Review: Biblios

Monasteries and money.

THE PREMISE OF BIBLIOS

Biblios is a game about more than being a monk. Biblios is a game about being the head monk (or abbot, to use the technical term) in charge of a monastery. Your goal, should you choose to accept it, is to manage and sell resources whilst managing your own hand of potential points at the end. That may not be explaining it 100% clearly, so hopefully it should become clearer as we explore the game in more detail.

Biblios is a resource management game, with elements of set collecting and trading. It is entirely a card game, although it does involve dice. The closest way to describe it is the evolution of the trading mechanic in Catan, if that mechanic were the whole game. It is a 2 to 4 player game.

The game is split into two rounds, the initial resource gathering phase and then the auction phase. Both phases are based around gathering specific types of resource (monks, dye, Holy Books, manuscripts, and forbidden tomes). The value of each set is determined by a static die throughout the game (one for each set), which increases or decreases as the players play “Church” cards. That is the basic premise of the game.

Every turn the player draws cards which equal the number of players plus one (n+1, for those who like algebra), one card at a time. These must then be allocated to each of the players, with one card going into an auction pile (for phase 2 a.k.a. the auction phase). This means the players should end each round with equal numbers of cards. So, to break this down as an example, for four players:

  • Player 1 draws one card. He likes it and keeps it.
  • He draws a second card. He puts it in the centre of the Scriptorum.
  • He draws a third card. He puts it in the centre of the Scriptorum.
  • He draws a forth card. He puts it in the Auction pile.
  • He draws a fifth card. He puts it in the centre of the Scriptorum.

The other players then get to pick, in turn order, which card out of the Scriptorum they would like to keep for themselves. All four players end with a card each, and the Auction pile ends up one bigger.

The resource cards have values on them, with values from 1 to 4. The winner of each resource collects the die for that resource and gains the corresponding die value as victory points. These also have letters of the alphabet on them to help deter ties.

There are two other types of card aside from resource cards. These are money (fairly straightforward…it’s money) and Church cards.

Church cards can be played as soon as they come into a player’s hand if, and only if, they have not been allocated to the auction pile. This is the only time when hands may not be even at the end of the round, if someone plays a Church card during their turn.

What Church cards do is allow for the players to alter the values on the die. These correspond to the victory points at the end of the game, starting at a default value of three and having a highest value of six. Each card has a score value, but that is only used to determine who gets the victory points at the end of the game. The die are the only victory points.

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The Scriptorum

During the second phase of the game, auctioning begins. The players take it in turns to turn over cards from the auction pile and place bids. To buy resources players spend gold, to buy Church cards players spend gold, and to get gold players spend resources.

The player with the highest value of resources in a field wins the coloured die that corresponds to that particular field, and the value the die is showing in victory points. That’s about it.

QUALITY AND COMPONENTS OF BIBLIOS

Biblios has to be, to date, my favourite box of any game. It is a nicely packaged, metal clasp box which, in keeping with the name, has been designed to look like a book. It’s a really nice touch that, in a game that is named after bookkeeping, it feels like it should.

The game board (or “Scriptorum”), pictured above, along with the dice is exceedingly high quality. The pastel tones of the dice match the tones on the cards exactly. The cards themselves are beautiful. Bar one monk looking like the Last Airbender (once you see it, it can’t be unseen), Biblios’ artwork is absolutely stunning. Iello, who produced the game, have done a fantastic job with ensuring it looks and feels the part.

WHAT IS THE GAMEPLAY OF BIBLIOS LIKE?

Biblios is an incredibly neat little game that seems to become more and more strategic the more you think about it. Each round you have to weigh up the odds (there is a blog in that!) of whether to keep, pass, or auction cards that enter your hand. This means the more players you have the more it becomes a strategic game, with the player constantly weighing up the odds as to which move is best.

This makes it an incredibly interesting game. Despite the theme being relatively dry, the designers do a great job at bringing the player into it. It feels like the theme adds to the game, something which increases its strength as a game.

So, what is it like? The answer is a bit of an emotional rollercoaster. Depending on when the Church cards come out (most likely to be during the first phase rather than the auction, especially with more players) it can be an unpredictable game until the very end. Like so many great games it involves playing the player rather than playing the game, and this makes for a huge amount of fun in a very small box. Biblios is unique, it is fun, and, for a game about bookkeeping, it is actually pretty exciting.

One criticism would be that, in a two player game, the first phase can take a while. This is offset by the auction phase, where tension builds from start to finish. You just know (you know!) there has to be one more Church card left in the deck, but which one and whether you can get to it first is beyond you.

Another would be that there was some confusion as to whether the values on the cards are added up and then multiplied by the die for each category. It turns out this is not the case, but it was worth noting.

Biblios is a fast paced, fun and exciting game. Now I have a series of small Iello games on my list, that I’m sure will delight just as much.

VERDICT FOR BIBLIOS

We actually got recommended Biblios by going up to a guy at the UK Games Expo and putting him on the spot with the “suggest to me a game” question. He recommended Biblios and a few others. We only walked away with Biblios, for which I am now a little bit sorry – he had great taste!

Now we are passing that recommendation on. I would whole heartedly recommend Biblios for those who want a quick, strategic game. May it fill many game shelves for years to come.

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