Biblios, designed by Steve Finn and published by IELLO, for 2-4 players, is a hand-management/auction/trick-taking card game... with some dice, a teeny-tiny game board and some Monks!
For me, games fall into three distinct time-categories :
- Killers - Block out your diary, get the food and beers in, turn off your phone, you’re in for the long-haul.
- Chillers – You are willingly gifting the Game-Gods an evening of your time.
- Fillers – Played as you wait for your nail-varnish to dry!
Biblios falls firmly into the filler category. So…shave your head, don your habit and let’s all go live in a monastery for half an hour…
There is not a lot in the Biblios box, but what a lovely box of not-a-lot it is. Designed to look like an old book, it has one of those satisfying magnetic flaps, easy to open yet good enough to keep everything inside securely in place. The cover has a very appealing mixed mat-and-shine finish.
The book-box-book contains the tiny Scriptorium game board, five oversize six-sided dice, and a deck of beautifully illustrated cards.
If we consider Theme as a component of the game, Biblios does have a theme. But it is simply a way of delivering the game-mechanics in an engaging way. Immersion in the goings-on in shadowy naves and cloisters is not the goal.
The artwork on the box, the Scriptorium, and the cards is really nice, and the card quality is good.
You don’t need a lot of space to play Biblios. Place the Scriptorium between the players. Place each of the five dice on its relevant coloured space, with the ‘3’ face uppermost.
Depending on player-count, remove a number of cards randomly from the deck at the beginning of the game. Shuffle the remainder and lay them within easy reach of everyone.
The conceit of the game is that each player is a monk, vying for the favour of the Chief Abbott. Your goal is to build the most impressive collection of Manuscripts, Holy Books, Pigments, Monks, and Forbidden Tomes for the Monastery’s library.
There are three types of cards in the deck:
- Book - Cards of various values between one and four, in the five colours. Spend these during the Auction phase, or to secure victory points at the end of the game.
- Gold Coin - Cards with values one, two, or three. Use these to buy Book or other Coin cards during the Auction phase.
- Bishop - These cards allow players to change the value of the dice in the Scriptorium in a way which might benefit them, or hamper their opponent Monks.
The game has two phases: The Gift phase and the Auction phase. Let’s assume that our game is a three-player game:
The Gift Phase
The first player draws four cards, one at a time, from the top of the deck, and does one of three things:
- Plays the card face-down in front of themselves (if they want to keep it).
- Plays the card into the Auction pile, face-down, for the Auction phase of the game, OR
- Plays the card face-up into the Public space.
On their turn a player may only keep one card and place one card in the Auction pile. In a three-player game, the other two cards must go into the public space. Player two has the choice of one of the two cards in the public space. Player three receives the remaining card. Repeat this until the draw-pile is exhausted.
Drawing a Bishop card immediately stops play and you apply the card’s effects. The card allows you to adjust the spot-values of one or two dice in the Scriptorium, sometimes up, sometimes down.
The Auction Phase
- The first player flips the top card of the Auction deck. Each player has the opportunity to bid for the card, or decline to bid.
- If the card is a Book card, use Gold Coins to bid.
- If the card is Gold Coins, use Book cards to bid.
- Exhaust the Auction pile.
Winning a game of Biblios
After the Gift and Auction shenanigans, the monks get together to see who is the Super-Monk!
Going through each of the five book categories, players reveal the value of their collections. The monk with the highest value in a collection receives the number of victory points indicated on the same-coloured dice in the Scriptorium.
This is where the pesky Bishop cards may have scuppered your plans. There is nothing more demoralising than finding the value of your collection is only one unholy victory point.
If there is a tie between players in the value of a collection, the cards also have unique letters in the bottom corner. The player with the letter closest to ‘A’ breaks the tie and wins the Victory-points.
Final Thoughts on Biblios
Biblios is easy to learn and quick to set-up. It is the ideal size for stuffing into a suitcase or rucksack to take on holiday. It doesn't fry your brain, and it won't ruin your bank-balance.
The removal of random cards at the beginning of the game, unseen by anyone, adds a nice element of uncertainty to proceedings. You are never sure whether the high-value cards you want are even in the deck. And watching those Scriptorium dice spin against you, when you are committed to certain cards, will test even the best poker-face.
With a spare half hour to kill, this is one of my go-to games. I can even get my partner to play it, which is the highest recommendation I can offer!