A to Z Gaming: Hardback

We tried writing romance, horror, adventure, and mystery masterpieces in Hardback, the next game in our A-Z game shelf play-through.

Basic Info: Hardback
Players: 1-5
Time: 45-90 Minutes
Designers: Jeff Beck, Tim Fowers
Artists: Ryan Goldsberry
Publisher: Fowers Games

Hardback is a deck-building game where players create words from the letters in their hand while trying to set up combinations using the special powers of the different genres. The player who manages to gain the most prestige wins.

At the beginning of the game, each player gets a starting deck of ten cards – eight of those give “cents” that can be spent on buying new cards and the other two give prestige points (i.e. victory points). The rest of the offer cards are shuffled and a market of seven cards is created. In addition, each player gets a player board showing their color and a helper card that lays out the flow of the game. (There are some optional special powers and goal cards, but those are a variant, and I won’t be talking about them here.) The score track is set out, and player markers placed close to the “1” spot. That’s it!

On their turn, a player spells out a word using the letters depicted on the cards in their hand. Any card can turn into a wild by being played face-down. The player discards any unused cards, then tallies the money, points, and bonuses on the cards they used for their word (not including the wilds, since they are face-down). The player then buys cards from the market and/or ink, takes their points, discards their word, and draws a new hand of five cards.

Between turns, players plan what word they’ll spell, and they have the option of pressing their luck by using ink tokens (usually purchased with the leftover cent or two when buying cards – at one cent per ink). They may draw one additional card for each ink token they have, but that newly-drawn card is played face-up on the table with the ink token placed on it. The letters with ink tokens *must* be used in the word that player spells on their next turn. If the player has remover, they can discard the ink token from one card to take in-hand.

Players can also ask for help if they can’t figure out a word they can spell with their cards. That player still gets all of the rewards of the cards used in the word, but if they use a word suggested by another player, that other player gets all of the ink that would have been discarded that turn, plus one additional ink from the supply.

The cards come in four different genres – mystery, adventure, horror, and romance. Creating a word with two or more letters from the same genre gives extra bonuses, which are shown on the card below the main effect of the card. When played together, mystery cards allow players to uncover adjacent wilds to get their benefits and to reserve cards from the offer row. Adventure cards give extra cents or points for trashing them. Horror cards give ink or remover (the only way to get remover) or extra coins or points. Romance cards give bonuses for trashing other cards and can double an adjacent card’s rewards.

In addition, each genre has a number of timeless classic cards – these cards are printed sideways, so are easy to spot. When played in a word, these do not get discarded with the rest of the word at the end of the player’s turn. Instead, it stays in front of that player. Any other player can use that letter in their word, and if they do, they get no benefit from the card but it is discarded to the originally player’s discard pile. However, if the card is still in front of the player when their turn comes back, they get the benefit of the card whether or not they use it in their word. AND, it doesn’t get discarded. It only is discarded when another player uses it in one of their words.

The game end is triggered when one player reaches 60 or more points. After all players have had equal turns, the game ends, and whoever has the most points wins.

I backed this game on Kickstarter after I had played Paperback on my tablet and I watched Rahdo’s play-through. Paperback has some simliarities – it is a deck-building word game, but the cards don’t have genres to create combos, you have access to few wilds, and there is an emphasis on playing long words.

I find that I definitely like this one better than Paperback because it has more of the deck-builder elements that I’m looking for with all the combos that can be triggered if you concentrate on one or two genres. In addition, there are more opportunities for wilds, so that you can make a word every turn, even if your letters are kind of cruddy.

I also like that there is less emphasis on building the longest word (though there is a variant where you can get bonuses for having the longest word) – you can do just as well spelling short, simple words as long, complicated ones. I’m not always the best at word games, but I enjoy them, and the fact that I can do well in this game with “nickel words” instead of “quarter words” makes me like it even more. Instead, I can concentrate on making combinations of the genre letters in my hand, and rely on those bonuses to carry my game.

My one complaint might be that this often feels like a solo game. I play a lot of games like that, so it’s not a big complaint, but the fact that all players are working on their next word means that no one is really paying attention to the active player. The only player interaction comes with the changing market and the timeless classics.

How is it as a 2-player game? Hardback works well as a 2-player game. Sometimes in 2-player games where there is a market to buy from, the market can get stuck with just the worst possible items available; however, this game offers a few ways to flush the market (if there are four cards of the same genre or four cards that cost over 6-cents), so it doesn’t usually stay terrible for long.

How about the art and component quality? This game is primarily a deck of cards, which are good quality. The art is nice, though some of the genres have hard-to-read letters (I’m looking at you, romance); however, this is mitigated by having the letter repeated in the upper left corner of the card. The iconography is clear and easy to read, so it is easy to figure out your bonuses each round. I really like the art on the player mats and special power cards.

My one complaint is the box. It looks great on my shelf, but it is really easy to catch the instructions or cards on an ledge that’s inside the box cover. I’d rather have a more practical box than one that looks great on my shelf.

Will this stay in my collection? That’s an easy yes. It is fun to pull out as a quick game. I like figuring out what word to play next and trying to build my deck with just one or two genres to create the best combos on each turn.

Have you played either Paperback or Hardback? Do you like one over the other?

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