North Ryde - Sydney
NINE LITTLE LETTERS
FECK! ARSE! DRINK! GIRLS!
This quick review is a copy of an incomplete session played on 1 November at my local gaming group Northside Gamers.
Take Dominion and combine it with Scrabble and you have yourself a clever little self-published, deck-building word game called Paperback from designer Tim Fowers, who also designed the co-op game Burgle Bros. and Wok Star.
Thematically, players are a paperback 'pulp fiction' writers trying to finish novels for their editor. These novels are consistent with the short, cheap novellas that flooded the bookshelves in the 1930's, 40's and 50's, and display prices to match the era, being worth a a few cents each.
The novellas themselves act as Victory Point cards (much like those in Dominion), but they have nice little pictures of pulp Westerns, Science Fiction, Romance, etc. As players score enough points from their hand, they are able to buy the Victory Point cards (completing a novel). When a number of piles are exhausted, the game ends and the player with the greater number of Victory Points is the winner.
Players start with a hand of 10 cards - 5 common letters and 5 wildcards. On their turn, they deal 5 cards and then use those cards to construct various words. Also revealed is a common vowel that may be used by all players as though it is part of their hand when constructing words. Players show their hand and announce a word using the letters and substituting wildcards.
Just like Dominion, the letter cards have a point value and players use those points to purchase more letter cards, which will (hopefully) help them construct more complex (and higher scoring) words as the game progresses. At the end of the turn, the cards are discarded and a fresh hand to 5 cards are drawn for the next round.
Setup sees a range of letter cards arrayed in piles according to their purchase price. Common letters are worth 2-3 cents, but less common letters, or double-letters cards cost more to purchase. These cards give the player a wide array of additional abilities when played, and they are vital to building longer words and higher scores, such as:
- Draw another card next round
- Trash a card to score and additional 2 points
- Double the score of another card, etc.
The game contains a number of nice little puns and thematic devices that add flavour to the game. For example, the main character (writer) in the game is a woman called "Paige Turner", and the Victory Point cards look like novellas of the period, with often humorous references.
As a bit of a word fiend, I really enjoy this game, and I bought it because it is a game my wife would be likely to play. As with most word games, it definitely favours those people with strong language skills and a broad vocabulary. As with most deck-builders, there is a distinct element of luck involved in the cards drawn and the letters available to you, in particular the two-letter cards and the added abilities they deliver, which can sometimes lead to a bit of downtime - but overall the game flows well. As the game progresses, the additional abilities delivered by the more expensive cards, can add some complexity and slow play slightly, but I don't feel it detracts from the fluidity of gameplay.
The game description says the game plays in around 45 mins, but this can vary depending on the word building skill of the group. I've seen some games end in 15 mins and others approach 60 mins - but overall most games are played easily within a 30-45 min timeframe.
Paperback handles 2-4 players and works well across all those numbers. I think it works best as a 2-player game, and this assessment is mirrored by the BGG community recommendations. The game also comes with a co-op variant, which can prove useful for kids and those who struggle constructing words. There are also variants that offer increasing levels of difficulty and the hidden scoring often reveals surprises in the end game.
The game comes in a nice little compact box, with good inserts to help organise your cards and space for expansions. The cards are good quality and well designed, even when fanned in your hand, with easily recognised letters and score visible in the top left corner, and each type distinguished by colour. The artwork on the novel cards is consistent with the theme and era, but with so much shuffling and the lesser value letter cards being used far more frequently, they really do warrant sleeving. For a self-published game, Paperback is a well designed package.
Richard and I were starting to get into the game, when food and people started arriving, so we ended-up abandoning the game half-way through. Dean also pointed out that I had missed putting out the common vowel cards during setup (Do'h! I never get all the rules right ). This was a lucky break for Richard as I was on the brink of trouncing him mercilessly.
2-4 players in around 30-45 mins, and as a lover of word games, plus the combination of Dominion-like deck building, this makes Paperback a decisive winner for me with a firm rating of 8 out of 10.
Ho-boy, that would make for a very different game.
Dean also pointed out that I had missed putting out the common vowel cards during setup (Do'h! I never get all the rules right )
Playing without the common vowels would make for a very different game. It also gets rid of the alternate game end condition. (It also removes the one common card that gives me fits trying to teach this which allows players to reverse the letters on one of their multi-letter card. AP rears its ugly head!)
Nice review, though.