One of the longest tenured game designers in RPG history has to be Steve Winter, as he started with TSR in the early 1980s and continued on with the company until roughly December 2012, when he was finally ‘let go’ by Wizards of the Coast. If those 30 years translate to anything, I would think it is an in-depth knowledge of the business of RPGs.
Once Winter was on his own, he posted an incredibly candid blog article concerning how ‘broken’ a business model any company building around an RPG actually is. To sum it up, he basically indicated that after the three core books (Player’s Handbook, DMG, and Monster Manual), all other products are A: unnecessary to the system as a whole, and B: that continued supplements ‘break’ any game’s mechanic system eventually and require a ‘reset’ to both correct the system and also increase company profits which will have flagged since the initial release.
That said, it is easy to see why once powerful companies like TSR, FASA, Game Designers Workshop, and White Wolf eventually collapsed under the weight of an impossible business model. It also helps us understand why self-replenishing profit systems like miniatures and cards actually do work as a business model in the hobby sector. Look no further than Games Workshop to understand this, and later Wizards of the Coast with their Magic the Gathering bonanza, and finally Privateer Press with Warmachine & Hordes, that directly mimic Warhammer.
So, having established that, you can certainly understand my interest in the evolution of Paizo as a company. Having hit an obvious home run with Pathfinder, I had to keep asking myself ‘once Pathfinder stalls, as Winter theorizes it will, what will Paizo do?’
Well, I guess I’m not the only one thinking that, because of late Paizo had expanded their market with several new product lines, the most intriguing of which are their Boxed Set Card Games. These sets ingeniously combine card building with role-playing with table-top (Think D&D meets Magic the Gathering meets anything done by Fantasy Flight!)
Indeed, it is an amazing breakthrough by the Paizo design team, and guess what, it actually works!
Today I’m going to take a look at Paizo’s second Adventure Card Game Base Set, Skull & Shackles. Having already invested in the Skull & Shackles Adventure Path, I was aware of the pirate concept of the setting and had to give Paizo props for choosing it after their initial Adventure Card Game release of Rise of the Runelords.
This set comes with everything you need to begin, requires 1-4 players, and typically takes a couple hours to complete. There are multiple scenarios, character cards, and also other expansion sets that you can build on as you play.
Characters actually advance as you play, much like D&D, and if you move into expansions, your character can maintain much of what they had previously so you get the feel of making progress throughout each extended campaign that rises from the box.
This is reflective of their RPG Adventure Path, in that you can run an entire campaign in which your base characters move from newbie to elite, but here is the rub. Like the Adventure Paths that came before, these products are roughly the same, just done on a different mechanic. Thus, you can’t move Rise of the Runelords characters over to play Skull & Shackles, just like you couldn’t readily move RPG characters from one campaign to the other. So, in reality, this is Paizo’s way of reintroducing their Adventure Path series with a new twist, tabletop and cards, so that is something to take into account before investing in them.
As stated above, this particular set is pirate-based, with cool island settings, sea-oriented monsters, an added ship mechanic so that characters can not only have a vessel, but also improve it or get a bigger and better one.
Paizo will also have many expansions to this base set, allowing you to customize and expound on your adventures, but again, that is the choice of each group of players.
Having played it a couple of times, I can say that it is great as an ‘in-house’ game with friends and also something that is very easy to run in a local gaming store. Paizo has certainly made another strong move into the hobby and with new products like this one coming along, I don’t see Pathfinder giving up its new #1 ranking in the market anytime soon.
The massive box includes more than 500 cards, 7 character classes, and loads of supplemental cards. It also has The Wormwood Mutiny Adventure Deck that puts the players on the beginning Adventure Path.
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