this breakneck pace, with new players at every session, the characters were getting to be…odd. Good, solid boons were being chucked in the box in favor of flashy cards. And that meant one thing: Suddenly, we were losing games.
We back-to-back nosedived the last two "Burnt Offerings" scenarios, Approach to Thistletop and Thistletop Delve. In the Delve, my team ended with villain-fail with two cards in the blessings deck, then villain-fail with one card in the blessings deck. It was brutal. Tanis said, “We have no time to die!” We resolved that we wouldn't lose again all weekend.
So between scenarios of "The Skinsaw Murders" on Thursday, we looked at the character rebuilds and see if we could make a few strategic decisions. Harsk didn't need another Potion of Healing as much as he needed a Spyglass. The Merisiel player—whoever that was at the time—kept tossing out Ilsoari Gandethus, and developer Chad Brown kept tossing him back in. Auto-evading the Sandpoint Devil is something that can't be overvalued.
And then some crazy stuff started happening. In Them Ogres Ain't Right, the first scenario of "Hook Mountain Massacre", Paul found the villain on turn 1 with an Augury. In the next scenario, Here Comes the Flood, we rescued 13 of the 15 available allies through blind luck. Then in Battle at the Dam, Paul's team closed three locations on the first three turns.
And all of that paled to my tweet during "Hook Mountain Massacre's" final scenario, Into the Mountains: “First turn villain, third turn villain, fourth turn villain.” Gah.
On Friday afternoon, the convention stopped briefly for a moment of silence for the 50th anniversary of JFK's assassination. You don't realize how loud 3,000 gamers are until they all decide to hush themselves at once. Quite the moment.
Back at the table, we were cruising. We had a few touch-and-go sessions during adventure 4, "Fortress of the Stone Giants". The Black Tower nearly killed a couple of characters, with its overabundance of harpies and difficult locations. (You are not going to like the combo of Courtyard and Giant Lair, I promise you.) But going into Friday night, we were feeling confident of our chances to complete the marathon on time, with no casualties.
Then, oh yeah, "Sins of the Saviors" did its level best to shatter that confidence. Adventure 5's scenario Rimeskull is a weird one, with lots of big stone heads blowing up all around us. We were ripping through it, looking like we'd have a victory with 15 blessings to go – until we weren't. Like by a lot. We had our first encounter with a big-time dragon, and it broke us over and over. Suddenly, we were staring at one card in the blessings deck and a unpromising sink-or-swim roll in my hands. I nailed it by 1.
And now we were racing a different threat: the weather. On Saturday night, Dallas was being hit by an improbable ice storm, and flights were being cancelled all over the place. Now we didn't know if we'd even have people around to play. But we weren't going to let a little hail (in Dallas!) take us out. Our characters were now titans, bristling with artifacts and the favor of the gods.
It was fitting that the impending blizzard mirrored our most difficult task of the weekend, Sunday morning's scenario 3 of "Spires of Xin-Shalast". That's called Scaling the Mhar Massif, a giant mountain cliff, and it's terrifying. There's a location called the Death Zone, and – no, check that. There are many locations called the Death Zone, and they lived up to their name. Harsk, Ezren, and Lem were all at next-turn-we-die when we hit the top of the peak.
With the convention closing around us, we assayed our last task, Into the Eye. This is a make-or-break throwdown against Karzoug the Claimer, who is the toughest thing in the game. The scenario rips your cards away from you, so much so that TableTop producer Boyan Radakovich realized that he might die before he took his first turn. We really didn't have a chance against Karzoug, with all of us at death's door, until by some miracle we skated out with a victory just as they were turning off the lights.
Amazingly, we realized that we'd just played almost 60 hours of gameplay, and never once got tired of the game we were playing. We have more than 100 people to thank for playing with us (especially our handler, Felipe!), and we hope to try it again with Skull & Shackles next year. Thanks for having us, BGG.Con!
Designer, Pathfinder Adventure Card Game