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Hardback is a deck-building word game. As an aspiring 19th-century novelist, you work to pen your next masterpiece, earning prestige along the way. You start with your own personal deck of cards, using them to acquire new cards, and reshuffle your deck throughout the game.

Specialize your deck in certain genres to exploit card combinations, and press your luck to draw extra cards - but make sure you can still string a word together!

You're paid by the word to complete romance, mystery, adventure, and horror novels, earning prestige in the process. Earn enough to complete your masterpiece and be recognized as the finest novelist of the age!


  • 50 Starting Cards
  • 35 Adventure Cards
  • 35 Horror Cards
  • 35 Mystery Cards
  • 35 Romance Cards
  • 5 Advert Cards
  • 25 Event Cards
  • 3 Card Dividers
  • 6 Literary Award Cards
  • 5 Player Cards
  • 5 Player Power Cards
  • 2 Co-Op Penny Dreadful Cards
  • 38 Ink Tokens
  • 18 Remover Tokens
  • 5 Player Tokens
  • 1 Prestige Tracker Board
  • Rulebook


  1. Give each player their own starting deck of cards, which consists of:

    1. Eight starting Purchase cards, each providing a H Coin, consisting of the letters: A, E, I, L, N, R, S, T. You can use the small pips on the bottom of the starting Purchase cards to help divide them out.

    2. Two starting Prestige cards, each providing 1 Prestige point, selected at random. Starting Prestige cards include the letters: B, C, D, G, H, M, O, P, U, Y.

    Place any unused starting cards back in the box.

  2. Set up the playing area:

    1. Place the Prestige tracker in the center of the playing area within easy reach of all players.

    2. Place Ink and Remover tokens to the side of the Prestige tracker.

    3. Each player selects a colored player token and places it on the top of the Prestige tracker, above the prestige numbers. Each player takes the Player card of their associated color and places it in front of them.

    4. Shuffle all Adventure, Horror, Mystery, and Romance cards together and place them face-down near the Prestige tracker to form your Offer Deck.

    5. Draw the top seven cards from the Offer Deck. Place them face-up to the side of the Offer Deck to form the Offer Row.

  3. Each player shuffles their starting deck and draws their first hand of 5 cards.

  4. The player who most recently used a pen goes first, with play proceeding to their left (clockwise). That player places the First Player Token in front of them to help remind everyone who went first.

Card Basics

Each card in Hardback has several attributes:

  • Letter: The large letter on each card (and repeated in the top-left corner for convenience) is used to spell a word on your turn.

  • Genre: The icon in the top-left corner below the letter, as well as the color of the ribbon behind the icon, define a card's genre. See Card Genres on page 9 for a detailed list of the genres and their abilities.

  • Basic Benefits: The instructions above the line on a card are its Basic Benefits, made up of Coins, Prestige, and Abilities that manipulate the game in some way. Basic Benefits apply each time you play the card. See Resolve Card Benefits on page 5 for more information.

  • Genre Benefits: The instructions below the line on a card are its Genre Benefits, which apply only when you use multiple cards of the same genre at the same time. Genre Benefits are provided in addition to the Basic Benefits of a card; they don't replace a card's Basic Benefits. See Resolve Card Benefits on page 5 for more information.

  • Cost: The number at the bottom left of the card determines how many Coins you need to spend to purchase the card.

Some cards, called Timeless Classic cards, appear printed sideways. See Timeless Classics on page 8 for more information.

Game Play

Each turn, do the following:

  1. Spell a word.
  2. Discard unused cards.
  3. Resolve card Benefits.
  4. Purchase cards and Ink.

After your turn, do the following:

  1. Discard your used cards and Ink.
  2. Discard other players' Timeless Classic cards.
  3. Draw your next hand.

Any time before spelling your next word, do the following:

  1. Use Ink and Remover.

1. Spell a Word

Create a word by placing letters from your hand face-up in front of you. Only words found in the dictionary are permitted - though it's up to the players to determine which dictionary to use as a reference.

You can use any number of cards from your hand as "wild" cards by playing them face-down. Each wild card can function as any single letter in your word, but it provides you no other benefit: it provides no Coins or Prestige, and you can't use any of its abilities.

When Timeless Classic cards are in play, you can use your and other players' Timeless Classic cards as letters in your word, too.

Request a Ghost Writer

Struggling to make a word? You can ask for help from other players.

If you request a ghost writer, display your cards for all players to see. Your turn continues normally. If another player suggests a word that you decide to use, that player receives a free Ink token from the general supply (not from your Ink tokens).

Additionally, if your hand included cards with Ink tokens on them from pressing your luck, that player also receives those Ink tokens at the end of your turn, instead of returning them to the general supply as normal.

Writer's Block

If you can't spell a word, you may choose to pass your turn. If you pass, discard your cards and used Ink, then draw your next hand.

2. Discard Unused Cards

If you have cards in your hand that you didn't use to spell your word, place them face-up next to your draw pile to form your discard pile. Each player has their own unique draw and discard piles.

During the game, if you do not have enough cards in your draw pile to draw a new card, simply reshuffle your discard pile to create a new draw pile.

