1 player. (2 player variant; I didn’t get a chance to try it.)
Play time: ~50 minutes per book.
BGG | Board Game Atlas
Check it out on Kickstarter! (Will update link when Kickstarter is live.)
Logged plays: 6
Full disclosure: A preview copy of Paperback Adventures was provided by Fowers Games. Some art, gameplay, or other aspects of the game may change between this preview and the fulfillment of the Kickstarter, should it fund, as this is a preview of a currently unreleased game.
Busy month for Kickstarters! I am saying this with the full understanding that I’m writing this significantly early, because I want to be ahead of the busy month. Most of the time I’m behind it, so you can imagine how huge this would be for me. Usually, this is when I’m prepping for con season, since May is the start of it all, but con season this year is going to be weird (I’m likely only attending BGG / PAXU; Gen Con and Origins are too ambitious for my risk tolerance), so, we’ll see what happens. Anyways, before I get too on that, let’s see what Fowers Games has for us with Paperback Adventures!
In Paperback Adventures, you’re going to fight your way through a trilogy of villains! You’ve been armed with your best words and your sharpest wit, but now you have to deal with both offense and defense! And mana, for some reason. You’re magic; congrats! Anyways, you’ll have to spell your way out of a number of situations with unruly suitors, pirate queens, and the occasional pendulum? Real cast of characters you’ve got set up. But you’ve got some other things up your sleeve, with access to legendary McGuffins and a whole host of powerful items. Will you be able to make the write moves and survive to the end of your trilogy?
First, pick a starting character!
You’ll take that character’s starting deck, as well, marked with a flag icon in the bottom-right corner:
Also set up your character’s Growth Deck. You don’t necessarily need to shuffle it right now, as you’ll shuffle it every time you need to interact with it.
Now, each character has six specific items they need. Both need the Wild Card / Wild Card Upgraded.
Ex Machina and Damsel have Core Items:
And they both have Starter Items:
You can shuffle the remaining basic items and set them aside until you need them. The item deck may contain items intended for another character (including their starter items); don’t worry about removing them.
The McGuffins also need shuffled. They’re double-sided, so don’t worry about the orientation of the cards or anything. You’ll draw from the bottom of the deck so that you don’t see the card before you get it.
Set the Boss Rewards and Regular Battle Rewards cards aside until you need them:
Finally, take a purple, blue, orange, and white counter. The non-white counters can be set aside, for now, but the white token should be placed on your character board on the 20; that’s your starting (and max!) HP. Then, shuffle the Enemies and Bosses for each Book (1 / 2 / 3) in separate groups; you’ll need them later.
Set aside the Penalty Cards, as well:
You should be ready to start!
Over the course of three Books, you’ll battle your way through a variety of foes and bosses! Survive them all to win! Each round, you’ll fight a new enemy; I’ll outline that here, rather than in Setup, since it happens a bunch.
To set up an Enemy, you’ll place a card from the appropriate Book onto the Enemy Tracker. The Enemy should be Stage 1-side up. Generally, after you fight two enemies from a Book, you’ll fight the Boss.
Either way, when choosing an enemy you’ll shuffle that stack and draw from the bottom of the stack (since the cards are double-sided). Then, place a purple and orange counter nearby, and a white counter on the Enemy Track at the enemy’s HP value. If the enemy has any special rules on their card, look them over now.
Each enemy provides one vowel that you can use every turn, but be careful! These vowels can be Fatigued just like other letters. (More on that, later.)
Finish up by placing the yellow chevron token on the A1 square to indicate what the enemy will do after your turn, and shuffle your deck and draw 4 cards.
On your turn, similar to Paperback, you’re going to try to use the letters in your hand to spell a word, to potentially do damage to enemies that you fight (or to defend against their attacks). Generally, speaking, your turn will take place over three phases: Prep, Clash, and Cleanup.
During the Prep Phase, you’ll start working on your word. This means that you will plan it out based on the cards in your hand and whether you’ll splay the word left or right.
The most important part of this step is that you can spend mana to use items, but only during this phase! This means even if you earn mana as a result of playing your word, you cannot use items during that phase of the game.
Now for the clash! To start, you activate the ability on the top card in your word. This will generally depend on whether or not you splayed left or right.
Now, count the number of hits, blocks, and mana you accumulated (counting items and McGuffins, where applicable). Your total hits minus the enemy’s block value (check what action they’re taking this turn) is dealt to them as damage; subtract that from their health. If you reduce their health to 0 on Stage 1, they’re stunned and take no action! Flip over their card to start Stage 2, and any extra damage you dealt to them in Stage 1 carries over to Stage 2. If you reduce their health to 0 on Stage 2, they’re defeated! Some effects will give you or your opponent hexes (purple counter) or boons (orange counter); update that accordingly.
