Paperback is a word-forming game, but one that borrows from recent board-and-card-gaming innovation to make something that will feel entirely fresh to Scrabble and Boggle aficionados.
Each player starts with a deck of 10 cards; five consonants and five wilds. The consonants are worth 1 cent each, but the wilds have no monetary value – instead they are each worth a point towards your score at the end of the game. The decks are shuffled and players deal themselves a starting hand of five cards.
Between the players is a tableau of cards for purchase, costing from 2 to 15 cents. Most of these are letters, but some are ‘fame’ cards – representing books you’ve written. These are wild cards, but also give you points towards your final score – many more points than the wilds you start with. On a turn, you try and transform your dealt hand into a word – with the help of a common card – a vowel that is available for both players, and can be won if you make a word of at least 7 letters. There are four common cards, for 7, 8, 9 and finally 10 letter words. Once the last common card is won, or two of the stacks of fame cards are depleted, the game ends.
Once you’ve made a word, you tally the monetary value, and purchase letter or fame cards from the centre. The letter cards offer no points at the end of the game, but they might give you more money for future spends, and many also have effects when used to form a word: +3 cards in your next hand, double the score of an adjacent letter, double word score etc. Purchases go into your discard pile along with your cards from this turn, and you deal yourself a new hand from your deck. Once your deck runs out, you shuffle your discard pile and this becomes your new deck; thus cards that you’ve bought come back in to your hand on future turns, and allow you to create newer, better, longer words worth more money. At the end of the game, players count up all the fame and common cards in their deck, which have a point value – the player with the most points wins.
Along with trying to create words, there’s an interesting decision at the heart of this game, and other ‘deck-builders’ like Dominion, the game which inspired this. As long as all players are buying letter cards, rather than fame, the end of the game is no nearer, and everyone is building the ability to create better words. As soon as someone starts buying fame, the rush for most points begins.
However, the common cards offer an interesting twist on this, because the game can end very quickly by players being able to form longer words, without lots of fame cards being purchased. So there’s some brinkmanship, some luck of the draw, all underpinned by the simple, cerebral pleasure (for many) of creating words out of letters to score points.
Paperback is a very neat little package, and comes with a host of variants, allowing for players to help with their opponent’s hand for a future discount, for cooperative play, as well as for a more combative game.
A great word-based challenge that Scrabble players or crossword enthusiasts will really enjoy. A game that can be enjoyed as a rapid-fire challenge of plonking down words, or a more sedate, cerebral experience.
This to me is Dominion done right. Dominion gave to board gaming the concept of deck-building; card games where you deal a hand from a small deck, to buy more cards for future hands, and gradually build a bigger and bigger personal deck of cards to play with. What Paperback adds is, put simply, a point. The creative act of digging around in your brain for a word that can be made from a handful of random letters is the focus of the fun here, and the deck-building element serves that brilliantly. It won’t be for everyone, but this is a game that really deserves a wider audience, I think. May be worth noting that I play this with two, and I think that’s where it shines – I’m not convinced more players would make this more fun, but I could be wrong.
This is a competitive game, but it's desperately hard to resist helping your opponent when you spot a great word they can use. So really, it's as competitive or collaborative as you want to make it. And there are rules in the box for a purely cooperative variant.
It's sometimes a challenge to create the perfect word from your hand. You can play with a timer if need be, or ask for help from the other players, meaning everyone's involved.
Like many word games, having a wide vocabulary will help enormously.
You'll only get bored of this when you get bored of making words out of random letters, which is to say never - or immediately - depending on your preference.