Game Review: Hardback

The folks at Fowers Games sent me a copy of Hardback to review. One of the most important things to know is that this game is fully approved by my cats (Nox, Bacchus, and Charlotte):

Designers: Jeff Beck (II)Tim Fowers
Artist: Ryan Goldsberry
Publisher: Fowers Games
Hardback has a lovely home on our shelves with a family of other book/letter games, including its predecessor, Paperback. I wrote a little about Paperback in a post about my gaming group’s theme day for “The Written Word.”

Hardback is a “pre-quill” to Paperback. The story takes us to the 19th century where we meet Penelope Quill, an aspiring author working hard to finish her next novel. Players take on the role of Quill and compete to complete the best novel they can by building a deck of letters that will allow them to spell the highest scoring words.
The game takes 45-90 minutes and is suggested for players ages 10+. My group played with 4 players and it took us about 75 minutes to get through one game.
A player turn looks like this (you can find the full rulebook here):

Each turn, do the following:

  1. Spell a word (from your hand)
  2. Discard unused cards
  3. Resolve card Benefits
  4. Purchase cards and Ink (new cards go into your deck’s discard pile; ink goes into your personal ink supply on your player card)

After your turn, do the following:

  1. Discard your used cards and Ink
  2. Discard other players’ Timeless Classic cards
  3. Draw your next hand

Any time before spelling your next word, do the following:

  1. Use Ink and Remover

Each letter has an ability that allows players to do things like manipulate their deck, adjust cards in a spelled word, or gain prestige (victory points). Each letter also belongs to a genre (Adventure, Mystery, Horror, and Romance) and has a special ability when paired with other letters from the same genre. By combining letters from the same genre into a single word, you can create powerful combos.
If you are stuck on a hand and are not sure what word you can make with it, you can ask for help from a Ghost Writer! Let the other players know you are hiring a Ghost Writer and they can help you figure out what word to spell. If you use one of the suggested words, the player who suggested it gets to add an Ink to their supply from the general supply. I love this addition, though most of the time players were reluctant to use it. When someone DID ask for a Ghost Writer, though, they usually greatly benefited from it!
If you have played Paperback, you will find that wild cards work a bit differently in Hardback. Instead of having wild cards as a separate kind of card, any card can become a wild card simply by playing it face down. Using a card as a wild card forfeits the card’s abilities, but it is a great way to save a handful of consonants when you really need a vowel!
Also new to Hardback is the addition of Ink and Remover. The black Ink tokens allow a player to take a chance at adding one card from the top of their deck to their next spelled word. Letters added with Ink must be used in the word and cannot be used as wild cards. You can add as many letters as you have Ink tokens to spend – it is up to you how far you want to press your luck! If you have a white Remover token, you can spend it to remove a card that was added with Ink. At the end of your turn, all Ink and Remover tokens used are returned to the general supply. More tokens can be earned by using letter abilities when spelling words. I loved using Ink when I had it – it was a fun way to add a challenge to my word building, especially when those Qs, Xs, and Zs would come out!
Because of the way genres provide additional abilities, it is useful to build a deck of letters that you can use to create combos. When my group played, we found it useful to focus on two genres in order to maximize combo building. This also means the game has good re-playability because you can focus on different genres each time you play to experience different strategies. Each genre has unique abilities:

Adventure: Adventure cards are represented by the compass icon and yellow ribbon. Adventure cards are focused on quick and steady progress towards victory. Adventure cards have two primary abilities: gaining immediate prestige and trashing cards.
Mystery: Mystery cards are represented by the magnifying glass icon and blue ribbon. Mystery cards can uncover hidden cards and remove cards from the Offer Row.
Horror: Horror cards are represented by the skull icon and green ribbon. Horror cards terrify other players by providing the only access to Remover and offering Coin and Prestige flexibility.
Romance: Romance cards are represented by the heart and arrow icon as well as the red ribbon. Romance cards can trash other cards (they are trashy romance novels, after all) and multiply other card Benefits.

End game for Hardback is triggered when a player reaches 60 prestige. Once a player hits 60, play continues to finish out the round so that each player has an equal number of turns. Whoever has the highest prestige in the end wins!
The game also comes with a handful of variants that you can add, but my group has not had a chance to play with the variants yet. We are eager to try the variants, particularly the co-op variant that has players working together against Penny Dreadful. Other variants are: Literary Awards, Adverts, Player Powers, and Events.
There is a lot of game in this tiny box. AND IT IS GORGEOUS. I loved the art in Paperback, but I love the art in Hardback even more. The colors are rich, the wooden tokens are lovely, and the first player quill marker is fun. If you are a fan of thematic games… if you enjoy deck builders… if you like puzzles… if you dig pressing your luck once in a while… then you should play Hardback.

0 thoughts on “Game Review: Hardback”

  1. This seems like such a fun little game. How long does it take to play? Word games aren’t as common as people think in the gaming world, so it’s nice to see a game such as Hardback being designed.

    1. Sorry! I meant to include that info and have added it now. The game takes 45-90 minutes and is suggested for players ages 10+. My group played with 4 players and it took us about 75 minutes to get through one game.
      Word games are a lot of fun. Definitely check this one out. It’s predecessor, Paperback, is fantastic, as well. Unspeakable Words is another fun one.

      1. I think we only have one word game (Murder of Crows) in our collection, so yes, I will definitely check those out 🙂 thanks for the recommendations.

          1. Yeah, it’s not a bad filler game. It’s about spelling the word MURDER with cards, where each letter does something different as well as reveals part of a story. It only takes around 20 minutes to play, but is fairly solid. They’ve just released a new edition of it actually in a tin box.
            To be honest, I think there needs to be more word games. Something needs to topple Scrabble!

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