If you didn’t defeat or stun them, they perform their action. If their action attacks you, they deal damage equal to the action’s attack value minus your accumulated block. At this point, the clash phase is over, so add your accumulated mana to your total.
To clean up, move the top card of the word you just played to a Fatigued pile. Fatigued cards aren’t available until the end of the current battle, so be careful when you use your letters! You can discard the rest of the letters in your word.
The enemy’s intent indicator (the yellow chevron) advances one space down, as well. If there aren’t any more actions, it cycles back around to the top.
Finally, it’s a deckbuilder, after all, so you draw four more cards to start your turn (this means that if you have any cards with Retain abilities, you may start a turn with more than four cards in your hand). As with most, if your deck is empty, shuffle your discard pile to become your new deck. Notably, do not shuffle your Fatigued Pile into your deck until the battle is over.
After you defeat an enemy, you experience Character Development! The dream. This generally results in a few things:
- Get rid of any hex, boon, or mana points that you accumulated during the battle. Note that your health is not restored, so, be careful with that.
- Discard the enemy and reset its counters to 0.
- Reset any rotated / single-use items, and reset your deck (including reincorporating the Fatigued cards).
Now you get to do fun stuff! Depending on whether you defeated an enemy or a Boss, you draw a card from the corresponding reward deck. Choose a side and perform all effects on that side of the card. One additional distinction between enemies and bosses is that when you gain cards, enemies require you to replace a card in your deck with the new card, whereas bosses add cards to your deck.
Some cards will give you a McGuffin! Those you draw from the bottom of the deck, and you choose which side you want to keep. McGuffins activate on their own, according to their activation criteria.
Finally, some cards will late you upgrade cards! You do that by flipping the card over (and you can look at the other side of the card before confirming the upgrade). Just be careful! If you replace an upgraded card, the replacement does not automatically upgrade.
End of Game
You’re defeated if your health ever reaches 0! You cannot continue in that case. You’ll have to start from scratch!
If you complete Book 3, you win!
Player Count Differences
Not applicable for this solo game!
- You’re going to want to quickly come up with a strategy and build, and try to take cards and items that enhance that build. One game, for instance, I focused almost entirely on gaining mana to boost my ability to drop hex counters onto my opponent. To that end, I took a bunch of cards that either let me get mana more quickly or would let me quickly fill my opponent with hex counters. One combo in particular gave me 1 mana every time I used an item, which meant that 1-cost items were free for me (and 0-cost items ended up giving me extra mana). This led to a pretty handy combo setup, especially as we moved into the late game. That’s not the only combo type that exists! There are many out there, provided you can get the correct build for them. This also should impact which cards you take and upgrade — are you going to try and build yourself up defensively, or are you going the glass cannon route, where you’re offensively powerful but can only take one or two hits? Either is valid, provided you can get the rest of the cards working in your favor.
- Remember when taking new cards that a card is only most useful to you when it starts or ends a word. You may see a really awesome ‘O’ and want nothing more than to take it, but how often are you actually going to use that ‘O’ card’s ability? Probably not all that frequently, given how many words start or end with ‘O’. That said, you may be able to use Wild Cards to your advantage, since they effectively allow you to use (and Fatigue) the card below them to still pull out some pretty awesome abilities.
- You may want to change what word you end up spelling based on how the cards splay. This is a really cool thing about this game, frankly, and that’s that the word you spell has likely an entirely different impact based on your left splay or right splay choice. Some cards are attack-heavy on the right and defense-heavy on the left, or vice versa, or just significantly better splayed one way or another! You can’t just try and spell whatever word you want; you’ll have to get creative if you want to maximize your offense or defense!
- You may also want to change what word you end up spelling based on how the enemy is going to react on its turn. Not every turn is a pure offense turn; you may need to focus on defense to get through a challenge, lest you get wiped out by an enemy on their major attack turn. If they’re healing or blocking, you might be able to actually get some stuff done, like setting up mana or boons for a big attack turn of your own! It doesn’t matter if you leave yourself vulnerable if you manage to stun or defeat your enemy.
- Keep track of what cards you want to upgrade; it may not always be worth upgrading if you’d rather have a different outcome. Sometimes you hit a point with your deck where you start to experience diminishing returns. Upgrading a bunch of cards is a good outcome for a battle, but if you don’t actually want the upgraded abilities that much? You’re better off taking an alternate reward that you can make better use of.
