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Hardback Review

Quick Look: Hardback

Designer: Jeff Beck and Tim Fowers
Artist: Ryan Goldsberry
Publisher: Fowers Games
Year Published: 2017
No. of Players: 2–5
Ages: 10+
Playing Time: 45–60 minutes
Find more info on BoardGameGeek.com
Hardback is the second deck-building word game from Fowers Games (Paperback is the other). Although you may think that one is very much like the other, there are distinct differences that makes each of them stand out on their own. Although they may have the same generic theme of building a deck of letters, just like writing differences for a pulp paperback market and a literary novel, you can play one and then the other and have a completely different experience.
This is also the case of playing several games of Hardback back to back. There is enough randomization with the set up and what becomes available to allow playing Hardback multiple times in the same gaming session.
The balance of play makes Hardback a good for players of different ability levels. When we played, there were college-educated players along with other who are still in high school. One player enjoys other word games with friends, where the more elaborate words score better, and they were on equal footing with the younger player with far less experience. This balance made the game enjoyable for everyone involved.

Each player starts with a beginning deck of 10 cards. Eight of the cards are the same for everyone. The last 2 cards are dealt randomly from a set of 10 remaining cards.
In the middle, 7 Offer Cards are turned up. These are the card available for purchase by players to add to their deck.
Also available on the table are ink and ink remover.  These are also purchased during gameplay and can be used to add additional cards (i.e. letters) into your hand or when purchasing more cards for your deck.
The goal is to score Prestige points. When one player reaches 60 points, play continues until everyone has had the same number of turns and the highest score has their latest masterpiece accepted and they are proclaimed the finest author of the age!
Set up and ready to play
Shuffle your personal deck and draw five cards. Then create a word using those cards. That part is pretty straight forward. But there are some wonderfully fun ways of getting there, depending on the cards you use. As your deck grows, different cards become possibilities and they have abilities that come into play when the letter on the card is used. Or, if you play the card face down in your word, it’s a wild card.
All of the cards have Basic Benefits and the Offer Cards include Genre Benefits. Every card that is face up allows you to gain the Basic Benefit. Genre Benefits are earned when 2 or more cards played (face up) are of the same genre. Some of the cards are Timeless Classics (which are identified because they are faced sideways), and they have benefits that can carry over.
Timeless Classics are not immediately moved to the discard pile. They stay in front of the player who used it and remains there for scoring purposes on subsequent rounds. The player doesn’t have to use the Timeless Classic Card again to score it. The Genre Benefits are gained if another card of the same genre is played in a later word. However, other players can also use the letter in their creation of a word. When another player uses the letter, they don’t score any of the benefits, but the card is moved to the owner’s discard pile. Opponents have to decide if it is worth getting rid of the card or going for their own score.
After you play your word, you collect the benefits. You count the prestige you earned and score it. You also collect earnings that allow you to buy Offer Cards and Ink for later use. Some benefits allow other actions to be taken, like getting Ink Remover.
Our initial Offer Cards
All of the additional cards purchased become part of your deck for later hands. Ink can be used later for buying more Offer Cards or to add cards to your hand from your deck. Cards added this way have to be used as face-up cards in your next word unless you have Ink Remover. Ink Remover allows the additional cards to be turned into wild cards.

Theme and Mechanics
The use of words and letters for a deck-building game works well. The limit of five cards keeps the hands moving quickly. The option of purchasing more cards from your deck to include in your next word provides a risk-taking element that can be used for people who want to score more points. This creates an option for players who find they are getting behind in the score and attempt to make a bigger, thus higher scoring, word.
The addition of the backstory being set in the past gave some of the players a feeling of not having to compete with modern styles. I’m not sure how that came about, and they weren’t able to give a solid explanation; however, it does allow for some fitting artwork and a little calligraphy.
First word of the game
Artwork and Components
Hardback is illustrated by Ryan Goldsbery. Goldsbery has done a lot of illustration work and has done a number (if not all) of games from Fower Games. His work fits the theme of the game with the look of the 19th-century setting put forth in the backstory. The look of the style and characters is completed throughout all aspects of the game.

The Good
  • Easy to learn
  • Good balance for all player; the best vocabulary didn’t win our games
  • Variant rules are included
Final Thoughts
Once again, we were pleased with another game from Fowers Games. We only played the basic game to see how everything played out and are planning a return to the game table to try one of the included variations. There is even a cooperative variation that has everyone working together to write an anthology.
Players Who Like
  • Deck building
  • Word games

Some Offer Cards including Timeless Classics

Check out Hardback on:


Daniel Yocom - Reviewer

Daniel Yocom does geeky things by night because his day job won’t let him. This dates back to the 1960s through games, books, movies, and stranger things better shared in small groups. He’s written hundreds of articles about these topics for his own blog, other websites, and magazines along with stories, after extensive research. His research includes attending conventions, sharing on panels and presentations, and road-tripping with his wife. Join in the geeky fun at guildmastergaming@blogspot.com.

See Daniel's reviews HERE.
Hardback Review Hardback Review Reviewed by Guild Master Gaming on March 27, 2020 Rating: 5

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