Hardback First Impressions

I received my copy of Hardback just a few weeks ago, and immediately took it out and made Andrew play a couple rounds with me. I don’t want to call this a full-on review, because I feel like I need a few more game plays before I do that, but thought I’d put out a few of my first impressions of the game.

Hardback is a deck builder and word game rolled into one that plays 1–5 Players in 45-90 minutes. It is designed by Jeff Beck and Tim Fowers with art by Ryan Goldsberry and published by Fowers Games.

Like any deck-builder, each player starts with a deck of not-so-great cards and is working to purchase cards to augment their deck. On each card is a letter, and to gain a card’s buying power (and other special powers), you have to create words with the letters. Any card in your hand can become wild simply by turning it face down when you play – however, when you do that, you lose the card’s abilities.

The cards that you add to your deck can be one of four different genres – romance, adventure, horror, or mystery. Each genre specializes in certain powers – for example, the romance cards may let you trash a card from your discard pile (because they are trashy romances!). By combining one or more cards from a particular genre, you typically get additional benefits.

Hardback also has a push-your-luck element to the game. If you have ink (which can be purchased alongside or instead of cards), you can use it to add another card to your hand, but be careful! Those newly-drawn letters must appear in the word you play, unless you have white-out.

Unlike games like Dominion where you hold your victory points in your deck, Hardback has a scoring track, and you earn prestige (i.e. victory points) throughout the game. This means that everyone knows everyone else’s score. The game-end is triggered when one player crosses the 60-point mark.

The components of the game are solid – the cards are good quality and thickness, the scoring track is a heavy board, and the scoring markers, ink, and white out pieces are wooden. The art is fun, especially the player cards.  The box itself is a little fiddly – you have to be careful closing it so that you don’t catch the player cards on the side of the box. On the other hand, the box looks like several books on the shelf and is a cool addition to my game shelf.  (On the other-other hand, the box is an odd shape for a game box, which is a separate shelf-space issue.)

As with most deck-builders, it’s best to try to specialize in one or two types of cards when adding new cards to your deck. I tended to go for the adventure and horror cards, which give prestige points (adventure) and ink or white out (horror). In the one game where I went for romance cards, I lost terribly; however, Andrew won a game with a deck full of romance, so I suspect it was just a bad game for me, not a statement about the romance cards as a whole.

The thing I really like about this game is that it is more about deck building than making the longest, most-complicated words you can. This makes the game appealing to more players – folks who are not big on word games can concentrate on the challenge of building their deck in a meaningful way, while folks who love word games can concentrate on using their letters to create the best words they can.

So far I’ve only played Hardback with 2 and 3 players, and its good at both of these player-counts. As always, I’m looking forward to see how it plays with more players. I’m hoping for a bit more turn-over in the card “market”; though, I wonder how much extra time it will add to the game.

There is also a solo mode, but I haven’t looked at detail at it yet. I’ll have to try that soon!

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