In the past few years, two amazing adventure-themed cooperative card games have become a permanent part of my gaming collection.
The first one was Lord of the Rings: The Card Game. Released in 2011 by Fantasy Flight Games and designed by Nate French, it’s set in the Lord of the Rings universe devised by J.R.R. Tolkien.
The new kid on the block is Pathfinder Adventure Card Game. Released in 2013 by Paizo and designed by Mike Selinker, it’s set (at least in this initial release) in the Rise of the Runelords thematic scenario from the Pathfinder tabletop roleplaying game, also published by Paizo.
Things in Common
Here are five key factors these games have in common (besides the card game aspect and the fantasy theme).
1. Both games work for one to four players. Pathfinder Adventure Card Game has an expansion for five to six players.
2. Both games involve a player or group of players working cooperatively to defeat a scenario or set of scenarios. In each game, the scenario deck deals out threats of various kinds that the players must deal with in order to win.
3. Both games involve randomized scenarios, meaning you might be aware of the general types of threats you’re facing in a given scenario, but the specific order and magnitude of the threats is unknown to you.
4. Both games play very well solo, but also work in a group situation. I’ve deeply enjoyed the solo experience with both games.
5. Both games require you to construct a player deck for you to use out of the available pool of cards prior to the start of the game. The deckbuilding experience for Pathfinder is substantially easier, but that’s because you’re building a deck of fifteen to twenty cards versus a deck of fifty cards.
Here are seven key differences between the game that really distinguish them in my eyes. Some of these factors will encourage players to try Lord of the Rings and others will encourage Pathfinder play, but I’m not sure the same points will offer the same encouragement to different players.
1. In The Lord of the Rings: The Card Game, you have much more freedom in terms of deck construction, but it’s also much more involved. You’re building a 50 card deck with only a restriction of three cards of any given name for most scenarios. On the other hand, Pathfinder Adventure Card Game gives you a “recipe” to follow that involves choosing among several different choices for each slot in a small 15 card deck. It’s much easier to build your starting deck and to revise it between scenarios, but you have less flexibility to build whatever you want.
2. In The Lord of the Rings: The Card Game, the threats generated by the scenario stick around if you don’t handle them immediately. In Pathfinder Adventure Card Game, the threats are far less persistent. In terms of tactical choices within scenarios, the greater persistence of the threats in The Lord of the Rings: The Card Game adds a greater level of tactical depth that Pathfinder Adventure Card Game doesn’t quite have.
3. In terms of variety of scenario objectives, The Lord of the Rings: The Card Game offers far more variety, at least to this point. Part of this is due to the age of the game and the numerous adventure packs available, as you’re comparing roughly 50 scenarios to eight. Still, the early Pathfinder scenarios are rather similar to each other (for the most part).
4. In The Lord of the Rings: The Card Game, most of the randomness in terms of player choice comes from the player’s own deck of cards. In Pathfinder Adventure Card Game, the deck is far less random thanks to the “recharge” mechanic and small deck size, but some randomness is brought in via die rolls. What flavor of “randomness” do you like better? If you like the randomness of card draws, The Lord of the Rings: The Card Game will prove less frustrating. If you prefer dice rolling that’s somewhat mitigated by card play, Pathfinder’s randomness will be more appealing to you.
5. In The Lord of the Rings: The Card Game, for the most part, the scenarios are very independent of each other, though this may change thanks to the upcoming Lord of the Rings box sets and the “campaign mode.” In Pathfinder Adventure Card Game, the overarching Adventure Path mode incorporates all 33 scenarios for the game and your deck slowly changes and your character grows between (and even during) scenarios. Pathfinder Adventure Card Game‘s campaign mode stands far above The Lord of the Rings: The Card Game‘s at this point in terms of a long and engaging experience over a sequence of plays.
6. The art is probably better in The Lord of the Rings: The Card Game, though I don’t find the art in Pathfinder Adventure Card Game to be problematic. There have been some complaints about the “drab” card design in Pathfinder Adventure Card Game, but having seen the wide variety of cards, they’re completely fine.
7. Though both games do a good job of telling an adventure story through gameplay, Pathfinder Adventure Card Game‘s storytelling is more accessible. Paizo’s experience with the Pathfinder RPG and how to use game elements to tell a story comes through very clearly here.
Which Is Better?
If you’re attracted to a wider variety of scenarios and deeper strategic and tactical choices within scenarios, Lord of the Rings is probably a better choice. If an ongoing campaign mode with character building and ongoing storytelling along with strategic and tactical choices that are still compelling seems more intriguing to you, Pathfinder Adventure Card Game is probably better. It really depends on what you want most.
As for me, I’m pretty “high” on the campaign mode for Pathfinder Adventure Card Game at the moment, but I suspect once I’ve played through the campaign a few times, I’ll prefer the scenario depth and variety of The Lord of the Rings: The Card Game over the long haul. Both are strong enough games that I’m proud to have them in my collection, and they’re different enough that I don’t feel one excludes the other.