Hello! My name is Chad Brown, and I'm here to talk with you all about the hows, whats, and whys of the Pathfinder Adventure Card Game, starting with the new Core Set, and continuing forward to the Curse of the Crimson Throne Adventure Path and beyond. Today I'm going to talk about teamwork: when both the players and the characters work together as an effective and exciting adventuring party. Mike's talked about many changes for Core, including broad concepts of what we were (and were not) trying to accomplish. I'm going to dive in one level deeper and provide some more specifics about a couple of those things.
There are two major pillars of the revision, which I'll call "Story" and "Challenge." This probably isn't a surprise; the two main areas of feedback we've received since launching Rise of the Runelords are various forms of "we'd like more story" and "sometimes, the challenge level is off."
From the story side, we've adjusted the game to enhance and encourage teamwork, bringing it to a level you might see in an RPG session, adventure novel, comic, or movie. In particular, prior Adventure Paths gave groups a lot of freedom over when to split the party and when to group up. As a game mechanic, we built a balance around the advantages and disadvantages of each, and changed that balance over time, from scenario to scenario. As people played more and developed greater mastery over the game system, they came to realize that the advantages usually leaned more towards having the group spread out over multiple locations. This led to fine gameplay but didn't always match the story as much as we might have liked.
On a smaller scale, we'd frequently see new people learning the game ask how they could help each other, especially when their fellows tried something and failed. The answer (some form of "check your character and boon cards") generally created good gameplay, but often felt like a poor match for a heroic adventure story. Simply put, people felt like they were playing cool, fun characters, but they didn't always feel like they were playing those characters in an adventuring party.
To address this, we've made some adjustments to how we design cards and scenarios in Core. More character powers apply to local characters, and typical boons—including starting boons—provide more options for helping characters, especially local characters. A few examples:
Further, we've adjusted how we make allies and weapons, increasing their teamwork aspects. Allies now usually offer some form of help to local characters, giving you more options for helping your party. Similarly, more weapons have options to help others in combat, both nearby and far away.
Those of you who've played PACG with groups of differing size know that the challenges the game offers to solo and two-player groups are often different from those encountered by five- and six-player groups. In particular, very small groups tend to feel very little time pressure, but individual challenges can be very tough. On the other hand, large groups usually have at least one character that is well suited to any particular challenge, so the group can bring a lot of help to bear at important moments... but they need to accomplish a lot in few turns, especially if they get unlucky at the wrong moment. In practice, this could feel almost like two different games: one for very small groups and another for very large. Up to a point, this is what we expected and wanted; after all, a giant Pathfinder RPG party does and should feel different than a solo adventure. As we (including you!) have gained more experience with the game, we've come to the conclusion that this split is often larger than we (and you) wanted.
This gave rise to the biggest rules change since Rise of the Runelords first premiered. Because PACG is a cooperative game, people naturally want to work together. The rules have previously allowed each character to play up to one boon of each type on a given check or step—that is, when someone's doing a thing, each player is limited to playing at most one card of each type. (For example, to help Lini's combat check, Lem can play either his Force Missile spell or his Viper Strike spell, but not both at the same time.) This ability to help other people was and is key to the cooperative aspects of PACG. Starting with the Core Set, though, we've adjusted that rule so that now the party as a whole can play up to one boon of each type:
Each character may play any number of cards, but collectively, the party may play no more than one of each type of boon; powers that can be played freely do not count toward this limit.
I'm going to be blunt: many of our playtesters were nervous about this change. When you read it in a PDF draft or a playtest forum, it feels like the sort of change that could totally change the game, and there were some people who enjoyed the "massive overkill" situations that the old rule would often create. What we found during testing, though, was that it doesn't change the game as often or as much as you might think. The major impact it has is to cut down on the situations where a group could unload nearly their entire hands at a key moment. What we were seeing is that large groups could, with a little planning and effort, reliably drop this sort of massive card play on key checks, so much so that they were frequently removing the tension from these dramatic points. With this small adjustment to the rule, plus the ability to sidestep it when we want to with the freely exception (it's used by a LOT of cards), we were able to leave in the option for overkill while restoring much of the tension to those key dramatic moments.
