Core Principles: Varying the Challenge in the Pathfinder ACG

Wednesday, November 20, 2018

Last week I got to proof the new rulebook for Core and it made me excited to talk more about the design principles for the Pathfinder Adventure Card Game Core Set. As Mike explained in a previous blog, we really wanted to give players the ability to control the game's challenge level, as well as the ability to speed the game up when desired.

I'm a big fan of giving players control knobs in games. We've all tinkered with house rules to increase the fun for our table. The problem with house rules is that they vary pretty wildly from house to house, which can occasionally be tough. They also tend to have less rigorous testing and development. Official options for changing the game are better, since they provide a common language of well-tested options.

We've all tried to control the difficulty level in our games, too. It's easy and obvious in video games (like picking Legendary difficulty in Obsidian's Pathfinder Adventures), but in the RPG, the adventure you choose, the GM, the characters, and the people playing them all have a pretty profound effect on difficulty, too. When people discuss PACG sets they often talk about difficulty as a primary reason to choose one set over another. It's good to have variety, but it's a shame to rule out a set because it's too easy or hard!

The amount of time available to play can change session to session, as can the number of players, and more players usually means more time required. We really wanted to present options that would let you look at the number of players and the amount of time you have so you can say "let's play one long scenario" or "let's knock out two quick scenarios."

Ideally, you can alter the difficulty on the fly to suit the particular players that night, or to match the scenario. You like a hard game, but you just failed the scenario? Drop the difficulty a notch before replaying it!

Change Things Up... Or Down

The first thing we decided to do was create small, medium, and large locations. Medium locations are what you're used to. Small locations usually have 3 fewer cards, which speeds up the game while making it easier. Large locations usually have 3 more cards, giving you a longer, more challenging scenario.


Bigger locations have more banes, but also more boons. Everyone likes boons!

Next, we gave you some freedom to change the number of cards in the blessings deck—which, since it often contains things that aren't blessings, has been renamed the hourglass. While the hourglass defaults to 30 blessings, we heartily encourage you to play with fewer or more blessings. Fewer cards in the hourglass speeds up the game while making it harder, and more cards gives you more time to win, making the game easier.

Because location size and hourglass size can be changed independently, you can dial in length and challenge level to your liking. If you combine small locations (faster + easier) and fewer cards in the hourglass (faster + harder), you get a faster game that's close to normal difficulty. Some of our testers prefer a version of the game that uses small locations and just 12 blessings + 2 per character because they can play twice as many scenarios in the same amount of time. Some of our testers with larger groups like large locations and extra blessings to give them an epic, satisfying scenario where everyone gets several turns.

(There's another reason for the name hourglass: The top card of the hourglass discards is now called the "hour," and new blessings have powers that happen when they are the hour. This ends the disconnect that new players had after flipping over a blessing at the start of their first turn:

New player: Ok, what do I do with this?

Experienced player: Nothing.

New player: It has all these words, but I don't do anything with it?

Experienced player: No. It's just a timer.

New player: …Oh. Um, okay.

Also, I can unofficially refer to each turn as "flipping the hourglass," which reminds me to actually flip the card, and feels thematic. And when you've got that one friend who can't make any decisions but still wants to explore five times per turn you can remind them they're not supposed to take a literal hour.)


When the hour can change your turn, especially for the better, you get used to looking at it.
(Oh, and we redesigned all the card faces. Surprise! We'll talk more about that later.)

Let's Get Wild

We've also been playing around with some ideas for changing up scenarios for quite some time. They started out as "templates" similar to ones used in the RPG, but Obsidian's Pathfinder Adventures app helped crystallize the concept into "wildcards." Core and Curse each include a number of different options that increase the difficulty of the game and make it less predictable. You can use any number of them, either chosen or random, depending on the desires of the group.


Hate long turns? Just add Wearisome. Want to die in a fire? Try an Ablaze, Deadly, and Hostile game!
(And did I mention that the card images show work in progress?)

If you're looking to adjust the difficulty in a more straightforward manner, you can treat your adventure as 1 higher or lower in difficulty. This increases or decreases the difficulty of Veteran banes. You can also add banes of a higher adventure number to your box to encounter earlier, which can be an exciting and unexpected change, especially for replay.

Speaking of replay, we've also offered the option to play the scenarios on Heroic and Legendary difficulty, which incorporate a few of the above options. In addition to bragging rights and a more entertaining game for those who seek a challenge, you get a reward for completing adventures on higher difficulties: you get to erase a feat, then take a feat of the same type. It doesn't increase your power level at all, but it does make you more flexible and lets you address any regrets you might have in an officially sanctioned and fun way.

I hope folks are looking forward to customizing their play experience, as well as all of the new cards, characters, and scenarios!

Keith Richmond
Adventure Card Game Designer

More Paizo Blog.
Tags: Pathfinder Adventure Card Game
51 to 58 of 58 << first < prev | 1 | 2 | next > last >>

2 people marked this as a favorite.

