Alright, I haven’t seen a word game around here in a while, and that’s a real shame. I love word games. Yeah, actually, now that I look at it the last word game I wrote up was Anomia, way back in July. That just won’t do. So let’s talk about Paperback.
Paperback is the first Kickstarter project by Tim Fowers, who after enjoying success and acclaim with Paperback released the equally-fantastic Burgle Bros. late last year. I could (and now, did) gush about how great Burgle Bros. is literally all day, but this isn’t a Burgle Bros. review, so I’ll save it for later. Look forward to it. Paperback is also a pretty great game, in my opinion, but how great? Well, we’ll just have to find out later.
There are a ton of cards here, so just try to do the best that you can. There should be several types of cards, including cards with letters on them:
Cards with book covers on them (Fame cards):
Common cards (cards labelled “Common”):
And some starting decks, each with 5 wild cards (they have a picture of Paige on them):
and the letters R, S, T, L, and N (the most common consonants in English words, for you Wheel of Fortune fans):
Separate all of those, and shuffle the various letter piles and Common cards. Set them out such that each letter pile is in a row, and then for each pile except for the two-cent pile, take the first card off the top of the pile and place it underneath of the row, creating a second row. Next, add the Common cards in a pile underneath of the two-cent cards. Finally, separate the Fame cards into their piles (according to their cost), and add them in a third row below the letter piles. This forms what’s called the Offer, and it should look like so:
Now, the number of Fame cards in play are determined by the number of players. I always forget what it is and have to consult the rulebook, but there’s also a helpful chart in the game that I’m going to post here for both your and my benefit:
So useful. Now, each player should take their ten starting cards in their deck (R, S, T, L, N + 5 wild cards), shuffle it, and deal themselves five cards. You’re ready to begin. This was the easy part.
So, before we get any further, I should probably mention that Paperback is an example of what’s called a deckbuilder game. That might be a concept worth digging a bit more into for people unfamiliar with the concept, and thanks to headings I can make it effectively skippable for people who already know!
So What’s A Deckbuilder?
I’m really glad you asked, Hypothetical Inquisitive Person. A deckbuilder is a style of game really popularized by Dominion (yes, I know I haven’t reviewed it yet), though it might have been invented before that? I’m not actually a historian. Anyways.
In a deckbuilder, you start with the same base deck as everyone else (in this case, your RSTLN cards and your wilds. Usually, some of those cards are kind of dead weight but are worth victory points (the wild cards, in this case) and other cards help you gain points in some way by having points on them, like your letter cards do:
Those points are, on your turn, spent to buy additional cards, which are then added to your discard pile. You then draw back up to your hand limit (in Paperback, you first discard all the cards you haven’t played as well, though that’s not true in, say, Eminent Domain). Should you need to draw more cards than remain in your deck (say you need to draw to five cards and only three are left), you shuffle your discard pile and it becomes your deck. Note that you do not shuffle your discard pile until you need to draw cards and cannot. Usually a deckbuilder ends when you have either satisfied some condition or depleted a few piles of buyable cards. Now that you have a basic understanding of a deckbuilder, let’s go back to Paperback.
And we’re back. So, in this particular deckbuilder, the way you buy cards is with money earned from playing words on your turn. So, you’ll notice that you have letters and wild cards in your hand, and you start with a five-card hand, like so:
You can construct one word per turn by playing letters from your hand, and however many points that word scores can be used to buy additional letters for your deck. Note traditional Scrabble rules (no proper nouns and people can disagree that it’s a word and look it up). Some letter cards have two letters on them — unless otherwise stated, you must use both of them in the order they’re given (CH instead of HC, for instance). To assist you (and prevent the Scrabble problem where all you have are consonants), there are also Common cards which have one vowel of [A, E, I, O]. There’s only one available at a time, but you can (and should, if possible!) use it in your word. So, based off the cards in my hand, I might as well use all of them and spell TALONS (using wilds for A and S and the Common O) for 4 points, total.
