In Ex Libris you play collectors of rare books all trying to win a place on the council as Grand Librarian. But wait, hear me out. Obviously this game appeals to people who like books and we’ll get into exactly how later, but you don’t have to love tomes to enjoy this cunning mixture of worker placement and tile arranging. Nor do you have to be a huge fan of words games to enjoy the section which does involve alphabets.
Banned Books and Popular Tomes
So, welcome collector. The general theme of the game is about sending your agents (your worker meeples) into town (tiles) to collect books (represented by cards), and then sort these into the best library (by placing them in front of you). What changes each game and each round is all of these!
Firstly, the collecting parameters change every game. There are six categories of books, from the Corrupted Codices to the Historic Volumes, and there are several of these on each card, all jumbled together and identified by logos. At the start of a game you randomly select which category has been banned by the council (avoid them or damage your score at the end), which books are deemed most in demand (target them to increase your final score), and which are your personal focus (another bonus).
Shelving For Fun and Profit
Every book card has a large letter on it, such as A, and then numbers, such as M 3/8. When you have collected cards you have to ‘shelve them’, which means placing them down in front of you to create a visual representation of a library. You can never shelve more than three cards high, and cards must be placed orthogonally.
That might seem simple enough, but here’s the twist: you will be scored on the alphabetical order of the cards, so you are struggling to build a library where the B’s are placed next to the As and not before them (and the M 3/8 is after the 2/8), and as no one is psychic this creates a nice little mini game in planning, plotting and a little bit of luck. There are other storing categories based on your ‘library’ such as shelf stability, where it pays to have a block of cards and not your top row poking out into thin air.
Growing the Village
The question remains: how to you get these cards? During the game you build the village. Every round, location tiles are drawn (one per player), and on all these you can place your meeples to activate the location, normally ending up with cards. Some locations are limited in use and some have entertaining effects.
At the end of that turn one of these tiles becomes a permanent part of the village - available every turn. You play one of a number of characters selected at the start, each with special rules and a number of meeple assistants. As you can see, there is an awful lot of variation each game: the books that are most needed change, the village you’re placing workers in changes, the cards you acquire are always a different order. There’s no following the same route every game.
Each turn you place workers, collect cards and play them to build your library until someone’s shelves reach a total number of cards (16 in a two-player game). Then you go through the long scoring chart which has been designed like a report sheet and calculate the winner. Numbers of each book category, the shape of your library, the alphabetic order all add up. The winner is Chief Librarian. There are also rules for beginner, solo and longer games.
Rich and Fractionally Dry - Ex Libris Thoughts
Ex Libris is, in general, a luxurious game. Everything feels glossy, thematic and well-illustrated, with the exception of the pen for the wipe clean scoring chart as mine has dried out already after only a few months. The real star, however, are the books, as they should be. The designer, Adam P.Mclver, didn’t just create six categories of books, he named individually every single book in the game and they are funny and fantastic. For the first few plays you spend most of your time just reading the titles and smiling… and there are hundreds of them!
Ex Libris is a fun worker placement game with a big tile playing twist. It’s got built in wrinkles for replay-ability, plays smoothly and is a lot of fun, but I’m confident that the book titles will allow anyone who doesn’t want to play again after their first go to still have had fun.