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If Books Could Kill

Fun fact: "Paperback Adventures" is an anagram of "paapdverebnatcurkes"

It’s hard to go even one minute in the presence of Paperback Adventures, the latest word game by Skye Larsen and Tim Fowers, without drawing comparisons to Slay the Spire — specifically, the original digital game by Anthony Giovannetti and Casey Yano, not the forthcoming cardboard adaptation by Gary Dworetsky. At this point, a Mormon genealogy project would struggle to detangle its heritage. Slay the Spire spawned entire crowds of imitators, but it was also a successor in its own right, drawing on both roguelikes and the tabletop deck-building craze. It’s been almost a decade since Fowers’ original Paperback, itself a deck-builder. Now it’s back after some liberal cribbing from Slay the Spire. Trace that lineage and you get a time paradox.

Here’s the crazy part: Paperback Adventures is possibly the finest title Fowers has produced. It might even be superior to Slay the Spire. Hear me out.

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Burgle’s Four

I don't "get" Elvis.

I had a love/hate thing with Burgle Bros. It was so frustrating that I eventually gave it to my pal Brock. Later, I missed it enough to ask if he was done with it, whereupon “Brock brought back Burgle Bros” became our game night tongue-twister of choice. Naturally, I never played it again.

So it’s a thrill that Burgle Bros 2: The Casino Capers is more than a sequel. It’s everything the original game wasn’t.

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Captain Doomsday Laser

how dastardly

Looking back over Tim Fowers’ ludography, one encounters titles like Burgle Bros, Paperback, Hardback, and Fugitive. Small games that defy their size by yielding plenty of play. Bite-sized experiences that mingle with your saliva to swell into a wadded sock that leaves your jaw unhinged and your throat blocked. Except in a good way.

And then there’s… this. If not for the distinctive artwork from Ryan Goldsberry, the large unfolding box, plentiful miniatures, and over-the-top production of Sabotage would feel like a symptom of a minimalist recently disabused of his convictions. This is what happens when the Church of Portable collapses into schism, with Fowers playing Luther and Jeff Krause as that little Oecolampadius fellow.

How strange, then, that Sabotage might also be the best game we’ve seen from this little studio thus far.

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The Enburgling: A Look at Burgle Bros 2

I want that shirt.

I enjoyed Burgle Bros despite some caveats, even though my fondness dimmed somewhat with time and repetition. Still, there weren’t many moments as memorable as when Brock brought back Burgle Bros after keeping hold of it for a few months. Say that five times fast: Brock brought back Burgle Bros.

Well, this time he won’t need to. Last week, I sat down with Tim Fowers for a look at his and Jeff Krause’s sequel, Burgle Bros 2: The Casino Capers, on Kickstarter now. And while anything and everything is subject to change — the perils of a preview, unfortunately — here are the three things that rekindled my affection for this heist simulator.

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Passenger 56

Remember when airplanes were cool and new and exciting rather than paranoid security grope-fests? Yeah, me neither.

Ever wanted to run your own airline? An airline in a universe where scheduling computers and aviation engineers don’t exist, so you’re in charge of designing planes and booking flights mid-route? On a fifteen-second timer?

Yeah, me neither. But at least Now Boarding makes it better than it sounds.

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Make a Million for You Overnight

I love the texture of old hardbacks. They should make shirts out of that texture.

Despite its staid outward appearance, Hardback is the byproduct of word game inbreeding. Its daddy is Tim Fowers, the same fella who brought us Paperback a couple years back, while its father is Jeff Beck, creator of last year’s Word Domination. Even a description of its particular playstyle feels like dendrochronology performed on a family tree: what Paperback was to Dominion, Hardback is to Star Realms.

Fortunately, that word-jumble statement is actually pretty easy to explain.

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Run Boy Run

Two hearts, locked in pursuit, meant to be together, always apart.

Remember Burgle Bros.? It was a rather nifty stealth-heist game hampered ever so slightly by a gamey event system. Still, it was slick. And now it’s got a sequel. Sort of.

The culprit in question is Fugitive, and it’s one of those very rare games that doesn’t sound like much at all — not with its fifteen-minute playtime, a single deck of fewer than fifty cards, and rules that take maybe two minutes to explain — but once laid out upon the table reveals itself to be nearly perfect.

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A Thousand Pages, Give or Take a Few

Paperback is about arranging letters to form words, and its graphic design is still about 300% cooler than most other board games. Get it together, board games.

I’m going to tell you something I’ve never confessed to anybody: I was raised from vat-birth to be a Scrabble-playing genius. Yes, it’s true. Unlike some of the gene-factory’s other assigned Mothers, mine spared not an iota of self-esteem when it came to her favorite pastime. She would scrub the floor with me, assembling words like SYZYGY for hundreds of points while I scrabbled in the dirt with SCOOP. I finally thought to put an S on the end. “SCOOPS,” I announced with no small note of triumph in my voice, picking up 10 points, my first double- digit accomplishment. “QUETZALS,” she countered, using my own S, my pride and joy, as the key to my undoing. From beneath the table, she produced a calculator and starting tallying her triple word score.

When I saw that Tim Fowers — who also designed the delightfully surprising Burgle Bros. — had put out a game that was simultaneously about deck-building and word-building, I knew my chance had arrived. I would finally defeat Mother.

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Steal My Heart

I *just* realized that the Bs are burglar masks. Only seen the logo about a dozen times before now.

Your crew stands motionless, not daring to move, to breathe. The tumbler ticks beneath your fingertips, your heart pounding so loudly in your ears that you can hardly hear the dropping of the pins. This is the moment you’ve been waiting for. Your crew has circumvented the guards, crawled through service ducts, hacked the security system to bypass lasers and heat sensors. At long last, you deciphered the combination to the safe, pieced together from memos and computer logs throughout the bank offices.

The final pin slides into place. The door, a solid foot of clockwork steel and reinforced concrete suspended by hinges thicker than your demolition man’s biceps, swings outward with a whine. Your crew cranes their necks to get a peek inside.

Within, something begins to bark. Loudly and repeatedly. Down the hall, you can hear footsteps, coming fast.

“This is what the customer sent us to retrieve?” Rook says, bafflement evident in his voice. “A damn chihuahua?”

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