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Review: Paperback – become a famous author in this word-based card game

An intriguing card game combining the arts of word-smithing and deck-building

Price: $4.99/£3.99
Version: 1.0.4
Size: 54.0 MB
Platform: iPhone/iPad
Developer: Fowers Games

Paperback, based on the real-life tabletop game of the same name, puts you in the shoes of a fledgling author hoping to find fame by writing trashy novels. Earn money by combining letter cards into words, striving to finish enough books to become more famous than your rival writers by the game’s end.


Looks simple enough, right?

The gameplay itself is relatively simple. Each turn you draw a hand of cards representing letters, which must be used to form a word. Y’know, like in Scrabble. You then use the money earned from the word to buy new cards from the communal pile, which are mixed into your deck to resurface later in the game.

This is where the strategy comes in – do you buy easy-to-use letter cards that won’t reap much financial reward, or more difficult sets of letters with a high bounty? Once you start earning the big bucks, you’ll also be able to forgo letter cards in favor of wild-card novels, which don’t help with the finances but do provide the “fame points” which eventually determine the winner.


Everything at the top is for sale using the money earned from word-building

There’s some light strategy involved here, with many of the letter cards providing bonuses that come into play when used in new words. Extra points, for example, or more cards for the following turn if you end your word with a certain letter.

Deciding how and when to upgrade your cards is a risk-reward balancing act, as is choosing when to spend on novels and when to bide your time. Things never feel overly tactical, but combined with the word-building it makes for a fun and competitive few rounds of play.


Make the longest word of the game and you’ll be rewarded

One disappointing aspect of Paperback is that frustratingly little of this is explained in the app. There are help bubbles as you play to cover the basics – you’re not completely on your own – but a full tutorial would make things a lot clearer to new players. Some of the more subtle gameplay elements aren’t at all obvious, and there’s not even a rulebook to refer to if you get confused.

Meanwhile, though the artwork on the fake novels is nice, the interface on the whole is pretty medium. Everything feels a little crammed in, with some of the text barely legible even on the large, crisp display of the iPhone 7 Plus. More easily accessible tooltips would be nice, as would a ‘recall’ button when composing words. These are minor gripes, but emblematic of a larger problem: the whole presentation lacks a level of polish and slickness that we’ve come to expect from board and card game adaptations on iOS, especially at this price point. Maybe we’re just spoilt.


Even the smartest computer is not very difficult to beat

Though you’re occasionally rewarded with extra fame cards for particularly long words, often you’re actually rewarded for making shorter words which feels slightly counter-intuitive. It does make you think twice about which cards to use, though, and which to leave to make the more efficient use of your letters and bonuses.

Matches can be played against computer players or humans, but if you want to play against real people they’ll have to be in the same room, sharing a device. There’s no online multiplayer, which is a big shame for this type of turn-based game. We’ll have to hope the developers add it in a future update.


Late game you can end up faced with a ton of letters to contend with

Overall this is an interesting concept, and though the theme isn’t explored in much depth it’s a good excuse to mix some word game tropes into tactical card game. Unfortunately, the lack of instruction makes it feel aimed towards existing fans of the game rather than new players. The core gameplay is pretty decent; although it feels a little like a first draft, with a few improvements this has the potential to be a bestseller.

If you’ve got the patience to work out the rules, and you don’t mind the lack of online multiplayer, we’d definitely recommend delving into the world of Paperback.