It's Dangerous to Go Alone... But, You Get ALL the Stuff!

Tuesday, October 13, 2015

The Pathfinder Adventure Card Game is a cooperative game for 1 to 4 players, with an expansion for 5 or 6 players. When I tell people this at conventions, I usually end up repeating it, because "1 to 4 players" rolls naturally off the tongue, and so many people miss the "1" at the start. When we first launched PACG, true one-player games were relatively rare, and my own experience suggested that most people were listening for that high number, not the low one.

Solo play in the PACG is an interesting thing all by itself, in that it was both intentional and accidental. By that, I mean that we had always expected that the game engine would work with one person, but we didn't always expect that it would be a lot of fun to play solo. In fact, at one point in early development, Mike and I had a conversation that included this question: "Have we invented 'grinding'?" If you don't know, "grinding" is a common MMORPG term that describes game play experiences that are considered helpful for advancement, but usually separate from the good, fun parts of the game. It also has an important meaning in the world of poker, but I defer all conversations about poker to the honorable Mr. Selinker.

I'm telling you all this as a lead-in to an abstract discussion about how PACG responds to a variable number of players and characters. After some testing, we determined that one-player games were actually quite fun (probably not for everyone, but few game experiences are really good for everyone). Seven-player and eight-player games worked okay, but the extra downtime and overhead really did seem to make things drag for almost everyone. Six-player games were still pretty good; probably a bit long for some people, but if you're the sort of group that regularly has six people at the table at once, you're probably already prepared for the ups and downs that brings. It also helps that six is a traditional big table size for an RPG campaign, because we thought that some of our players were likely to be Pathfinder RPG groups that played PACG as an alternative.

The fundamental way that the game scales for variable number of characters is through the number of locations that are involved in each scenario. If you've played any of the PACG Adventure Paths, you've probably figured out that the default arrangement is "two more locations than players." This gives everyone a chance to start spread out, grouped up, or in a mixture of the two while still leaving a few places open to the future. It means that you can't quite end the game right out of the gate, even with outstanding luck. There are just too many places to cover. If you're designing your own scenarios, keep in mind that you almost always want there to be more "places" than "people." This creates room for progress.

The other major concern for scaling based on the number of characters in play is the game's timer: the blessings deck. This deck is nearly always 30 cards (and if it isn't 30, it's pretty darn close). This is somewhat counter-intuitive, because it seems plausible to most people that increasing the number of people should increase the number of turns to succeed. In truth, the math is trickier than it seems. If you dig in and figure out the right value for the timer for each of the cases from one to six players, it's always very close to 30.

I'm starting out talking about number of locations and number of cards in the timer deck, both because they're two of the biggest scaling factors, but also because they form the basis for discussing two different types of challenges in PACG: difficulty versus time. The game is balanced around the idea that you can usually succeed against any individual card, if you're willing and able to take enough time. Conversely, you can usually get through enough of the cards in a given scenario to see what you need to see in order to win the scenario, but you might not have the resources to succeed at everything you want to do along the way. Of course, in order to win the scenario, you need both: You need to see certain important cards, and you need to succeed against them. (We could also describe this as a tension between short-term and long-term success.) The tension between the two factors is important, and maintaining it is a tricky balancing act. This is also one reason why we have scenarios that change the parameters: we're shifting the balance of success versus time. When we add another location, we're pushing the "time" side; when we make all Goblins harder to defeat, we're pushing the difficulty side.

This also impacts in the number of characters, because while the number of important locations goes up, the number of cards in the timer deck does not. Obviously, this means that more characters will each have less time to accomplish roughly the same tasks than fewer characters. The game naturally tilts towards increased encounter difficulty in a one-player game or increased time pressure in a six-player game. In fact, many people, upon first seeing the game, assume that the timer deck size must adjust based on the number of players. This comes from a perfectly natural assessment. With more cards to get through, we'll need more time to get through it all, won't we?

The answer, it turns out, is "somewhat, but not as much as you probably think". Clearly, one character can be fairly cautious when using 30 "turns" to get through 30 (10 per location) cards, while six characters will each need to press through quite a bit more cards in location decks to get through 80 cards in those same 30 "turns." For many people looking at PACG for the first time, those numbers seem so far apart that it seems like something must be off. In practice, though, most six-player groups get through those scenarios with about the same win rate—that is, success against the scenario. In fact, we found that larger groups tend to win scenarios a little more often than smaller groups. Usually, these games take longer than one-player sessions of the same scenario, so that total rate of progress is pretty close to the same. Those of you who wrangle six-person tables (of any game!) know that there's often a certain overhead to it that makes a slightly higher win rate (and thus, a lower repeat rate) a welcome turn of events.

How does this work out? If two characters use twice as many cards from the timer deck, how do they keep up with the increased number of cards in location decks? There are many factors, but the biggest (I think) is the marvelous power of synergy. In PACG, characters are wonderful, powerful things. Simply put, having more characters gives the players more potential power. There are more cards in players' hands, more character and role card powers, and more major and minor areas of the game covered. This is potent by itself, but when you add in the ability to combine those cards, powers, and areas of expertise, that's where large groups catch up.

Let's look at either end of the scale. With one character, a typical scenario will have 3 locations of 10 cards each, including a villain and 2 henchmen. With a timer deck of 30 cards, the solo character can afford to proceed with caution, at least much of the time. A solo character probably wants a relatively narrow range of boons, but this opens up the use of random boons as "hit points," fuel for other powers, and one-shot effects. In a three-player game, Amiri probably has to consider whether to give that Cure spell to Lini or banish it for its sweet 1d4+1 cards right now; in a one-character game, there are no such concerns. With 30 turns, Harsk can afford to wait and reset his hand whenever things get a little tense. Kyra can afford to spend her first exploration on a turn to heal herself, even if she does nothing else. Merisiel, in many ways the iconic solo character, can just call "whoops, evade!" over and over in a way that would cause some serious time pressure in a six-player game.

If we add a second character—something that we recommend, just because the wide variety of challenges can make it really hard for a single character to handle everything we might throw at you—the math mostly remains the same. There are now 40 cards in 4 locations, and 30 "turns" in the timer deck. There's some pressure to explore more than once a turn, but it's usually not overwhelming. Slow and Steady, as they say, wins the scenario. (At least, I think that's how the saying goes.)


Two great tastes that might not taste great together in your first two-character team.