In practical terms, these changes mean that the group will have to coordinate a bit more to make optimal use of their resources, and they also bring the typical experience of a small group much closer to that of a large group. There are still differences, and your group can use some newly provided tools to adjust the effective challenge level to match your desires, but the starting points are much closer together. We've mentioned before that Core adds several new ways to adjust both the difficulty and length of the game, both up and down: wildcards, adjustable size locations, more frequent use of scaling effects, and options for adjusting the size of the hourglass. You'll find that, in addition to helping everyone have more fun playing the game that they want to play, they also help you ensure that your characters are adventuring together as a team.
The other big thing we added to enhance teamwork is a new mechanic: avenge. When introducing the game to people, we would sometimes see players go up against a nasty bane of some sort, and then stumble due to bad luck, a bad matchup, or simply not being ready to tackle the challenge. When this happened, the unfortunate character's friends would invariably ask, "Is there anything I can do?" Core offers a new answer to that question: "You can try to avenge them."
When a character fails to defeat a bane, another local character may attempt to avenge that encounter. The original character finishes their encounter, suffering the normal consequences of failure (including damage), but just before the bane in question would go away, the avenging character may bury a card to encounter the bane themselves. Sometimes you'll want Merisiel to get rid of that trap that chomped on Valeros before it shuffles back in, just so it doesn't chomp Val or Kyra later on. When smashing a villain, sometimes Amiri will manage to roll a lot of 1s and 2s on her handful of d12s (and not on the same die face!), and Seelah will need to step up to try to avoid a painful villain escape.
Each bane can only be avenged once (no stacking; this isn't a video-game monster vending machine!), and only by a local character, and by default the avenging character must bury a card in order to avenge. So it's something that you'll want to work out with your team. But when it works, it can be a beautiful thing indeed.
This may help you understand why we removed closed locations from the game, as Mike mentioned in the previous Core Principles column. This helps tilt the game back toward a middle ground between splitting up and staying together. Instead of hiding at a closed location when you get in trouble, you can instead rely on your friends to help protect you at an active location, using tricks like avenge, the new ally and weapon powers, and other changes you'll see as you play the game.
Before you go, we've got more to share!
Bonus Content: Making the Game
As Chad was working on this blog, I received this photo from our printer, Cartamundi, showing their "storyboard" for assembling the finished game. I thought I'd share it with you, giving me the opportunity to guide you on a tour of the Core Set.
Clockwise from top left:
- The rulebook. Now expanded to 32 pages, and laid out vertically rather than horizontally.
- Token sheets. There are 3 different sheets (they're overlapping in the photo), giving you a total of 12 pawns and 63 markers (7 each of 9 different designs).
- The storybook. Its 24 pages present the Dragon's Demand: 9 scripted scenarios plus the tools you need to generate a huge variety of customized and/or randomized scenarios.
- The Quick-Start Guide. Much like the one in Mummy's Mask, it leads up to 4 characters through a shortened version of the first scenario.
- The box lid.
- 4 packs of 110 cards, including the "Open Me First!" deck used for the Quick-Start scenario.
- Small components, clockwise from top right: foam blocks (4 per game), divider cards (24 per game), dice (d4, d6, d8, d10, d12; 1 each), and pawn stands (6 per game).
- The box bottom, packed with cards and small components.
You've probably noticed that there's no plastic tray. The tray was great for organizing a single Adventure Path that had a fixed number of each type of card, but it didn't work quite so well if you sleeved your cards, or if you wanted to add in a few class decks. And since the Core Set is intended to be the foundation for any number of Adventure Paths, there's going to be a lot less predictability in the card mix from here on out. So we've replaced the tray with a much more flexible solution, one capable of holding well over 2500 cards, and in a box about two-thirds the size of previous Adventure Path boxes. The 24 divider cards will keep your cards organized, and the foam blocks will keep them in place.
Adventure Card Game Project Lead
Adventure Card Game Lead Developer