The second edition of the Pathfinder Adventure Card Game (kicked off with the Core Set a few months ago) gets up to full speed with the Curse of the Crimson Throne expansion (not only the first full-length campaign, but also enough cards to go up to six players), which covers the entirety of the Curse of the Crimson Throne adventure path (note: if you’re looking on a shelf, the cover of the PACG expansion does not use the same art as the cover of the RPG deluxe hardback, contrary to what some online stores display; the image to the right is correct). Fair warning: Curse of the Crimson Throne is my favorite Pathfinder RPG adventure path – so I might be more than a bit inclined to look on this one favorably (also, promotional consideration was provided in the form of a review copy).
The most immediately apparent new thing about Curse of the Crimson Throne is that you get to buy the whole adventure path at once. Instead of an AP-specific base set followed by five small expansions, you get all six chapters (25 campaign scenarios; plus two random scenarios) all in one box (and at a lower cost than buying those five small expansions). And, although I will admit that it is not ultimately a big deal, I personally really like that all 550 cards are crammed into a nice, compact box. None of this big box that’s mostly air with the cards floating inside (which would be particularly pointless, given that the Core Set box is designed to store many expansions worth of cards) – the whole thing is full.
Now, before getting into how well this PACG expansion emulates the original adventure path (speaking of which, spoilers ahead – this review assumes you’re already familiar with Curse of the Crimson Throne), what does Curse of the Crimson Throne add to the PACG from a broader perspective? There are some new characters, of course. Three of the new characters are iconics for hybrid classes – Hakon (the skald; likes to tell stories and get cards back from the discard), Kess (the brawler; likes to punch things), and Quinn (the investigator; shreds through barriers) – which, I believe, means that all of the iconics have now appeared in the PACG. The fourth character, Varian, is not an iconic, but instead springs from Pathfinder fiction. Although Varian does not come from Korvosa (the primary setting of Curse of the Crimson Throne), he does have history in both Korvosa and Ustalav, so there’s a connection to the events. Varian is a wizard, but has the unusual distinction of being a wizard who has difficulty memorizing spells. In the PACG, this means he automatically fails his checks to recharge spells – but since they will typically go to the discard pile because of his training in Arcane, his power to automatically recharge a spell a turn will usually compensate for this. Varian also starts with his bodyguard, Radovan, as a Cohort.
There are a couple of new rule aspects, although they are heavily centered around the story and themes of Curse of the Crimson Throne, and so probably aren’t terribly portable back to a ‘normal’ game of PACG. First, like the Pathfinder adventure path, the Harrow (a Varisian method of fortune-telling reminiscent of tarot) is woven into the game. Each of the six Harrow suits is tied to an attribute, and each set of four adventures is tied to a Harrow suit. To go with this, there is a large stack of new Blessings based on cards from the Harrow deck. At the start of each adventure, each character performs a harrowing, drawing a random Harrow blessing that matches the adventure’s suit. This card is added to the character’s starting hand, and each adventure has effects that occur when that Harrow card is played or when any card matching the adventure’s suit is played. Although it isn’t rules-based, there are also a number of Harrow-themed spells to be found plus actual Harrow Deck item (either a generic one or Zellara’s).
Curse of the Crimson Throne also adds supporter cards and a special location, the Base (which is available in many, but not all, of the adventures; it’s also sometimes there but hard to access in some scenarios when the characters area not in Korvosa). The Base doesn’t count as a location for many purposes (villains can’t escape there, for example), but it is stocked with all of the party’s rallied supporters, who have been gained over the course of the campaign. The Base can be ‘explored,’ allowing the character to draw (and, most likely, play) one of the rallied supporters, plus get another beneficial effect. One of the potential adventure rewards is to improve the supporters, in addition to the usual character feats.
The rallied supporters are one way that the PACG Curse of the Crimson Throne feels like the Pathfinder adventure path. The Base/supporters interaction means that recognizable characters from the RPG can appear repeatedly in the card game. The supporters who can be rallied include Cressida Kroft, Amin Jalento, Trinia Sabor, Vencarlo Orisini, Adabaran priest Ishani Dhatri, overly cheerful follower of Zok-Kuthon Laori Vaus, Krojun Eats-What-He-Kills, and Gray Maiden Sabina Merrin. And you can’t get everyone – choosing to rally the support of Shadowcount Sial means you lose the support of Laori Vaus.