On the other end, the six-player group typically has to cover 8 locations of 10 cards each, including a villain and a gaggle of henchmen, and they've got to do it with the same 30 cards in the blessings deck. This means that the large group needs to build and maintain momentum. If each character encounters only 1 card each time she discards the top of the timer deck, the group really isn't going to see most of the cards in the scenario. That said, things aren't exactly bleak for the large group; in fact, they generally succeed slightly more often.

You might wonder why this happens, and there are many reasons. As a group, they usually can cover all of the bases. The group can include both characters that like to stay with others and characters that like to be left alone. Valeros can afford to spend most of his blessings to explore his location again and again, because there are 5 other hands that can donate a blessing if he really needs it. In fact, there are just a lot more cards in general, so there are usually resources available for helping—adding to a check, healing damage, scouting locations, moving characters around, and so on. When the group is looking at defending open locations, chances are really good that someone is good at whatever needs to be done, whether that's succeeding at a skill check, bashing monsters, or just having the right kind of card to spend. The number of weak spots goes down and the ability to cover weak spots goes up. Sure, there's a bit more competition for some resources, but when encounters count, the large group can almost always find a way.

There's another big factor, too: that gaggle of henchmen. While 80 cards in 30 "turns" sounds like a lot, the math is actually much friendlier; the group needs to get through 8 locations, rather than 80 cards. Breaking out some basic statistics, the chances are good (very good) that several of those locations can be closed after encountering roughly half of the location deck. In Statistically Average World, the large group will get to close each location after the fifth or sixth card. If they're successful each time they get this chance, they're now seeing about 50 cards instead of 80. Remember that large groups have a much greater ability to succeed at "important" checks. They have more collective resources to bring to bear, so their chances here are good. They can also afford (some might say "need") to be a bit more aggressive in exploring, because the group safety net is stronger.

Different Challenges for Different Groups

I've talked about the different types of challenge faced by small and large groups, and hopefully that makes sense to you now. Next I want to talk about how we design for these different types of challenge, including how we impact each type of group, and how we break it.

If we make the cost of failure against a particular card especially high, this tends to hit the small group harder than the large group. The large group can usually rally for "important" moments in a way that the smaller group can't. This is especially true for nasty henchmen, villains, locations, and scenarios.


Meet the original RotR Power Couple.

This is something that we keep in mind when we design scenarios especially. While we try to make sure that most groups see most of the cards in a given set, we also try to arrange to keep the "meaner" locations towards the end of the locations list, so that they show up more often for larger groups that are better equipped the deal with them.

When small groups get into trouble, it's often because they really need to do something that is hard for the group (say, a Divine check for Merisiel and Ezren) and they're low on resources at that time. Effects that take cards out of your hand before the encounter are rough here, because they're more likely to "hit where it hurts" in a small group.

On the other hand, the "horde" barriers are a good example of cards that are aimed at keeping the challenge high for large groups. When we force an encounter for everyone, we expect that some of the characters will be able to best the encounter with minimal resources (which is great, because it lets a player feel mastery), but often there will also be a few characters who need help. This provides an opportunity for the group to come together and figure out how to handle the challenge as a group. Sometimes, this involves someone sacrificing himself to the challenge, thus spending his resources on someone else. In these situations, we almost always let the group decide the order for the encounters. We do this not just because it feels right for a cooperative game, but also because it enables these sorts of tactical and strategic decisions. When a "horde" bane must be defeated by everyone in order to itself be defeated, this creates a different strategic cascade than if the horde is defeated based solely on your check, so you'll probably want to proceed in a different order and play different cards for each.


Fun and games for everyone!

With this in mind, if you look through the various APs, I'll bet you can see its influence everywhere. You'll see it when a giant deals damage to everyone at its location; when a scenario encourages (or forces) everyone to group up; when a villain makes "you" or "a character at your location" summon and encounter another bane; when you're looking to see whether an item helps characters "at your location" or anywhere; or when a power counts the number of open locations, or characters, or locations. You'll also see it when you put characters who like groups (like RotR Lem or Valeros) alongside characters who want to be by themselves (like RotR Merisiel)... or at least, characters who want to be somewhere other than where the fight currently is (like RotR Harsk).


Both are good to have on your side, but not at the same place.

Adventure Paths: Different but Same

Finally, I'd like to talk a little bit about how we use this aspect of the game when we're designing Adventure Paths. Anyone who read my previous blog about the Differences in Difficulty between the APs should know that we aim for different experiences in difficulty over time between the Adventure Paths. We also use differences in scaling of groups to try to give each AP its own feel, but we want to keep the underlying game the same. This flows both from our attempts to make the game "different but the same", and it also flows naturally from the story of the Adventure Paths themselves. There are two specific examples that I think are worth talking about here: ships and armies.

In Skull & Shackles, we knew right away that we wanted to have ships in the game. We played with several different systems for ships and ship combat before settling on the system used in the AP, and several of the changes came directly out of group size scaling. Comparing Skull & Shackles to Rise of the Runelords, it should be immediately obvious that there are some specific skills that are very important to S&S, including the skills that represent sailing, navigating, commanding, and repairing a ship. The characters in S&S vary in their talent with these skills, but we tried to make sure that every character that we felt should be naturally good at dealing with a ship alone should have some way to be good at these skills, because we wanted to make sure that small groups could play the AP. Rather than having a specific location separate from the characters, the ship is (when not docked) assumed to be at the location of the active player. It comes and goes, and when it's your turn, the ship is with you. We also changed the way structural damage worked so that anyone could deal with it rather than only the characters at the relevant location. This change made the ship and its upkeep feel like it was a group responsibility, rather than an individual character's. These two factors balanced each other. Some characters are naturally better with ships than others, including dealing with trouble, should it occur. At the same time, everyone can use the ship, and a large group has a greater ability to deal with ship troubles when they happen.

In Wrath of the Righteous, we were looking instead to create a "crowded" feel. You start off overwhelmed. Once you regain your bearings, you get to reassert your (protagonist-level) control of the situation, but the enemy still has you outnumbered. To this end, we created armies, both yours and theirs. As nascent Big Damn Heroes, your army is more of a tool for you to personally wield than it is a method to get someone else to deal with the problem, but that shouldn't be a surprise. On the other side, army barriers require an increasingly difficult coordination and mastery challenge, represented by the set of six checks, each of which must be made without repeating. In practice, this means that small groups can usually find something that they're good at with a small expenditure of resources. With a larger group, chances increase that someone is forced to try something hard for them, but conversely, other characters should be able to find something relatively easy. The group as a whole must come together in order to have any hope of defeating enemy armies.

