Game Review – Ex Libris

IMG_0200.jpegThe Mayor has just announced a brand new position, the Grand Librarian, for the Village Council. Anyone who lives in the town can apply for the position by showing off their library to the mayor. The competition will be fierce between the town’s librarians as they acquire more books through auctions, private booksellers, and even digging through garbage. An extraordinary library isn’t just based off of the number of books in a collection, but also based on variety, organization, quality, and overall appearance when it’s presented. Get your shushing hand ready and see if your dream of becoming the Grand Librarian will come true in Ex Libris!

Designer: Adam P. McIver
Artist: Jacqui Davis, Adam P. McIver, Anita Osburn
Renegade Game Studios
Genre: Worker Placement, Set Collection
Players: 2-4
Play Time: 60 Minutes
Number of Logged Plays: 4

Buy it on Amazon via He said, She Said Games

Skip ahead to find out:
Game Overview
Game Play
What He Said
What She Said
Our Pros and Cons
The Verdict

Game Overview

IMG_5027Ex Libris is a worker placement game where players send assistants to different locations to acquire new books and add them to their library. Players will select one of the twelve libraries, each with a unique power and special assistant meeple. Each librarian has a special ability that will help them get a leg up over the competition when it comes to acquiring new books or even taking books out of other player’s hands. Players will gather books and add them to their display for the Mayor to see. The only limitation is that libraries can only have at most three rows of cards. The player with the best-displayed collection will fulfill their dreams and become the Grand Librarian of the town!

Game Play

IMG_5033Each round of Ex Libris has the following phases:

  1. Preparation Phase
    • At the beginning of each round, reveal a number of new locations equal to the number of players. Draw cards for any locations that requires, dealt face up unless stated otherwise.
  2. Placement Phase
    • During this phase, players take turns placing one assistant on an unoccupied space on a location or in their own library. There are two types of locations that assistants can visit: instant (green border) and delayed (orange border). When a player visits an instant location, they perform that action immediately. If they visit a delayed location, they perform the action in the next phase.
    • A player’s library location allows them to draw a card or shelve a card. When a card is shelved, it is added to the display shown to the Mayor for judging.
  3. Resolution Phase
    • Once all workers have been placed, this phase will begin. Locations are resolved in numerical order starting with the Diviner’s Hut (1). Each step of resolving a location is listed below:
      • If the location has a delayed effect, perform the action now.
      • Discard any cards that are left on the location.
      • Return any assistants on the location back to their owner.
  4. IMG_5035Cleanup Phase
    • The location with the lowest number will now be moved to the Permanent Locations section of the board. This location will now be available every round and does not count against the location count in the preparation phase. The remaining tiles are placed in the discard pile.
    • Lastly, players get their assistants back from their own library and each player’s library is checked to see if the final round is triggered. The final round is triggered if any player has the required number of shelved cards. This number will vary based on the number of players.

IMG_5204Libraries are scored based on the following criteria:

  • Alphabetical Order
    • Any cards that aren’t in alphabetical order will be flipped over and none of the books on it will count toward the final score. The card is still included in stability bonuses.
  • Shelf Stability
    • Each player will count their largest rectangular group of cards in their collection. Every card in this group will award the player with one point.
  • IMG_4970Prominent Works Awards
    • At the beginning of the game, a Prominent Works category is drawn. Players are awarded points based on the quantity of prominent works that they have.
  • Banned Books Penalties
    • Similar to Prominent Works, a category is drawn that players should avoid as much as possible. Players lose one point for each banned book in their collection.
  • Variety
    • Each player gets points for the category they have the least amount of books in (doesn’t count the banned book category). They receive three points for each of those books.
  • Library Focus
    • Players receive a category of books that is their focus for the game. They will receive two points for each book that matches their focus category.

The scores are tallied up on the nice dry erase board provided with the game. The player with the most points becomes the Grand Librarian!

He Said

I’m not really the kind of person that reads very many books, so when Mandee pitched that we should get Ex Libris I was a little skeptical. Once I saw the artwork of the game and that it was being published by Renegade Games I was sold. Over the past year, we’ve added a good amount of games published by Renegade Games and we’ve enjoyed all of them. There’s always a lot of attention to the small details and it really shows in Ex Libris where all 510 books in the game have unique names.

