Pathfinder Adventures: Rise of the Runelords

I reloaded Pathfinder Adventures, the mobile version of the Pathfinder Adventure Card Game. All six parts of Rise of the Runelords are now available. The quest mode level cap is still 40.

The gameplay remains good. The later content is not terribly special, with some variety but mostly more of the same. I am told that is how Rise of the Runelords works: the first and most straightforward of the Pathfinder Adventure Card Game sets. It responds well to brute force.

The game remains buggy. It seems better but still buggy. My Cleric’s ability to heal a card after fighting undead does not work after all undead. The game can get stuck, requiring you to forfeit and start over. Cards can get stuck in an unbeatable state, requiring you to forfeit and start over. This last was most irritating when it happened in the hardest adventure. The last card literally said that it went on the bottom of the deck after being fought, no matter what, and I needed to completely empty the deck to win. The forums list this as a known bug for at least six months.

When I reinstalled the game, the cloud save had my current story party but no other characters. That flushed a lot of character advancement.

I am still unclear on how this game makes money. There are now more cosmetics to buy, but it is trivial to get enough gold to pay for all the content. My previous play left me with enough gold for all the new content, and now I am back to having enough to buy the first third of the next campaign if they make another. Daily challenges were added, making that even faster. If you buy the game, you really are donating to the developers.

Straightforward, fun, worth the time. Theoretically being ported to Steam but I don’t see the evidence.

: Zubon

Precipitating Events

Sometimes it takes just a little poke to make you wake up and rethink the whole thing. This is a brief story of a rethink and then the poke.

I gave up all my mobile games. I deleted all of them. The real start of that was having added one of the many farming games, which was quite absorbing but quite a timesink. I deleted it after narrowly missing a minor goal and thinking of how much babysitting the game needed to reach goals. And then that it is legitimately “babysitting” instead of playing. And then Spellstone, the P2W CCG I had been playing, went extra P2W and made me wonder how much I was getting out of any games I had on my phone.

That P2W bridge too far was the Ice Tunnel Dungeon, specifically the Winter’s Crusher custom card made for it. The dungeons are PvE events with soft caps based on how much money you have spent. As you go higher, the enemy heroes get stronger abilities, and their decks tier up to fully upgraded premium cards. Premium cards are a separate set only available with the cash shop currency, and they are stronger than their base set equivalents and keep getting stronger through the usual power creep that keeps people spending money. But then the events have custom cards that are even stronger than those, with no real thought of balance because they will never be in player hands.

For folks who don’t know this game, let me give you a quick sketch. This is a fully upgraded base set (F2P) card. It has 7 attack, 16 hit points, potentially buffs itself to 11 attack, ignores 4 layers of shield, and vampirically heals up to 3 hit points per round. Winter’s Crusher has 4 attack, 48 hit points, adds 5 layers of shielding to itself and its allies, heals itself and its allies for 4 hit points per round, and weakens all opposing attackers by 5; due to the current battleground effect, it also self-heals for 12 hit points per round, even if frozen. It effectively counters 26 points of damage against itself and 14 against each ally, versus the attacking frog that can buff itself up to 11 attack. That is one card in the enemy deck.

Someone did that on purpose. There was probably a meeting, and it had to pass review from a half-dozen people. Loss of faith in the developers’ judgment? I quit the game so hard it deleted all the games off my phone.

: Zubon

Boom Beach I was just bored with after sitting at the soft cap for a couple of months.

Thousand-Dollar Decks

Spellstone is still my go-to online CCG, because I always seem to have one going. I have been playing long enough that I now have a top-thousand deck, and I am increasingly meeting the players who pay for the servers to stay up. I used to mentally refer to them as “hundred-dollar decks,” but looking at some of these top decks I run into, no, these are definitely thousand-dollar decks.

Spellstone always has a couple of premium card “boxes” running, and buying one out completely costs $300-$400, depending on how you buy your RMT currency. The reason to buy one out is to get 4 copies of each premium legendary, because you upgrade and combine them into one quad legendary. You can get 4-6 quads out of a full box, limited to 4 copies of the same legendary. I see decks that have three copies of the same quad premium legendary, meaning these folks had to buy out at least three boxes, and those are for recent cards so these folks are paying ~$1000 for that deck and will need to do so every two months or so to keep up with the P2W curve and shifting environment.