This is a big subject, and while I've written quite a lot about it, I'm sure I've missed some parts of it. Please, throw me your questions below, and I'll either answer them here or pull them together for a follow-up blog post, or maybe both.

Until then, thanks for playing!

Chad Brown
Adventure Card Game Lead Developer

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Tags: Pathfinder Adventure Card Game

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Fantastic! I left for a meeting tonight thinking that perhaps there would be no PACG blog with week. When I returned, I found this greeting me.

I was thinking anticipating the deck 6 preview, though I suppose that is next week (I'll have to start my own thread about how awesome Miracle and Time Stop are), but this is a great read. I love that these ones that pull back the curtain. I'll have to give it a more thorough read in the morning, since my meeting ran late, but now I can rest peaceful.


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Ditto on Miracle and Time Stop!


Pathfinder Card Game Subscriber

Man, reading this again after a semi-good night's sleep, this might be one of the biggest insight into the philosophy behind PACG. I'll say this too: All those things that you guys do to make the game challenge different size groups make me want to play it over and over again.

I mean, when I fight a villain that has something based on someone else being at my location, and no one else is at my location, part of me breathes easy, but another part says "Have I really completely experienced this villain?" The game really is a different experience based on characters and size and those tweaks. If only I had time to experience every possible power of a bane, boon, location and support card. (Part of me still thinks I won't have fully experienced RotR until I actually attempt the check to defeat the Sandpoint Devil.)

Chad Brown wrote:
Remember that large groups have a much greater ability to succeed at "important" checks.

All the more painfully driven home when a serious of unfortunate events leaves you group collectively unable to do that. If you've been in a 6 player group where the timer was getting close so everyone was exploring like crazy and then hit the villain and suddenly realize no one has a blessing in hand, this is really driven home. I remember in RotR our first scenario with Mammy Graul. We were down to the lat turn, but were ready to close all the locations and new the next card was Mammy Graul. The player flips her over and then we remember...

Mammy Graul wrote:
The first time in this scenario that anyone would defeat Mammy Graul, she is undefeated.

She'll be undefeated. We thought we were so smart, but we hadn't defeated her yet in the scenario and failed to factor that in to our plans. So now, he has to save his blessing to explore again if we are going to beat her. And everything we throw at her the first time will be wasted. And we don't have much to throw at her anyway. We take 10 minutes to calculate out the most even possible use of resources to give us a slim chance of success. But alas, it was not to be. As we pack up, I say, "Well, if you don't lose one every now and then, is it really a challenge?"

Anyway, awesome blog post.


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Hawkmoon269 wrote:

... The player flips her over and then we remember...

Mammy Graul wrote:
The first time in this scenario that anyone would defeat Mammy Graul, she is undefeated.

Well Hawk, it's because you play it way easier than we do. We NEVER read boons or bane cards before we encounter them. Lots of fun and stress... like when you discover that the henchmen in a scenario are actually barrier or need magic to defeat or summon additional stuff for the others to encounter.

Yes, we like it hard and surprising. :-)
We are still picking on a friend of mine who was the first to nearly kill half of us when he encountered a Demon Horde in AP0 and no one has expected to be hand wiped out of turn. He's doomed for eternity. We decided we won't let him any opportunity to encounter new stuff in the mummies' pyramid. :-)

This said, awesome blog Chad.
This exactly summarize our vision as we usually play large groups (4 to 7). In WotR we feel the AP is awesome, the new concepts and challenges are great and fun, the characters are fantastic... As expressed before, the only issue was the lack of a "play AP0 after AP1" kind of warning, especially for large groups. For all the rest, impressive job. Hope next one is even better.

For us Mummy's Mask will be our first full grown game. Especially as by that time if everything goes as planned, each of the 11 base class decks of the historic D&D/Pathfinder RPG classes will be available. So we plan to each build our historic preferred RPG character out of those decks and launch them in the pyramids' AP. Pretty sure they will be "off-base" since MM may have been more tuned versus occult classes. Which is great. We love it when especially tricky.


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I think we had seen her from Harsk's power earlier, that is how we knew where she was. So we knew what she would do, or at least should have known.


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Hawkmoon269 wrote:
I think we had seen her from Harsk's power earlier, that is how we knew where she was. So we knew what she would do, or at least should have known.

You are forgiven. Anyway I wouldn't take the risk to upset you. :-)

Actually that was #1 very-thematic benefit of my daughter playing the Oracle : we learned about barriers, monsters, henchmen and villains before encountering them.
She in fact brought to our game a crystal ball and some tarot cards and we had to go through a 3 minutes mystic interlude each time she was scrying and was lucky enough to find the villain.

Silver Crusade

Frencois wrote:

Actually that was #1 very-thematic benefit of my daughter playing the Oracle : we learned about barriers, monsters, henchmen and villains before encountering them.

She in fact brought to our game a crystal ball and some tarot cards and we had to go through a 3 minutes mystic interlude each time she was scrying and was lucky enough to find the villain.

But it's Golarion, so you should have Harrow cards!

Paizo Employee Chief Technical Officer

Frencois wrote:

We NEVER read boons or bane cards before we encounter them. Lots of fun and stress... like when you discover that the henchmen in a scenario are actually barrier or need magic to defeat or summon additional stuff for the others to encounter.

Yes, we like it hard and surprising. :-)

We've never really drawn attention to this (and maybe it's worth a note in the MM rulebook), but when it comes to adjusting the difficulty of the game for your group, deciding whether or not to read the villains and henchmen before you play a scenario is one of the easiest adjustments there is. (You'll note that the rules don't advise you either way. This holds true for the Obsidian app version, where at the start of each scenario, you'll have the option to preview the villains and henchmen, or to skip that preview.)


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Regarding Solo Play
Once you get a basic understanding of the game, playing solo is the best way to become really good at the PFCG. You get more turns, more exposure to the game, and games are shorter.

I started introducing people to the game using 6-player groups and it’s just a disaster since everyone’s turn takes too long. There’s just too much sitting around twiddling your thumbs, which leads to more inattentiveness and apathy. 6-player games are great when the turns are completed quickly.

