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Hardback

In Hardback, word-building meets deck-building, and players have to count their pennies in order to buy new letters to create new words, to earn prestige, and move up in the world of books.

Write romance or horror, a mystery or a thrilling adventure. Will you create a masterpiece? Or sink into literary oblivion?

Gameplay

Hardback combines deck-building with word games. Each card in the game has a letter on it. Each player begins the game with their own deck of the same eight cards which, when played, will each give you one cent each. Each player also starts the game with two random cards from a set of ten that will each give you one prestige point when played. The game ends once someone reaches sixty prestige points and everyone has taken an equal number of turns. The player with the most prestige wins.

The deck of word cards is shuffled and seven are drawn and laid out to form the offer row. Each letter card in the offer row costs a certain number of cents. You can also buy ink tokens for one cent. On your turn you draw a hand of five cards. You may use some or all of these cards to create a word. One or more cards can be played facedown as wild cards, but you only gain a card’s benefits if it is played face up into a word. Any cards you do not use in the word will go in your discard pile.

You can use ink tokens to draw a new card, but this card must be used in any word you create. You can do this multiple times on your turn if you have multiple ink tokens, but if you are unable to use the letters drawn with the ink tokens to create a word, your turn will immediately end and all cards drawn this turn will be put in your discard pile. Some cards you buy will have the ability to earn you ink remover tokens, which lets you skip adding a card drawn with ink tokens to a word.

Once you have created a word with your cards, you can use any cents to buy cards from the offer row and add them to your discard pile. Cards in the offer row grant you more powerful effects when played into a word than your starting cards, and come in four different genres of fiction. Using multiple cards from the same genre in a word will often make the effects they give you more powerful.

If you played any cards that grant you prestige, you move your player piece up the prestige tracker board.

Some cards you buy are Timeless Classics — this means that when played into a word, it remains on the table, granting you its abilities on your turn even when you do not use it in a new word. The only way it is discarded is if another player uses it in one of their own words. They won’t gain its abilities, but the card will be discarded.

If at any time on your turn you cannot come up with a word, you are allowed to ask the rest of the table for suggestions. If a player suggests a word you decide to use, they take an ink token from the supply.

At the end of your turn, you place all cards you played or bought into the discard pile, draw five cards for your next turn, and play passes to the next player. During other players' turns you are allowed to work on your next word and even use ink tokens to draw new cards.

Hardback Components

Review

Hardback is a word game that even those bad at typical word games can enjoy and do well at. Since you draw five cards each turn, unless you use ink tokens, you will always be building (at most) five letter words. Easy, right? That, combined with the ability to use any card as a wild card, means you will almost always be able to create some word, unless you choose to push your luck with the ink. This makes the game much less frustrating for players who struggle with other word games.

The deck-building aspect of Hardback is also well done. The genres are a clever idea and it’s quite satisfying to build your deck around them and create powerful combos, while having to actually put those cards in a word puts an even more interesting spin on the combo system. You might buy two letters from the horror genre, but will you actually be able to create a word with both of them? This makes Hardback feel like a real blending of deck-building and word game, rather than simply a fun theme.

There’s little downtime in the game, as you are able to work on words and use your ink and remover during another player’s turn, and that's a definite plus. Unfortunately, part of the reason you can do this is that outside of the Timeless Classics, there is little player interaction.

Hardback looks lovely, with elegant artwork and attractive components (player tokens are little books). The gameplay itself is a great blending of genres and mechanics: an enjoyable game for literary gamers and bad spellers alike.

Pros: Great blending of mechanics, a word game for people who aren’t usually good with word games, you can work on your word during other players’ turns

Cons: Minimal player interaction

Disclosure: we received a complimentary review copy of this game.