What's this game about?
Pathfinder Adventure Card Game: Rise of the Runelords is an attempt to distill the experience of a roleplaying campaign into an adventure card game that doesn't need a GM. There are several characters to choose from, and each will begin with a 15-card deck that will grow and evolve over the course of multiple play sessions. You'll work through enemies and obstacles using the cards in your hand and a standard set of polyhedral dice. But be careful about burning through cards—your deck doubles as your health, so when you run out of cards, you die.
Pathfinder ACG gameplay is based around location decks, which are set up at the beginning of a scenario. Each location will contain interesting loot, traps, and enemies, but you can't spend too long at any one of them. You're on a tight timer, and the object of each game is to work through location decks to locate the main bad guy, then lock those decks down to prevent him from escaping. Once he's trapped, you can defeat him for the win.
How does it play solo?
Since Pathfinder ACG is cooperative, you can either try to solo it with a single character or play multiple characters. (I recommend two.)
I originally bought this game in my early days as a solo gamer, because it felt like everyone was recommending it. I can honestly say to you that I do not understand why. The storyline in this game is thin at best—you will often run into enemies that don't make much sense in a given location, and there isn't much flavor text to go on when you're campaigning. The main activities of the game are flipping cards and rolling dice, and all of the scenarios I have played have felt same-y. Also, you might find yourself repeating a scenario. Even the most carefully-laid plans can end in failure if a bad guy is too close to the bottom of a location deck, if the dice are against you, or both. While there are definitely some strategies you can use to more effectively pin down an enemy or confront an encounter, it doesn't feel satisfying enough to play smarter, because the gameplay is still repetitive. Besides that, character leveling is slow. So slow that you'll need to put hours into the game before your character deck develops a unique flavor. But even that doesn't change the general mechanic of flipping cards and rolling dice, so what's the point of all of those hours?
It's not that Rise of the Runelords is not a functional game. It is. It's just that it's a mediocre card game that would be tolerable over the space of an hour at game night. It is not tolerable over the course of months of regular play—at least not for me. And yet, that is what all of those cards and adventure packs and slow character progressions are asking you to do. The story of this game is not epic enough, and the gameplay is not spicy enough, to support that level of commitment. In reality, Rise of the Runelords is an okay game. But I end up venting about it because its presentation is telling me that it's supposed to be an epic adventure, a worthy long-term investment. And it's not.
Do I recommend it?
No. Pathfinder ACG has its adherents and it is a functional game. But there are better epic games, and there are better card games.
Overall Rating: 2 stars
5 stars — I love it!
4 stars — I really like it.
3 stars — I like it.
2 stars — It's okay.
1 star — Meh.