Quote:
In fact, we found that larger groups tend to win scenarios a little more often than smaller groups.

I find the exact opposite. I can’t fail in 2-3 player groups (even with inexperienced players) and with the right character I can solo without failing as well (and without being in danger). Not only that, but we can finish a game in 20 minutes compared to a 2 hour 6 player game.

We fail all the time in 6 player games mostly based on time pressure. And it takes only 1-2 characters that can’t explore quickly (or inexperienced players) to make it so that you can’t beat the timer.

It's also easy to fail if you encounter too many banes that demand high difficulty checks or require everyone to attempt and succeed at a check (Demonic Hordes, armies), which is common in 5-6 player games.

Please also consider that if you lose a 6-player game, you’ve not only lost the game but you’ve "lost" 2 hours of playing time. If you lose a 2-player game it’s only 10-20 minutes "lost". If 6-player groups are more successful, maybe that’s not a bad thing? Promoting the game to more people (instead of supporting 1-3 player games) might be better for sales.

To succeed in a 6 player game you need characters that can explore very quickly, ideally without much healing aid. If you then bring a character like that into a game with 1-3 characters, the timer aspect is a complete joke and you have more resources to succeed at all of your checks as well (which decreases the difficulty).

Fast exploration is a powerful ability that should have been controlled more tightly. The three key abilities in this game are healing, hand size/restoration, and fast exploration. In OP you’ve obviously recognized the power of healing, but in Wrath you created Alain, which is just over-the-top in terms of exploration.

Quote:
Remember that large groups have a much greater ability to succeed at "important" checks.

This was true in the past, but in Wrath the check difficulties are so high that most characters need a boost and there’s only so many blessings to go around. Most times we barely have enough blessings to be successful at defeating one army (we failed to beat 3/4 armies last game when we had 5 players), let alone helping people with other banes/boons or even other armies. In a 6 player game, telling someone to stop exploring because you've already encountered 1 army isn't really an option, you don't have the time.

Also since there are so many turns before you can get a turn again, these cards can drain your hand. If you encounter another "all character" bane in the same round, you basically have a 0% chance of completing any checks once drained. And you might not be able to do anything on your turn (except the free exploration which might be done without a weapon/spell, which potentially could further drain the rest of the party)!

Quote:
There are many factors, but the biggest (I think) is the marvelous power of synergy.

Synergy is only a factor with concerns to getting blessing support to make important checks. Once you get 2-3 players, you have more than enough blessings to help at critical times. 6 players doesn’t help you any more than 2-3 players and is actually worse because you don't get to reset your hand as often (once you don't have further blessings).

Also, synergy is more of a factor where the synergy doesn’t require the characters to discard or recharge cards to help someone else.

6 player groups are punishing in several respects, I’m not sure why you want to make them more punishing. They were even punishing in Runelords.


In my experience, Jason's post is on point. I'd also like to point out that cards like the Demonic Horde take forever to resolve in 5-6 player groups.


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Jason S wrote:
Once you get a basic understanding of the game, playing solo is the best way to become really good at the PFCG. You get more turns, more exposure to the game, and games are shorter.

I've found the best way to get good at it is being engaged as a player, reading the forums, and discussing things with your group. Owning the game so you can solo play certainly helps, but I'd regard many of the people I used to play frequently with as experts even though none of them have ever played solo or own the base set.

Jason S wrote:
I started introducing people to the game using 6-player groups and it’s just a disaster since everyone’s turn takes too long. There’s just too much sitting around twiddling your thumbs, which leads to more inattentiveness and apathy. 6-player games are great when the turns are completed quickly.

I've had the opposite experience in my 6p games. Everyone was paying attention during everybody else's turn because they needed to in order to see what was being encountered, if that character needed help, if there's a particular strategy that might be worth pursuing instead, etc. This is a cooperative game, simply because it isn't your turn doesn't mean you can't do anything -- in fact it's quite the opposite. Try emphasizing that to your group the next time you play in a larger group to foster engagement during "downtime." I think you'll find the experience to be quite different and also quite enjoyable.

Jason S wrote:
I find the exact opposite. I can’t fail in 2-3 player groups (even with inexperienced players) and with the right character I can solo without failing as well (and without being in danger). Not only that, but we can finish a game in 20 minutes compared to a 2 hour 6 player game.

I've managed to fail in every group size, it mostly depends on the scenario difficulty. Pure solo play brings the most fails from what I've found (even with a competent character) simply due to inability to handle certain things if your deck hates you and you don't have the perfect hand composition. As a result, in my own solo playthrough I typically play 2 characters (and that bumped up to 3 in WotR). My solo 3p hasn't failed yet in WotR, but my solo 2p in S&S failed a couple of the harder scenarios multiple times over, and my actual 3p run through S&S has had some really close nail-biters (down to 2nd to last or last blessing, characters almost dead, etc).

No matter what size I run, however, a game never takes me only 20 minutes. Even a solo run with a 1-2 characters takes me 60 minutes to get through, and playing with an actual group of people bumps that up to 90-120 minutes depending on group experience. I've breezed through 6p scenarios in 90 minutes, and I've taken 120 on a 3p. It just varies a lot based on what's going on.

Jason S wrote:
We fail all the time in 6 player games mostly based on time pressure, but also based on cards that require everyone to attempt and succeed at a check (Demonic Hordes, armies). And it takes only 1-2 characters that can’t explore quickly (or inexperienced players) to make it so that you can’t beat the timer.

Communication is key with larger groups. Have a strategy going into the scenario. You don't need to necessarily beat the Demonic Horde if you have means of easily evading a couple of the encounters (saves on resources that can be used to explore, etc.). Just move on to a different location that doesn't have the barrier, or try to get lucky by getting it shuffled underneath the henchman/villain. Make use of scouting abilities to see what's coming up to make sure you can handle it, and abilities that rearrange the deck to stack the odds in your favor. Will you get down to the wire? Sure, but having a coherent strategy and not throwing resources at things you don't absolutely need to succeed at greatly help in making that down to the wire moment a satisfying win rather than a disappointing loss.

Jason S wrote:
Please also consider that if you lose a 6-player game, you’ve not only lost the game but you’ve "lost" 2 hours of playing time. If you lose a 2-player game it’s only 10-20 minutes "lost". If 6-player groups are more successful, maybe that’s not a bad thing? Promoting the game to more people (instead of supporting 1-3 player games) might be better for sales.

