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Game Overview: A deck building game where you compete with the other players to spell out words using the letters and wild cards currently in your hand along with using a common letter that all players have access to. Use the points earned by spelling a word to add additional cards (letters) to your deck. The cards you purchase will ultimately allow you to add cards which include Fame points. At the end of the game, the player with the most Fame points wins.
Box Contents: The box is the same one that you will find in Tim Fowers game, Burgle Bros in which the box is slim and just wide enough to hold the contents of the game. Included in the box are the cards, dividers to keep the cards sorted, wooden cubes, and the rules. Two large foam pieces are included to fill up the space in the box and keeps everything in place. Typically, this is done to allow for expansions in the future. Tim has confirmed via the Board Game Geek website that this is indeed in the works. The only complaint about the box is that it is hard to keep the rules manual in pristine shape as the box seems to push against the corners. The cards are very well made. The art is limited, but you will find some nice colorful art on the fame cards which is supposed to represent the front cover of a book.
Clarity of Rules: The rules manual is twelve pages and is mostly text with just a couple of pictures which show the game setup and provides an explanation of the cards. Despite the lack of pictures, which sometime is key in game manuals, the rules are easy to read and provide a very thorough explanation of the game play.
Game Play: The basic game consists of each player receiving the same deck of cards which includes the letters T, R, S, L, N, and five cards that are wilds which can be used for any letter in the alphabet. The game table is set up in piles where you separate out the letter cards based on their values. You will have a 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, and 8/9/10 cent pile. This represents the cost of the card. The more expensive they are, the more difficult it will be to use them in a word. However, they will provide more points to purchase additional cards that cost more. With the exception of the 2 cent card, you lay down the top card in front of the pile so each of these decks will have two options available to the players.
You will also have Fame cards available to you in four separate piles that cost 5, 8, 11, and 17 cents. The number of fame cards used is based upon the number of players in the game. The fame cards are important in that they will provide you the points needed to win the game. They are treated the same as the wilds that you initially start with, where you can choose which letter of the alphabet they will represent.
The final set of cards that are used is a common card that any player can use in spelling their letters. This pile consists of the letters A, E, I, and O. It also includes a spacebar which allows you to create two words and a common dyslexic card which allows you reverse the letters on a two letter card. There are five levels of the common card. The first common card shown allows the person spelling a 7 letter word with the common letter, is able to take the card into their deck. Each of these cards provide 5 Fame points. The next card revealed can be taken if used in an 8 letter word. This continues to progress by one letter each time. If you get to the final level and someone obtains it for their deck, the game is over.
On a players turn, they draw five cards from their own personal deck. If at any point you do not have five cards to draw, you will have to shuffle all of your discarded cards to create a new deck to draw from. Using the cards in your hand, you form a word and lay them out in front of you. The wild cards can be used for any letter in the alphabet. However, they will not provide any points to you, so you want to use them strategically. You can also use the common card that is currently available to all players by referencing it as you spell out your word. If your letter equals or exceeds the current level for the common card, you place that common card into your discard pile.
Once your word is played, you need to review each card to see if any ability needs to be resolved. When purchasing new cards, the abilities are an important thing to consider as you may encounter that card multiple times throughout the game and it may be the difference between winning and losing. A few examples of abilities that you will see will provide you a free card to purchase, provide additional cards from your personal deck the next hand, copying the abilities of an adjacent card that was played, or trash a card from your hand.
You then add up the score that was earned from playing your word and you use that score to purchase cards based on their value. You can purchase as many cards as you can afford. You must choose between the letter cards which will provide additional abilities and help you to create longer words to increase your score or the fame cards which ultimately will help you win the game.
At the end of your turn, you discard all cards and draw back up to five cards. The game will end whenever two of the Fame card piles have been used or if all common cards have been used. The player that has scored the most fame points from their starting deck, from the common cards, and from the fame cards they have purchase is declared the winner.
Replay Ability: You will find a lot of replay ability here with different common letters and different letters becoming available each and every game. In addition, the rules provide some additional play options beyond the normal game. This includes using award cards which give additional end game points for meeting certain achievements, power cards give each player a certain power to use throughout the game that they normally wouldn't have, and theme cards that give the person in possession of the card additional fame points if you create a word that matches the theme of the card. In addition, the rules manual provides directions on a cooperative game along with using a simultaneous play mode. Also, it gives you some ideas on how to use the wooden cubes to adjust the cost of cards.
Appropriate Audience: The games suggested age is 8+, which we agree with. However, the younger the player the more difficult it may be for them to hit on those larger words which are more valuable.
What We Liked/Didn't Like: Paperback combines two things that we really like: word games and deck building games. Being able to figure out the max points you can earn by playing that word and also getting to those cards that cost more but have some very powerful abilities, is very enjoyable. It does have the issue that many deck builder games have though in that there isn't necessarily a lot of interaction between the players. However, you can reduce the lack of interaction by adding in the attack cards as you may need to remind the other players what they can or can't do based upon the attack cards currently in play. The game can slow down at points if someone is struggling with coming up with a word and doesn't want help from other players. Newer players also sometimes struggle with the cards and how to differentiate between the cost to purchase them and the score values. It seems that this issue was recognized when the game was being created as it purposely points out the difference in the cost and score multiple times in the rules manual.
Add-ons/Other Releases: Nothing is available at the time of this review. As noted above, in June 2016, Tim Fowers has noted "I've got a collection of ideas - I'm going to release a small expansion soon, then a full one later."
The only complaint about the box is that it is hard to keep the rules manual in pristine shape as the box seems to push against the corners.
Inside the lid of the box there are four strips of cardboard that prevent you from pressing the lid so far down that it damages the cards. These are what can damage the rulebook, and if you fold one on the long sides flush with the top of the lid (then make sure you always put the lid on with the folded strip on the same side as the rulebook), you can make sure that the rulebook stays pristine!