You may remember that we have a subscription service for board games which ships a new (to us) game every month. The game of the month was featured at our first board game night — at least our first since Gem was born. We had a great time, and ended up with 11 people and 4 babies under our roof! I was a little busy attempting to be a gracious hostess and taking care of Gem to really focus on the game, let alone take pictures for this post. I’m sure I’ll get around to reviewing that one later, but today I’m going to review a cooperative game that JT and I really enjoy playing together.
Our love for Pathfinder goes back a ways. At one time we were really into Dungeons and Dragons (Edition 3.5) but once DnD moved on to 4th Edition, we decided to just keep playing 3.5. After a little while we discovered that Pathfinder was basically DnD 3.5 PLUS, so we switched over to that.
Fast forward about 5 years and we are still playing Pathfinder and DnD roleplaying games, but were looking for something that didn’t take quite as long. Our last campaign lasted over a year with weekly sessions running around 4 hours at a time! With a baby on the way, that just wasn’t going to be an option anymore. In steps Pathfinder Adventure Card Game: Skulls and Shackles.
While this can never replace a traditional role playing game, its a great alternate when you have limited time.
Pathfinder Adventure Card Game can be played solo or with up to 6 players (with expansions, 4 players without). Recommended age is 13 and up, which I think is probably accurate, though if a child was interested in tabletop gaming before the age of 13, I would definitely try this with them. The game can take varying time frames depending on how many scenarios you want to play through in one sitting, but we have found that each scenario takes 30-45 minutes.
I’ll be totally honest, we got the game about a year ago and only started playing it 5 or 6 months ago, mainly because the instruction booklet for the game is long and daunting looking…and you have to go through it all to get started playing. Once we put in the time to learn the rules and how the game was supposed to play through, it only took us two scenarios to figure it out without having to constantly reference the instructions.
The original game insert for keeping it organized is actually very good, but we really wanted to sleeve the cards and the original insert didn’t fit sleeved cards, so instead we purchased the Broken Token organizer for the game. It is so organized now and can be turned on its side without the cards getting mixed up, plus there is so much room for the expansions (of which there are a ton)!
Before we get into the play session there are a few things to learn about first. There is a lot of information to follow so feel free to skim or just skip it entirely and get straight into the gameplay.
- Adventure Path – This is the entire Skulls and Shackles game and will require purchasing 5 expansion packs to complete (Raiders of the Fever Sea, Tempest Rising, Island of Empty Eyes, The Price of Infamy, and From Hell’s Heart). The adventure path gives you a guide for what order to complete the 6 adventures in.
- Adventures – The base game includes the stand alone adventure, Plunder and Peril, which is a great place to start the game. It also includes the first adventure on the path, The Wormwood Mutiny.
- Scenarios – Each adventure features 5 scenarios to play through and the order in which you should play them. The scenario card will also include which villains and henchmen to include in the location decks (villains, henchmen, and location decks explained below).
- Villain – Each scenario has one villain hidden in one of the location decks. If all the location decks are closed or temporarily closed when the villain is defeated then the scenario is won! If there are any decks still open when the villain is defeated then they will escape to an open location and you have to track them down again.
- Henchman – The villain is accompanied by his/her/its henchmen, at least one hidden in each location deck. Defeating a henchmen in a given location, and then completing the closing condition there, will permanently close a location so that the villain can’t escape.
- Monster – Monsters are enemies that can be defeated by combat checks, though they may have powers that make it more or less difficult to defeat. If a monster is not defeated then any remaining points to defeat it are counted as damage and must be absorbed by armor or by other means.
- Spell – Spells can be acquired when encountered with varying types of rolls. At the end of the game any spells acquired can replace spells in any character decks that support spells.
- Barrier – Barriers remain in place if they are undefeated and must be encountered again by the next player to visit that location.
- Ally – Allies can be acquired and added to player decks. They have various effects that help with checks or other encounter types.
- Blessing – Blessings can be acquired and will typically double or triple the amount of dice you can use for various types of checks.
- Armor – Armor can be acquired and are used to block damage after a failed encounter with a monster, henchman, or villain.
- Weapon – Weapons can be acquired and are used to add dice or special effects to a combat check to defeat a monster, henchman, or villain.
- Item – Items can be acquired and have numerous effects, including adding dice to checks, allowing for rerolls, or many other game mechanics.
Once you have chosen your scenario for the play session (for this review I picked the first scenario in the Plunder and Peril adventure), you will need to determine how many players you will have. There is a chart on the scenario for which location cards you will need for how many players. I’ll be playing through solo so I only need three locations. Each location will have a list of cards to include in the deck.
Your chosen character follows you throughout the adventure path (unless they die) and so each scenario, adventure, and adventure path has character rewards for completing the mission. The instruction booklet has the base decks for each character but this is what my character looks like after having played through the first adventure path.
