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Subject: HC's Extensive Review Series: Paperback rss

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1) Intro to Game

Paperback was a word game designed by Tim Fowers released in 2014. Even though it was a small-publisher game, it actually got some traction for its uniqueness and drew comparisons to Scrabble.

Its main hook is its combination of deckbuilding and word building, which at the time, was the first implementation of that idea (though Dexikon was, I believe, in development at the same time).

2) Gameplay/Brief Rules Overview

There are two main modes, competitive and cooperative. I mainly played the co-op mode as I found the competitive mode to usually have too much downtime/take a bit longer than I'd like.

The competitive mode was played by the players until two Fame piles or all the Common Cards ran out (Common Cards are common vowels the players can all use on their turn, though some may be gained through the game by players). The player with the most value in fame cards at the end of the game is the winner.

The cooperative mode was played by players trying to buy out all the fame cards in a pyramid which got incrementally more expensive as players approached the top, most expensive card (a 17 cent fame card).

Every turn was played in traditional deckbuilder fashion. Draw 5 cards, make a word with those cards possibly applying effects too, buy 1 or more cards from the available supply, then discard everything in front of you and draw 5 new cards. If your deck is out, shuffle your discard pile and continue.

The game also came with some other optional rules, variants, and expansion material, but these were the main ways to play the game.

2b) Rulebook

I read the rulebook occasionally and found it sufficient for the purposes of learning and playing the game. It was rare that we needed to check anything so I didn’t have any issues.

3) Components/Box

The box is pretty cool looking. It’s very minimalistic, which I REALLY appreciate (especially compared to the giant boxes full of air from other companies). I do have some complaints though.

For one thing, it didn’t close all the way. I know it was designed to fit through the top and not close, but it just peeved me that most of my other games would close but this one felt like it could fall open if it accidentally tipped it over in my bag. I never actually tried this out though, so maybe it would still fit tight and snug.

It’s also so minimalistic that it actually sometimes closed on the edges or corners of the rulebook accidentally dog-earing them. This isn’t a big deal, but it was a tiny bit annoying.

Minor nitpicks aside though, I like that the dividers worked well enough and the game could fit sleeved cards pretty well. The cubes that came with the game weren’t thematic but were sufficient for their purposes of the bounty variant and such.

4) Artwork

The typewriter and fake art/stories/books are pretty engaging and cool, but most of the cards are just one big letter. I think the cards are pretty functional thankfully though and clear to see and distinguish.

The fake art on the fame cards and box is also pretty neat, and I especially like the thematic touch on things like the writer “Paige Turner” (aka page turner) and different themes and settings for the books. The artwork itself is also nice and semi-lighthearted, which I like.

5) Price

I bought this for $30 including shipping from Tim Fowers’ website, and I think that’s the main way to get it. I think the price is decently fair for what you get, especially considering how it’s such a small-time publisher and comes with some nice supplemental material (with all the optional rules/variants/expansion stuff). In addition, I’ve seen Tim post on the BoardGameGeek forums, and he’s been very helpful to the fans of the series in my opinion.

6) Availability

It seems to come and go in shipments and is moderately popular, but if people order ahead, they shouldn’t have to wait more than a few months usually for the shipment of the product. Bear in mind this is what it seems from the BGG threads I’ve read and from the website itself.

7) Positive Points

- The word crafting can be pretty enjoyable and semi-satisfying. When you rack your brain with a new hand of cards and finally get a decent word that uses all or almost all of your letters, it can be pretty satisfying.

- There is a fair bit of variety in the order that letters show up and the words made. Even though everyone starts with the same deck, constantly different words are made, and more divergences occur as the game goes on.

- Having two modes at least is pretty nice (technically 3 if you consider the simultaneous variant mode) for replay and variety. It also helps appeal to both the team players and those with a competitive spirit.

