A fantastic twist on word games, can Paperback replace the classics on your mobile device?
Android & iOS
# of Players
1 - 4
Paperback is a deckbuilding word game from Fowers Games. One to four players take turns playing words from letters in their hand, using the money earned to buy more letters and books that provide fame which act as victory points. Play continues until two of the book card piles are depleted or the bonus word card stack is empty. This typically takes about 15 minutes.
Paperback is often described as Scrabble and Dominion mashed together. That’s not totally fair, but it close enough to get the point across. Deckbuilding fans might not think they needed a word game take on the genre, but they might be surprised at how good Paperback is. On the other side, Paperback ends up being a great way to introduce deckbuilding to players who typically stick to word games. It’s a clever mash up that nobody thinks they wanted, but from my experience most feel differently after playing.
A turn in Paperback will be very familiar to deckbuilder fans. Players start with an identical mix of point and weak letter cards, drawing five to start the game. They use those five, and one common card available to all, to spell a word. Each card has a point value in cents, except wilds which are worth zero cents, which are added together once the word is played. That cent total is used to purchase new letter cards or book cards (which provide victory points) from a large selection available to all players. The letter cards available for purchase often have special abilities such as providing additional cards or cents. Play continues as players build up better decks and are more likely to be able to purchase the high priced point cards. Once two book card stacks are gone, or if a separate bonus card pile has been exhausted, the game ends and the player with the most fame/victory points in their deck wins.
Now is as good of a time as any to note that the app has some non-trivial changes to the base game rules. Right off the bat, the app only plays four players instead of the five advertised by the game and doesn’t include the co-op mode. Also of note, the Attack card abilities are not included the app. They are technically labeled as expansions in the rulebook, but now ship with the base game, along with a few other “expansions” which aren’t in the app. Attack cards provided often powerful restrictions to your opponent when played, such as removing the ability to use the common card on a turn. They certainly make the game a more aggressive affair, and their absence very much leaves Paperback as a multiplayer solitaire type game. That’s not to say it is a negative, but it is a change if you are used to playing with them in the physical game.
The game has all of the typical deckbuilding tropes. You have to weigh when to stop building your deck and when to start going for points. You must also consider what special abilities a card offers. The purchasing row is clever in that is provides two cards at each price point at all times, so you will always have a choice to make. These is a bit of a card trashing aspect here as well, although certainly not as prevalent as it is in some other deckbuilders. Adding to the strategy, there are point bonuses and a game-ending condition tied to players playing increasingly longer words. Once a seven letter word is played, the current common letter is taken into that player’s hand, and is worth VPs. Then an eight letter card appears, until that is taken and replaced with a nine letter card, etc… Once this pile is depleted, the game ends.
Paperback is a great game, it works better than it seems like it should. I don’t think people who dislike word games will have their minds changed by Paperback, but it certainly can take traditional word game fans and turn them into fans of a deckbuilder. That is no easy task, the novel twists on traditional genres are quite impressive, and, more importantly, quite fun.
Barrier to Entry
Paperback contains a How To Play set of instructions and in-game help overlays, which are on by default but can be toggled off. The How To Play instruction are fairly simple and provide a good basic overview to use as a starting point. The in-game help overlays provide a few more context-specific instructions. Overall, the instruction for new players isn’t great. The game is straightforward enough that new players should catch on fairly quickly once they start playing, particularly if they have deckbuilder experience, but it falls a little short in getting a completely new player from zero experience to fully understanding the rules.
High scoring word of the game
Great looking menus
Setting up a local game
Look and Feel
We reviewed them out of order, but the artwork in Paperback will remind players of the Burgle Bros. artwork. The game looks great, the app has a lot more visual personality than one would expect from a word game. Between the avatars, the book card graphics, and the various loading screen scenes, the artwork really shines. The controls are equally as well done, drag-and-drop or click then confirm, take your pick in most cases. Some special actions require click then confirm, but all of the main actions can be done with drag-and-drop.
The only negatives here are minor. Occasionally, the options menu has shown up when I load an online game and sort of remained “stuck” behind the playing area for that turn. Nothing drastic, just a visual annoyance. On the slightly more annoying side of things, the app runs in landscape mode but won’t flip to the active landscape orientation. This is minor, but it does cause a slight sigh when I pick my phone up and have to turn it around to play the game.
Multiplayer was an addition to the app a few months after its initial release. Games are asynchronous and cross platform and are joined via a lobby or invite, with 2-4 players. The online implementation is well done, featuring system notifications and a smart timeout system which will replace inactive players with bots so the remaining player(s) may finish the game. The game plays the same online as it does in local games. [This sentence originally contained a nitpick about the inability to see the game score during an online game. The creator the game Tweeted at us to explain that wasn't true, it was embarrassing, but we're glad to be proven wrong, thank you, Mr. Fowers.] Like other word games, Paperback is built incredibly well for casual online play, and it is great to see the app provide a strong, straightforward implementation that allows the strengths to shine..
Paperback also offers a local pass-and-play mode. This game is well suited for that kind of mode and the app delivers a fully functional implementation which works great sitting around with some friends and a tablet.
Single player in Paperback is straightforward. You select how many AI opponents you want to play against, one, two, or three, and then select their difficulty level; easy, smart, or smarter. Easy is fairly easy, and most word game fans will quickly graduate past smart once the basic game rules are understood. Smarter AI is a decent challenge. I’ve heard complaints about it being too easy, and judging by the skill of some of the players I encounter online that certainly might be true, but for me, smarter is a fun challenge. The AI can sometimes take a while to make its decision, particularly when it can’t use all or most of its letters.
One thing to note is that the physical game offers a co-op mode, which can also act as a good solo game, which is absent in the app adaptation. The omission of what is a fun solo mode is an odd choice, especially considering the app didn’t have online play for a while after its initial release.
The single player game is, overall, pretty good. If you are particularly adept at word games, the challenge might not be difficult enough for you, and not including the strong co-op/solo mode is a bit disappointing. I’ve personally gotten a lot more mileage out of the multiplayer options, but it is nice to have a decent single player option there, especially for new players.
Playing a word
End of the story
The physical game now ships with a few different card types which it labels expansions in the rulebook. The aforementioned attack cards fall under this category, and there are a few others which each add something to the game. None of these are available in the app.
The game doesn’t track stats or contain any leaderboards. The game highlights the highest scoring word at the end of each game, an online leaderboard would be a nice feature to see how your best stacks up.
The Wrap Up
Paperback isn’t a perfect implementation. The lack of co-op/solo mode is an odd choice, and it would be nice to see the expansions to make their way to the app for their added variety. Any scoring game like this sets up well for stat keeping and leaderboards, but Paperback has neither. Despite being a bit bare boned, it’s a clean, functional app that works quite well.
I wish all of my friends still playing Words With Friends made the switch to Paperback. It’s a fantastic combination of word games and deckbuilding that really breathes new life into the former. Paperback is highly recommended if you want a twist on the traditional word game genre.