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.
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.
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.
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?”