Finally got Apocrypha to table last night. For fans of the Pathfinder Adventure Card Game, Apocrypha will feel simultaneously quite familiar and yet very distinct. It’s early days, of course, but I think it might well be a better game overall, unless you’re specifically looking to simulate the Pathfinder experience through a card game.
You play characters who have been awakened to the supernatural side of the world, known collectively as saints. Each saint has ratings between 1 and 4 in each of four stats (Body, Mind, Soul and Rage), each stat located on one side of their character card, a hand size, and a number of Omen cards that are added to their deck at the start of each scenario. They also have two unique ongoing powers and ratings in a couple of skills. Each saint also has a “halo” which consists of eight card positions around their character card. The main things that “slot” into the halo are memory fragments (which give you a one shot or ongoing power and a big whack of flavor text) and deaths (which lock the slot and eventually kill you permanently), but there are other cards that may temporarily go there. They sell a card binder that makes this easier to manage, especially between sessions.
One of the biggest differences between Apocrypha and PACG is the dice system. Apocrypha uses a set of 20 colored d6s, four per stat (color coded to match) and four white bonus dice. When you go to perform a check, you take your stat rating worth of dice of that color, and if you have a corresponding skill you take that skill’s rating in white dice. You can also get bonus dice from other sources, and you can boost your dice pool with cards, but you can never have more dice than the game makes available, so unless you can use an effect to specifically add dice associated with a different stat than you’re using for the check, most pools will top out at 8 dice (four stat and four bonus). You can also have one or more saints assist depending on where that player is relevant to the stat you’re using, potentially including yourself. The benefit is that you get to reroll a number of dice equal to that player’s rating in the stat you’re using. The penalty is that you draw a “mutation” card and roll dice equal to the number of saints assisting, taking the lowest result, to see what that mutation card does to the check. Finally, you roll your dice pool and keep the highest 3. At this point you can use effects to manipulate dice in a bunch of different ways including rerolls, flipping the die to the opposite side, adding flat bonuses or penalties to your result, lowering your target number, causing dice to explode (i.e. be rerolled and added to your original result), etc. This makes checks feel significantly more fraught than in PACG since adding dice gives you more chances to roll well but does not guarantee a baseline addition to the end result. It also gives a lot more possibilities for card effects messing with the results.
There are some other interesting innovations. For example, each scenario uses a combination of Structure cards that define a wider array of possible game parameters than the PACG default “move freely between X locations hunting a villain. once you trap and defeat the villain, you win”. That’s one possible approach in Apocrypha, but there’s also the structure “At the Stronghold” which takes the decks from every location specified by the scenario and piles them together at one location, preventing anyone from moving and only allowing the location to be sealed by the scenario’s criteria, not the location. Or “Duel”, which prevents you from confronting the Master (Villain, in PACG terminology) until the deck is almost empty, automatically avoiding them if they come up before that and reinvestigating.
Also, you don’t have a default investigate step. Rather, you must play an Omen card to do so - and these can be Hope omens, which give you some advantage to that investigation, or Doom, which penalize you in some way. You start with a random set shuffled into your deck, but most Structures have you advance the timer by actually drawing and taking the Omen cards that compose your clock deck. (Some also mix other things into the clock.)
They didn’t print individual cards for every single henchman this time, either. Instead you get 3 Master archetype cards and 16 Minion archetype cards, and the scenario will tell you which True Threats are encountered when you encounter those cards. And boy do those enemies not pull any punches. Whew. Even Minions have some pretty horrifying powers and the Master we fought was nailbitingly tough every time.
I really enjoyed it and am looking forward to playing more. Of course, it’s competing with Gloomhaven so it may be a bit.