- Also, taking penalty cards isn’t always the worst thing. You only need to use them once (generally speaking) before they’re out of your deck, and while they don’t give you any rewards, you can generally move through them quick enough that it’s fine. What you do need to avoid is taking so many that you end up with more than three in one hand; there aren’t a whole lot of words that will work with that many penalty cards. It’s sometimes worth it for the benefits you get as a result, anyways.
- Keep an eye on your health and always have a backup plan for healing. If you let yourself get too low on health, you’re done. This is especially true given that some rewards cost you some health, meaning if your health is too low, you can’t use them. You should always have a plan for how you can eventually recover some health. Certain cards will get you there, as well!
Pros, Mehs, and Cons
- You may end up making a totally broken combo, and frankly, that’s awesome. I think that’s largely the dream of some of these solo games. You really, at your core, want to be able to come up with a combination that’s unbeatable and just puree your way through a bunch of battles. That’s me, at least. It’s like watching a friend talk about their Snecko Eye strategy for Slay the Spire. Just wild stuff. I think that Paperback Adventures does a very good job of enabling that, if you can get the right elements together, and honestly that’s great. I think that this also works a bit better as a solo game than it would as a multiplayer or even a cooperative experience, as a result; part of the game is that discoverability element. You’re only ever gaining a few cards over the course of a 3-book series, so you’re not going to make your way through the entire Growth Deck or see every McGuffin or use every item. As you play the game, though, you’ll start to learn what’s in all of those things and be able to plan for them in subsequent playthroughs. That’s what really appeals to me about Slay the Spire and other similar deckbuilding roguelikes, and I think Paperback Adventures does a good job translating the joy of discoverability to a board game, which I’m impressed by.
- I like how different the two characters I got to try felt. I think I ended up tilting them similar ways due to my playstyle, but Damsel’s emphasis on always using every letter she had was pretty neat! I think Ex Machina was a lot of fun, as well! I worked more on healing damage I was dealt (rather than preventing it, as Damsel). I’ll be interested to see how the characters are differentiated in the final release.
- The game also feels very expandable. I could see myself pretty reasonably coming back to the same character multiple times until I felt like I had a good sense of their Growth Deck and how that plays with the Items / McGuffins, and I’d likely do the same with the second character. I do wonder how difficult it must be to test a new character for this, though. I’ll probably read a designer diary at some point if there’s one available.
- I definitely did not expect this to work as well as I think it does. Honestly that was kind of the biggest thing; I genuinely didn’t expect this to work this well. It’s just, “word game roguelike deckbuilder” is a lot going on at the same time. But I think what keeps this together is the combination of Fatiguing cards and the splay mechanic. It adds something new to just roguelike deckbuilding, and I think that’s great!
- The splaying mechanic is excellent. Yeah that’s the big one, for me. I have had multiple instances of “oh I’ve got the perfect word that uses all of my letters” and then said, “wait but that doesn’t actually do what I need to do, this turn”, and had to rethink it. I like that a lot, though it was a bit of a pain on that particular turn. As a player, it forces me to be continually active on my turns and think about what I need and how the cards in my hand will let me get it. Once I’ve got it, then I can think about what possible words I can spell with the cards with this ordering. It’s a fun restriction!
- I particularly like that the Fatigue mechanic forces you to mix up the words you spell. Yeah so even beyond the needs of the splay mechanic, every turn you remove one card you played from the round via Fatigue. Personally, I think that is super cool, though it may give some folks uncomfortable flashbacks to weapon durability in Breath of the Wild. Either way, it’s a nice management mechanic to force players to change up their words, meaning that you really need to have a consistent sense of how you want to play your deck if you want to make it through a battle.
- All things considered, this actually fixes one of my biggest problems with Paperback. One issue that has come up in my increasing plays of Paperback is just that it kind of incentivizes you to play the same high-value word over and over, or just to play the longest word possible. While long words are probably still better, it’s very difficult to spell particularly long words in Paperback Adventures. Adventures really doesn’t even allow you to spell the same word more than once (or, at least, it makes it fairly challenging to do so), and it’s unlikely that there’s much of an advantage to doing so beyond, maybe, trying to use the one Good Letter you have in as many words as possible? Either way, Fatiguing and splaying collectively elevate this game a fair bit, for me.
- Penalty cards are amazing. I actually like penalty cards, to some degree; they do force me to be a bit more intense, but they lack any payoff, which is kind of a bummer. They’re generally more challenging letters (or an ‘S’ that you can’t get rid of, which is interesting), but despite them being significantly harder to use, you gain no benefit for using them. That said, I did have a particularly lucky instance where an enemy stole two of my cards, but one of them was a penalty card, so that was great.
- The enemy / boss abilities are very good, as well! I don’t love them, in the sense that I don’t like it when bad things happen to me, but they’re thematically consistent and they’re very challenging. I can imagine that harder modes exist (and they do; you can play such that enemies do not stun), but I think this is a good amount of challenge for a solo game.