Is it really "lost" playing time if you're still having fun? Even in scenarios my group's lost in, we still had fun playing together and we came back the next week with a more coherent strategy to tackle that scenario and storm through it.

Jason S wrote:

To succeed in a 6 player game you need characters that can explore very quickly, ideally without much healing aid. If you then bring a character like that into a game with 1-3 characters, the timer aspect is a complete joke and you have more resources to succeed at all of your checks as well (which decreases the difficulty).

Fast exploration is a powerful ability that should have been controlled more tightly. The three key abilities in this game are...

As stated in the blog post, the time pressure is meant to be the balancing factor in large group sizes, whereas encounter difficulty is meant to be the balancing factor in small sizes. You can explore all you want in 3p, but you'll have less blessings or other abilities to throw around when it comes to those checks you can't or don't want to fail. Individual resources must be managed more carefully with a smaller size because there are overall far less of them.

I think both small groups and large groups are equally fun, and put different spins on the game.

Scarab Sages

Pathfinder Card Game Subscriber
Chad Brown wrote:
With a larger group, chances increase that someone is forced to try something hard for them, but conversely, other characters should be able to find something relatively easy...The group as a whole must come together in order to have any hope of defeating enemy armies.

It doesn't matter if "easy" is 90% (and it rarely is) - if everyone in a six-player group is at 90%, the party still only has ~ a 50% chance of defeating every check in a required six-check set. If everyone's at 95% and one person is at 60% you have about the same. It doesn't matter if the group comes together, really, because there's not much the game lets you do to scale with the compounding math of less-than-perfect odds.

Jason S has hit this one close to the money, in my book.


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Yes, the armies are absolutely brutal at 6p, and I do have to concede to Jason and you on that point -- they probably should have had 8 checks and/or more Combat checks so that nobody is forced to roll d4s for their check -- they can all pick something they're at least somewhat good at. I don't find Demonic Horde as brutal because winning against it is usually not required in order to actually win the scenario, unlike armies. As a result, you can cheat your way around it by evading and burying armors to soak damage then generally not have to deal with it again (or at least if you do, you'll be a bit more prepared for the next go around).


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Greet post jason! Just a short comment on :

Jason S wrote:


Please also consider that if you lose a 6-player game, you’ve not only lost the game but you’ve "lost" 2 hours of playing time. If you lose a 2-player game it’s only 10-20 minutes "lost". If 6-player groups are more successful, maybe that’s not a bad thing? Promoting the game to more people (instead of supporting 1-3 player games) might be better for sales.

Hope we don't take lost playing time due to failure as a 'loss' per se. The experience of the game is the journey. If we played other bg with 5-6 players on general competition then there's usually one winner and 4 losers - but we dont generally think that the 4 have lost playtime. However believe we do get your point, it can feel disappointing. good teams and friends learn from mistakes and failures together.. life together death together ftw!


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Zenarius wrote:

Greet post jason! Just a short comment on :

Jason S wrote:


Please also consider that if you lose a 6-player game, you’ve not only lost the game but you’ve "lost" 2 hours of playing time...
Hope we don't take lost playing time due to failure as a 'loss' per se...

Agreed but you also have to compute in that for those of us who are not strudents anymore since quite a while it may be way more difficult to gather often 6 players for 2 hours than to get 2 to meet for 20 minutes.

So as much as I agree that failure is part of the fun and if we never failed we would not feel the pressure on our characters, I also think that replaying a scenario shouldn't happen too often for large groups, whether it's less of a problem fot smaller ones.


Absolutely buddy.. I wouldnt like replaying repeatedly either (not student either ) ...if I liked that kind of punishment id head to the pandemic thread..


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The thing about larger groups that the designers might not have thought of is that you're more likely to get a wide range of player abilities and familiarity with the game. From my experience, and from reading others' accounts, this game has a lot of those fifth and sixth players being somewhat casual pick-up players. So they pick a character that appeals to them and because we don't want to tell them what to do too much, they sometimes make sub-optimal plays. It's exciting when we mange to eke out a win anyways but its happened a lot where we fail and then the next time we play it, with just the usual players, we hammer through for the win.

So yeah, maybe if you are playing with experienced players the large groups have a better win ratio but not in more typical play conditions. The fact that a whole lot of people can get drawn into a PACG game is an indication of how great the game is and designing scenarios and cards that kinda over-punish large groups is a bummer, imo.


skizzerz wrote:
I've found the best way to get good at it is being engaged as a player, reading the forums, and discussing things with your group.

There are lots of people who play this game in big groups that don't have system mastery of the game.

Part of system mastery is the ability to play quickly. Many people cannot resolve their turns quickly.

I found that playing solo allowed me to resolve my turn quickly.

The forums only help with edge cases.

skizzerz wrote:
I've had the opposite experience in my 6p games.

You're talking about 6 players with some experience.

When people are still learning the game in a 6 player game, there is at least 30 minutes between turns, which is a killer. It's boring. I've had new players hate the game in 6-player mode and (after I had to convince them to try again) actually love it in 3-player mode.

I stand by my statement, 6 player games are a terrible way to introduce the game to new players. I've done it 3 times, don't need to do it again.

skizzerz wrote:
I've managed to fail in every group size, it mostly depends on the scenario difficulty.

Mostly it depends on group size in Wrath.

I finished AD3 of Wrath with 2 characters/players and it was easy. Not even close to failing, had 15-20 blessings left each scenario. In my 5-player games, it's been nothing short of Hellish (pun intended).

Part of the difference is player skill, but it's mainly about group size.

If a solo 2 character game takes you 60 minutes, it would probably frustrate me if I were playing with you in a 6 player game. How long are 6 player games???

I can finish a scenario in 20 minutes with a good partner in Wrath.

skizzerz wrote:
Communication is key with larger groups. Have a strategy going into the scenario.

I wasn't really looking for tips, I know how to play.

First of all, I'm playing OP which you probably aren't. So I don't get the scouting power of Adowyn or some of the nicer boons.

Demonic Hordes are a problem because most characters can't evade without burying a card (which casters should be save for carrion golem) and if they fail (not everyone has armor) it wipes their hand. That means that 1 character's next turn will be extremely limited. Or even worse, that character can't possible make a skill check to beat any army, which again either significantly depletes the group's blessings or it makes us bury cards. Because of stats, it seems like someone always fails. There's only so much armor you can bury. And of course that means Demonic Hordes will go back into the location.