Some card Benefits affect other cards in your discard pile. Because you discard unused cards before resolving Benefits, you can use those effects on unused cards from your hand in the same turn.

3. Resolve Card Benefits

All cards provide Benefits when used face-up from your hand.

Benefits come in the form of Coins, Prestige points, or Abilities. Coins, represented by a circle and the symbol, are the currency of Hardback, used to purchase new cards and Ink.

Prestige points, represented by the ★ symbol, increase your score in order to win the game. Abilities The Benefits listed above the line on a card are Basic Benefits. You gain all the Basic Benefits of a card each time you use the card face-up to spell a word.

alter the state of play in several ways. If you trigger multiple Abilities in a single word, you can resolve those Abilities in any order you choose.

The Benefits listed below the line are Genre Benefits. You only gain Genre Benefits when at least one other card of the same genre is included in your word, or when you have at least one Timeless Classic card of the same genre in-play. See Timeless Classics on page 8 for details.

For example, using this card will always earn 3 Prestige points. If this card is played with one or more other cards from the same Genre, it will earn a total of 5 Prestige points.

4. Purchase New Cards and Ink

You can purchase new cards and Ink with the Coins you earned this turn. The price of each card is indicated in the price tag on the bottom left of the card. Each Ink token costs 1 Coin.

You can purchase any combination of multiple cards and multiple Ink, as long as you have Coins to spend. Unused Coins are lost at the end of your turn, so leftover Coins are often used to purchase Ink.

  1. Purchasing Cards

    To purchase a card, take the card from the Offer Row and place it in your discard pile. Immediately draw a new card from the top of the Offer Deck, and put it in the empty space on the Offer Row to replace the card you purchased.

    If the Offer Deck ever runs out of cards, reshuffle all non-starter cards previously removed from the game and form a new Offer Deck.

  2. Flushing the Offer Row

    In certain situations, you can flush the Offer Row: return all Offer Row cards to the box (removing them from the game), draw seven new cards from the Offer Deck, and place these cards to form a new Offer Row.

    You can only flush the Offer Row once per turn, before you have purchased any cards, and only if:

    • At least four of the cards in the Offer Row cost 6^ or more, or
    • At least four of the cards in the Offer Row are the same genre
  3. Purchasing Ink

    You may purchase Ink tokens at the cost of H each. When you purchase Ink, take the appropriate number of Ink tokens from the general supply and place them in front of you. See Ink on page 11 for a description of how Ink is used.

5. Discard Used Cards and Ink

After scoring your Prestige and purchasing new cards, put all the cards in your word into your discard pile - except Timeless Classic cards.

Remember: cards you didn't use in your word were already discarded, so you'll get a completely new hand for your next turn.

All Ink tokens used to draw additional cards or obtain Coins are returned to the general supply of Ink next to the Prestige tracker.

6. Discard Other Players' Timeless Classic Cards

If you used other players' Timeless Classic Cards in your word, those cards are placed in their owners' discard piles. See Timeless Classics on page 8.

7. Draw your Next Hand

Draw your next hand of five cards.

If you do not have enough cards in your draw pile, shuffle the cards in your discard pile to form a new draw pile, then continue drawing until you have five cards.

Play now proceeds clockwise, with the player on your left taking their turn.

8. Use Ink and Remover

After your turn is complete, you may immediately begin working on your next word, including using any previously obtained Ink or Remover tokens to draw more cards from your deck.

Card and Token Details

Timeless Classics

Timeless Classic cards are cards whose large letter is printed horizontally. They are used like normal cards, with one important difference: if you spell a word using a face-up Timeless

Classic card, the Timeless Classic card stays in play in front of you at the end of your turn. This persistent effect does not apply if you use the Timeless Classic card as a wild.

On subsequent turns after your Timeless Classic card is put into play, you continue to gain the Benefits of the card whether or not you use it in your word. You automatically gain its Basic Benefits. You also gain its Genre Benefits if your word uses another card of its same genre (or you have another in-play Timeless Classic of its genre), just like a normal card.

Your Timeless Classic card stays in play until another player uses it to spell a word, which sends it to your discard pile. Any player can use any Timeless Classic cards that are in play when spelling a word, no matter which player owns the card.

When you use another player's Timeless Classic card, you don't get its Basic Benefits, Genre Benefits, or its genre for triggering other Genre Benefits in your word.

Astute authors will use other players' Timeless Classic cards - even though they don't get the benefits - in order to discard the other players' Timeless Classic cards! You cannot convert an in-play Timeless Classic card into a wild card regardless of the owner.

Card Genres

There are four card Genres represented in Hardback:

Each Genre has its own unique abilities and play style. Abilities can trigger either as Basic Benefits or Genre Benefits, depending on where the ability is listed on the card.


Mystery cards are represented by the magnifying glass icon and blue ribbon. Mystery cards can uncover hidden cards and remove cards from the Offer Row:

  • Uncover Adjacent Wild: Select one face-down card to the immediate left or right of this card and "uncover" it face-up.

    The card still acts as a wild card, but you gain all the Benefits of the card as if you had played it face-up. If neither of the two adjacent cards are face-down, the card's benefit has no effect.