Note that some cards have abilities when played. If you play them, they might give you extra money if you satisfy a condition or extra cards in your hand next turn or something. Just in case it matters, you use the card abilities from left to right.
Also, see a “7 Letters” currently above the Common cards? If I were to spell a seven-letter word on my turn, I’d take the Common card and add it to my discard pile (that’s called “gaining” the card, in common deckbuilder parlance), revealing the next one and moving the line to “8 Letters”. This goes all the way up to “10 Letters”, at which “Game End” is revealed. So anyone spells a 10-letter word after 7-, 8-, and 9-letter words are spelled, the game will end after their turn. Gaining Common cards is an easy way to get points without having to use your money to buy Fame cards, as each Common card is worth 5 points AND can be used as a (usually) useful vowel.
Now, you should check to see how much money your word is worth. With 4 money, I can buy any cards that I’d like, as long as I can afford them (unlike, say, Dominion, I can buy as many cards as I’d like in a turn). So if I buy this card, I’ll spend most of my money:
(I didn’t like either of the two 4-cent cards that were available.)
Now, note that if I had 5 or more cents, I could buy some of the Fame cards in the bottom row. They’re like the wild cards in everyone’s starting deck, in that they’re worth points and can be used as any letter. Incidentally, if you end up buying out two of the four piles (such that there are no cards left), that will end the game.
After all these things, you discard the rest of your hand and it’s the next player’s turn. As mentioned, play continues until either the Common card pile or two of the Fame card piles are depleted, at which point the game ends. Count the number of points you have among cards in your deck (helpfully denoted by the star icon), and the player with the most points wins!
One last thing — some cards (notably every card in the 2 cents pile) have an ability involving trashing. For those of you who aren’t familiar with the term, trashing a card means removing it from the game. Just make a face-down trash pile near the Offer and put trashed cards there.
Now, let’s talk strategy.
Normal deckbuilder strategy is pretty tough given the sheer variety of potential cards that can be played (honestly, that’s the main reason I haven’t reviewed Dominion yet — I haven’t played all the potential combinations), but Paperback is somewhat limited in scope so it’s a bit easier to wrap your head around.
- Try to keep a reasonable balance of vowels and consonants. While the Common card will insulate you from an unplayable turn for the most part, it’s a bit frustrating if you have 10 cards in your hand and no vowels or wild cards, meaning that you can only play TO for … two points.
- Try and control when you shuffle. You’ll only shuffle your discards into your deck so many times in one game, so you’ll want to be precise about when you shuffle. This may mean not playing certain cards that let you draw more cards on your next turn so that you delay shuffling until you can gain a card. Once you’ve gained the card, shuffling your deck means that you have a good chance of playing it rather than gaining it after you shuffled your deck and having to cycle through all your cards again.
- Don’t get too distracted by flashy cards. There are double-consonant cards, yes, and they’re pretty useful, but getting only those and wild cards doesn’t help you much when you’re trying to think of a 10-letter card that has CH, ST, and 6 wild letters (“chastising”, for those of you keeping score). Your brain just can’t do that many permutations of potential letter combinations.
- Fame cards are dead weight. Yes, they’re wild cards, but they don’t give you any points so you can’t buy any letters. The last thing you want is a hand of 5 Fame cards, meaning you score literally 1 point that turn and that’s just from using the Common card. There are some cards that give you money for every wild card in your word, but you can screw yourself over by relying too heavily on Fame cards.
- Don’t forget to buy some Fame cards. A lot of players read the previous note and figure that they’ll not buy any. These cards (and the Common cards) are the only ways to score points. You do need them to win the game, eventually.
- Even cards that are trashed after use have their purpose. There’s a card that, for instance, doubles your word’s score and then is trashed afterwards. If you manage to score > 20 – 30 cents with that, you can buy a LOT of victory points in one turn! Usually enough to turn the game around, honestly. So even though it’s single-use, it’s worth it. Also it’s occasionally not a bad idea to trash some of your starting deck, if you can get better cards as a result. Don’t be afraid!
