Pathfinder S&S minis

Pirates and Sharks in the 'Pathfinder Adventure Card Game'

Reviews Tabletop Games

pathfinder adventure card game skulls and shackles

I’ve been playing the Pathfinder Adventure Card Game since September 2013, and it’s still at the top of my list. Now, to understand how significant that is, you have to know that I barely made my 10×10 list in 2014–that’s a list of 10 games that I played at least 10 times. As a reviewer, I play a lot of games a few times, and there are very few games that go into regular rotation, even if I really like them, because I’m always on to the next thing.

So when BoardGameGeek says I’ve logged at least 70 plays of PACG in the past two years, that should indicate how much this game has captured my imagination and attention. Our five-person party survived the first set, Rise of the Runelords, and we’ve just started deck 5 (of 6) of the second set, Skull & Shackles.

Pathfinder S&S minis
We got miniatures for this adventure: Jirelle, Damiel, Oloch, Seltyiel, and Ranzak. Painted by Tim Post. Photo: Jonathan H. Liu

In the Skull & Shackles storyline, the players have now entered a world of pirates. You command a ship, and there are some new rules for that. On your turn, you’re generally considered to be commanding the ship (unless it’s stuck at a particular location), and when you move to a new location, anyone at your old location can choose to come along with you. Some weapons, items, and blessings give you bonuses if you’re on a ship.

You also get plunder–random boons that are stashed face-down in a stack. You can get plunder by defeating enemy ships (which crop up from time to time) and some other effects, and if you survive the scenario, you get to pick through them when rebuilding your deck for the next session. However, there are also a lot of things that can do structural damage to your ship–anyone can discard cards to reduce the structural damage, but if you don’t prevent all of it, your ship capsizes and plunder starts to float away until you repair it with a Craft check.

There are lots of different ships–each one has particular rules for encountering it, and also a special ability you may use when you’re commanding it. The special abilities generally involve discarding cards from the blessing deck, though, so in a 5-player game when we’re already short on turns, we don’t end up using those very much.

Pathfinder ACG
My toddler has basically grown up around Pathfinder ACG, and loves rolling dice. Photo: Jonathan H. Liu

There are some different skills and traits used in Skull & Shackles–even though there are some of the same characters from the first set, they have new character cards and powers. Swashbuckling, for instance, is very effective against some banes but not against others. There are also quite a lot of aquatic monsters (including sharks, of course) so water-related spells and weapons come into play. And Constitution-Fortitude checks are often used to represent your ability to hold your breath, with dire consequences if you fail: burying cards (out of the game for the rest of the scenario) instead of discarding them.

When I talked to Mike Selinker last year at Gen Con, he said that for Skull & Shackles the Lone Shark team listened to the fans and made two significant changes as requested: they made the game harder, and they added more of the non-standard scenarios. The standard scenario involves finding the villain, cornering them in a location by closing all the others, and then defeating them to win the scenario.

The Brine Banshee’s Grave–we barely won this scenario, and almost lost a character. Photo: Jonathan H. Liu

I definitely agree that they’ve succeeded on both counts: the game is harder and we’ve had to replay scenarios a few times because we lost. Though, fortunately, we’ve only had one character death, the very first time we played–it’s hard going back to a Level 1 character right after playing your fully leveled-up character the week before.

The new scenarios really add a lot, though. In some cases you just need a few more conditions before you can beat the main villain, like tracking down and defeating some particular henchmen before you go after the boss. In another, there were three bosses and you had to get them all in one place first, which was quite tricky. The Pirate Regatta scenario had you defeating enemy ships to “pass” them in the race, but you didn’t close locations as you went, so you had to be careful how you managed your movements. There was even one scenario where one player got to play host to the ghost of an undead wizard–for one session, that player got a different role card, with new abilities and traits, and a bonus if they survived until the end. I know my group has really enjoyed the variety in the scenarios.

Pathfinder Doubleclicks
Watching The Doubleclicks’ livestream concert while playing Pathfinder Adventure Card Game. Photo: Jonathan H. Liu

The game isn’t perfect–there are still times when a particular card is hard to understand or there are ambiguous instructions. Fortunately, Paizo has a pretty good FAQ that is kept updated, but I like being able to play a game without having to go online to look things up. I think the faster publication pace of Skull & Shackles rushed things a bit, and I hope they got more time to proof and test in the next set.

We’ve got two more decks to go before we complete Skull & Shackles, and in the summer with kids out of school and travel we’re not meeting every week, but I’m really looking forward to playing more. I’ve already got a copy of the third set, Wrath of the Righteous, waiting for us when we finish. Fortunately, we’ve got a little more time before Mummy’s Mask shows up–it’s expected early 2016.

At some point I’d love to go back and play through Rise of the Runelords again to introduce it to a new group of players–we’ve talked about getting together a GeekDad group to play over Skype–but it’s hard to keep up with more than one 2-hour game regularly, so those plans are on hold for now.

So, after nearly two years, my Pathfinder Adventure Card Game group is still going strong, meeting almost weekly, and I’m not tired of it yet. I know it’s not a game for everyone, but our group has really bonded and it’s something I look forward to every week, shuffling up the cards and rolling a bunch of dice.

All right, let’s set sail and look for some more plunder!

Disclosure: Paizo provided a review copy of the base set.

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3 thoughts on “Pirates and Sharks in the 'Pathfinder Adventure Card Game'

    1. I ordered the miniatures from Reaper Miniatures: They’ve got a whole line of Pathfinder figurines, though since they didn’t have our whole party in the cheaper plastic versions, I ended up getting metal instead.

      For Ranzak (who was a promo character), I ordered a goblin and a parrot. Cathe took it back to her husband Tim, who did all the painting, and he actually cut off an arm and a leg and replaced them with a hook and peg leg, making it match the card. He’s also the one who fancied up all the bases, because before I just had boring flat bases.

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