Question: Did you play AD2 of Wrath with 6 characters in OP?

Communication is not the problem. Statistics are the problem. The more characters you add, the more likely it is that at least one character will fail their check. With armies in AD2, this typically means the entire group is penalized, typically with burying cards.

It might have been better if armies made a maximum of 4 characters make the check. 4 players seems to be the game's sweet spot.

skizzerz wrote:
Is it really "lost" playing time if you're still having fun?

Also, when you can only get together to play every 2-4 weeks and you can only play 2 games per session, getting destroyed isn't fun. I'm sorry, but it does feel like a waste of time sometimes because it means replaying the scenario and not progressing.

And sometimes losing means a character dies. How fun is that? We had that happen twice now to a tier 1 and tier 2 character. I play OP only, so it's not like we can just ignore the death or start a new character with any number of house rules that allow her to catchup quickly.

Character death has meant replaying AD1 and I've done it 7 times now. I'm ready to move on from AD1.

skizzerz wrote:
You can explore all you want in 3p, but you'll have less blessings or other abilities to throw around when it comes to those checks you can't or don't want to fail.

I find I have lots of blessing support in a 3 player group. And because there are less explorations before my turn, my hand resets so that I have more blessings to provide.

In Wrath 6 player games, I feel depleted and often have nothing to provide.

Quote:
Individual resources must be managed more carefully with a smaller size because there are overall far less of them.

When a bane affects all characters, it's actually the opposite. In large groups we have less blessings and support because we have to wait longer (there are more explorations, more banes encountered, and more checks) for our hands to reset.

skizzerz wrote:
I think both small groups and large groups are equally fun, and put different spins on the game.

My post wasn't about whether 6 player games are fun.

My point is that 5-6 player games didn't need a substantial increase in difficulty. In Wrath, the increase in combat check difficulty alone had a significant impact on 5-6 player groups.


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Jason S wrote:

You're talking about 6 players with some experience.

When people are still learning the game in a 6 player game, there is at least 30 minutes between turns, which is a killer. It's boring. I've had new players hate the game in 6-player mode and (after I had to convince them to try again) actually love it in 3-player mode.

I stand by my statement, 6 player games are a terrible way to introduce the game to new players. I've done it 3 times, don't need to do it again.

No arguments there, I wouldn't want to teach new players with a 6p group either :). I just got the impression that you were saying that all 6p games suck, and so I gave anecdotal evidence to the contrary and some unsolicited advice on what you can maybe do to improve your own table's experience with them. If I misread or misunderstood what you were saying (e.g. you were limiting it to "teaching new players in a 6p group sucks" or whatnot), then I apologize.

Jason S wrote:

If a solo 2 character game takes you 60 minutes, it would probably frustrate me if I were playing with you in a 6 player game. How long are 6 player games???

I can finish a scenario in 20 minutes with a good partner in Wrath.

I'd love to hear your tips for keeping things going speedy (seriously), because I'm taking 3x longer than you are =\

I just timed myself playing Welcome To Blackburgh (AD5, scenario 2), and found that setup took around 8 minutes, the gameplay itself around 50, and wrap-up (rebuilding decks) around 5 minutes. I'm playing solo with 3 characters (Andowyn, Seoni, and Arueshalae), and finished the scenario with 15 blessings left in the blessings deck. I was not intentionally playing fast or slow, just at my usual pace to ensure that my resource usage is as optimal as it can be.

When I played with 6p in Season of the Shackles, I've found it takes around 2 hours normally for the group I played with. Some scenarios took less time (1-1.5 hours), others took a bit more (up to 2.5). These times included setup, waiting for everyone to get there, gameplay, the rewards/rebuild at the end, and signing the chronicle sheets, so do take them with a grain of salt (they're likely inflated by a good 15-20 minutes over the actual gameplay time, if not more).

skizzerz wrote:
First of all, I'm playing OP which you probably aren't. So I don't get the scouting power of Adowyn or some of the nicer boons.

Fair enough, and yes, I think 6p Wrath is needlessly brutal. If I was playing OP, I'd make one of my first card feats an armor (and would consider grabbing a second one too if I started with 0 and a 2nd was available). Doesn't help much with Hordes though. The advantage of OP is while you don't have Andowyn's scouting, the scouting you do have is arguably better. Augury and Scrying let you actually manipulate the card order, and many characters have powers that let them automatically examine the top card at the start or end of their turn without needing to expend any resources.

That said, OP is severely lacking on the evasion abilities front, which makes bane spreaders particularly painful if one does manage to catch you unaware (or even aware but you need to get past it in order to win)

As for AD2, I wouldn't play it with 6p even without OP. The armies are incredibly frustrating with high player counts, and one of the non-OP scenarios is practically impossible with 6 players unless you manage to get lucky.


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jones314 wrote:

The thing about larger groups that the designers might not have thought of is that you're more likely to get a wide range of player abilities and familiarity with the game. From my experience, and from reading others' accounts, this game has a lot of those fifth and sixth players being somewhat casual pick-up players. So they pick a character that appeals to them and because we don't want to tell them what to do too much, they sometimes make sub-optimal plays. It's exciting when we mange to eke out a win anyways but its happened a lot where we fail and then the next time we play it, with just the usual players, we hammer through for the win.

So yeah, maybe if you are playing with experienced players the large groups have a better win ratio but not in more typical play conditions. The fact that a whole lot of people can get drawn into a PACG game is an indication of how great the game is and designing scenarios and cards that kinda over-punish large groups is a bummer, imo.

I was going to say this but jones here beat me to it. My regularly scheduled game is 2-3 players, and this group consists of the people most interested in the game. Since we're the most interested and we play the most often, we're the most experienced. When our 5-6 player group gets together, the 5th & 6th persons are a couple of friends who have casual interest in the game and aren't as experienced. For our group at least, that skews the success rate of our 2-3 player games vs. our 5-6 player games.


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Now that we are near the end of WotR, and we can look back at some of the large group issues that we encountered in that AP and not before. I would like IMHO to add some food for thoughts for later AP.

As I explained before, I really like the changes and new challenges in WotR, with the only little caveat that it hurts a bit too much large groups in certain cases.

