Game Review: PACS (The Pocket Adventures Card System) by Ben Kanelos of Dorkmen Games

A couple of months ago, Ben Kanelos of Dorkmen Games dropped me a note and asked if I’d like to take a look at a RPG that fits into a deck of cards. It’s called PACS – the Pocket Adventures Card System – and he’s self-published it via DriveThruCards. Considering I’m always looking for ways to game more frequently with my two daughters, I took the plunge and had a copy in my mailbox soon thereafter. I’m only sorry it’s taken me this long to get back to it!

PACS: Set I by Dorkmen GamesPACS boils down the RPG experience to a few key concepts, a deck of cards, and some coins. Quite literally you get a deck of 72 cards in a small box. Inside, you get four different types of cards – Heroes, Foes, Lairs, and Loot – along with a set of directions spread across seven cards. With the deck, the coins in your pocket, and a player or two (up to 8), you’re ready to go. No dice, character sheets, maps, or anything else. Right off the bat, the simplicity won me over.

I read through the directions with my girls and we were literally playing within about 5 minutes of opening the box. I’m not sure we played it correctly, but we had a good time. I think we worked our way through about 5 lairs, a handful of foes, and the girls were ready to keep plowing forward about an hour later. The fact that they were still talking about it later in the day and want to play again shows some serious promise.

As a player, all you really have to do is choose a Hero card and you’re off to the races. Each Hero card has a type (the girls chose Wizard and Rogue), which offers a few unique abilities in addition to the 6 different aptitudes. Aptitudes are like characteristic scores in D&D, but hardcoded on each Hero card. There are three aptitudes in red that can be used directly in combat (which some variations depending on your Hero) – Might, Agility, and Magic. And then there are three non-combat aptitudes in blue – Awareness, Influence, and Knowledge.

If not in combat, you roleplay as you do in any game. Talking out certain situations and reacting as your character would. If you come to an activity the GM thinks requires a skill, you perform an “aptitude check” – which boils down to picking the appropriate aptitude and flipping three coins. Each head is a success. Each tail is a failure. If you get three tails, it’s a critical fail. If you get three heads, it’s a critical success. Add your number of flip successes to the aptitude score in question and compare against a difficulty of 1-6 (if unopposed) specified by the GM. If it’s an opposed check, both the Hero and the Foe make flips and compare the results in the same way. Critical fails always fail. Critical successes always succeed.

Combat works the same way, though you can only pick a “red” aptitude to attack with. The difference is that if you’re “hit”, your card gets tilted 45 degrees and your character is now “injured”. Get “hit” again and your character is defeated and is turned sideways. Same holds true for the foes. Two hits will knock anybody out. And I like the tilt mechanic to quickly show which heroes & foes are in or out of the fight. Once you’re out however, you can “Recover” by making a coin flip. Flip three heads and you’re back to injured, otherwise you’re still defeated. And Foes are able to Recover just as much as Heroes are.

There are three other concepts as well… On-turn actions, off-turn actions, and effects. On-turn actions can only be done on a character’s turn. These are things like the wizard’s “Enervation” attack, which (if successful) reduces an opponent’s aptitude score to zero until the end of their next turn. Great. That’s pretty simple.

PACS: Set I by Dorkmen GamesOff-turn actions can only occur during another character’s turn. Each Hero and foe has one off-turn action per round. For example, a Ranger has a “protective shot” that can make a Foe’s counter not count (if successful). Or the Cleric has a “mighty resurgence” which can restore a defeated Hero to uninjured (if successful).

Effects don’t use actions and seem to be in place during an entire combat. These seem to be all over the place, affecting different aspects of a scenario. A Barbarian has the “Deathless Fury” effect, granting them +1 Might when they are injured. Lairs also have “effects” like “Deadly Duplicates” for the Mirror Chamber Lair, which creates copies of the heroes in the room with the same aptitude scores, but none of their abilities.

As the GM (you need a GM and at least one “Hero” to play), you can likely arrange the cards however you like, but I went with the idea suggested by the “Variants I” card as far as using the Lair cards goes. Shuffle the Lair and Foe cards and place them in two stacks, face down. Take the first Lair card, grab whatever Foe cards it requires, and you’re off to the races. Lair cards provide a bit of an introduction along with some effects, foes, and loot gained.

Loot cards are fun in and of themselves. Think of them as little boosts to a character. You can only have one item or weapon loot card active at a time, but they offer some intriguing abilities. Wearing the “Boots of Quickness” increases Agility by 1. A “Holy Symbol” gives you a bonus to attacks on undead and a “Turn Undead” on-turn action to defeat undead foes. And there are many others. Some seemed a little overpowering like the “Elixir of Death” which gives you the ability to take out a foe with “Deadly Poison” or reduce a foe’s aptitude score to zero with “Non-Lethal Damage”. But I’m sure there’s a balance in there.

Where I got a little confused with combat is with “countering”. Each turn, a Hero or foe can attack. And so long as the defender isn’t defeated, they can “counter,” which is like an attack in reverse. So each Hero not only gets an action where they can attack a Foe, but they can also attack any Foe that attacks them if they get a chance to counter? That’s the way we played it, but it resulted in a lot of coin flipping each turn. Lots of back and forth, which I guess makes sense.

Though I love the simplicity of PACS, I am definitely not a fan of flipping coins. It was more than a bit wacky after a while with coins flying everywhere (we were sitting on the floor at a coffee table). I’d much rather roll a die instead of flip a coin. I’m thinking that I might be able to use a D6 and use odds as heads and evens as tails and get the same result. But we’ll have to play with some alternatives.

Quite honestly I wasn’t sure what to think about PACS, but am glad I gave it a shot. We only played with the PACS: Set I deck and I’d be curious to see what the second deck includes as far as additional options. I did notice more than a few typos (“rogue” became “rouge” on one card), but none of them hindered understanding how to play or set up a game.

If you’re interested in PACS,
be sure to check out Dorkmen Games’ products at DriveThruCards. You can print your own cards at home or have them printed and sent to you for a bit more. I had fun playing with my daughters and I’m sure we’ll play again soon!

For more about Dorkmen Games and PACS

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