Received my Hardback copy that I Kickstarted. Having played Paperback once or twice, the thought of an evolved version piqued my interest. Here's an initial take after an unboxing and one game: I loved this playthrough, and I'm looking forward to the next one!
Press your luck - In most deck builders, your hand is your turn. A bad draw leads to an unsatisfying nothing turn. Not so with Hardback. Use ink and remover to turn a bad draw into a high dollar buy. I like that drawing cards (a coveted power in Dominion and Star Realms) is a core mechanic rather than in the soup of card benefits.
The power of not buying - In most deck builders, you need to buy something by the end of your turn. Use it or lose it. Adopting this in Hardback can lead to filling your deck with trash letters (L. Ron Hubbard syndrome) and a perennial lack of money. Instead, go for quality by NOT buying cards and instead buying ink. This allows you to play ACROSS turns by saving up ink, drawing all your cents next turn, and dropping it on that sweet consonant or Perennial Classic with great benefits. Once we realized this, play went a lot faster as we could buy high cost cards. We just had to wait and plot and plan.
A Game About Words - Our first game was with 3 people: one experienced gamer, one apathetic adult, and one ADHD preteen. I was worried that, like Scrabble, the word part of the game would turn players off. Instead, it provided fun stories and interesting interactions. You can turn any card into a wild and lose its benefits, so using all your cards can help you, but not as much as the above pressing your luck. I played two words that mean 'toilet' while my tongue-tied son bought "reveal adjacent wild" cards so he could focus on getting points.
Surprisingly and Pleasingly Interactive - There are no attack cards as a benefit in the standard game, but that doesn't mean it's not interactive. When in doubt, Just give up: Ghost Writer let's you play open-hand and rely on other players. They even get ink as a benefit! For a genre rife with negative player interactions ruining games (no-attack Dominion is a staple at our house), this is a refreshing way to add positive interactions. The Perennial Classic mechanic is similarly combative but not adversarial, and the Jail benefit and ability to reset the offer row can elicit a groan or two while you foil your opponents' plans.
OMG The Design There are puns everywhere, the cards are complex but not cluttered, the cardstock is pleasing to hold, and the use of meeples rather than tokens makes it chunkier than the small box lets on. Leaving room in the box for more cards might hint at expansions, but it comes with plenty of alternative ways to play. I can't wait to break out the player powers and co-op mode.
I know Paperback was hard to get for a while. If you have a chance and need a deck builder with less combat and more pithy reveals, get Hardback.
Link to Reddit discussion: https://www.reddit.com/r/boardgames/comments/7tlini/hardback_first_impressions