So let's add one thing to the very clever remarks you all had in the previous posts. Yes with 6p you wait a long time between plays, but not to bad since you more often play during others' turns, not a big deal. Yes game takes 2 hours and that's a big deal if you have to restart many times a failed scenario. Yes it's hard to gather everyone and that's a big deal if you have to restart many times a failed scenario. Yes you have casual players and as much as I like having my sisters-in-law participating, they do not visit enough to have their character and experience at the same level as we do.

But on top of that,

Spoiler - Warned you:
let me tell you a real story (I agree with Mike, real happened games are worth thousands of theories):
On the Death of the Storm King scenario, it took us one full hour to decide between us how to deal with the FIRST army trying to figure out the odds and outcome of all possible play of cards/play of powers/order of players.... and despite that we failed (not surpringly, we couldn't get better than 1d8+5d4 to roll a 23 acrobatics).

So we found we had it wrong and so... spent another 45mns when we encountered the SECOND army... because since the first one had erased half of our mythic charges, the long term risks were different.
And we failed again (see my other post where I propose a contest to deal with that issue).

And there are 5 armies in the scenario!!!

So then we made a point to play up to defeating once Khorramzadeh (so we didn't play for nothing), and then after 4 hours of play, had to forfeit the scenario since we had no time of good card left to close enough locations to have any chance to actually corner the villain in time (remember: only 5 turns per player...).

4 hours, failed scenario.

That to me is an additional big pain for large group : risk of Analysis Paralysis when facing a situation with very little odds of immediate success and big risk of long term punishment (knowing you still have 90mins to play and that already your chances of success have dropped below 20% kills any fun or motivation).


Frencois,

I don't think Wrath supports your style of play particularly well, at least not in large groups. Characters need to play through adentures sequentially. You can't take a kyra with an early deck (she is still packing 5 basic spells, including things like viper strike) and doesn't understand how her powers and expect to succeed in in AP6. That character needs the earlier scenarios to develop her deck, and the player needs the earlier scenarios to understand their powers.

Pathfinder ACG Developer

I can't speak for the rest of the team, but I've certainly learned something from the feedback to the army mechanics. Those playing SotR AD6 will see some minor experiments with handling, but at least one of the takeaways was that fighting 5-8 armies can be exhausting. One or two allows for a bit more moderation; and maybe a decision by the party to avoid the army entirely (Frodo's awful at making Army checks, turns out).


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Joshua Birk 898 wrote:

Frencois,

I don't think Wrath supports ...

Agreed, but we did manage to get through all scenarios even making it hard on ourselves by having some "newbees" with us including Death of the Storm King scenario with a 4p group. So as much as I fully agree with you that it would be a bit easier if all characters had played all scenarios, there is however a major difference in difficulty with 6p (we tried...).

I can even add one additional thing on the basket of difficulty with large groups : optimization of your deck.
With small group, you have multiple of effects that allow you to get a high-level deck much faster than in large group. Think about the combine effects of :
- More turns to play / much less time pressure,
- Better chance that you will be encountering the boon you want/you can acquire,
- You get all the stuff as Chad well pointed (no need to split the treasure),
- Much less worries/complexity when you have to decide to get rid of basic/elite stuff,
and so on...

So I rest my case, indeed we are playing it the hard way and can only blame ourselves for that. This said, large groups should stay fun even if you don't always have the shiniest armor on.
As an example : took us 4 games to deal with the first 3 scenarios of AD6 and still haven't encountered Time Stop or Miracle. And once we will, chances are it will be Alain or whomever can't acquire them. That's OK but I hope we don't absolutely need them to win.

Pathfinder ACG Developer

Frencois wrote:
- Better chance that you will be encountering the boon you want/you can acquire,

This isn't my experience, fwiw. In a smaller group, my experience is that we're exposed to fewer of the boons and often have less ability to ensure we get it. It is easier to split the treasure and such, as you say though.


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Keith Richmond wrote:
Frencois wrote:
- Better chance that you will be encountering the boon you want/you can acquire,
This isn't my experience, fwiw. In a smaller group, my experience is that we're exposed to fewer of the boons and often have less ability to ensure we get it. It is easier to split the treasure and such, as you say though.

Thanks Keith. Since you certainly tested the game way more than I did, I'm sure your experience is more accurate than mine.

It's certainly true but puzzles me a little.
Say I have a range weapon, a melee weapon, a divine spell and an arcane spell to be encountered (in same or different locations, doesn't matter) and a knight, archer, mage and cleric that will take their turn. Seems to me on average each has 1/4 chances to find their stuff (and there is a 3/4 chance that someone else will encounter their stuff and usually will fail to acquire it). If there is only a fighter and a cleric, each has 1/2 chance to find his stuff (and nobody cares who encounters the range weapon).
So your experience is definitively the most valid answer to my concern, but you have to admit it's a bit counter-intuitive.


skizzerz wrote:
I'd love to hear your tips for keeping things going speedy (seriously), because I'm taking 3x longer than you are =\

Ah, well we're not comparing apples to apples. I was saying 20 minutes if everything is setup. It takes us 10 minutes to setup and 5 minutes to upgrade as well. So 35 minutes.

But... that's with a relatively simple scenarios (AD1 AD2). I just played through the AD3 and AD4 of Wrath and our scenarios were taking 1-2 hours, between trying to understand what the scenario wanted and encountering new cards. So yes, later scenarios with complex cards definitely take a LOT of time.

So if you're playing something in AD5 in 50 minutes, that makes you faster than us.

Playing solo is probably also slower, because everything is your responsibility. In a duo, my partner can start her turn and I can reset at the same time, saving some time.

One thing that can save time is to have your typical combat dice ready and separated, instead of picking everything out. Last night it seemed every combat was custom, so I was always picking out dice, and it was much much slower than normal.

skizzerz wrote:
Fair enough, and yes, I think 6p Wrath is needlessly brutal. If I was playing OP, I'd make one of my first card feats an armor (and would consider grabbing a second one too if I started with 0 and a 2nd was available).

That was the first card feat I grabbed for Agna, more armor. Was... unexpected. :)

skizzerz wrote:
Doesn't help much with Hordes though. The advantage of OP is while you don't have Andowyn's scouting, the scouting you do have is arguably better. Augury and Scrying let you actually manipulate the card order, and many characters have powers that let them automatically examine the top card at the start or end of their turn without needing to expend any resources.

Well, Harsk is one character of 24+ and his scouting is only comparable until AD3 when Adowyn destroys him in that department.