- The game has an interesting mix of deckbuilding and word-building, so it can potentially appeal to both deckbuilders (such as Dominion players) and word-game players (such as Scrabble players). Its also just a unique experience for most gamers. In addition, because Scrabble is such a classic, it can be a bit easier to get some nongamers into.

- Compared to, say, Scrabble, you don’t have to memorize words like common 7-letter words and obscure 2-letter words to be competitive. Everyone’s fame cards give them some leeway and variety with their “wild” ability, and since it’s a one-word and done deal, players don’t need to worry about word positioning or letter positioning (usually…some cards activate other cards that they’re played next to)

8) Neutral Points

- I have never tried them myself, but I have heard the Attack cards can drag out the game a bit. I never cared to try, but they do add more direct interaction for those who seek that sort of thing.

9) Negative Points

- There can often be a great deal of downtime, esp in higher player count games (4-5p). This is one of its biggest flaws IMO, as deckbuilders are often meant to play or feel fast. But this game can sometimes come to a screeching halt, sadly. The main issue with this is that players sometimes draw a hand of cards which may NOT be able to make a word using all of them...but they will want to maximize their hand, so they rack their brains over and over seeking a word that may not exist. Of course, this issue is intrinsic to almost all word games.

- The game length can also get long at times, especially if some decks stall trying to buy fame cards. I think this may’ve been alleviated and sped up if some fame cards had some cents or if some vowels were more common maybe, but I’m not sure.

- If a player doesn’t like word-building or word games, this game won’t magically make them like the genre IMO. I’ve played with some who are lukewarm on word games, and they stayed lukewarm by the end of the game. Its not meant to dazzle and impress people.

- On the flip side of that coin, I’ve actually also played with Bananagram and Scrabble players who played this and didn’t find it any specifically better than those two games. So for those who want to get this thinking it’ll “fire” those word games…be careful. It may indeed replace those permanently for you, or it may just be another word game in the lake of them.

- In the cooperative game, it can sometimes feel fairly luck prone in the final four turns when the 17 cent card is flipped over. You can stall it, but once its getting the time cubes, it can oftentimes depend on luck whether you draw into a hand with the potential to hit 17 cents+. I sometimes hit 18-20+ cents on a turn prior but other times just draw into a weak hand on the final turns.

10) Atmosphere/How it Feels

It feels relatively lighthearted when I played with my friends. There isn’t a super engrossing narrative or extremely strategic moves to plan out. It’s just people trying to make words and sometimes giving suggestions or ideas of words offered.

Do I feel like a writer writing words in a book? No, not really, especially since all my words are random turn-to-turn. I’ve tried with the theme cards too, but IMO, that’s rare to impact a game – usually players will still try to create the best word and buy the best word, and those "Themes" are often ignored.

11) Replayability/Variety

There’s plenty of variety in this game, if you’re worried about that. The order of the cards in the cents’ piles will almost always be different. The player order of buying cards will make a difference. The vowels available to make words will change too.

And perhaps most importantly, the game has plenty of supplementary material in its expansions/variants/optional rules to change up the game.

12) Player Count(s)/My Number of Plays

I’ve played both competitive and cooperative and played across all 1-5p counts (yes, I’ve tried it solo). I played cooperative most of all, so that's what I'll speak to below. I have not tried the simultaneous variant however. I got sick of word-building eventually and sold the game but thought it was okay overall. I have played approximately 15 or so games, and here are my thoughts:

1p: Its okay trying to get the pyramid of cards and complete the game. I think it’s more fun to work together with others and come up with word ideas together though.

2p-3p: Cooperatively, it works well enough and is enjoyable enough for word builders. I like that my turns are still semi quick in this. The groupthink is nice too IMO.

4-5p: Bit higher downtime than I like and I dislike how because 4/5 is the maximum number of cubes for a card, you don’t usually get an extra try at the last card in the cooperative mode. It’s a one hand and done deal, which leads to more luck prone situations IMO.

