Paperback by Tim Fowler puts players in the shoes of aspiring writers. Pouring over each word, players compete to become the most famous writer of the bunch by completing work on paperback novels. No, you won’t actually have to write novels to win the game, but your vocabulary will be put to the test in a game that is equal parts Scrabble and Dominion. Are you ready to become the next J.K. Rowling, Stephen King or Nicholas Sparks?
At the beginning of the game, each player will start out with the same starting deck. In it will be five letter cards, which should be familiar to anyone that has ever watched Wheel of Fortune, as well as five wild cards that can act as any letter. Sitting in the middle of the table is The Offer, which contains a number of different card piles. Along the top are the letters that can be purchased and added to your hand. On the bottom are the Common Cards, of which the top card can be leveraged by any player on their turn, as well as Fame cards of different victory point values. It’s a neat touch that there are few different designs for each Fame card, even though values are shared, as it gives players the sense that they wrote something unique.
From there, players will draw a hand of five cards from their personal decks and spell a word with the letters they have and the top card on the Common Card stack. Based on the cards they played, they’ll earn points that can be used to buy more letters or Fame cards. Besides the immediate benefit of expanding your alphabet, many letter cards that are purchased also grant you other benefits, such as bonus points or extra cards in the next hand. Buying Fame cards gives you points towards winning the game as well as a wild card, but they don’t give you points or special abilities when played.
One other note for consideration is your word length. If you’re the first player to hit the current word length threshold listed with the Common Cards, you’ll get to keep the top one from the stack. Having access to the letter E while removing it from use for everyone else can give you a huge advantage. When all of the Common Cards are gone, or when two of the four Fame stacks are empty, the game immediately ends and the player with the most Fame points wins.
As noted earlier, this game is the vocabulary challenge of Scrabble mixed with the deck-building of Dominion. It sounds like a strange combination, but it really works in practice. One of my gripes with Dominion is that each game only features 10 different cards to draw from, putting a bit of a limiter on what’s possible within a single game.
In Paperback, you’re offered 26 different letters, plus cards that feature sets of two letters, plus different abilities on each card. Combine all of that with the word-construction rules of the English language, you get a lot of cool ways of building your deck and even more possible words you can create. Admittedly, it’s a bit limited at the start, as you’ll always use the same starting letters. However, the game opens up really quickly after that first turn.
The English language also adds an extra challenge on your turn. With an average hand of five cards, you’re going to end up in situations where spelling optimal words, or any words at all, will be really tough. If the space bar expansion is in play, you might even run into the rare situation where you can’t spell anything at all. That said, I much prefer this method of playing cards, as it makes thematic sense while making players work for it in a way that is more involved that the card combinations in Dominion.
With the base rules, Paperback is a complete game that will keep players engaged for quite some time. Luckily for us, the game also comes with a number of interesting expansions. The common space bar is one, allowing players to spell two words with their hand. Award cards give players an additional goal to complete before the end of the game. If players get stuck, there’s an expansion that allows other players to help their competitors while receiving a benefit of their own. Most ambitious are the theme cards, which reward players for playing words that fit the theme, such as Western or Sci-Fi.
Paperback is the awesome love child of Dominion and Scrabble. Deck-building fans get a unique spin on the genre, while word game fans get a new way to flex their vocabulary muscles. The two even balance each other out in cool ways, as players with a weaker vocabulary can compensate by building better decks. This one might be a touch too complex for players whose board game skill ceiling peaks at Scrabble. But if you have any experience at all with modern board games, especially deck-building games, put this on your list of games to play.