    Play this card to turn one adjacent card face-up and gain its benefits.

  • Jail Offer-Row Card: Select one card from the Offer Row and choose to either remove it from the game or reserve it in your own personal jail near your Player card. Immediately draw a new card from the Offer Deck to replace the jailed card.

    While the card is reserved in your personal jail, you may purchase it, but other players may not. You may have only one card in your personal jail at any given time.

    If there is already a card in your personal jail, you can remove the existing card from the game in order to reserve the new card in your personal jail instead.

    Play this card to jail a card from the Offer Row.


Horror cards are represented by the skull icon and green ribbon. Horror cards terrify other players by providing the only access to Remover and offering Coin and Prestige flexibility:

  • Take Ink or Remover: Take either an Ink or Remover token for free.

    Play this card to gain an Ink or Remover token.

  • Gain Coin or Prestige: Choose whether to take the indicated number of Coins or Prestige points. You must choose to take one or the other; you may not take a portion of each.

    Play this card to gain either 2 Coins or 2 Prestige.


Adventure cards are represented by the compass icon and yellow ribbon. Adventure cards are focused on quick and steady progress towards victory. Adventure cards have two primary abilities:

  • Immediate Prestige: Some Adventure cards provide immediate Prestige points. This benefit applies only once, when you buy the card. Look for the expanded price tag at the bottom-left of the card, with an arrow pointing to a small Prestige star.

    Purchase this card to immediately gain 1 Prestige point.

  • Trash This Card: Some Adventure cards allow you to trash the card in order to gain a Coin or Prestige bonus. You must use the card face-up in your word before trashing the card and gaining the Benefit. If you choose to trash the card, gain the card's Benefits, then return it to the box and remove it from the game.

    Trash this card to gain an additional 2 Coins.


Romance cards are represented by the heart and arrow icon as well as the red ribbon. Romance cards can trash other cards (they are trashy romance novels, after all) and multiply other card Benefits:

  • Trash Another Card: Trash a card from your discard pile to gain 1 Coin. Letters currently in use in your word cannot be trashed by Romance cards. Once trashed, the card is removed from the game.

    Trash a card from the discard to gain 1 Coin.

  • Double Adjacent Card: Select one face-up card to the immediate left or right of this card and double the Coins and Prestige provided by the card.

    If the card provides Coins and Prestige through both Basic and Genre Benefits, you double the total values. If both adjacent cards are face-down, the card has no effect. If two cards with the Double Adjacent Card benefit surround and affect a single card, the card's Coins and Prestige are tripled.

    Play this card to double an adjacent card's Benefits.

Ink and Remover


Ink tokens cost 1 Coin each and can be used in two ways:

  1. One Ink token can be spent to press your luck and draw an additional card. At any time before you Create a Word, even during another player's turn, you can draw additional cards from your draw pile by spending one Ink token per card.

    When you draw a card this way, place it face-up in front of you and place the Ink token you spent on the card. Doing so reminds all players that this card was drawn using Ink.

    You must use all cards with Ink tokens on them in your next word. Cards with Ink tokens on them cannot be turned face-down and made wild.

    Pressing your luck with Ink tokens is the only way to draw additional cards in Hardback.

    If you push your luck too far and can't form a word with all of your cards that are covered by Ink tokens, you must forfeit your turn: discard all your cards (including your additional cards), return all used Ink tokens to the supply, and draw a new hand for your next turn.

  2. Three Ink tokens can be spent to gain one Coin. You can gain one Coin for each group of three Ink spent during the Purchase phase of your turn.


Remover tokens have the unique ability to cancel out an Ink token on an additional card drawn. When you have a card in front of you with an Ink token on it, you can spend a Remover token to discard the card's Ink token and add that card to your hand.

The card is now treated as a normal card: you can choose whether or not to use it in your word and whether or not to make it wild. You can only get Remover tokens by playing certain cards, not by purchasing them.

After you spend a Remover token, return it and the canceled Ink to the general supply.

There is no limit to the number of Ink and Remover tokens you can stockpile during the game; they are not limited by the components included in the box.

End of the Game

When any player reaches at least 60 Prestige, play continues normally until reaching the player to the right of the first player.

In other words, all players should have an equal number of turns by the end of the game.

When the final player completes their turn, the player with the most Prestige is the winner and the finest author of the age! In the case of a tie, the player with the most ink remaining wins the game.

Advice From the Editors

  • Don't worry too much about using all your letters. Any card can be a wild card, and you'll get a fresh hand on your next turn regardless of how many letters you use.

  • Work to specialize in one or two genres so that you have a better chance of drawing multiple cards of the same genre in a single hand.

  • Use your opponents' Timeless Classic cards in your words before their next turn! Even though you don't get their Benefits, it's often worth the effort, because it's the only way to prevent their owners from gaining their ongoing effects.

  • Pressing your luck with Ink is a great way to get more Benefits and buy more powerful cards. But because you have to use all the letters you draw with Ink, be careful how much Ink you use in a single turn.

  • Don't be afraid to accept a Ghost Writer. Ink is plentiful, and besides, even the best writers can improve by collaborating with others.

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