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Subject: Initial Impressions and a Comparison to Paperback rss

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Jerry Schippa
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Several years ago I was impressed with Tim Fowers game Paperback. The simplicity of scrabble mixed in with a little bit of combo action provided what I thought was a nice bridge to gap the divide between those expert scrabble types (my wife) and those not have many good word types (myself).

Nine plays later and I've found Paperback to be a good game, but for me, missing something. Now don't get me wrong, I still enjoy it. However, I find more reasons to not play it than to play it.

Enter Hardback. I admit I backed it simply because Paperback didn't quite turn out into the perfect game I wanted, and I hoped Hardback would.

So far, I've only played 2 games and one solo game to learn the rules. So this is an initial impression. However, Hardback has impressed me so far. To better understand why I enjoy Hardback, lets look back at some issues I had with Paperback and see where Hardback addresses these.

1. Is it a word game, or deck builder?
This will be completely up to the player, however Paperback was sold as a deck builder and therefore I expected a deck builder. What was delivered was a deck builder in concept, but an unruly mess in execution, unless you just wanted to spell words with cards.

When you take games like Dominion for example, the deck building comes from players looking at the available stacks of cards, identifying combos and executing that strategy until the game ends and we see who's strategy and bit of luck prevails. The key is that each stack is consistent (this changes with some newer expansions) and from the start you can formulate your plan in your head.

In Paperback the decks are made up of a hodge-podge of letters, some with abilities, some with better monetary scoring, some are Z's and X's and other than Xylophone, axe, and ox, you don't know that many x words! Then, with each draw, the deck changes and a new combination of letter, money, and ability is shown.

The ability to do any long term planning in Paperback is frustratingly minimal. You end up buying cards because you can afford it, and you could use a K. But what does that mean? Do you know you have a lot of other letters to spell K friendly words? Do you even know whats in your deck? You've just been taking random letters haven't you?

So how does Hardback address this lack of deck building? Well, I've never played Star Realms, but apparently it copies that formula. That formula comprises of four suits for the deck of cards available for purchase. Each card will typically either give you money to spend, or points to collect (more on this later). BUT, play another card of the same suit in your word and you get to use it's bonus ability. Some of these abilities are just more money, more points...but others are flipping over wilds (more on this later), reserving cards, or grabbing one of the two other currencies in the game.

You see, these suits (Romance, Horror, Adventure, Mystery) not only each have their own specialty, but they give direction to the player. I now know that if I want flexibility, I should go after Horror cards because they award ink and ink remover which are the only way to draw more cards and use them as I see fit. The deck building becomes more focused than a tableau of random variables...there's direction!


Image courtesy of kalchio

2. I guess I'll spell "At"
In Paperback, there's the chance that you'll draw a terrible hand at any point in the game. This isn't unique to Paperback, you could draw 5 estates in Dominion. But with the restrictions of having to spell words in Paperback, some letters just don't go together, and wilds only help to give flexibility...not to progress the game. This results in either frustration as a player just flops down a two or three letter word and cant afford to buy anything. Or someone taking forever sweating in futility eventually coming to the conclusion that they cant make a worthwhile play and again flops down a two or three letter word.

In Hardback, every card is a wild. This has huge implications on several aspects of the game. The first is that even though you may draw five terrible letters, any of them can be wilds. So if two of those are of the same suit, it might be beneficial to just figure out how to get those two to work together and use the other three as wild. The game completely opens up and those long AP turns become much quicker, and the frustrating hands become less frustrating.

3. Should I take the Z, the X, or one of those "It looks good now but I can never get them to work" double letter cards?
I mentioned that any card can be wild...well here's where that comes in handy again. Go ahead, take that X...if you cant use it, its no worse than a wild!

In Paperback, if you don't know how to spell with certain letters you avoid them like the plague. In Hardback, you have the flexibility to use them as wilds at any time. This means there is no such thing as a bad card, or difficult card.

This might be one of the smaller positives of the game, until you're faced with an offering of Q's, Z's, X's, and V's.


Image courtesy of ambernezzie

4. No mid game stall
Maybe it's me, but after nine plays with several different people I've noticed that Paperback gets going then immediately stalls out. It seems that getting that second stack to run out is much more difficult than finishing the game in Dominion. Now this might be a problem with my thinking, but I've played with several different people and we've all run into the same problem it seems. You get the ability to cash in on those low scoring wilds, but to get to that next level takes much more, so it almost feels like you have to start over.

In Hardback, most of the cards will either score points or money. The game ends when someone scores 60 or more points on their turn. The constant scoring of points and tracking your tokens (as annoying as they are) gives you the satisfaction that the end is in sight and within reach. This also gives the game more tension as you see who has how many points, and how are you going to react to that?

In Dominion the game has an arc. Start weak, get your engine going, then cash in. Paperback almost has two arcs. Hardback feels more like Dominion in this respect, which makes me not fear playing it.

Conclusion

So will you like Hardback? Will you like Paperback?

I think Paperback works well as a game more focused around spelling words and finding some interesting combinations with the abilities on some of the cards. But it doesn't give the deck building flavor like Dominion. Paperback will reward the player who can see a variety of words easier, but not otherwise becomes very constraining.

If you're looking for more of a deck builder, then go for Hardback. The suits make the game a more focused deck building game. Players can choose to focus on any number of suits and get their engine going off their previous purchases. The any card is a wild is a fantastic change as it speeds up the game, takes the risk out of certain words, and allows for more interesting turns. Hardback will reward players who can either spell a variety of words, and can construct a good deck.