- Plunder and Peril Adventure Card (for reference)
- Island Hopping Scenario Card (first scenario in Plunder and Peril) – The scenario card has information on which villain and henchmen to randomly shuffle into the location decks. Plus you can see the reward for completion at the bottom as added incentive.
- Ship – Your ship is how you get between locations, and they have various powers that can affect gameplay. If you take damage from a monster and cannot block it, your ship will be damaged. If the ship takes enough damage then you will not be able to keep any plunder stashed underneath it.
- Blessing deck and discard pile – Every scenario, no matter how many players, will have a 30 card blessings deck which is the amount of time you have to complete the scenario. At the beginning of each player’s turn, the player will flip a blessing from the deck to the discard pile. If you get to the end of the blessings deck without defeating the villain then you will lose and not gain any plunder or benefits for completing the scenario. You will then have to replay the scenario if you want to progress forward in the adventure.
- Location card – Location cards tell you how to build location decks, but they also have special powers and information on how to close the location. The location has an ‘at this location’, ‘when closing’ and ‘when permanently closed’ effect.
- Location deck – The point of the game is to explore the location decks in order to find the villain and defeat him/her/it once and for all. If there is an open location deck, then the villain will escape to an open location!
- Explore and encounter – During each turn a player can explore a location by flipping the top card and encounter that card. Some cards will allow you to aquire them, some will need to be defeated before moving on.
- Character deck – Player hand size varies depending on the character you chose, but if at any point you need to draw from your character deck and have no cards to draw from, then your character will die. If your character is dead at the end of the scenario then he/she dies permanently and you will need to start a new character!
- Player hand – My character has a hand size of 5 cards. Each character has a ‘favored’ card type and if you draw your first hand and do not have a card of that type then you can reshuffle and draw a new hand until the favored type is in your starting hand.
Okay. That was a lot of information, and there is still a ton more in the rulebook, but seriously it’s not that bad once you get into the thick of the game. In my solo game I ended up getting really lucky and finishing the whole scenario in 8 turns!
Turn 1 – I randomly started at the Floating Shipyard location, but you can chose wherever you would like to start. Lucky for me the first exploration was the henchman Enemy Ship! This card required me to summon a random ship card and defeat it. The ship I summoned required a survival check of 8 to defeat. I rolled a 5 and then because of my character and the points I’ve put into her, I was able to add 4 to my roll, making the total 9 and defeating the ship. Anytime a henchman is encountered you can immediately try to close the location that they came from, but I knew that in order to close this location I would have to get some help from my hand. The closing condition was to succeed at an intelligence check of 8 but I could only roll a d4 for this check so without cards that would be impossible! Luckily I had a blessing in my hand that gave me 2 additional dice for an intelligence check. I was able to roll 3d4s and got a total of 9 which closed the location. You can only move at the beginning of your turn, so I just drew back up to 5 cards and then went on to turn 2.
Turn 2 – I moved to Lonely Island (you have to move at the beginning or not at all unless you have a special card that says otherwise). My encounter for this turn was a spyglass item which I managed to acquire by rolling a 7 wisdom check and adding my wisdom bonus of +1. The location adds an extra work by making you roll 1d4 and adds that to the difficulty of any check you make, but I rolled a 2, and combined with the initial 4 needed to acquire the item, I still managed to get the spyglass.
Turn 3 – Surprisingly, I next encountered the villain! He required a check of 15 melee to defeat. I had a weapon with the finesse trait that added on 2d4 to my check. My character has a special power that says if a combat check has the finesse trait that I’m able to use dexterity +2 instead of strength which means that I can roll a d10 instead of a d6. I also decided to take no chances and use a blessing where I was able to add 2 more die to any dexterity check. So let’s tally it up, I’ve got 3d10 and 2d4 vs a 15 and 1d4. My total was 24 against a 17, so yeah, I kicked his butt. Unfortunately he had another location that he could escape to, so the game isn’t over yet! But I was able to close that location so he couldn’t run back there again, by banishing an ally from my hand.
Turn 4 through 7 – I moved over to the last location and defeated 2 monsters, acquired a weapon, and failed to acquire a blessing. Plus I battled a bunch of sharks because that is the ‘at this location’ condition.
Turn 8 – The boss showed up again and I used the same weapon (that also has the swashbuckling trait). I didn’t have any blessings to help me out or other cards, so I rolled a d10 and 2d4 for a total of 14, which was not enough to beat him. But the great news is that my character had a special power that any check with swashbuckling allowed me to reroll one die. So my roll of 14 became 16, which was enough to beat the boss and the game was over!
JT and I love this cooperative game because it allows us to have fun while not competing with each other (we get pretty intense with competitive games), making it a great date night game. Plus it is fun for solo play or playing with a group when no one wants to dungeon master a full on role playing campaign.
You will probably like this game if…
- you like role playing games like Dungeons and Dragons or Pathfinder
- you like cooperative games that allow/require you to work with a team to win
- you aren’t familiar with longer running rpg campaigns, but would like to try something similar without having to do a ton of math (some math but not as much as DnD!).