Hardback: Call Me a Literary Padawan

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Did you know that “anil” is a word? I didn’t. But my AI opponent has just scored a preposterous 4 points on a word that doesn’t exist in my vocabulary. So much for my university degree in English.

On the bright side, I have been meaning to combat exposure to cat memes and emojis by expanding my vocabulary. So I’m glad to add Hardback to my arsenal of board game apps. Developer Fowers Games is no stranger to literary games, having also made the prequel Paperback.

Hardback puts you in the shoes of aspiring novelist Penelope Quill. Work your way up the prestige ladder by forming words out of letters from your deck, choose the genres that will benefit you best and figure out how to spend your hard-earned cash wisely. Reach 60 prestige points before your opponents and you’ve made it as the most successful author of your day.

Like many board games, the theme leans a bit on the metaphorical. You aren’t really putting whole sentences together to make stories. Rather, you’re forming words out of random letters that are presented to you. You’d be much forgiven for thinking though (like I did) that this is just a dolled-up version of Scrabble. But after taking on my “easy” AI opponent countless times, I can now tell you that employing Scrabble strategies to Hardback will just get you a flawless streak of losses.

Let’s just say that there are quite a few strategies to winning, and being a wordsmith is only one of the many tactics you’ll need to use. At its heart, Hardback is really about deck-building and if you’re a fan of games like Dominion or perhaps even Magic: The Gathering, you’re probably going to love Hardback too.

As a Hardback newb, I was really glad that the app pretty much holds your hand with regards to the powers of each card. Tap and hold on any of the cards and you get a nice and neat summary of what the mysterious symbols mean. The app also has a pretty concise tutorial. However, it doesn’t completely explain everything so I’d recommend reading the online rules (link provided in the app) to clarify some nuances of the game.

Like any good board game app, Hardback allows you to play solo, pass and play, or take on online opponents. It’ll also take out any Scrabble-like arguments such as “is that really a word” with a button labelled “Lookup Word”. Granted, it takes you externally to thefreedictionary.com. But in a game like this, I’d rather have something rather than having to reach for the dictionary myself.

There are a few little clunky things like the colour used to highlight a card being so close to the background colour that it makes it hard to see. Also if you find yourself having to forfeit your turn, the option to pass is strangely buried under the “menu” button. And one thing I would have loved to have seen was each player having unique powers (a feature of the real card game).

I did relish the 19th Century feel of the app, which accompanies you with a variety of Victorian soundtracks. It’s quite a good-looking app, and, as a bit of a font freak, I also loved that each of the genres had their own unique font. It seems to echo the real game fairly well and also gives you the possibility of introducing options like “Hardcore” (you’re not allowed to use words that have been previously spelt) and “Literary Awards” (points for spelling the longest word). These may change the way that you play each game, and, with so many strategies already available in the base game, it ensures that Hardback has quite a bit of replayability.

I’m glad to say that my journey with Hardback is far from over. I’ve enjoyed discovering the depths to this game and I have yet to develop a consistent strategy for myself. So back to trying to annihilate my AI opponent – the same one who spelt “anil” (which, if you’re wondering, means “indigo”).

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