iOS Review: Hardback by Tim Fowers

iOS Review: Hardback by Tim Fowers

Hardback is the delightful sequel to Paperback, the deckbuilding word game from always-interesting designer Tim Fowers. This is a sequel worth having 

As a second-generation bibliophile, I do love games with a book theme. I had the pleasure of playtesting Tim Fowers’ delightful Paperback (which originally had a longer title that might have gotten him in trouble with The Beatles’ record company) so I knew this excellent twist on the deckbuilder genre was going to be a hit.

While I like the physical game, in iOS form, Paperback is one of my most-played games. The game captures the wonderful feel of Scrabble with the clever mechanisms of deckbuilding optimization. This is a tight design that delights this wordsmith. I really enjoy coming up with the best word for the letters I’m dealt.

With that in mind, I was delighted to hear that Tim decided to return to the concepts of Paperback with a sequel. The game takes the deckbuilder concept and refines it to give the game a different, more open feel.

Hardback versus Paperback

Hardback plays like Paperback on a basic level. You are building words with the cards you draw in deckbuilder-style (if you’re reading this blog, I’m going say, you get it.) Points are scored by playing letter formed into words that give you enough money to buy additional letters that may have special powers. While the letters are in rows (Ascension-style), you can also buy victory point cards that act as wild cards and big words get you a bonus card once in a while. Also appealing: your change can be used to ‘Buy Ink.’ This lets you flip cards without losing their benefit. No more leftover change with no value, which was a gripe with Paperback.

The difference is that Hardback lets you turn every card into a wild card if you would like to do so. This gives you a lot more opportunity to come up with the words you really want to create. But it’s not a free-for-all or something. Turning the individual cards into wilds actually sacrifices the benefits of the card, which may be gaining cash to buy more cards or it might be awarding victory points.

Hardback

Genre Cards

Hardback also includes Genre cards, much like the faction cards in Clank!, are cards that interact with each other when you have more of them. Thus, having more Horror or Mystery cards in your word will get you some bonuses, as stated on the cards. So, instead of a restriction based on only the letters you have, your choices are about what you sacrifice to get the right combination of letters and benefits. As much as I love Paperback, this is a really interesting implementation of the original concept.

Hardback played solo has the same addictive quality of Paperback. As much as I can enjoy the game in person with other players, like Dominion, it’s really competitive solitaire. Thus, they both work better (for me) as solitaire experiences. The gameplay is compelling and it’s one of those peanut games (i.e., you can’t play just once).

Graphic Design Challenges

If I have a complaint about Hardback, it’s that the digital version is rough on the eyes. While I admire the excellent artwork of Ryan Goldsberry, whose delightful visions have appeared in all of Tim Fowers’ games, Hardback feels like a slight misfire from the logo page onward. While his development of the snappy style of Paperback takes the feel backward in time, it has also gained an ornate look that makes it hard to read.

Capturing the mood of the different book genres with different fonts is a good idea. Yet, in practice, it makes the game look less appealing. Some of the genre fonts (the Romance font is probably the worst) are hard enough to see on my iPhone 7 Plus that I’ve bought a different letter just to avoid it. The flashy letters are even less appealing when contrasted with the tiny size of the iconography (including the Flip spot).

The cards aren’t the only problem. The game has so many fonts elsewhere that are hard on the eyes as well, including the Submit button that is on a kind of flag or something and the various stylized but oddly large card names elsewhere. Worse, the score marker is so subtle that I didn’t notice it at all my first game. When you do notice it, it’s hard to tell numbers – you can just basically say you are winning or losing. That’s fine for me, but players with a more pointed need for precise will suffer at the colorful and perhaps overly-stylized score tracker.

The Final Word

Hardback is a delightful offshoot of the original Paperback that absolutely deserves a spot on your shelf. As a solo game players on you mobile device, it’s a winning title that well suits my ask that games be playable in a 5-8 minute timeframe. This is about as long as I want to really hold the device while playing. Longer games are fun but I need to use the iPad for them.

Lovely but squinty art aside, Hardback is a winner. The game is definitely worth the money to add this compelling little word game to your digital collection. Here’s hoping that Softcover, eBook, or perhaps Limited Edition is the name of the inevitable third game in Fowers’ trilogy.