I think Paperback is ok, but Hardback is the better game for me. Hardback steers away from the spelling elements a bit, but the gains in deck building far outweigh the loses.

misc comments
- The Timeless Classic cards in Hardback have an interesting dynamic. They can be used to bog down your opponents and force them to deal with you else you get a bunch of free money or points.
- I'd be willing to try Hardback at 4, but my games at 3 players were a good length (1 hr for first game, a little quicker after that). In Paperback I will never play more than 3 players again.
- At this point I cant comment on the event cards.
- Penny Dreadful (the solo game) seems to be extremely difficult, unless I'm getting the rules wrong.
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Bob Burns
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I have both but have not played Hardback.
Not because I don't want to, because I have not got around to it yet.

Hardback seems to have an easier set up, more like you typical deckbuilder (like you said) with just one set of offer cards, trade row, whatever.

I like Paperback, and maybe that will change when I try Hardback but I really like the Paperback app, which works very well for 2-4 players.

You don't know who you are playing though but who cares.

PS: There is also a Paperback expansion that I have not tried yet either.

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Jerry Schippa
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Yes the setup is easier, but in reality you're only saving a short amount of time. But it is much easier to just grab a stack of cards and go.
 
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B.C. Wendel
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I have both games, and like them both a lot. It's kinda cool to see two takes on the same genre that both work well.

It seems like you compare all deck-building games to Dominion, the grandpappy of the genre. I personally think various cards to buy is more fun than the same stuff every time, but using any card as a wild helps in this game, for sure. (I never thought Paperback was an unruly mess, though - try Dexicon if you want a miserable mess of an endgame!)

The event cards can be a real pain in the ass in this game. And the powers seem to be kind of unbalanced. But still fun for variety.

I've read Penny Dreadful is very hard to beat. I will have to play her and see how badly I fail.

I've played Paperback a bunch with my Mom and got the new expansion for it along with Hardback. She said she likes Hardback better, but I don't if she likes it more because it's new or it fits her play style better or the mechanics are better. I do know I usually win but she's getting better (I usually had to handicap myself a bit in Paperback by not buying the cheapest prize cards.)

Thanks for the thoughtful review!
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Jerry Schippa
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I only compare to Dominion because I have the most experience with that as a deckbuilder. I haven't played Star Realms, Xenon Profiteer is completely different, and any other "deck builder" games (like Tramways, or Mistfall) are more of a specific use deck builder if that makes any sense.

I'll have to look into Dexicon.

I only call it unruly because it doesn't have that planning (edit: and control) that I look for. But that's my preference when it comes to deck building games.

I'm bringing Hardback to the in-laws this weekend, I might get a chance to see how a family of devout scrabble players likes it.
 
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Vaughan Edge
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I enjoy both games but at the moment prefer paperback. I suppose it’s to do with where you are coming from. I am not that interested in either game as a deck builder. I have far more interest in the word game aspect. However I really enjoy the hybridisation. For me both games surpass scrabble which rewards some really underhand plays.
My concern with Hardback is that the deck thinning strategy could allow you to create a high scoring word and spell it again and again. I have done this solo and I still haven’t beat Penny (almost though)but was something I discovered and wasn’t intending to do. I could refine this strategy and if it’s easy to achieve each game I think this would “break” hardback unless it was house-ruled, but then is that not limiting some of the aspects of the deck building.
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Vaughan Edge
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...think I may have been playing the ink wrong in hardback, I shuffle my discard if there are no more cards to draw, think you should only shuffle it when you are drawling a new hand. Would certainly limit a repetitive word strategy. To get an better feel of hardback I need to play it 2plus players.
Either way, owning both is definitely worthwhile.
 
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Who Am I?
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KevinMask wrote:
... try Dexicon if you want a miserable mess of an endgame! ...


How so?

I just got Dexikon (as both price and availability were much in it's favor) and have read people consistently complain about the end game... but can't figure out why.

Yes: looking at all your letters and making the best word you can takes a minute or two, but if you are planning along the way it's not so terrible and simply putting a reasonable time limit on that process makes if fair and even enough. Frankly, I think it's a fun moment, when you suddenly get access to all of your letters and try to create a massive point-scoring word.

(Clarification: I understand that some people find it overwhelming to look at a lot of cards and try to create a word... but this is a word game. What did you expect going in? Vocabulary and use of letters are supposed to matter.)
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Level 3 Tunt
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The end of Dexikon is awful - it's a better word game than Paperback until you get to the end phase. It's not so much overwhelming as it just completely breaks the flow of the game and doesn't have a strong connection to anything else you've done the whole rest of the game.

Letter Tycoon took the place of all of these for us. My glowing review of Letter Tycoon.

I know that's pretty far off from the original review but since the discussion moved to comparing recent word games I wanted play too.
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Tyinsar -
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Tiddleydwarf wrote:
I enjoy both games but at the moment prefer paperback. I suppose it’s to do with where you are coming from. I am not that interested in either game as a deck builder. I have far more interest in the word game aspect. However I really enjoy the hybridisation. For me both games surpass scrabble which rewards some really underhand plays.
My concern with Hardback is that the deck thinning strategy could allow you to create a high scoring word and spell it again and again. I have done this solo and I still haven’t beat Penny (almost though)but was something I discovered and wasn’t intending to do. I could refine this strategy and if it’s easy to achieve each game I think this would “break” hardback unless it was house-ruled, but then is that not limiting some of the aspects of the deck building.


My thoughts exactly. after playing both I’ve come to think of Paperback as a word game with a deck building mechanic and Hardback as a deck building game with a word theme. In my experience Paperback encourages more creativity with finding words and Hardback encourages a much stronger focus on card types and powers. Words also tend to be shorter in Hardback.
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