Ex Libris: A game of leather-bound books and the smell of rich mahogany.
PUBLISHER: Renegade Games
DESIGNER: Adam P. McIver
PLAYERS: 1 - 4
TIME: 30 - 60 min
The Bottom Line
In Ex Libris, players will compete to collect rare and valuable books as they send their gnomes to various locations in this incredibly unique worker placement game.
In The Box
Ex Libris includes a variety of standard Gnome and unique character meeples. There are 12 library tiles in the game, each double-sided with a basic starting library and a unique variable special assistant side. There are 152 cards with a variety of the 6 categories on each card. The cards range from A – Z and each letter has a numeric placement value.
4th Wall Break: The starting player token is very basic, a white stone, which is a shame for such an amazingly thematic game.
The rulebook is incredibly well written, with an appendix that refers to every location board in numeric order and the special assistant powers. This allows the game to move quickly and helps answer any rules questions that occur. One of the coolest thematic additions in the game is a “whiteboard” that the “official inspector” uses to track the end game scoring.
The insert is fine, but cards will shift around inside the box, especially if you store it vertically. I did not sleeve the game but judging by the space, it appears that sleeved cards would fit well inside the insert. (HOORAY!)
Worker Placement is easily one of my favorite mechanics in the hobby and when you pair it with a library theme, I am 1000% in! Ex Libris also includes set collection, a little card drafting, and variable player powers. I was extremely excited to check it out, but I was concerned the theme would not hold up as well as I hoped.
Will Ex Libris actively circulate among your games, or will it gather dust like an old copy of War and Peace? Let’s find out!
How To Play
Ex Libris is played over a series of rounds in which players will take turns sending assistants to acquire books for their bookshelves. You will attempt to make sure that your books are in alphabetical order, on stable shelves, with more prominent works than your opponents, as few banned books as possible, a well-rounded variety of categories, and as many of your library’s focus as you can manage.
4th Wall Break: There are 6 categories in the game, with each icon appearing 85 times: Corrupted Codices, Fantastical Fictions, Historic Volumes, Monster Manuals, Reference Texts, and Spells & Potions.
There are 5 ways to score points in Ex Libris: Alphabetical Order, Shelf Stability, Prominent Works, Categorical Variety, and Library Focus. You will lose 1 point for every Banned Book in your library.
Each round of Ex Libris consists of four phases, which are always carried out in the following order:
I: The Preparation Phase
II: The Placement Phase
III: The Resolution Phase
IV: The Cleanup Phase
At the beginning of each round, the first player reveals location tiles from the stack and places them face up below the town board until there is one tile per player. Next, check to see if any of the face-up locations have preparation instructions in their upper right corner — these will tell you a specific number of cards to deal onto the card area on the right side of the tile.
Starting with the first player and going clockwise, players take turns placing one assistant at a time. On your turn, place one of your available assistants on an unoccupied space:
1. On a location tile (on or below the town board) -or-
2. On your library tile
When players have no more assistants to place, the Resolution Phase begins. During this phase you will resolve all locations in numerical order, beginning with the Diviner’s Hut. To resolve a location, follow these steps:
- If the location has a Delayed Effect, activate it now by following the effect summary text on the tile.
- Discard any cards that remain on the location.
- Return all assistants on the location to their players.
After all locations have been resolved, check to see which of the tiles below the town board is first in numerical order, then move it onto the bottom half of the town board, in the section labeled Permanent Locations. It will be available each subsequent round until the end of the game. Discard the remaining location tiles. Lastly, check to see if one or more players have the required number of shelved cards in their bookshelf to trigger the Final Round. This number varies based on player count: 2 Players - 16 cards, 3 Players - 14 cards, 4 Players - 12 cards. If the Final Round has not been triggered, begin a new round with the Preparation Phase.
How to Shelve Cards
In order to add books to your bookshelf, you will be shelving cards. Regardless of the source, you must always follow these two basic rules when shelving a card:
- A new book card MUST be shelved orthogonally adjacent to a previously shelved card. Diagonally is not allowed.
- Your bookshelf may NEVER be more than THREE horizontal rows tall.
4th Wall Break: Library books will need to be placed alphabetically and numerically in order to score points at the end of the game. After all, this IS a library and any good librarian follows the dewey decimal system.
Final Round & Scoring
If the Final Round has been triggered, begin a new round as normal, but this will be the last round of the game. After the Resolution Phase, the player with the best handwriting is appointed the Mayor’s Official Inspector. Following the steps below, each player will score or lose points.
You will earn a bonus at the end of the game for the largest rectangular group of cards in your bookshelf that includes cards on your bottom row. Every card in that rectangular group will earn you 1 point. A rectangle must be at least two cards tall and two cards wide to qualify.
The players who have the most books that match the Prominent Works category at the end of the game will receive awards. First place earns 15 points, second place earns 9 points, and third place earns 4 points.
When the game ends, you earn 3 points for every book in your bookshelf of the category which you have the least of. Banned Books are not considered when assessing Categorical Variety
At the end of the game, you will reveal your category card and earn 2 points for every book in your bookshelf that matches that category, which is your library’s focus.
The Official Inspector will penalize you at the end of the game for having Banned Books in your bookshelf. Every book of this category will cause you to LOSE 1 point.
The player with the highest score wins!
Positives and Negatives
- The unique theme, setting and beautiful art blends seamlessly with worker placement and set collection mechanics.
- Surprising amount of Player Interaction and a variety of ways to earn points.
- The solitaire mode is one of the best I’ve played.
- Ability to play with or without character powers allows you to cater the game to the experience level of your group.
- Locations allow you to sculpt your book draws and build a library that fits your plan. It’s a great way to minimize random card draws and allows players to feel like they are in control.
- Fun and interactive locations provide a lot of variety in gameplay.
- Location text is awkwardly placed and at times difficult to read.
- First player token is lame.
- Game feels too open with 4 players. On the flip side, you see more locations than with 2 or 3 players.
- Analysis Paralysis players will be tormented. The slightest mistake in placing a book can ruin your library later. However, there are locations that allow you to discard or shift your books around but this means that AP prone players will want to maximize every turn.
- Has a large table presence, especially as player libraries grow.
Ex Libris has a surprising amount of player interaction and is one of the few games that I prefer with lower player counts. The variable locations add a lot of strategic depth to the game and utilizing your workers to gather and shelve books is richly satisfying. There are a few flaws in the game, but nothing that detracts from the "fun factor." Overall, Ex Libris offers one of 2017's most thematic experiences, and collecting and building a library has never been more fun!
You will like this game if: you enjoy worker placement, set collection, and variable player powers. You will love it if you enjoy books and/or libraries, Gnomes and having many leather-bound books and a library that smells of rich mahogany.
I give Ex Libris 4 Spells & Potions out of 5.
A quick note on my rating scale:
5: This game is nearly perfect in every way and the Positives far outweigh any Negatives.
4: This game is outstanding and the Positives outweigh the Negatives.
3: This game is fun but feels average and the Positives and Negatives are nearly equal.
2: This game falls below average and the Negatives outweigh the Positives.
1: This game is bad and the Negatives far outweigh any Positives.