Wrath of the Righteous is the third boxed set in the Pathfinder Adventure Card Game series, and with the announcement of Hell's Vengeance a few weeks back for the Pathfinder Role Playing Game I don't see any sign of it stopping. If you've played a Pathfinder Adventure Card Game before, either Rise of the Runelords or Skulls and Shackles, then you'll know what to expect here. Wrath of the Righteous offers some new mechanics into the mix, but doesn't shake up the concept too much, it's the campaign based deck building game you're already used to. We'll go through these new mechanics a little later but if you have already played and enjoyed the two previous boxed sets then you should just go out and buy Wrath of the Righteous.
Mechanically Pathfinder is relatively simple. Each game is split up into a number of locations, each one a deck of cards. Locations contain a variety of monsters, traps and loot. Your character will move to a location and 'explore ' the top card of the deck. No matter if the card is a weapon or a monster; you will then be required to pass a test by throwing some dice across the table, using any items, spells or blessing in your character deck to aid you.
The aim of the game is to hunt down the villain, the big boss of the scenario and stop him from escaping by closing down locations and beating the villain into a bloody pulp. There is also a time limit to contend with as you have a limited number of turns to complete your goal.
Pathfinder's selling point is the character deck, not only does it represent your character's equipment and spells it also represent your character's health, taking damage forces you to discard cards and if at any point you can't draw more cards your character is dead. Because of this the game becomes an exercise in hand management. Using many of the cards also cause them to be discarded, effectively exhausting your character. Using too many abilities can be just as dangerous as fighting a Demon, and careful consideration of which cards to use when becomes important.
I want to take a moment out to mention Pathfinder's rulebook, because it's bloody awful. Considering this is the third iteration of this game I expected the rulebook to be much better than it is but it's difficult to navigate, poorly written and I'm sure it misses out rules and conventions that where in previous versions of the game.
Thankfully a poor rulebook doesn't ruin a good game and Wrath of the Righteous is a really good game. As a single adventure the game can seem a bit lacklustre, some people have described it as being similar to Talisman, and there's definitely some commonality. Moving to a location and drawing a random card is the most fundamental mechanic of both games, but you have a lot more control over your fate in Pathfinder.
There's also the cooperative aspect of Pathfinder, you are presented with the breakdown of each location's deck, giving players a better idea of where their character would be the most useful.
Pathfinder is also a very thematic game; each adventure is part of a larger story, which will be very familiar to players of the Pathfinder RPG. Which means the distribution of monsters, loot and villains makes some reasonable sense.
Pathfinder's biggest draw, and the aspect of the game that will keep you coming back for more, is the campaign. Each adventure can be played as a standalone game but Pathfinder is intended to be played as a narrative campaign. Adventures are organised into adventure paths and each adventure path also links into a much larger story. The base boxed set contains two adventure paths, each one made of 8? Adventures, so if you're looking at getting 16 one hour games out of the base box alone. And that's providing you're good enough, fail an adventure in the campaign and you have to attempt it again. If you wish to carry on the story beyond the base box you'll have to buy extra adventure paths.
The driving force behind the campaign is how you can tailor your character deck between adventures, adding any tasty loot or useful items into your deck and slowly replacing the basic equipment. Longer term you will also improve the stats of your character, allowing you to roll more dice during skill tests or hold more cards in your deck.
This campaign aspect of Pathfinder is what drives the game forward and makes you want to play more. Play it as a single game and it's a fairly average cooperative experience but thread a few games together and build up your character and the game is well and truly cranked up a notch. While there are plenty of the aspects that make up a good cooperative game, making a connection to your character takes it that much further. Now you don't just want to find that magical weapon to aid in this adventure, but think how good your character will be if they always carry that sword? Death in Pathfinder is permanent, and there is nothing like the sense of dread that you feel when you're beautiful gnome summoner you've brought through many an adventure is about to die.
This being the third Pathfinder boxed set, there are a few new mechanics to spice things up. The highlight of these is the mythic charge, a high level ability that gives players access to d20 dice for skill checks. The other major new mechanic is the addition of corruption, which can affect allies, blessings and locations. Of course anything corrupted is generally going to hinder you. Both of these new systems add some variety to the game, but unfortunately don't make their presence known until quite late in the campaign, which means that you won't see them until after a considerable time investment.
If you're new to Pathfinder the Adventure Card Game then Wrath of the Righteous is probably not the best entry point, because goddamn this is a difficult set. Sometimes it can feel a bit mean, but in reality Wrath of the Righteous is quite fair but that doesn't make it easy. There's a scenario in the first adventure path that requires the use of some form of magic to defeat the villain. I lost the game on my first attempt, and my initial impression was that then scenario was just plain broken, but on a second play through I looked a little deeper and found there was a way to gain an item that could help. The scenario was possible but required correct exploration and strategy to defeat.
And that's what makes Pathfinder the Adventure Card Game such a good cooperative game. It's not just about blindly running into all the locations, it's about developing a strategy, working as a team and utilising everyone's abilities.
I can't help but like the Pathfinder the Adventure Card Game series, and Wrath of the Righteous is another strong entry in the series. It's a strong blend of cooperative planning, deck building and some good old fashioned RPG mechanics thrown in for good measure. As a single one off game, it's okay, certainly not a terrible game but not a top ranked game either, but it's Pathfinder's campaign system that really sinks its teeth into you. The feeling of grabbing loot, followers and weapons from game to game that slowly builds and tailors your character is the addicting draw here and the long term deck building mechanic really makes you feel attached to your character.
This review is based on a full retail copy of the game provided by the publisher.