I know in principle that people spend this much on virtual card games, but I did not really get it until I saw the fight in the P2W ranks of the game. I should know this because I played Magic: the Gathering when it first came out, but it is still surprising to see, and I wonder about things like stolen credit cards.

twitter screenshot referring to the Magic the Gathering 'power nine' as part of an investment portfolio

: Zubon


I have been playing Plague Inc.: Evolved, which is pretty good, if a bit formulaic across the diseases in a way that makes differences seem like inconsistencies rather than variety.

Greenland, though. Man, Greenland. Greenland is the Madagascar of this game.

: Zubon

I can recommend the PC version. I do not recommend the mobile version, which is a bit heavily ad-ware, although maybe that goes away if you give them a dollar? There were too many screens asking me for money to skip things.

Magic: The Gathering – Puzzle Quest

I have been playing a bit of M:tG-PQ (punctuation adventure). Puzzle Quest is basically good match-3 gameplay, even the version drowned in F2P2W, and this is another entertaining implementation. Matching gets you mana, mana summons monsters or casts spells, knock out your opponent to win. Pretty standard.

It is more Magic-themed than an implementation of magic. The five colors of mana exist, and they influence what spells go with your planeswalker and how much mana you get for matches. Any mana powers your cards, you just get more for certain colors. Planeswalker abilities exist, enchantments go on gems and last until they are matched X times, and some monsters block but most just attack your opponent. The elements that are borrowed from Magic seems fairly deft.

It is a F2P game. It is hard to fault something card game-based for selling cards. That seems almost entirely in the RMT currency, with the free currency being used to level up planeswalkers. I have no idea what level of P2W exists in the (standard asynchronous) PvP world there; I do not expect to play that far.

One of my main impressions is how random the game is, between cards and gems. I have several times lost a fight, restarted it, and won it without taking damage. Some games I cannot summon a monster, others I completely control the board, even when that “other” is against the same opponent. Maybe that goes down at higher levels, when higher hit points and better customization options mean it averages out, but then maybe you just get bigger, faster snowballs at higher levels. I do not expect to play that far.

Briefly entertaining, and a good commercial idea, but I cannot say that I can recommend it strongly.

: Zubon

Flavor of the Month: Tastes Like Burning

Spellstone is still rolling as my current online card game. For some reason I always have one going. “Flavor of the month” is part of its design with “battleground effects.” Battleground effects last two months, and they give a boost to all cards from a particular race, faction, whatever. This is a not-horrible way to keep decks changing and to encourage people to spend money on new cards and upgrading cards. Unsurprisingly, the cash shop cards follow the flavor of the month, including introducing new high-end cards for that faction.

This month is an elemental defensive effect: elementals get a flaming aura based on their hit points, and anyone attacking them gets set on fire. “Scorch” burns out after two turns, except that if you get a new source of scorch it stacks and starts the two-turn counter over. All elementals have a scorch aura for two months, and a fair number of creatures have a scorch effect on their attack.

There is an event every weekend, usually an asynchronous PvP tournament. NPCs do not change their decks to follow the flavor of the month, but players do, and this is the first time to fight a large number of players who have switched over to elementals. PvP this month is just running around shouting, “my frogs are on fire and my dragon is on fire and the fire is on fire and everything is burning, aaaugh!”

: Zubon


I uninstalled two of my mobile games. That gives me some openings if anyone wants to recommend more.

Pathfinder Adventures has always been buggy, but occasionally you forfeit a game because it gets stuck and cannot advance, oh well. I started seriously playing through Story mode after Quest mode was stuck with that sort of bug: if you hit level 30 in Quest mode, the game offered the wrong reward, so the first time I hit that I just stopped Quest mode at the victory screen until the next update; fixed, right reward, move on. I happened to play that character again this weekend and hit level 31 in Quest mode. That is the level where you can select a role, a specialization with different power options, for example whether to make your rogue a thief or an acrobat. That role screen is just unclickable, with no way to accept the reward, which is strange because I have done that with every character in Story mode. That makes this the second time I cannot advance past the reward screen due to a bug, locking down one of two game modes. I am out.

Pokémon Go is notionally interesting but in a couple hours of play I have done literally everything there is to do in the game. I have not caught ’em all, but there is no gameplay difference between catching Pikachu and catching Rattata. You move your finger in a straight line to flick a Pokéball. That and tapping on the screen for gym battles is the entire game. I played Ingress, so I have already played this game with a different theme and deeper mechanics. Sadly, even that might not have been an “uninstall” dealbreaker, but the game has been plagued with server issues, and apparently the plan is to remove features rather than fixing bugs. Frankly, I only installed it because I had friends who were super into the game, and some are already grumbling about Niantic and Nintendo and I do not care enough to read third-hand about developer drama on Facebook. I am out.