For competitive, I mainly played 2p, but I just preferred the cooperative mode for this.

13) Expansions/Upgrades/Inserts/Reimplementations/etc

At the back of the rulebook are several sections for this stuff.

For the "Expansions", I have only tried out the theme cards, which was kind of meh. I think if the game was more geared around them rather than a periphery, it would have more of an impact to our gameplay. Other expansions like "Player Powers" - we just weren't interested enough to try it over just playing the game plain.

For the "Optional Rules", we (or at I) did like the rule of using cubes to give bonuses to players for helping each other. I liked this "coopetitive" aspect in the competitive mode, and it helps speed up the game, which is nice. We didn't try out any other optional rules, but IMO, the one of discarding a hand for a cube should be extremely rare and highly unlikely to be the preferable option in a game.

There are two game modes, cooperative and simultaneous. I never tried out simultaneous (as I got tired of word building eventually), but I did enjoy the cooperative mode. The game also says you can change the structure of the cards, which is nice for variety IMO. I disliked the pyramid structure not letting you buy the 17 cent Fame card sooner if you could afford it - IMO that's a smidge irksome. That aside, I do appreciate that there is a simultaneous mode - AFAIK, this is the only simultaneous deckbuilder, I think. And deckbuilders run best IMO when they can be played fast (this is an aspect that Adam Europhile touched on in his Youtube review of Paperback, which I recommend).

14) Setup/Cleanup, Playtime

Setup takes about 2-4 minutes to put out all the decks and piles of cards, and it takes about 4 minutes to sort and put away the decks afterward. Playtime is about 35 minutes for 2p up to 1 hour or so for 5p.

15) Conclusion/Score

Overall, I think Paperback is a fairly enjoyable word game for those who enjoy word games. I do not necessarily consider it the best of them though – I think Scrabble has more excitement, especially when you can sneak through to a Triple Word Score space and such, and I think Bananagram’s speed of playing is just a lot more enjoyable while still scratching that word-building itch. I do prefer it to Word on the Street at least, which I thought was a messier real time word game. Overall, I think I actually like Bananagrams the most of these (for its speed), but Paperback would probably be second or tied with Scrabble.

But that’s partially also because I realize I prefer other games over word games. For me, I find word games to be a bit frustrating at times, and no matter how big my vocabulary is, sometimes I just don’t draw the right tiles/cards for word games. It also uses a different part of my brain, whereas I prefer to use the part of my brain that likes to think strategically. But anyway, for those who enjoy/love word games and such, I think Paperback is a great addition to have in your library of them. But for those like me who are not as crazy into word games, I do not think Paperback is a game that would change your mind…probably.

16) Extra Thoughts/Possible Improvements/Useful Links/Tips and Tricks/Recommendations/misc.

There isn’t much to say here. For shuffling, I sleeved all my cards. It would ensure they don’t get marked, and it’s actually a little easier to shuffle sleeved cards (and it maintains their quality). Paperback also does not have as many cards, so it’s not as costly to sleeve, fortunately. But that’s up to the discretion of the owner, of course.

If you enjoyed this game and like word-building and want more suggestions, I would suggest looking into other word games like Bananagrams and perhaps Dexikon (Dexikon may be too similar to be worth owning though, depending on your tastes). There is also the classic Scrabble, which IMO is still enjoyable when played as a casual word game.

If, however, you liked the deckbuilding aspect, I of course recommend Dominion, which remains the classic and purest deckbuilder.

Hope you enjoyed that review. Let me know any thoughts or comments below please! Otherwise, if you wanna see my other reviews, feel free to check them out at
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BC Wendel
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I really enjoyed this game and wanted more, so I picked up Dexikon as well. Sadly, it seemed to do everything wrong that this game did right.

So I would caution people against picking that up. It was a bummer.

If you like word games or deck-builders, Paperback is definitely worth checking out. And if you like both, it's a no-brainer.
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