Paperback is what I would called Scrabble Meets Deckbuilding. Having already been released as a board game, Paperback made its way to PC a few years ago. I’ve recently picked it up as part of the Digital Tabletop Fest and love the mechanics around it – so here’s a new review of a game three years old.
Between one and four players can play Paperback although there are three levels of AI to face off against too whom are very competent and a challenge for me at least. Each game starts out with a deck of cards that contain single letters that each player starts with. You’ll get six to kick off at random to make the biggest word you can with… or rather the most expensive one. Each card has a monetary amount for when you play it except for comics which are blank for you to type your own single letter in like a blank in scrabble. Single letters like T may give you $1 so ‘trees’ could give you say $4 if you used four cards and one blank. You’ll then use the cash you’ve earned that turn to access the store front on the top of the screen.
The top of the screen is organised in random cards in ascending cost from left to right. This is where the tactics and deckbuilding comes into play. You must spend your money each turn as you’ll lose it so you need to decide which cards to buy. Cards are syllable based so you’ll have ‘ca’ ‘on ‘to’ ‘or’ and things like that to choose from but they are more expensive to buy. They’ll also give you more money when you use them though. You’ll need to buy the cards that fit with your vocabulary and the cards you already have to continue building bigger and better words that earn you more money. As your opponent is using the same shop front but their own individual deck – you’ll need to be on your toes to pick the cards you need first… if you can.
This is all so that you can buy comics, housed on the top right of the screen. These comics earn you fame points, act as blanks and ultimately it is fame points that determine the winner. You just have to build enough decent words to afford the comics in the first place.
Paperback also then throws two more wrenches into the matrix. The first is a discard pile of vowels that you can choose from that contain fame points if you can hit a 7, 8 or 9 letter word. The second is that some cards will have special abilities like a double money word, or triple its worth if its at the end of a word. You’ll be after these to use them tactically. The game ends when you run out of two piles of comics and as you can decide how many comics are in the game from the start, you can roughly adjust your play time to suit.
The AI in paperback whipped my bum on the smartest difficulty which is greatly appreciated. Whilst the online community is small, there is a 4 player asynchronous mode as well as local playing but the async mode is not very intuitive. It seems to boot you out as soon as you play your word so if you are having a game that isn’t taking several days for someone to return fire – you’ll be in and out of the same menus constantly and it feels very clunky.
That aside though, Paperback is a fine game that works really well on a digital tabletop. I’d recommend bypassing the asynchronous mode and just using steam remote play or parsec to get an online game playing instead. It works much better. Also, if you can’t think of words six letters or longer – you will struggle to enjoy the game. For the rest of us, this a fabulous alternative to Scrabble. Great job.
A superlative word game.
A great twist on the word game genre.
AI know the dictionary and use it against you.
Scalable play time means you can fit in quick and long matches.
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