: Zubon

Pathfinder Monetization

I have almost finished Pathfinder Adventures (as much as has been released). I have completed story mode on most of the characters and most of those stories on the highest difficulty, along with a strong stable of quest characters. I have done this without paying a cent, and I already have enough gold to buy the rest of the adventure path. There was a little early grinding, but for the most part just trying out my new cards has generated enough gold to get the next cards.

I have enjoyed Pathfinder Adventures, but I do not really have a reason to pay them other than to donate. Just playing gets me the RMT currency I need to keep playing. I will soon have reached escape velocity and have nothing to do with my imaginary gold except buy imaginary treasure chests for a few more random cards. I could easily have all the gold needed to buy the next story path of adventures before they get done coding Rise of the Runelords.

Having enjoyed the game, I would like to compensate them, but I do not see a reasonable increment (or benefit there from). $25 for the whole thing is not unreasonable, if you do that at the start. At this point, the remaining content I could buy costs less than the gold I have on hand. There are smaller increments of gold available for purchase, including a daily gold offer that makes sense for a regular player, but again I generate my own gold by playing. The only thing I cannot acquire that way is the promo card pack, which seems available only with the $25 “box purchase.” And I already own almost everything else in the box.

This seems to be the fate of most F2P — either games are designed around monetization in a way that makes them not worth playing or the monetization is an afterthought and there is little way/incentive to reward good developers for the game. Many of us in F2P games have made regular purchases as a de facto monthly fee (Kingdom of Loathing) or buy a package as a voluntary “box cost” for a game we like (Team Fortress 2). In both of those examples, what you can spend money on is neither necessary nor sufficient to motivate a purchase, but instead the game falls into a pleasant middle where you chip in a bit of money for a bit of fun, decoration, or non-required power, where you do not begrudge the money because you are getting great value for the game. That is what I am looking for in Pathfinder Adventures, a bonus to encourage me to chip in but not one that feels like a P2W wall nor one that feels like idiotic benefit-cost. It is a narrow eye to thread.

: Zubon

Yes, I know that TF2 became a hat sales operation after that initial pack, but I maintain that there was a lot of pent up demand to pay Valve for the great value TF2 was in the Orange Box.

RMT Currencies

Sites and games establish their own currencies to help distance you from your intuitions and inhibitions about money.

A small purpose is to get you to make fewer, larger purchases. You might flinch from putting down $0.99 every time you want to get a pack of imaginary cards. Buying five of them is five separate pain points. Getting you to buy 250 gems for $5 is one pain point, and then it is a lot less painful to buy 5 packs of cards for 49 gems each.

Once your players have converted their real world currency into your game currency, they are committed. It is not hitting their wallet anymore, and it is not as though they can spend those gems on anything outside your game. Why not pick up that shiny mount or xp booster? And might as well round out that shopping cart with something to use up the last few gems, no point in wasting them.

Soaking up those last gems at the edges is the minor gain, a few bonus nickels and dimes. Because you got as close to zero as you could, and now there is a new shiny mount that you do not have enough to get. Maybe you should make another purchase? Or make all the purchase amounts add up badly so zeroing out is not reasonably possible. The $25 gem pack comes with 250 bonus gems, taking you to 2750, but most (good) things are in units of 495. Maybe you should buy another $25 and round that up?

The main purpose is to put psychological distance between you and your spending. It is not just that five small $1 flinches are worse for sales than a $5 flinch, but that a $5 flinch is worse than a 250 gem flinch. You have decades of experience with money but very little with gems. Setting your emotions aside, you need to do arithmetic to figure out how gems relate to dollars, the horror. And “100 gems” looks closer to $1.00 than $2.00, doesn’t it?

You can see sites and games combine these. I have played Spellstone on Kongregate, where the main currency is gold and the RMT currency is gems, but Kongregate has its own currency of Kreds, which you buy with a credit card instead of physical bills. Your hours at the workplace are way over there, behind your paycheck behind your credit card behind the kreds purchase behind the gems purchase behind the gold conversion. And didn’t they give you some gems and a few kreds? This might be a free pack of imaginary cards! I saw Spellstone on mobile, where there are some actual dollar amounts, and I got sticker shock in a way that the prices in kreds never caused.

: Zubon