Set identifiers aren't used much during play, but they do help you know who owns a card after it gets stuck in a deck (Baited Jewel Box, anyone?) or given to another character. (Or, in certain scenarios, when everyone's deck gets mixed together. :(

After the game you use the set identifier to get everyone's cards back to the right owners. As a sorting tool, I'd rather have icons than only small text. (Both would be fine as well, though having an icon and text doesn't free up as much space compared to the current Class Deck icon and text.)

Placement isn't as much of an issue as the text wrapping, regardless of whatever design they eventually use.


8 people marked this as a favorite.
Pathfinder Card Game Subscriber

I attended PAX this past weekend and got a chance to play with proof cards Mike had and was kind enough to loan out to the Paizo Organized Play room. So, what did I think?

Layout
I'll be honest, when I first saw the layout changes in the above images I wasn't thrilled. Maybe some of that was a love for the game as it currently exists. Part of me was worried the new layout would be a problem. But within 5 minutes I wasn't even thinking about the layout anymore. It was a non-factor in terms of play experience. Or maybe it actually helped because, not thinking about the layout is kind of what should happen.

Power of the Hour
I loved this. Not every blessing has one, so there are some "normal" turns. And not every power applies every turn. But the fact blessings were so much more important than they have been before.

Location Sizes
Again, I originally thought "That's nice, but I'll always use the medium sizes unless a scenario tells me to use a specific one." But then, a group of us had less than an hour to kill so we said "Hey, let's build the small locations and play a quick game." I did that 3 times total over the weekend, shrinking the locations and the hourglass (formerly known as the blessings deck). And you know what? I got 3 more games in then I would have otherwise.

Wildcards
We didn't really get into these. Each time there was a person or two who were playing Core for the first time, so I didn't want to throw them too many changes at once. I know I wouldn't want to learn to check the wildcard while also learning to check the hour. But I like the idea to give replay some optional variability.

Other stuff
Again, I was a bit hesitant to see the game I know and love tinkered with (though, I guess if the people who gave me that game are the ones doing the tinkering, I really shouldn't have been). But I ended up enjoying all the changes. I knew I'd enjoy the increased story, I wasn't so sure about the other stuff. But in the end, I'm more excited for Core now then I was before I sat down at a table this weekend.

So, yeah. I'm really looking forward to the final product and all the places it will take me.


Thanks for the feedback Hawkmoon!
Looking forward to the new set!

Lone Shark Games

1 person marked this as a favorite.
Parody wrote:
Placement isn't as much of an issue as the text wrapping, regardless of whatever design they eventually use.

Don't worry, Sonja fixed that. The icon's over on the lower right now.

Lone Shark Games

2 people marked this as a favorite.
Hawkmoon269 wrote:

Wildcards

We didn't really get into these. Each time there was a person or two who were playing Core for the first time, so I didn't want to throw them too many changes at once. I know I wouldn't want to learn to check the wildcard while also learning to check the hour. But I like the idea to give replay some optional variability.

Interestingly, it took us a while to get into them as well. We had them designed for a while and yet folks didn't want to make their games harder and weirder. Then Chad designed a scenario that revolved around wildcards, and we loved it. Then he and Keith designed an entire adventure based around wildcards, and we found it one of the most challenging and fun adventures we've played—especially when we were able to remove them from the adventure one by one.

So go ahead and put them aside at first. We think you'll figure out what they're for and learn to love them as much as we do.

Mike


Pathfinder Battles Case Subscriber; Pathfinder Card Game, Class Deck Subscriber
Mike Selinker wrote:

...So go ahead and put them aside at first. We think you'll figure out what they're for and learn to love them as much as we do.

Mike

Exactly that. Thanks a lot Mike. Seen from someone who not only played a lot but created a bunch of scenarios and full adventures, anything that offers you options at some point is a great idea.

I do not plan to play with them immediately but when we write a story, we may end up finding that using them at some point makes a lot of sense storywise.

So it's not at all only a question on making things harder or not.


Pathfinder Card Game, Class Deck Subscriber

Yep... my feeling From the digital Runelords was like that. The first play through was ok in vanilla, but after that it was nice to have different powers to tweak old scenarios!

Scarab Sages

2 people marked this as a favorite.
Pathfinder Card Game Subscriber

I would echo most of what Hawkmoon said (we were playing this together at PAX most of the time), with the exception that I am not yet a fan of the layout.

But, to add to the positives he mentioned...something in one of Mike's earlier posts comes to mind about our PAX adventures:

Mike Selinker wrote:
For a cooperative card game, the game is often not interactive enough. When you want to help your friend, the game generally tells you that you can't unless you have a card that does so. It's a co-op game, so it should feel more cooperative.

Although I talk animatedly about the fun I have grabbing every single boon, my other favorite part of the game is helping other players do awesome things. With Core, I found it a lot easier to do this...it was easier to cooperate. This made the game a lot more fun for me; I can't wait.

51 to 58 of 58 << first < prev | 1 | 2 | next > last >>
Community / Forums / Pathfinder / Pathfinder Adventure Card Game / General Discussion / Paizo Blog: Core Principles: Varying the Challenge in the Pathfinder ACG All Messageboards

Want to post a reply? Sign in.