Shhh! Ex Libris Review

Ex Libris is a new game (2017) that pits you as competing librarians arranging books.  What could be easier, right?  It’s actually a fairly involved game with a lot of intrigue and fun.  It’s yet another good game if you’ve got the time, quick enough for a warmup but involved enough to play repeatedly over a night.  It’s deeper than Splendor but a game about books can only go so far, so there are more epic conquest games to play for your main event, unless librarians are your thing.

Overall feeling

You arrange books and slide books around.  This game hits the mark for that concept by being a fairly simple concept that you can understand and compete with your friends on, but enough tricks and such to give it some depth.  With the cards you draw, there’s a mix of luck and skill, and a learning curve that comes with knowing the game and some of the different buildings you can occupy.  You also get to build something, a shelf of books that is as wide as you can make it in the allotted time.  It’s a game of skill and knowledge and luck and getting that card that perfectly fits what you’re trying to build.  The buildings I mentioned are what take it from the super simple game for the family to more of a strategic gamer’s game.  Learning to optimize the use of the buildings, and some of the “special assistants” included in the game, is a little more involved than your average family game but it’s not quite a super-involved game that will dominate your game night, unless you want it to.

Setup highlights

This is a fairly simple one.  You shuffle some cards and some tiles.  Part of the game involves deciding who goes first and whoever goes last gets first choice of special assistants.  The books come in different categories and each player gets a secret category s/he will pursue, plus there’s a main category selected each game that all the players will compete for, and one “banned book” category that scores negative points.  I’m glossing over some aspects of the setup but fortunately there isn’t a ton to it.

Theme and components

Not a lot going on here, but what is done, is done well.  Not much way in the way of components, just some wooden meeple for the special assistants.  Otherwise, it’s just cards and tiles.  The artwork is very good, but there’s only so much captivating art you can create around book shelves.  The art on the building tiles is solid but there’s not enough going on to create a world and draw you into it like some other games.  It’s all done well enough, it’s just not a game heavy on components.

Interesting mechanics and game play

Mechanics and game play are almost the whole thing with this game, as I just mentioned how components really are not.  This could easily be a bad game where you’re just sliding books around but the exact mechanics of how you can do that are what makes the game a good, interesting game.  You obviously alphabetize your books, and you set them over 3 shelves total.  You can put books out of order.  They won’t score you any points but they can give your 3-shelf structure integrity and let you make it wider, part of scoring at the end of the game.  The key to the game is how you occupy and utilize the buildings in the middle, which any player can use but have limited spaces to occupy.  There are buildings that allow you draw cards, other that allow you shelve cards, some that involve both, or exchange books, or work cooperatively with the other players to distribute new cards to everyone.

As mentioned earlier, these buildings are what take it from a super simple, family type of game to a more strategic gamer’s type of game.  Part of how you deploy your resources includes taking first player for the next round, which sets you up to have first choice of the buildings.  Figuring out how and when to go first, and for which buildings, is something you’d learn over time.

Do-Something Ability

You will build a nice shelf of nice books, basically a nice library of your own.  Nice, right?  It’s fun to see your little shelf of books come together, with a shelf structure and a number of categories you’re trying to balance.  You can get excited about what you’ve created as the end game approaches, even if you end up coming up short on the score.

Replay Ability

Medium.  It falls just short of being addictive, but it’s fairly fast, and very fun, and the mechanics are easy enough to grasp and replay.  We did replay it once in our session, and definitely had fun in both sessions.  I would have played it a third time but my own preference was to start something new.  I would definitely play it again in another session, probably as a one-game warmup.

Verdict

A very good game.  It’s quick enough to play as an appetizer, but strategic enough to play multiple times as the main course, too.  I don’t mean to shortchange it but I can’t sit here and write that every new game is the best ever and all that.  As far as main courses go, there are meatier games, but it still satisfies.

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