There is so much combat in Wrath that ironically spellcasters have limited amounts because they need their attack spells and defensive spells much more. It doesn't take much to kill Ezren.

skizzerz wrote:
As for AD2, I wouldn't play it with 6p even without OP.

Yep it's tough, for a lot of reasons.

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Frencois wrote:
Thanks Keith. Since you certainly tested the game way more than I did, I'm sure your experience is more accurate than mine.

Eh, random is random, and I've played the game less than many. For example, I'd trust Hawkmoon a lot more than me :)

Quote:
Say I have a range weapon, a melee weapon, a divine spell and an arcane spell to be encountered (in same or different locations, doesn't matter) and a knight, archer, mage and cleric that will take their turn. Seems to me on average each has 1/4 chances to find their stuff

The trick is that you tend to select your locations based on what's available; so for instance the ranged and melee character might be fighting over the weapon and the divine and arcane character fighting over the spell.

You also tend to open up locations with clusters of boons more often with bigger groups. For instance, I remember wishing we had another character so that we'd have access to the Academy.

In several solo playthroughs, I often don't get upgrades at all in a scenario because most boons I can't roll, and those that I do get are things I'm not terribly interested in. Whereas with a bigger group, I've often happily assisted someone to get that cool spell or weapon that happened to show up; or folks have scouted it and cleared the way for the right person to move over and get it, even if it didn't show up in front of the perfect person.

Experiences will vary, though.


Frencois wrote:


Say I have a range weapon, a melee weapon, a divine spell and an arcane spell to be encountered (in same or different locations, doesn't matter) and a knight, archer, mage and cleric that will take their turn. Seems to me on average each has 1/4 chances to find their stuff (and there is a 3/4 chance that someone else will encounter their stuff and usually will fail to acquire it). If there is only a fighter and a cleric, each has 1/2 chance to find his stuff (and nobody cares who encounters the range weapon).

If this is your experience, then you should be greedier about throwing resources toward boon acquisition (and possibly select more card-feat: Blessing, with buffing in mind)! In my games, the vast majority of significant upgrades are acquired, even if that means everyone throwing blessings.

Relatedly, this is another way in which scouting-heavy parties have another edge: they're more likely to locate and acquire the most important upgrades, and so are a little higher on the power curve than parties that lose some of those boons to the wrong person encountering them.


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Agreed... Up to a certain point. In a 6p group you need most of the blessings for extra explorations else you will lose on the clock.


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I think you've got to pick the right moment to go after the boon you need in a 6 player group. Your blessings are precious, but so are your ideal upgrades. Characters change that a bit. Tossing a blessing at Ezren to aquire something with the magic trait gives you a chance to get a boon and explore. All the better if you can get the blessing to recharge.

And yeah, in a smaller group, I feel I see less. Even in 4 player RotR, after Sajan took his drink master role I kept waiting and waiting for some potions to show up. Some characters can change that and give you more looks.

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Hello, everyone! I want to reassure everyone that we are watching this thread!

I haven't said much yet, because a combination of a redacted deadline and an anniversary trip took a big chunk out of my schedule, but we're watching.

One thing that I wanted to add (something that Keith pointed out to me but I wasn't able to get into the blog post in time) is that the ability to temporarily close locations is a big, big factor in favor of larger groups. Selectively choosing which locations to explore (especially after you know that your least-favorite banes are there) versus which to defend can have a huge impact on the timing and success of large groups. As Keith put it to me: in solo games, you're almost always closing every location. In 6 character games, you can usually leave 2-3 of them barely explored. Of course, more characters means more chances that someone can scout, which acts as a force multiplier for this effect.

More specific feedback to come, but meanwhile, thanks everyone for commenting, and thanks again for playing!

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Frencois wrote:
Agreed... Up to a certain point. In a 6p group you need most of the blessings for extra explorations else you will lose on the clock.

It's worth noting that what you're describing is a reasonable case, but not the only one - we've won many 6 character games without using blessings to explore.

Think about it this way: on average, 6 characters need to get through about 45 cards in order to win a typical scenario. Most characters have 3 or more allies. 30 turns in the timer deck plus ~18 ally explores gets you the chance to win in this hypothetical theoretical-average case.

On top of that, "scouting" locations is a big help, and spreading out to (strategically) temporarily close locations can cut that number down by a lot, typically by ~9-14 cards, if you're usually succeeding at the important checks. Of course, knowing which checks are important is a big deal. (Between you and me, armor is often a factor here, and is probably the least well-understood card type.)

Of course, this style of play isn't for every player, nor every character, nor every group - and we like to see people play different ways, as long as they're having fun. I'm just saying that the math probably isn't as grim as you might think.

Thanks again for playing!

Pathfinder Adventure Card Game Developer

philosorapt0r wrote:
... In my games, the vast majority of significant upgrades are acquired, even if that means everyone throwing blessings.

While this is a big style-of-play differentiator between groups (and players, etc), it also brings up an excellent point: sometimes it's worthwhile to risk a temporary setback (that is, increase the chance that you'll lose the scenario) to gain a lasting deck upgrade.

Sometimes the math is even easier: spend a card to gain a card, then use the new card. For example, if there's a "good for a specific character" blessing or ally that someone finds, it's usually worth spending a blessing to gain it - if your trouble is time, you're spending time to gain time, with the upside that healing and eventual deck upgrades will make things better over-all.

Of course, it's best to get the upgrade and still win - but you don't need me to tell you all that. :-)


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Chad Brown wrote:
Frencois wrote:
Agreed... Up to a certain point. In a 6p group you need most of the blessings for extra explorations else you will lose on the clock.
It's worth noting that ...

Fully agree Chad (and anyway you know much more than I do about this game). This said, if you want to somehow ensure you win a scenario, you cannot just expect you'll beat it in 45 cards. You need to provision a little for unlucky cases and therefore keep a few (not much but still) blessings for just in case.

And for those you consume, you should more use them to ensure you beat armies, henchmen (and following closing), demon hordes or stuff like that than to grab boons. Because if you miss a hench or a closing, then you 45 cards tally goes up immediately.
Not arguing : as I said you certainly know better, and maybe we are too shy, but the "real-life human cost" of having to replay a game is such that that shyness can be explained.
Maybe if our jobs were linked to playing the game, or if we were still students with plenty of time to replay, or if we had less kids (;-)) I would consume more blessings on boons....

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