quarrel: (gaming)
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Given that A) Shaterri contributed to the Kickstarter fund for Paperback and B) another game designer friend of mine said he found it fun, I brought it to Game Night and played it with Orbus and Mufi. It’s essentially a word game version of Dominion. Rather than being able to play all your money cards plus one special action card, all cards have one or two letters, a money value, and a play effect, and you may play as many cards as you wish so long as they spell a single legal word. Some cards are wild, able to be used as any letter and contributing victory points to your final score but not worth any money when buying new cards.

It was disappointing. The core idea is sound, but the game was slow and frustrating. The biggest issue was that turns simply took too long. First, you need to figure out what word to spell, taking into account not only how much money it will be worth but also which letter cards you expressly want to spell it with. Not only does each have a distinct effect, but some vary based on where they appear in the word or what you buy that turn. Second, you need to decide what to buy from a set of 13 normal and 4 wild letter piles, and every single card in the normal piles has its own unique combination of letter, price, value, and effect to be considered. Also, it’s legal to buy multiple cheap cards rather than one expensive one, so you have to make that decision too (unlike Dominion), and since each purchase exposes a new, different card (also unlike Dominion), you need to stop and reconsider the rest of your purchases if you go the former route.

A less pressing but still noticeable issue was that the game lacked a feeling of progress. In Dominion, you can pursue a deliberate deck-tuning plan by purchasing multiples of specific action cards from known piles, and feel your plan come together as the game progresses and your combos start kicking in. Paperback lacked that. Part of it is that its random effect distribution defeats any long-term planning and restricts you to the occasional lucky opportunity. Part of it is that your average value per hand does not rise as fast as your deck’s average card value does, since higher values come on cards with trickier letters that are nigh-impossible to consistently use together. In other words, as the average value of your cards goes up, the average percentage of them that you can play goes down. (I realize this is a word game, so it makes sense for high-value letters to require dictionary skills, but that requirement has a downside here.) Part of it is that depleting piles of normal cards doesn't end the game, so players can run short on things to do without getting closer to finishing.

One factor I did like were the unbuyable reward letters that go to the first player to make a 7-, 8-, 9-, and 10-letter word — though it's odd that all players get to use them until they're claimed, and they're all worth the same VPs.

There’s a good game in Paperback not far below the surface, but it was printed before it got there.

Game #2 was a five-way of Ticket to Ride by unanimous decree. Two players were big fans and hadn’t played it in a while, and two others were brand new but strongly encouraged to give it a try for the experience since they are Game Night regulars now and it really is a modern classic.

I was ahead on rail-building points from my very first rail all the way to the end of the game, and, as I expected, came in third. (The two fans of the game are expert players and expert board gamers in general.) I also drew miserably for ticket destinations. Twice I drew extra tickets only to get two decent pairs I couldn’t complete and one worth a measly 4 points, linked purely by 2-car routes. Final scores were 129, 128, 105, 96-ish, and somewhere in the 50s.

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