- Common prefixes and suffixes are your best friends. It’s a wordbuilding game, so look for nouns that you can add -S to or -ING. Better yet, look for the coveted RE-(*)+-INGS to add an extra six letters for free to any word, provided you can justify it. BRAND -> REBRANDING goes from being a bland card to giving you enough letters to take the last Common card, if you manage to play it. That’s pretty great! Just don’t forget that sometimes letters double when the word gets a suffix added. EMIT -> EMITTER, for instance.
- Trying to get the Common cards is usually a good way to win. Since you don’t have to buy them (you just get them for free if you spell a word of the appropriate length) you can pretty easily spell a word that satisfies that condition and then buy some Fame cards to earn extra points. Plus, they give you a free and usually useful vowel.
Pros, Mehs, and Cons
- Huge fan of the theme. It’s a semi-humorous romance novel writing theme, and all the Fame cards look like cheesy romance novels and have matching tag lines to boot. It’s fantastic. Also the art is great and all the cards look equally great.
- Complex in a satisfying way. It’s nice to try and think of words you can spell on other players’ turns and you’re sure to fry some brain cells trying to figure out what words you can spell from the cards that you have. Maybe that’s not something positive for you, but I find it really entertaining.
- High replay value. Sure, you figure out there are some highly beneficial words to remember (or prefixes and suffixes, as mentioned), but the variety of cards that show up every time and the nuances of different player counts (the Common cards get taken faster but there are more Fame cards to compensate) means that this game can be played pretty frequently with no issues.
- Very portable. Small box means I can basically take it anywhere. The box is a bit of a tight fit, which might earn it a “meh”, but I appreciate how transportable it is.
- Just a lot of fun. It’s not only a great word game but also an excellent deckbuilder. What’s not to like? As long as you like games in both of those categories.
- Box (as mentioned) is a tight fit, and doesn’t really match any other boxes I have. It’s a bit difficult to store because it’s not a regularly-sized box. Just another time that I wish there were standardized box sizes across different games. That’s really the meh-est thing about it.
- Can lend itself pretty easily to lengthy games if players agonize over trying to find the best possible word. There’s actually a fix for that in the rules where each player has a timer on their turn. If they don’t find a word they can open it up to every player, and whichever player finds the highest-scoring word earns a 1-cent block that they can use on their turn to buy more. It’s a mutual benefit, and it speeds up the game.
- VERY difficult for people who don’t spell well. As might be obvious, this probably isn’t the best game for your friends that maybe aren’t quite the best spellers. Nothing more unsatisfying than playing a word and having another player say, “that’s not the correct spelling.” Not really something that bums me out about the game, but definitely something worth knowing before you buy. You cannot really win the game unless you’re spelling more complex words, as you just won’t get the Common cards or earn enough money to get Fame cards. So if you’re averse to spelling, this may not be the game for you.
Overall: 9.5 / 10
This is currently one of my favorite games, as it combines all the fun of deckbuilding games (which I really enjoy) with word games (which I also really enjoy) into a great package. It still has some extra bonus things that I haven’t tried yet, like cards that give you points if you satisfy certain conditions or spell a word that fits in a certain category, Attack cards (letters that cause other players to earn less money, discard cards, or restrict the cards they can purchase) and even extra Common cards (a Spacebar letting you spell two words and Dyslexic allowing you to reverse the ordering of two-letter Letter cards). Even after playing it a fair amount, it still has a fair amount of content that I can get into, and it all looks pretty great. Obviously if this is your first deckbuilder you should probably try Dominion as well, but if you are into word games and are looking for the next step after Scrabble this is a pretty amazing contender.
Seriously, one of the better games I’ve played. Can’t recommend it enough.