Paperback vs. Hardback

Paperback vs Hardback

Paperback is an excellent little mashup of a word game with a deckbuilder.  It was on Kickstarter a few years ago, but it took quite a bit of time to seep into the collective boardgaming consciousness.  Part of this was because it never went to retail: if you didn’t back the original Kickstarter, the only way to obtain the game was to order it direct from Tim Fowers (the designer) via his website.

Even now, it is remarkably difficult to get hold of.  If you get the chance to play it, I highly recommend you try it if you like word games at all.  Last year though, another very similar looking game from Tim Fowers appeared on Kickstarter called Hardback, the so-called ‘pre-quill’ to Paperback.

I backed it as soon as I saw it and it arrived last week.  How does it compare to Paperback?  If you already own Paperback, is it worth buying Hardback as well?  If you own neither, which one should you buy?  Let’s investigate…

First of all, let me be clear: they are very similar games.  I will go through the differences in a minute, but both games involve you trying to make words on your turn from a selection of letter cards that you’ve drawn from your deck.

Each card in your deck has a letter on it (and possibly a special ability as well).  Like Scrabble, you try to form the best word you can (which means the longest word in practice) while everyone else is taking their turn, and then when it is your turn, you display your word for everyone to see.  You don’t place the word on a board and it doesn’t intersect with any other words – every word you form stands alone.

This makes it easier than Scrabble.  The fact that you’re forming your word on other people’s turns reduces the downtime, although (like Scrabble again) it can be prone to AP (Analysis Paralysis) as some people will always want to spend just a bit longer trying to get an even better word!

If it sounds like interaction between players is limited, it is, but there are a couple of aspects that do provide meaningful interaction: one good, and one bad (in my opinion!).  One big advantage they both have over Scrabble is that if you’re stuck, you can lay out your letters and ask everyone else to help you.  If anyone suggests a word that you end up using, they get a small bonus token that will help them on their turn.

A victory-point card from Paperback

However, both games allow for the possibility of interfering with the other players’ plans.  You may have thought of a great word, but if someone plays a take-that card, they can scupper your plans, which slows the game down because you have to think of another word all over again.  This is the only negative of both games really: they can be a bit slow if you play with the wrong people – you have been warned!

So that’s the word-building half of the game.  What does the deckbuilding half involve?  Well, several cards in your deck will give you money to spend when you play them.  You use this money to buy better cards from an offer in the middle of the table, which are added to your deck like most deckbuilders.

These cards might give you more money when you play them, they might give you victory points, and/or they might have special abilities on.  There are a wide variety of special abilities, from cards that will double the money you get from other cards, to cards that let you draw more cards, to cards that will force your opponents to discard cards.

In both games, you are racing to get victory points and once the end of the game has been triggered, the player with the most points wins.

The victory-point track from Hardback

Those are the similarities.  What are the differences?  One main difference is that Paperback requires you to buy victory-point cards (like Dominion) that clog up your deck to a certain extent, although victory-point cards are wild letters, which is nice.  They don’t give you any money to spend, but they do make it easier to make words.  In Hardback though, you have a victory point track and some cards will give you victory points each time you play them, which you just record on the track.

Another important difference is that in Paperback, the victory-point cards are wild, but in Hardback you can turn any card face down and it becomes wild.  This makes it much easier to make bigger (or more interesting!) words, which I like.

Hardback also introduces a nice push-your-luck element in the form of ink tokens.  You can buy ink tokens for a coin apiece (so you never feel you are wasting money when you have 5 to spend and the card you want costs 4), which makes them easy to acquire.

In Paperback, there are cards that let you draw more cards, but in Hardback, the only way to draw more cards is to spend ink tokens.  However, you have to use any letter you draw using an ink token.  If you can’t make a word with these letters, you forfeit your turn!

Paperback has double letter cards

The other nice thing about Hardback is that the cards you buy have genres associated with them (Romance, Horror, etc.) and cards from the same genre synergise with each other.  If you use two or more cards from the same genre in a word, they trigger bonuses that you wouldn’t otherwise get (eg. extra coins or victory points).  It provides an extra layer of strategy to the deckbuilding.

So which one is better?  They’ve obviously made an effort with Hardback to improve on Paperback and to a certain extent, I think they have achieved that.  However, there is a larger variety of cards in Paperback than in Hardback.  Paperback has double letter cards (eg. TH or ES) and the abilities feel more varied (a lot of the abilities in Hardback boil down to getting more money or more victory points).

This is going to be rather a subjective judgment, but Hardback also seemed to be slower than Paperback.  The ink tokens allow you to draw extra cards a lot, which adds to the possible permutations of letters (along with being able to play any card facedown as a wild) so that people can spend a long time puzzling through all the possibilities sometimes.

Hardback makes a nice change from Paperback, but honestly, I think I’d rather play Paperback.  Having said that, there really isn’t much in it and they are both very good if you like word games.

That in itself says quite a lot really.  There isn’t much in it because they are so similar.  I doubt that there would be many people who would want to own both.  Since I already have Paperback, I think I will be selling Hardback.  If you have neither though, I think Hardback is a great game and given the current difficulty in obtaining Paperback, I would seek out a copy of Hardback as soon as it hits retail (assuming it does this time!).

Have you had a chance to play either of them?  What are your thoughts?

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Jonathan Hicks

Jonathan is the director of Maven Games. He blogs and records podcast episodes several times a week. Whenever he isn't doing anything else, he designs games.

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3 years ago

I really enjoyed playing Hardback – I’ll buy your copy if you do decide to sell! I think word games get a bad press among board gamers because they require quite different skills, but these are great hybrids

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