Paperback Review

Paperback card game box

A little while back, I heard about a new word game that was also a deck builder.  This definitely piqued my interest (though I often don't like word games).  That game is Paperback.

In Paperback, each player starts with a deck of 10 cards.  Five of the cards are wilds (worth Fame points, but no money for buying other cards), and the other five are the letters R, S, T, L, and N.  Each turn, a player uses their cards to form a word.  (There is also a "Common" card that they can include in their word.)  Each card used in the word is worth a certain amount of money, and the active player can use that money to buy more card(s) - like any deck builder.  The more expensive cards tend to be less common letters (like X, Q, B, etc.), but are worth more when played, and often have neat abilities.  Additionally, if the word that you play is long enough, then you will earn the displayed Common card, which is worth five Fame points.  Once two Fame card piles have run out, or the Common card pile is exhausted, the game is over and the player with the most Fame wins.

Paperback setup example
Basic setup - J and K are very expensive
The first pro that I have for Paperback is that I really enjoy the breakdown of the cards that are available for purchase.  The less expensive cards are often double letters - like "ER" (which have to be used together in your word), or common letters that are easy to play but worth a smidge more money than your basic letters.  The more expensive cards generally are much harder to play, but they give you enough money that it is worth including them in a word, even if that word will be much shorter.  And, since they are more expensive, you will have less of them in your deck.  Thus your deck will naturally have a breakdown of a few hard letters and many more common ones.  This makes the game play very smoothly, and keeps you from spending too much time trying to come up with a lot of words that include both a J and an F in them.

The second pro that I have for Paperback is that I really enjoy the double letters.  Whereas this is a very simple addition to the genre (and, for that matter, this might not be the first word game to include this), I think that it's a nice little twist.  These cards are especially good if you're strategy is to make very long words in order to claim the Common cards.  However, they also severely limit your ability to make words, as you will be amazed at how often you will want to split those letters apart - even when they are letters that you initially thought would always go well together, like "NG" and "ER."  Conversely, Fame cards give you a lot more freedom, since they are wilds - which I think is another nice touch.  They don't contribute towards the total value of your word, so in that way you are "cluttering" up your deck with them, but ultimately, your deck will need more vowels, and the Fame cards will save you.

Paperback - card game
Spelling Paperback can be very valuable
The final pro that I will mention for Paperback is that I appreciate how many variants there are.  For example, one of the variant Common cards is a spacebar - thus it lets you play two words instead of one.  There are also variants that are theme based - so whoever plays a card with that theme (such as Pirates) gets to take the theme card, which is a five Fame bonus.  But, if another person plays a themed word after you, then they will steal it.  However, my favorite variant is the co-operative (or solo) mode.  In co-op, the Fame cards are set up in a pyramid, and you can only buy the cards that are showing.  Each turn that you don't buy a Fame card, you put a marker on one of the exposed cards.  If a card ever gets 5 tokens on it, then you all lose.

Assuming that you don't have an aversion to word games, then there is only one real con that I have discovered in Paperback.  The game can really stall as people stare at their cards.  For a long time.  Each time it is their turn.  There are a couple of variants that can help with this - one is the "Bounty" variant, in which you can ask for help, and if you use someone else's help, they get a point towards a future card purchase.  There is also the Timed Bounty, in which each person has a set amount of time, and if they don't come up with a word in that time, they automatically have to offer a Bounty.  The problem I've found with these variants, though, is that you aren't really incentivized to help the other player, as it will likely help them far more than it will help you.  (Aside from making the game move along, which is a bonus in itself.)

Overall, I would give Paperback an 8.5.  I have really enjoyed my plays of it, and I can think of several more people that I plan to introduce it to.  Even if you don't like most word games, this one might be one worth checking out.

If Paperback sounds interesting, you might also check out Train of Thought and Fictionaire.

I would like to thank Tim Fowers for providing me with a review copy of Paperback.

1 comment:

  1. Ha, annoyingly I had the idea for this several years ago which I described as a deck builder version of scrabble, basically this game (without the double letters I might add, that was a clever addition). Responses I received were more or less it sounds pointless and you should play "Buyword" (Sackson) which I did, though I thought it was quite dull. I dont know if the designer of the game saw my posts or ensuing discussion (which has now gone since Im not on BGG any more) but glad to see someone see this through and it seems to be very well received. I will try to get hold of his as my wife (who is Swedish) loves Scrabble (in English) and we used to quite like Dominion when we first started gaming, though lets face it the shuffling is annoying.