Ex Libris Review by Renegade Game Studios

Theme and What is it?

“The Mayor has just announced a new seat in the Village Council, that of Grand Librarian. The prestigious (and lucrative) position will be awarded to the citizen with the most extraordinary library.” All of you book geeks out there, give it a shot!

Ex Libris is a strategy card game where players compete to build the best library according to a number of different criteria, ranging from alphabetical order to shelf stability and book variety. Well, it’s finally time to reap the rewards of all those hours spent every day in the library as school kids!

In a fantasy setting populated by gnomes, fire imps, gelatinous cubes and sasquatches, we will send our assistants to the weirdest locations to collect books for us. We will then shelve those tomes trying to meet the requirements listed in the Official Inspection Form of the Mayor in order to gain as many points as possible.

Whether you love fantastical fictions or you’re totally into historic volumes, Ex Libris is definitely your thing. And never mind if you don’t like reading at all: this game will win you over with its great illustrations, smooth gameplay and the funniest book titles you’ll ever see.

Gameplay Mechanics

Ex Libris plays over rounds, and each round consists of 4 phases.

(1)    Preparation Phase: First player reveals new location tiles which can be visited from now on, expanding the board.

(2)    Placement Phase: One at a time, players place their assistants (standard or special) on any free space either on the common location tiles or their library tile and activate immediately the tile’s Instant Effect, if it has any. Then, if a shelving space was chosen, players shelve their cards in their library trying to match the criteria set at the beginning of the game (most books matching the Prominent Work category, for example, or stability of the shelf).

(3)    Resolution Phase: Players activate any Delayed Effect tiles might have, then collect all their assistants.

(4)    Cleanup Phase: Players discard the location tile with the lowest number for this round and check if anybody reached the required number of book cards in their library to trigger the Final Round. If that’s not the case, start a new round.


I know what you’re thinking. No, shelving books is not boring. And no, it’s not just another “place-the-assistants-draft-the-cards” game! There’s definitely a lot more to it.

Initial Impressions

Being a real books geek, Ex Libris attracted me like a bee to a flower. I was so curious to see how my two biggest passions – reading and playing board games – could blend in one single great experience.

The game looks like a mix of pretty much everything. A bit of Hogwarts’s school life here, a bit of the Lord of the Rings world there. Spell & Potions Books on one side, people with pointed ears on the other. And mummies, golems, wizards, ghosts and witches. “What a mess!” That’s what I thought when I first saw the game. A huge cauldron full of anything and everything… that becomes nothing. Oh, how I was wrong!

First off, it’s not a mess at all. Creatures, locations, mechanics, graphics… everything fits so well in the Ex Libris world.

Secondly, don’t get discouraged by the theme. Yes, there are literally tons of books, but you don’t have to read them all. And I swear the funny titles will make you wish the library you’re building really existed.

And last but not least, forget books and wizards for a second: Ex Libris is a well-rounded strategy game. A lot of planning ahead and redirecting your actions when things go wrong and your opponents just seem to know exactly which books you need to collect. 

Game Build Quality

Materials are great. Full stop.

A big square box with a shiny cover and the game title written in raised calligraphy; 12 gnome-shaped wooden meeples and 12 unique meeples representing your special assistants; 152 Book Cards with 510 different book titles; 30 thick and super colorful big tiles; 1 horizontal foldable board (it could actually be smaller for what it does, but I’m glad it’s not!); a pre-shaped plastic insert where everything fits just perfectly (even if you sleeve all cards).

The best thing you will find in the box is the Library Inspection Form. Unlike other scoreboards, you will not need to make copies: you can write directly on the form with the provided black marker and then rub the scores away! All games should definitely have a scoreboard like this one!

Artistic Direction

Artwork is one of the best and most clever I’ve ever seen. Starting from the gorgeous box and going on to the beautiful illustrations on the location and library tiles. Colorful and rich, but functional.

The rulebook is extremely clear, full of images and examples.

And now… It’s time to spend a few words on the Book Cards. They are by far the best part of this game. Each card contains 2 to 4 unique books in 6 different colors, according to their category. On the top of the card, symbols cleverly remind you which category the books belong to. Every single book has a funny title which clearly recalls a movie title, other famous books, hilarious linguistic expressions and such. Who would not want to read “The Homebrewer’s Guide to Cooking Concoctions”? Or “Eat, Prey, Lovecraft”? And what about “Mystery, She Wrote”? Or “Gorgon with the Wind”? Maybe you should read “Spells That Don’t Work So Well” before trying one! Reading through these titles is funny and gives you the idea of the great job the author and illustrators did.

Fun Factor

Ex Libris is both amusing and frustrating. As I said, the book titles are hilarious, but players will find that the gameplay is also fun, since it allows you to steal books from your opponents’ hand, for example, or to occupy a location they desperately need. But if that opponent is you, it’s not funny at all.

You don’t need to be books geeks to be satisfied with the game: just let your imagination fly. 

Age Range & Weight

The age range for Ex Libris is 10+ and I totally agree with it. The rules are easy to learn and kids won’t have problems understanding what they have to do. Probably their strategy won’t be perfect, but they will have a great time trying to arrange their books on the shelves and sending their assistants to the Mystery Shack or the Garbage Dump to collect books! The rulebook introduces also a “Beginner Game” mode and a “Friendlier Game” mode, conceived especially if you play with younger players.

Ex Libris is not a heavy game at all. It keeps you concentrated on your strategy and demands planning ahead, but I would definitely say it’s an easygoing game. For a more difficult challenge, hard gamers could also try the “Solo Mode”, in which they compete against themselves to get their library approved.

Average game time is 45 to 75 minutes according to the number of players. Not too bad to build a whole new library from scratch!

Conclusions

It is crazy how much I love this game. I just can’t stop bringing it to the table.

Not too long, but it provides a really thorough game experience. Many different mechanics blend perfectly, time flies and the game will be over before you know it… and before you manage to build a decent library! Ouch!

Replayablity is given by the many special assistants and the numerous location tiles, all with different abilities and effects. It will take you a while before you try out all possible combinations.

Gameplay is smooth. Artwork is marvelous. Materials are functional. Rules are easy and clear.

I believe Renegade Game Studios really hit the target with this title. Two of my favorite board games of all times are published by Renegade Game Studios and more of their games coming out in the next future definitely arouse my curiosity. I will stay tuned.

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