Star Realms. In Paperback, each player is novelist, desperately writing one novel after novel, jumping from one genre to another with titles such as The Chinatown Connection, Dead Planet, and The Angel of Death, all to satisfy the voracious demands of their editors. Pump out enough of this pulp fiction and perhaps the novelist will get a bestseller and make a mint! That though is the extent of the theme in Paperback, the game being more mechanical than thematic, since what each player will be doing is spelling out words using Letter cards and generating a score which can be used to buy both more Letter cards and Fame cards, which will be used to spell out more valuable words and so on and so on until the end of the game when the player with the most Fame points from his Fame cards wins the game. Paperback is published by Fowers Games, best known for the heist themed Burgle Bros. and Burgle Bros 2: The Casino Capers. It is designed to be played by two to five players, aged ten and up, and has a suggested playing time of forty-five minutes.
Each player begins play with a deck of ten cards—five Wild cards and the letters ‘T’, ‘R’, ‘S’, ‘L’, and ‘N’. On his turn a player will five cards from his deck and attempt to spell a word using both the cards drawn, whether letter cards or Wild cards and the current Common card, which anyone can use, typically a vowel. If it is a viable word—it cannot be a name, place, or proper noun—then it generates a score. Whilst Wild cards can substitute for any letter and so help spell a word, they do add to the Score value of the word. The value of this score be used to either purchase a new letter or letter combination card (such as ‘ST’ or ‘ER’) or a Fame card. Letters purchased will all generate a greater score than the base cards in a player’s deck, but they often have special abilities. For example, the letter ‘M’ costs seven cents to purchase and generates a score of two, but if the word is correctly spelled, it doubles the total score value of the word. It also has to be placed in the trash after use. The ‘V’ costs seven cents to purchase and generates a score of four, but if the word is correctly spelled, it allows a player to draw an extra card on his next and potentially spell out a bigger word. Some letters are Attack cards, which means that their special ability affects other players. For example, the ‘H’ letter costs six cents to purchase, and generates a score of four, but if the word is correctly spelled, its attack is that the other player cannot purchase anything with a value of greater than eight cents. The ‘Q’ letter costs eight cents to purchase and generates a score of five, but if the word is correctly spelled, its attack restricts another player to just using the ability on the one his next turn.
Alternatively, a player can purchase a Fame card, each of which has a cost and depicts the cover of a fairly pulpy book from various genres. For example, The Angel of Death is a pulp novel, whilst Dead Planet is Science fiction. These generate four, seven, ten, or fifteen fame points, so generating enough score from the correctly spelled words is the aim of the game. When added to a player’s deck, the fame cards work like Wild cards in that they can be used to substitute for any letter, but do not add to a player’s score.
Game play continues until either of two conditions are met. One is to exhaust two stacks of the fame cards, each being organised by price and adjusted according to the number of players. The other is when the last Common letter card is taken. Throughout play, the current Common letter card can be used by all of the players to help them spell their words, but if a player spells a word of sufficient length, he can add the current Common letter card to his deck. This will bring in a new Common letter card into play and if a player wants to add it to his deck, then he needs to spell an even longer word. There are only four Common letter cards available throughout the game and the length of word required to add them to a player’s decks goes from seven to eight to nine, and then ten letters long. Once the end of the game is reached, each player adds up his Fame points from both the Wild cards and the fame cards in his deck, and the player with highest total wins the game.
The play of Paperback is about increasing word length. Increase the length of the words that he can spell, and player has a greater Score with which to buy better or more letter cards and fame cards, and potentially more abilities to bring into play. It entirely possible that a player can spell a word and bring two, three, four, or more abilities into play. Balanced against keeping an eye out for letter cards with special abilities, a player needs to keep an eye on the letter cards available and what he thinks he can spell with them. He also needs to bear in mind that the higher the score a word will generate, the more difficult it will be to successfully spell a word with it is. He will also want to maintain a good mix of consonants and vowels too, along with the two-letter combinations on some letter cards. Favour one letter type over the other and a player will have difficulty finding words that he can spell. It is also possible to combine special abilities for enhanced effects, but these are not as common as in other deck-building games.
In comparison to other deckbuilding games, Paperback is not necessarily all about trying a way to find a way to get rid of the initial cards in a player’s deck. This is because there are special abilities which work with the Wild cards in a player’s deck and all of the cards in a player’s deck, whether Wild cards or starting letter cards, are useful throughout the game. Nor is Paperback as adversarial as other deckbuilding games. There are elements of it with the attack cards, but these impede player for a turn rather than directly attacking him. Rather it is competitive, not combative.
Beyond the base game, Paperback adds various options and extra rules. These include adding a reward if a player helps another who is stuck on what word he can spell out using his current hand, adding awards and themes as bonuses to towards a player’s final score, playing in simultaneous mode, and even a co-operative mode played against the game itself. These all change the game in various ways, but do not stray too far from the core mechanics of spelling words, purchasing further letters and Fame cards, and so on.
As clever a combination as Paperback is, it does suffer from the problems of both game types. As a word game, players with greater word knowledge and vocabularies will be at an advantage and often, players with lesser word knowledge and vocabularies will sometimes lead to slower play as they try and work out what they can spell. The deckbuilding means that it can be more adversarial and fiddlier with a lot of cards than a word game like Scrabble. Yet, Paperback does not rely on needing to know lots of short, high-scoring words or needing to have to put them on a board building from what is already there, and as deckbuilding games, the focus is on the letters rather than the special abilities per se. However, the use of the special abilities on the cards do go towards countering the spelling, so that a player who is more used to word games such as Scrabble can still play against players more used to deckbuilding games.
Physically, Paperback is well produced and well designed. The cards are colour-coded according to cost making them easy to tell them apart, the artwork on the Fame cards—each is done as a pulp novel—is excellent, and the cards are all easy to ready. The rulebook is also decently done. Lastly, it all fits into a neat little box which comes with dividers so that everything is neatly organised and easy to find.
Paperback: A Novel Deckbuilding Game is a novel clash of two game types that surprisingly, work well together and can be used to introduce the fan of one type to the other. So, a fan of word games can be introduced to a deckbuilding game (that fan of word games also likely to be used to family games too), and the fan of deckbuilding games to word games. As a word game Paperback forces a player to strategise beyond the spelling to gain extra abilities through latter cards’ special abilities and as a deckbuilding game, it forces a player to think about what he can do—rather spell—right now rather focus on the strategy. Paperback: A Novel Deckbuilding Game is a witty, wordy game, that as hybrid deserves a place on your shelf between the traditional and the modern game designs.