Reviewed by: Dave
Are you a person who could theoretically like Scrabble, but the thought of a letter rack that reads like the name of an alien from the planet Consonant is enough to make you prefer plunging tiles into your eyes to playing the game? You might love Paperback.
Paperback is a deck-building game based around spelling words. The ostensible aesthetic is that you're a writer looking to make it big- the goal of the game is to collect fame points- but all you're really trying to do is collect the right cards to let you spell words like "ostensible" and "aesthetic".
The crazy thing is, being able to craft those words are in no way outside the realm of possibility. In fact, it's expected- one of the ways to finish the game is for people to spell a seven, then an eight, a nine, and finally a ten-letter word. It's the anti-Scrabble: knowing words like "qi" does very little for you here, as most of the powerful cards allow you to expand the number of cards you draw for your next hand, and the point value of cards is not based on their letters as much as the secondary power they grant if you use them when making your word for a round. And you get five (!) wild cards in your starting deck of ten, with more possible as you gather fame points.
The game functions as any deck-builder. You begin with a starting collection of cards; in this case, the letters L, M, N, T, and R, each worth one point, and five wild cards, each worth zero. There is also a common card which can be used by any player, one time in their word for the round. (This common card will change as the game progresses: when a player makes a seven-letter word, they claim the common card in use and make it a part of the deck, unveiling a new one. At that point, when a player makes an eight-letter word, that second common card becomes part of their deck, and so forth, until a ten-letter word runs out the common cards and ends the game.) An array of stronger cards is laid out before you, each with a given cost; whatever points you score in a round can be used to purchase new cards. Usually this will be new letters, but players may also purchase fame cards that act as an extra wild. These cards also score no points when used in a word, but are worth fame points at the end of the game, so players will need to purchase a decent number of these eventually in order to win.
Remarkably, while having a substantial vocabulary is beneficial, it does not come close to guaranteeing victory. Where it helps is in claiming the common cards, as described above, which are each worth five fame points at the end of the game. But a player who purchases high point-value cards and turns them around quickly to snatch as many of the less expensive fame cards as possible- in other words, a player who can maximize the effect of the deck-building aspect- can very easily pose a challenge to anyone short of a walking dictionary. This is very much a game built around words as opposed to a test of word knowledge with a scoring system attached.
If there's a downside to the game, it's that not all special powers are created equal. Deck-builder standards like the ability to discard weaker cards for better ones exist, but cards that offer the ability to draw more than the base five cards on your next hand become everyone's target. Even though those cards are balanced by scoring fewer points when played than others, the potential for a huge word on your next hand combined with the flexibility of holding anywhere from six to eight or nine cards is too good to pass up. It's not game-breaking, but sometimes your "choice" of what to buy isn't much of a choice at all.
As complaints go, however, it's a minor one. This is a must-have for word-game fans; even if your friends aren't quite as much into most word games, they'll probably find this one a good deal more competitive and playable.