I’ve really enjoyed the artwork in games that are published by Renegade Games and it’s no different in Ex Libris with beautifully illustrated location cards and libraries. Each library that players choose from has their own uniquely shaped meeple. This includes the gelatinous cube, which I thought was a component that was going to be used somewhere else in the game because it was just a green transparent cube. Each of the locations has a lot of artwork on them with fun little details like the people trying on items at the Rummage Sale or the Gambling Den that has someone getting caught cheating with a card in his beard. The other thing that is really awesome is that the game comes with fancy “Offical Library Inspection Form” scoreboard and a dry erase marker to fill it out with. I thought this was really nice and I preferred this kind of reusable scoreboard over standard score pads that most other games provide.

The one thing you will notice about the locations is the text being really difficult to read unless you pick it up and bring it closer. I think the idea may have been to have small text size so you can see the artwork, which I appreciate, but I don’t think it’s a good trade-off. Whenever new locations are revealed we’ve always had to read them out loud and then have each player read it themselves too. This slowed the game down quite a bit as each player had to read every location. This wouldn’t be too big of a problem once you’re more familiar with the locations, but the initial process of learning the location is difficult with the small text.

IMG_5041To Shelve or Not to Shelve
The set collection aspect of Ex Libris is what differentiates it from other worker-placement games. Deciding when and what books to shelve is pretty important, especially when you start to add new rows. With the stability bonus always in play, you’ll have to decide how wide you want to make your rows to get as many points as you can. This is easier said than done because you’ll be fairly limited to how you can expand your shelves width once you have three rows setup.  You always do have the option to place cards that don’t go in order just to gain some points for stability, but doing that kind of wastes the card because the books on that card won’t count toward any scoring. I did find that in the last couple of rounds, if I already had my collection mostly setup, I could do this just to grab a couple extra points because no other moves would give me points.

There are also some locations that allow you to shift around cards in your library as well, which can help a lot with keeping books in alphabetical and numerical order. Players will have to be careful about relying on this card though because there’s a chance that it may only be available for one round.

The reason for this is because of the way locations become permanent and available for the rest of the game. I thought it was a pretty unique mechanic to always make the lowest numbered location every round available for the rest of the game. This helps to make each game feel different and forces players to adjust their strategies on what’s available. With all of that said, there are a lot of decisions for players to make each round, but it never feels overwhelming because the game slowly builds on itself. By the end of the game, you might have 6-8 different locations to implement your strategies.

IMG_5042Fantasy Library
Most of the games we played were somewhat close, but it always felt like the person who had the largest collection usually won. In one game that we played, our friend who used the Trash Golem library had an enormous collection because they were able to collect and shelve one card from every location that had any cards on them at the end of the round. Near the end of the game, we had four or five tiles that had cards on them so he was potentially able to collect and shelve four or five extra cards every round if we didn’t clear out the location. So by the end of the game, his collection had significantly more cards than ours and he blew us out of the water. Other than that game, the size of everyone’s libraries have always been pretty much the same or differed by one or two cards.

I really like the way the scoring is handled in the game. It rewards you for having a well-rounded library and not just going all in on just your focus. You have to diversify your collection and that variety bonus can result in a lot of points if you had a fairly equal amount of categories in your collection.

Final Thoughts
Overall, I’ve enjoyed playing Ex Libris. The theme of being a librarian and putting together a collection of books works very well. The artwork really draws you into the game and the uniquely named books give players something to look at when it’s not their turn. The game also isn’t too difficult to pick up and play because the main thing you’re focusing on is acquiring cards and deciding which ones to add to your collection. There’s a lot of decisions to make on how you’ll arrange your collection and if its worth it to make due with what you have or if you should wait until you draw the one card you’re looking for.

The only major issue I had with the game was the text size on the locations being too small for the whole table to see. I’d suggest printing out reference sheets for the locations so the players don’t have to crane over the table to see what the locations say. Eventually, once you become familiar with the locations it won’t be too big of a deal, but it can be off-putting for new players.

I would recommend this game to anyone who enjoys worker placement game. Ex Libris has a fun theme and adds a twist to the worker placement formula rather than just going to a spot and collecting resources. There’s also a lot of variability with the setup with the twelve library options and the randomly drawn locations ensure each game feels unique.

She Said

IMG_5043I’ve always loved reading and collecting books. So when my passion for board games is able to be blended into my passion for books, that’s really exciting. In another great game from Renegade Game Studios, Ex Libris manages to incorporate an incredibly strong theme into a well-balanced, highly-replayable, worker-placement game. In fact, Ex Libris is even the name of a book by one of my favorite authors, Anne Fadiman. So bonus points to the designer for having good taste!

