Back in the summer of 2013, Tim Fowers posted his Kickstarter page for Paperback, not expecting that it would pass it’s goal line for funding in four days and go on to fund at over 700% of it’s initial goal. It was a big hit in the Kickstarter world… and I missed it entirely.
Paperback (for those who haven’t heard yet) is a deckbuilding word game. If you’re familiar with Dominion (the granddaddy of the genre), you’re halfway to understanding how Paperback plays… you just need to substitute the knights and wizards on the Dominion cards with letters and letter combinations. It’s a genius mix – and it works beautifully.
It wasn’t until almost a year after the Paperback Kickstarter campaign ended that I discovered the game, when folks began receiving their copies and raving about how good it was. By that point, it was too late to buy in, but Tim had a second print run of his Paperback gearing up.
What is it?
Paperback is a word game using a deck of cards, with a design that borrows much of its inspiration from Dominion, a game that pioneered the genre of “deckbuilding”, where players play their cards in such a way as to maximize their buying power on their turn, and use that buying power to buy more cards… building up their deck and catering it to their needs. Dominion did this very successfully and there are a ton of expansions available for it, but (if I might be so bold) I would say that the little Paperback package does it better.
How does it play?
Like Dominion, a typical turn in Paperback is very easy. Deal yourself five cards (you may have already done this at the end of your last turn, to speed things up). Place the five cards ion front of you. These are made up of letters and wild cards, and there’s a communal letter that you can use as well.
You can now spell out a word!
Spelling words is pretty easy on its own. The trick becomes building words that utilize the variety of special powers you have access to, or fit the theme, or are long enough to score you one of the communal cards. Maybe your ‘M’ gives you +1 card next hand if you use it at the start of the word. Maybe your S will give you +1¢ if you use it at the end of a word. Maybe you’re get the special theme card if you can build a word that has something to do with Pirates!
Once you’ve built your word, you score it and add up the value on the cards, adding in any special abilities. You’ve now got a bunch of Cents with which you can buy cards from the market (called “The Offer”). These are cards of varying cost, and add new letters to your deck. Sometimes they add two letters, like ‘AR’ or ‘IT’. You might want to purchase a Fame card, which also gets added to your deck – and acts as a wildcard… but give you a bunch of victory points at the end of the game (think of the “Provinces” from Dominion, although the Fame cards actually have a use).
What’s good about it?
This small package (which reminds me of a Trivial Pursuit box) has a bunch of great things in it. I love playing the full game, which contains most of the “optional” rules, like themes, awards, and bounties – where players who are stuck can offer 1¢ to the other players if they can come up with a word for them.
With all these options added in, it keeps the game fresh and different each time you play.
There’s a pretty low learning curve. Teaching it to family and friends over the holidays was easy, taking about five minutes to go through the options. I’ve found that there’s a pretty low downtime between turns, because players can prepare their word in between turns. This isn’t always the case, of course… sometimes a player gets stuck, but the “bounties” are pretty good at moving things along in these cases.
What’s bad about it?
My biggest complaint about Paperback is that it has a tendency to feel very scripted within the same game. The first few turns have you rebuilding variations of the couple of words while you build up your deck. Once you do have your deck, you’ll find the same combinations of double letters starts appearing pretty regularly – so again, you spend a little time building a repertoire of a couple words that will, in slightly different arrangements, fit these combinations of letters.
It may make sense to try a house rule, but I’m not sure how one might go about solving this problem beyond banning repetition of words. Out of the box, however, you should know that Paperback is susceptible to reusing the same words over and over, at least near the beginning portion of the game.
I’m not someone that typically goes in for word games… but Paperback makes it a delightful activity that’s easy to share, and fun to play. From my perspective, Paperback is a must-buy game for anyone who enjoys deckbuilders and/or word games. It’s one of those titles that blends two diverse things together so seemingly effortlessly – like peanut butter and chocolate. The result is a creamy, sweet treat of a game that makes you wonder why this hasn’t been around longer.
Paperback scores a (6/10) ★★★★★★☆☆☆☆