I celebrated my freedom yesterday in part by playing 'Hardback' with my friend Ben. As a fan of its predecessor, 'Paperback', I was looking forward to it; I wasn't disappointed.
Basically, Hardback is the love-child of a deck-builder and a word game. Players start with identical hands of some low scoring cards (each has a letter, a genre - think 'suit' - and a reward of some sort). On her turn, a player forms words from her hand (and, using a neat push-your-luck element, may make larger words with as-yet-unknown-but-mandatory letters drawn from her deck) Rewards get juicier the more of a suit the player uses to make the word. Rewards include both victory points (60 are needed to win) and money to buy more desirable cards, as well as other abilities that may be strategically useful. Ben beat me. But I had lots o' fun, and the tight game came down to the last two moves. The game plays in 45 -60 minutes.
Ben and I agreed on a number of points:
The game is enjoyable from beginning to end.
Although they all seem intriguing and will add spice to the game, the many Variants are completely unnecessary.
If there is a continuum from non-stressful but meaty enjoyment to brain-burning strategy, Hardback is solidly in the former camp.
There are many paths to victory.
Played very well with 2, and would probably be very fun with one more (although I think a fourth might actually detract a bit due to the potential to slow things down...).
I decided to keep the game in my collection for the foreseeable future. I wouldn't hesitate to recommend it to any group - serious or casual - who only has, say, 75 minutes to learn and enjoy a game.