Pathfinder Adventures Review: Dungeons & Dragons & Decks & Dice

The Good

Provides a cool twist that separates it from typical deck building

A fantastic amount of content that can be unlocked with real money or patience

The option of character permanence makes things feel more personalized

Not as complicated as it first appears

The Bad

Dice roll results sometimes feel inauthentic

Takes a while to save up for additional characters

Pathfinder Adventures is supposed to be a digital rendition of the popular card game of the same name. Having never experienced the original, I can’t make any direct comparisons — but I can say that Pathfinder Adventures is quite enjoyable on mobile devices.

Despite being a card game, there’s a lot of story here. Each scenario is basically a kind of mini-adventure complete with a little background plot, a contextual reason for your characters doing what they’re doing (even if it’s often just “pay us money to fix a problem”), and a primary antagonist for them to deal with. And of course, different scenarios will make use of different enemies, environments, and so on – though there is some overlap. On top of all this, there are also little moments like brief dialog exchanges that highlight your chosen heroes and make each game feel a bit more personal.

pathfinderadv04There’s plenty more content that can be unlocked as well. The gold you earn through regular play can be used for things like unlocking new playable characters or even purchasing entire adventure packs with several new scenarios and cards, although admittedly it’ll take quite a bit of patience to save up enough. There’s always the option of paying real money to unlock content bundles, or buy more gold outright, but it’s nice to at least have the option of not paying with real money.

As a total newbie to Pathfinder Adventures, getting started was rather daunting. There are a lot of cards with a lot of different effects, lots of terminology to learn, and all sorts of little background effects from environments and character skills that can be triggered manually or automatically. Thankfully the tutorial does a good job of explaining the basics, which makes figuring out some of the more nuanced strategies a lot easier.

pathfinderadv02 I’ll totally admit that, at first, Pathfinder Adventures seemed like a fairly typical card game/RPG hybrid (if such a thing exists). Once I’d finished the introductory segment and started on my first proper adventure, I realized that wasn’t the most fair assessment. Sure it shares some elements with other card games, but there’s a lot of other clever stuff going on as well. Having your character’s personal deck of cards effectively double as their health (when you run out of cards, you’re done) is pretty darn cool, and there are lots of other mechanics that play into this. Healing spells and potions allow you to shuffle discarded cards back into your deck, defensive items like shields and armor reduce the number of cards you’ll have to discard after taking damage, and so on.

Also because of this core idea, several item cards can be used without being discarded. For example, weapons are usually played and then returned to your hand, while armor is shuffled back into the character deck. There are even several cards that give you the option to discard them for very useful effects, but the trade-off is that you’re reducing the number of cards your character has left. It’s an incredibly clever system that feels very well balanced and thought out.

pathfinderadv05Finally there’s the character permanence, which I absolutely love. Unlike a more typical card game where you pick a character, play a game, and then you’re done and everything goes back to being stock, characters in Pathfinder Adventures will continue to improve as you play. The cards you can find and earn during an adventure (items, allies, equipment, etc) will be added to your “vault,” and you can swap any of them out for a given character’s default cards after each adventure is finished. You can also unlock new and more powerful abilities for each hero as you progress, which probably isn’t much of a surprise but it’s still cool. There’s even an option for permadeath (i.e. if a character dies, they’re gone for good) if you’re into that.

About the only real complaint I have – other than the amount of gold required to unlock everything – is one that I have for just about every game that uses dice: sometimes the results seem flat out wrong. I know it’s all down to randomness and probability, but rolling a bunch of dice (two 12-sided and one 6-sided) only to end up with a result in the low end of the single digits makes it feel like the game is purposely fudging the results. Not that I think the game is actually rigged, but when stuff like that happens more than once in a single adventure I can’t help but wonder just how random the random number generation is.

pathfinderadv03But this applies to just about any game that uses digital dice, and dice in all forms seem to hate me.

If you’re a fan of the physical version of Pathfinder Adventures, I think there’s a good chance you’ll enjoy this mobile port. Especially since it takes up a lot less shelf and table space. And if you’ve never played Pathfinder Adventures before, well then this is a fantastic place to start.

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