Hardback is available now for download to your iOS device.

Boardgame Babylon Rating for Hardback

BIN (Buy It Now) PIN (P)lay It Now TIF (Try It First) NMT (Not My Thing)

Disclosure: A complimentary copy of the app was provided by the publisher for independent review.

SESSION REVIEW: Paperback App from Tim Fowers

SESSION REVIEW: Paperback App from Tim Fowers

Paperback, the smash-hit game from designer Tim Fowers (of Burgle Brothers and Wok Star fame), has come to mobile devices and I couldn’t be more delighted. Thematically, Paperback has players trying to finish a pulpy paperback novel by constructing words throughout the game, which is pleasantly brought to life with the amusing artwork and quick game play.

Paperback the original board game is typically described as the baby of Scrabble and Dominion, which is apt. Players get to make words from a hand of letter cards drawn each turn in deck-builder style. Each letter has a value and whatever you construct for the turn gives you money to buy new (often better, higher value) letters, some of which have special powers. You can also buy victory point cards if you have enough money. Despite being the key to winning, they clog up your deck with wild cards that have no buying power. There are also special powers on certain letter cards that do cool things like double word scores, draw extra cards and other nice things. There’s a way to get points for longer words, too. It’s a load of fun for wordsmiths and casual players alike.

You want a detailed description of play? This guy wrote it out (although he added an ‘l’ to Tim’s surname, which I expect isn’t uncommon). You can also watch this video. You didn’t think I was going to explain it rule-by-rule did you? Come on. Where are you?

What I Love About The Paperback App

I need to disclose something. I’m a recovering iOS deckbuilding addict. I’ve played SO many games of Ascension and Dominion on my iPhone that even my careful documentation of plays ceased to have Paperbackmeaning. The quick play of these games against a single AI player is almost too compelling. Playing them swallowed all my little bits of time on my device and I finally had to stop so I could read books and get back to completing mini-workflows in those odd moments. But Paperback has me back off the wagon and loving it.

Normal Paperback as a board game has the same challenge that word nerds face when trying to find opponents for Scrabble. Simply put, if you have an excellent vocabulary, you just have a natural advantage. Like being tall in basketball, it isn’t everything but it sure helps.

While modern players have Qwirkle as a good alternative that levels the playing field with color/shape combos instead, those of us who just love words still yearn for the opportunity to build them from a jumble of letters. With the Paperback app, I can indulge this passion with the AI player when no one else is available. Furthermore, the game has helpful setting options to allow players to adjust the length of their games. I’ve often opined that some mobile app games are simply too long because I have other things to do (the opposite of how I feel when I’m at a table with excellent people). I welcome Paperback giving the player control over the length of their experience.

Furthermore, Paperback rides on the Loom Game Engine and it works really well. Animation and game speed are all excellent. Fowers isn’t just a brilliant board game designer – he has a background in technology so I’d expect nothing different from his apps.

What I Didn’t Like

A prompt update eliminated one of my pet peeves – confirmation windows – ugh! Just because that was considered good coding in CS classes, it’s a nightmare by modern UX standards…okay, rant over. However, Paperback still makes me listen to its theme music instead of letting me bring in my own playlist. As a passionate music-lover who carefully curates what goes into my ears, this is a problem. The theme music is pleasant and appropriate but it isn’t going to make me not want Hope Sandoval of Mazzy Star to serenade me while I play my word nerd games. That sultry voice just gets the little gray cells going. Full rules are now available, too – not just a video link. Some of us still read, including those who want a Paperback app! I feel sure Tim is addressing those issues in future releases.

The Final Word on Paperback for iOS

Paperback is a well-implemented version of a game that is ideally suited for the mobile device play. I love it and certainly recommend you give is a download. I’m sure it is available for Android somewhere, wherever those things happen.

GET PAPERBACK ON IOS NOW

Boardgame Babylon Rating for Paperback for iOS

BIN (Buy It Now) PIN (P)lay It Now TIF (Try It First) NMT (Not My Thing)

Disclosure: An app code was provided for review by the publisher.