During this year’s visit to the UK Game Expo I had two titles I absolutely wanted to pick up – Legendary: Marvel and Pathfinder ACG. I’d pre-ordered Pathfinder from Gameslore for pickup, and it massively weighed me down as a wandered about in a sheepish daze. It was heavy, and it was heavy because it was full of millions (not millions) of cards.
A few months on and I’ve finally gotten around to playing the opening scenarios in the main base box. It’s taken so long because I’ve spent most of those months trying to figure out how important the misprints on the cards are and printing our a heavily amended rule book. I’ve also watched about 2 hours of tutorial videos – I had tried to play it once shortly after getting it, but turned the villain over on my first turn which was about as bad a way to test my knowledge of the rules as I could have had.
But, last weekend, I finally took the plunge. My first game was pretty terrible – lots of things I thought I knew I clearly didn’t, and I played through in a way which felt thematically correct but which was wrong according to the rules I reviewed later. Stupid stuff like I worked on the assumption two characters in one spot could smack a monster with their weapons. They can’t. They can’t help each other with mere swords, only powers and spells and blessings and very specific weapons that say they can.
My human fighter apparently just stands and picks his nose while his dwarven friend gets biffed by a Hill Giant.
My second game went a little better, and I started to feel as if I had something of a feel for it, though the opening scenario absolutely murdered me. The blessing deck (an artificial timer that limits how long a session lasts) ran out well before I made significant progress. This also happened on my third game – no matter what I did, controlling 3 characters on my own kept resulting in me running out of time to help the citizens of Sandpoint with their troubles.
I’ll be honest. I felt moderately disillusioned at this point. I was so focused on stats and dice rolls and card based mob control that the theme was all but lost to me. It felt punishingly random and devastatingly hard. Sad face.
Then my boy, my wonderful glorious 6 year old boy, asked if we could play it together on Sunday night. This pleased me greatly and I thought I’d give it a whirl. I felt comfortable with the rules and just thought we’d die horribly.
He went with Harsk while I went with [insert name – the female paladin from the character addon], much to his amusement. We set off to try to deal with those pesky bandits again, them having left the dead bodies of so many in their destructive wake.
There’s no need for turn by turn summaries, here, but needless to say it was glorious. While he clearly wouldn’t pick the game up and play it on his own, he grew to understand his character and what it could do. We helped and assisted each other, moving between locations as needed. Wedecimated the bandits and saved Sandpoint from this first menace.
But, most importantly, it brought the theme to the fore again. Yes, we continued to roll dice and check values – that is the core of the game after all – but by taking the time to explain our actions, environments and enemies to the child it meant we both became immersed in what happened. As I listened to him tell his friends on the school playground about it, come Monday morning, he didn’t talk about mechanics or dice rolling or modifiers.He talked about the Ancient Skeletons who ambushed us at the docks after a swarm of rats tried to nibble our toes off, he talked about the Hill Giant who was hiding in a corn silo which he disturbed while hunting for bandits and he talked about unlocking a secret chest that gave him magic potions.
He normally goes for more tactile boardgames – Rampage, Escape, Cube Quest and Formula D are firm family favourites – but the way he got into this, his face as we turned cards, rolled die and told a story, was just wonderful. It was, in that single moment where his eyes lit up as he smashed that Hill Giant into next week, shouted “YES!” at the top of his voice and high fived me in victorious celebration, worth every single minute of agonising over how to play it and figuring the rules out.