Oh, Booooook!
As anyone who has read my reviews before knows, I love a strong theme, and Ex Libris delivers on the theme front. The first thing that ties this game so strongly to the theme is its components. Each book card has unique titles for the various books you can add to your library. Reading each of the titles was one of my favorite things to do while playing. The amount of time that must have taken, and to have them all be so clever, is really impressive. I have to give major props to the game designer for managing to think of so many unique and creative titles. Some of my favorites include “Spoopiest Spooks,” “Cucumbers: The Vicious Vegetable”, and “Bronian the Brobarian.” In addition, each book card features different categories of books, all nicely displayed and easily distinguishable.

IMG_5200The second thing that ties this game so strongly to the theme is the gameplay itself. Every action you take with your workers matters and makes a lot of sense with the theme. You are acting as a book collector looking to impress the town’s mayor with the best library to become the Grand Librarian. The game requires you to sort books much like a real-life library would – by the alphabet and by numbers. This is extra challenging when you just can’t get the card you need to make your shelf more stable and complete. In order to acquire new cards, players use workers at various locations that are randomized.

And if you manage to place one book incorrectly, you better hope a location comes out that lets you swap books in your library. My downfall in this game is that I’m a perfectionist, so I’m incapable of shelving a book unless I know it’ll fit. I don’t like flipping cards over to make my shelf more stable.

IMG_4967I’ve Got Shelves,  They’re Multiplying
Another important element of a board game is how replayable it is, and Ex Libris definitely checks that box. With randomized locations, over 12 different libraries and special assistants, and six different book categories the replayability of this game is very high. Every game we played felt unique because you get to use different special assistants’ abilities and you end up specializing in a different book category each game. Eventually, you will end up repeating a categorical focus since there are only six, but when combined with all other elements, the replayability is still very high in the game.

As I said, the special assistants probably bring the most replayability to the game. Some assistants are more powerful than others. For example, the Trash Golem is far more powerful and well-rounded than say the Ghost. When I played as the Ghost, I ended up using the power once because there was usually always a spot open when I needed it in a three-player game. The Ghost would probably be more powerful in a four-player game. I also played as the Witch, which added a different element to my strategy. My goal became acquiring cards from locations because then I would have the option to select a new card from the deck if I selected one with the banned book category. That being said, all of the assistants bring a lot of variety to the game and keep it fresh.

Dewey Decimate the Competition
Often in worker placement games, you can have a runaway leader problem. Although this did happen a bit in Ex Libris, the game tries to compensate for that by allowing everyone one more round once someone reaches the max number of cards in their library. I still find the game very well-balanced despite the potential for a runaway leader. There is ample opportunity for every player to draw cards and shelve cards, meaning everyone has an equal chance to become the leader.

IMG_5201What potentially causes the runaway leader problem is if someone managed to get lucky with acquiring cards. If you can’t get the cards you need to properly alphabetize your library, there’s not a lot you can do about it. If one player ends up with a nicely alphabetized and stable library and also manages to get the most of each category, they’re going to win and probably by a lot. I don’t necessarily like luck elements in games, but I think there often ends up being some of it in any game, especially card games. It’s so minimal in Ex Libris that it’s really not an issue for me though.

The other part that I enjoy most about the game is that it has zero mean or take-that elements to it, meaning you can’t mess with another person’s library or make someone lose cards. It would have been very easy to go that route and I’m glad the game designers refrained from adding these elements. It makes the game well-balanced and family-friendly. And these types of games tend to not appeal to me.

IMG_5025Final Thoughts
Overall, I really enjoyed Ex Libris. With the clever book titles on each of the cards, the great artwork on the location tiles, and the nice wooden meeples, all the components of this game work together and make it a game worth purchasing. When you add the interesting and fun gameplay, you’ve got a winner on your hands. Although it’s a simple worker placement and set collection game, it feels unique – something that’s hard to accomplish with all the options out there for different board games. I would highly recommend Ex Libris for anyone looking to get into the board game hobby and even for those who’ve been playing for years. This game delivers a unique and interesting experience unlike one I’ve ever had.

Pros and Cons

– Unique theme
– Simple and easy-to-play
– Great components
– Lots of replayability
– Special assistants add a lot of variety to game
– Uniqueness of each library card
– Great artwork
– Unique game mechanic with permanent and temporary locations

– Text is too small on location tiles
– Could have potential runaway leader problem

The Verdict

He gives this game out of 8.5 Prominent Works out of 10.

She gives this game 9 Fantastical Fictions out of 10.

Buy it on Amazon via He said, She Said Games

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