This week's review is a relatively new release by Fantasy Flights - Ex Libris. This was yet another splurg during a trip to our LGS a couple of weeks ago. As Cody and I both love to read - comics and other, we instantly fell in love with the theme - creating/building the best library possible and in a mystical world none the less.
Ex Libris is your typical worker placement game, but with a new theme - building an epic library. You are the librarian in charge of a magical library and your goal is to send your assistance (meeples) out into the village to gather books. But be warned, being the best librarian isn't always easy, your rival librarians are trying to make the best library too. Collecting the same book types as you, they may even give you a banned book or two to try and lower your score. Think this is tricky, but wait, if your books aren't in alphabetical order at the end of the game then they don't count - but hey, at least you don't have to learn the Dewey decimal system!
Where does each library begin? With a librarian and their love of books of course! Each player picks a unique librarian/tile and collects the appropriate meeples, including two assistant meeples and one specialty meeple specific to your librarian/power. With a plethora of abilities it seems like the possibilities are endless, whether your librarian gives you the power to reorder your bookshelves (Cody's favourite) or block other players from placing workers on the same tile as you. Next you build the board, each round new village tiles with special abilities will be placed that allow you to pick up books, shelve books, mess with another player or discard books you may not want. At the end of each round, once all players have placed their meeples, the village tiles are resolved and then they are all removed with the except of the lowest one. The game keeps going until one player has completed their library (placed down a certain number of book cards - depending on the number of players).
Well... this game was a big hit for us. It takes a standard worker placement theme, our love of books, and made us want to play more. While the mechanics were simple enough to learn, what we liked were the twists on common mechanics. We have a number of worker placement games, and a number of them that use meeples and cards, but none quite like this - building shelves with the cards and making it trickier by only scoring the cards that are in alphabetical order is new to us and thematically great. Don't worry, for those of you who aren't great with your alphabet, each card had a codex with the alphabet and the number of cards for each letter to allow you to plan a little more. I will, however; say that just like in real life building a library can be a big endeavor and take up a lot of space. Trying to play this game on our coffee table was tricky, and because of our limited space, playing a four player was nearly impossible. The winning player will lay at least 12 cards (depending on the number of players) in a 3 card by xx cards grid - it is a lot of space with the other players having a similar setup! This might have been remedied by making the cards a little smaller, but instead they are full sized cards. While the full sized cards allowed the game creator to come up with fun and whimsical book tiles on each card (which we love!!), it also means that if we are going to be playing this game more and more it might be time to invest in one of those board game tables we keep drooling over.
Other than the cards, I found a couple other draw backs with the game. One being the powers. While there are a plethora of librarian cards, each with their own powers (and cool meeples) I think that we may have some house rules in the future involving which ones we can play with. The couple of times that we have played, it seems that the powers aren't very equal. While some of them are amazing, others left me with a dissatisfying feeling that had I got a better character or my opponent a worse character the game would have been very different. Secondly, the number of players. While playing with more people requires more space than we have right now, it also made the game feel a bit more clunky. When we played with four players it just didn't have the same flow. While this may have been an effect of how/when the tiles were placed and which ones were kept - I found that in our four player game the village tiles didn't allow for as many options and that it got a bit frustrating and players were often playing their meeples on their home card instead of into the village tiles. Now it may have just been the luck of the draw or it could be that the game isn't as smooth with four players. If you have played this game in a big group we would love to know your opinion.
Now I may sound a little like a negative Nancy but this was definitely a great game that will be getting more action on the table.
Difficulty to understand: 2/10
Cody Frustration: 1/10
Difficulty to understand: 2/10
Cody Frustration: 1/10
Analysis paralysis: 5/10 (which shelve to I put down? where should I place my meeples? We had one game where we entered the last round and I had maybe 6 shelves down and about 25 cards in my hand...)
The winner of our two player game was Cody by a landslide!!! AP definitely got the best of me, but with fun mechanics and themes, and clever book tiles this game is definitely one we are proud to have in our collection.