Review – Arcane Spell Deck (Pathfinder)

Paizo’s recently released Spell Cards: Arcane add to the growing list of “it’s not required to play, but wow is it handy” accessories for Pathfinder 2E. Along with the Arcane Spell Cards, Paizo also released spell cards for Occult, Divine, Primal, and Focus.

Spell Cards: Arcane covers every single arcane spell from the Pathfinder (2E) core rulebook. That’s over 200 cards, and the box has room for maybe another hundred, so if there’s a later set of spell cards collecting spells introduced in supplements they can be fit in here as well. Or, because the cards are “standard size” (the same as Magic: the Gathering cards), it should be possible to sleeve all of the cards and still have them fit in the box (it will be pretty snug if you’re using nicer sleeves instead of penny sleeves, but I don’t think there’s much call for that). The cards are of decent, but not amazing, quality, so players who want pristine edges on their cards might want the penny sleeves.

For most spells, the spell card reproduces the entire text of the spell on a single side of a card. For maybe 5% of them Spell carries over onto the back of the card (the standard card back is the same illustration of the wizard Ezran that’s used on the box). And there are some cards that won’t fit on a card (sorry, Duplicate Foe), in which case there’s a page number reference for things like the heightened effects for the spell.

With no new information as compared to the core book, I like that spell cards aren’t a mandatory accessory – there’s no problem running the game with just the usual book and dice (this is true of almost everything Paizo makes, although the Condition Cards so useful I almost think of them as mandatory). But books, while gorgeous, often don’t make the best reference in the middle of the game, and things like spell cards can greatly speed up that process. The especially speed things up when you don’t have to go digging at all, so for players the Spell Cards are best used when spells known or spells commonly used are sleeved up in advance and stored with the character (at least, I’m going to sleeve up cards before I put them in a folder or a dice/minis box). Characters with broad spell access (e.g., wizards) can still keep the whole box handy just in case, but it’s really best to have the spell card right there when you need it.

GMs, of course, have the most potential to get use out of the spell cards, because they have to handle a variety of NPCs and don’t usually have the option of just casting the same four spells over and over again, so it’s harder to memorize. However, making full use does take up prep time to grab out exactly the spells the anticipated NPCs will be using – having to dig through a whole box every time you want to cast a spell really reduces the utility of the cards. And GMs will tend to need more than just one set of spell cards – for me as GM, if I’m going to splash out for five decks I’d probably want to make sure I have that little bit of extra prep time to get the most out of them.

Arcane is the biggest of the five spell card collections (with Occult not far behind), although Divine/Primal/Focus have a lower price point ($25 instead of $30). Many spells can be cast by multiple traditions, and so will be duplicated across the five spell card sets. This is fine for just me and my wizard, but creates some redundancy for GMs (it can still save some time, however – when the NPC is an arcane caster, they can just grab the arcane cards instead of searching through a larger stack of all spell cards).

Of course, if you’re lucky enough to get more than one game of Pathfinder in every week (as player or GM), you can make the very most out of spell cards – more chances to use them and with multiple ongoing games they help make up for increased difficulty in remembering what all of the different characters can do (or maybe it’s just me who has a problem with that).

Promotional consideration was provided in the form of a review copy.

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