More than individual cards, though, there are special adventure setups (and supporting locations/story banes), laying out the plot points of the adventure path. Note that, although it is marked as an optional introductory scenario for those unfamiliar with the PACG, you absolutely should play through Haunted Fortunes, as it is the iconic opening adventure of Curse of the Crimson Throne, and where the party picks up Zallara’s Harrow Deck and Cressida Kroft. The early scenarios in Edge of Anarchy (part 1 of 6) require the party to gather Evidence before really taking on the villain (can’t just go killing guards or “legitimate” businesspeople, now can we?) and the finale is a rooftop chase with lots of barriers to overcome (but you do get to draw two and pick one to face, just like you remember). When the party heads off to Old Korvosa, a Red Mantis Assassins might spring out of any location, whether you went looking for them or not. And, yes, a member of the party is offered the opportunity to become Blackjack, taking a special role card (and equipment that goes with it. The party has to ‘win’ at blood pig before it can find Pilts Swastel. The characters must earn respect points across all four scenarios in A History of Ashes (part 4 of 6) to gain the full support of the Shoanti. In Skeletons of Scarwall (part 5 of 6) … well, OK, this is mostly just killing things. When the party returns for Korvosa for the final act (Crown of Fangs; part 6 of 6), they risk losing their rallied supporters to the chaos of rebellion (and then the climactic killing of big bads).
Of course, the fact that Curse of the Crimson Throne story is emulated through special adventure setups too doesn’t mean there aren’t plenty more cards that give that little zing of recognition. In addition to the character embodied as supporters, there’s flavor through generic allies (e.g., Acadamae Student, Harrower, Korvosan Guard, Korvosan House Drake, Hellknight of the Nail, various Shoanti, a hippogriff fledgling … and later a plaind old hippogriff) and a few more specific ones who couldn’t quite make the jump to supporter status (e.g., Eries Yelloweyes, Zellara and quite a few other named undead). The story banes encountered start with Gaedren Lamm and Gobblugut, Lamm’s Lambs, and Jigsaw (of course), and continue with Devargo Barvasi/Knivesies, Fugitive (hello there, Trinia), Doctor Davaulus and Queen’s Physicians, Leukodaemons and Plague Zombies, Gray Maidens, daughters of Urgoatha, members of the Red Mantis, the “Emperor” of Old Korvosa and his flunkies (and a game of blood pig), tigers and things that look like tigers, Cinnabar, Cindermaw, landsharks, lots of undead and Nihil the Ashbringer, Togomor the bloatmage, even more Gray Maidens and Red Mantis, several iterations of Ileosa, and Kazavon. Plot and background points conjured forth with barriers include Imps and House Drakes, a “friendly” game of sredna, a cursed statue (one of a few Barriers that has a triggered effect just from examining it), and curses of obsession. And don’t think that the characters can’t load up on good old physical stuff while they’re at it – plague and plaguebringer’s masks, a humanbane rapier (when in doubt, always the correct choice for a bane weapon), Gray Maiden armor (of various sorts), war paint, Sable Company armor, Red Mantis gear, a lot of starknives, moon maiden armor, various Shoanti gear, Ashbringer, Kazovan’s Shield, and Hellknight armor. All of which is really just a long and yet still incomplete way of saying that, if you remember it from Curse of the Crimson Throne, it’s in here.
So, in sum, I heartily recommend this one to PACG fans. This kind of feels like a no-brainer – I mean, of course I would like playing an implementation of an adventure path that I love. But that’s a bit of unfair application of 20/20 hindsight. Maybe Paizo could have mailed this one in – popular adventure path, aimed at people who already bought the Core Set, just toss something out there and the fankids will eat it up. But they didn’t. Curse of the Crimson Throne isn’t just a random expansion that trades on love for an existing story – it’s a fun expansion in its own right that does a great job embodying elements of the adventure path.