I love books. Books make me happy. The feel of the paper as you turn the pages. The new book smell. The tap of your finger on the screen as you go to the next page…
Anyway, books are awesome. I can only imagine what it was like back in the Middle Ages, where many libraries were maintained at monasteries and each one faced off against other monasteries for access to the best books. They would compete in the annual “Race for the Best Books 1236,” or vow revenge when “Race for the Best Books 1237” rolled around next year.
Or, you know, they could just play cards for it.
Because that’s what you’re doing in the brilliant game called Biblios, published by Dr. Finn’s Games and Iello. Designed by Steve Finn with wonderful art by Finn and David Palumbo, this fairly quick card game has some interesting mechanics that make it feel a lot deeper than a “filler” card game should.
Players of Biblios are trying to create the best library of books by holding the highest total points in cards of different colours in their hands at the end of the game. The point value of each colour is shown by placing dice on a pad (I guarantee you that somebody’s going to try and roll these dice at some point). The value starts at three but can be adjusted during the game.
There are definitely some similarities to the more recent Herbaceous, with the “choose cards and distribute without knowing what the next card will be” mechanic.
In Biblios, the first phase of the game is card distribution, called the “Gift Phase”. You will be drawing cards equal to the number of players plus one. For each card, you will look at it and decide whether you want to keep it, put it out for the others to take, or put it into the auction pile that will be auctioned off after all of the cards are distributed.
As in Herbaceous, you have to decide before you see the next card. So maybe you want the card in your hand but something else even better might come up. Do you take it and risk that happening? Or do you put it in the auction pile, or even up for the other players to grab and risk there not being another good card for you?
Once all of the cards have been distributed, the other players in turn order get to choose one of the cards that was put in the middle of the table for their own hands.
Each player in turn will do this until the draw pile is empty.
After that, your hand may look like this.
Some cards are books/colours that you are collecting and some cards are gold, which you will use in the auction phase to buy other cards.
After the draw pile is empty, the Auction Phase begins. The auction pile is shuffled and then, in turn order, the top card is flipped. The player who flipped it gets to bid first, and bidding goes around the table until everybody else has passed.
If you’re bidding on a Book card, then you will be bidding with the Gold cards that are in your hand. You can’t make change, though, so if you only have Gold cards of value 3 and you bid 2, you have to discard a 3 Gold card.
Gold cards can also be in the auction pile. If one of those comes up, you bid how many cards you’re willing to discard to get that gold. So you can perhaps replenish the gold that you’ve spent.
You can always bluff and bid higher than the amount of Gold you have, but there are consequences if you do and win the bid. So don’t do it unless you’re sure.
There are other cards, called “Church” cards, that must be played as soon as they are taken by a player, whether they are in the Gift Phase or the Auction Phase. These cards allow you to adjust at least one of the dice that are determining how many points each colour is worth. The cards above let you increase one die by one point. Some let you decrease a die by one point, or choose up or down. One lets you adjust two dice.
Let’s say you’re intent on winning the brown category. You probably want that category to be worth more points! Unless you’re trying to let your wife win…
So you change that die from a 3 to a 4 and now the winner of that category gets 4 points. Then you discard the Church card.
Once all of the cards are auctioned, players total up the total value of each colour they have in their hand. Whoever has the most in that category gets the number of points indicated on the die (I’ll just repost that picture from above)
Whoever wins Brown gets 5 points, Blue gets 2 points, etc…
Total up the number of points and you have a winner!
Is Biblios a great collection of historical books or a collection of Janet Evanovich novels?
This is a game that I bought on a whim. It sounded interesting and I requested it in a Math Trade, but didn’t get it. So I decided to just buy it.
And I am so glad I did.
Yes, the theme is totally pasted on (though it may feel more realistic if you shave your hair like the monks did), but it doesn’t matter. It’s a set collection game with a twist, in that nobody knows how much your sets are going to be worth until the end. You can try to make the sets you’re collecting worth more, but if the other players are paying attention, they’ll try to get a Church card or two to bring your colour right back down.
The art is marvelous in this game, very evocative. The cards are well-made (I just sleeve them out of habit and because even the best cards may get cruddy after a lot of use. The dice are solid and chunky (which makes it a shame that you can’t roll them).
Even better, it’s a game that’s highly portable. It doesn’t take up much room, and if you’re traveling you can make it take up even less. You don’t really need the board and the dice if you don’t have room. Just record the values on a piece of paper.
Like I said in my Herbaceous review, I love the distribution mechanic that these two games use. The decision of which cards to keep when you don’t know what’s coming up can be pretty tense. You also need to keep in mind that you have to have cards that you can slough off to buy gold in the Auction Phase too. Sure, you may not be collecting Orange, but those Orange cards are great discards when that 3-value Gold card comes up during the auction.
Nothing hurts more, though, when you’ve chosen a card and put one in the Auction pile and then you flip the next one and it’s a 3-gold card. You’re just handing that gold to one of your opponents!
The game can be finished in 20-30 minutes, which makes it an ideal ice-breaker or end-of-the-night game for your regular game night. It plays 2-4 players, and it works at any of those counts. It just feels a bit different with 2, because you’re basically handing a card to them during the Gift Phase rather than having multiple players choose.
(I advise against bluffing in a 2-player game unless you’re really sure they want that card desperately, as I found out from bad experience).
I highly recommend Biblios and suggest that you buy it immediately.
Ok, go read the rest of my blog first, but then go buy it.
You’ll be very happy you did.
(Review written after 5 plays)