- I also like that you can save your game between books. It’s a nice touch, though I do kind of treat them as three games in a campaign. I wonder if there will be a spot in the box to help with this. Guess we’ll see. I’m definitely going to have my eye on this Kickstarter.
- It, weirdly enough, really does feel like a Paperback take on Slay the Spire or other similar roguelike deckbuilders. I think it fits in well, though I will freely say the “word game” part is a bit weird. It works, but it’s weird, you know? I keep mentioning my surprise, because, honestly, that’s kind of how I feel about it. I was just genuinely surprised.
- Why do we have mana? Unclear. This isn’t really a complaint, per se; the Mehs is always just a section for me to get my weird nitpicking out of the way so that I can actually write about the game. This particular nitpick is silly, but why do our characters have mana? I’ve been wondering about this all day, really, even though if the game said it was “Ink” or “Power” or something else that’s fundamentally equivalent, I’d probably have been like “oh, okay”. Not a big deal, just something amusing.
- You may want to use a playmat of some kind. You’ll be flipping cards decently frequently, and having something between you and the table will help you not damage the cards you’re flipping over. You’ll definitely want to sleeve your actual cards for play (just to help you remember which ones are upgraded), but the other item cards are kind of small squares, so they don’t have as explicit sleeves.
- Setup and post-game teardown are a bit of a pain. I’m inclined to say that this can be mitigated somewhat with a very good insert, and given their work with GameTrayz in the past, hopefully this is something that happens, but you’ve got three sets each of Enemies and Bosses, starter decks for each character, growth cards for each character, core items for each character, regular items, McGuffins, and more, and that just ends up leading to a lot of shuffling, to say nothing of the actual shuffling that happens during the game. The one that’s a particular pain is that you need to revert all of the upgrades once you’ve finished the game, which can be kind of a bummer, but that’s the price you pay for a fun solo game. It’s only sad because there aren’t any other players you can trick into helping with teardown. I’ll be interested to see how the final box organization addresses this to try and simplify player setup, because that’s really the only issue I had.
- Hope you like shuffling! One of my major gripes is just … you’re shuffling a lot of cards, a lot of the time, forever. As to be expected from a roguelike deckbuilder, but you know, it can be a pain. I will say my copy coming sleeved helped a lot.
Overall: 9 / 10
Overall, I’ve had a blast with Paperback Adventures! The rougelike elements really resonated with me, being honest. I think, at the moment, I’m tending to stick to familiar pathways when I play, which is fine, but I’m hoping that as the Kickstarter goes and expands, we’ll see more content for the game that can really change up how I play. There’s a bit of an obvious disjoint, here, which is that the spelling-words-as-attacks doesn’t completely stick, as a connection between theme and gameplay, but it’s still fun enough that I don’t really mind. I tend to think of it as an interesting imposed constraint and work around it. It is, after all, since it determines what cards you play and how you play them. There’s probably a math-based version of this game you could build in similar ways, but I’m getting sidetracked. The game’s got a lot of moving parts, as you’d imagine, though. Setup can take some time, teardown can take some time (remember to flip all your Upgraded cards!), and I sure hope you like shuffling. But it’s interesting! It’s experimental! It’s out there! And I think that’s cool. I loved Slay the Spire, so, it seems natural for me to be hyped about this. And though I keep referencing it, this isn’t just Slay the Spire with a wordy coat of paint on top. No shops or nothing; mostly random card draws to change up your deck or new items to try. And that stays pretty fresh as you progress through the game. I’ll be interested to see what factors can be used to fine-tune the difficulty to the player, as you’ll need something to push difficulty up and down over the course of the game, yeah? I’ll note that this is a firm evolution to Paperback (and it makes some fun references to Hardback, for y’all interested parties). Gone are the days of optimizing your deck to play the same long word as often as possible. Now, if you’re getting 8 or more letters in a word, you’re doing some kind of forbidden magic. Now, it’s not just what you play, but the order you play those cards in and whether the left card is on top or on the bottom. That’s neat! I’m liking where this is going. I think the challenge in a fairly-saturated game market is that often, games need to do a good job justifying why they were made. And Paperback Adventures does that quite well, even for me, the not-often-playing-solo-games kind-of-guy. Don’t get me wrong, I’d love a multiplayer cooperative version, but I like where this is going and can’t wait to see where it goes next. So if you’re into word games or solo games or roguelikes or you just want to go on a rip-roaring ride to “Let’s See What Happens If We Mix Them All Together” town, I’d recommend taking a look at Paperback Adventures! I’ve certainly enjoyed it.