Based on the history books I’ve read, avoiding the wrath of the church during the Middle Ages seemed like a pretty smart thing to do. In “Biblios”, that’s your primary goal. Each player takes on the role of an abbot who must acquire resources in order to own the most illustrious library. In this case, that’s having the highest score across five different card categories. The person who can do that not only satisfies the bishop’s trust but wins the game! It won’t be easy…for cards are going to be all over the place during the game’s two phases (gift and auction). Let’s take a quick look at the gameplay and show you what I mean.
The game includes 1 Scriptorium (category value board), 5 six-sided dice (each of a different color), and 87 cards.
Setup & Gameplay
The scriptorium is placed at the center of the table and one die of each color with a value of “3” is placed on its corresponding location. Players will remove cards from the game at random, the number of which depends on how many people are playing the game. A starting player is chosen at random.
The game is split into two phases:
Phase 1: Gift Phase
On the active player’s turn, they’ll draw a number of cards, face-down, equal to the number of players plus one. They’ll then flip one of these cards over and allocate it to either themselves (face down), another player (face up), or the auction pile (face down). This continues until all cards have been allocated. No more than one card can be allocated to the same destination…that is, each card will go somewhere different. Once the allocation is over, everyone picks up their card and adds it to their hand. The auction pile remains face down and will accumulate over time. Play proceeds clockwise and continues until the draw pile is exhausted.
Phase 2: Auction Phase
The auction pile is shuffled to form a new draw pile and the cards are auctioned one at a time. The first player in phase one begins as the active player for this phase. The active player will draw the topmost card and lay it face up for all to see. Players then bid for the card, starting with the player to the left of the active player. Bidding continues until the highest bidder is determined, who must pay that amount by discarding a number of cards from their hand. Players who bid amounts they can’t honor (and win the auction) receive a penalty. This continues until the auction pile is depleted.
Note: At ANY time during the game, as soon as a player acquires a church card, the game is put on hold while the dice in the scriptorium are adjusted. The card is then discarded.
Once all of the cards have been purchased or discarded, players determine their points in each of the five categories. Whoever has the highest number of points in a category wins it and takes the corresponding die from the scriptorium, which serves as victory points. Whoever has the most victory points after all of the dice have been handed out, wins!
Editor’s Note: The above doesn’t cover all of the rules found in the manual, but should give you an idea as to how the game is played.
“Biblios” reminded me a bit of “For Sale” (albeit a more complex version) in the sense that the game is broken up over two phases. Phase one has players acquiring cards while phase two puts said cards to use to acquire other cards. The mechanics between the two games are obviously somewhat different, but the overall idea is the same. Players who have played bidding games like “For Sale” should be able to wrap their heads around “Biblios” without too much of a problem. Those new to the concept may want to reserve an extra half hour of playtime, just until they get used to the flow of play.
Speaking of “flow of play”, players who are great at counting cards and calculating statistical probabilities will have a leg up in this game. Cards in each of the five categories have certain point values and if you’re good at observing what’s been played so far, you can get a feel of what your odds are in winning a particular category. If you see low cards of a particular color being scattered around the table during the first phase, for example, you might be able to win the category with just a few high cards of that color. Granted, some cards are removed from the game at random during setup so it would be impossible to know how much of a color is truly in the deck…still, a good memory helps.
If you’re not good at counting cards or have a terrible memory like myself, then you can get a feel for what colors players are going after via the church cards, which add or subtract pips on the dice in the scriptorium. If you know can’t win in a particular category, you may want to reduce that die’s value so that whoever does win it, won’t get as many victory points. There’s also some strategy in the cards you chose for both yourself and others during the gift phase. Gathering plenty of gold is great for the auction phase, though might leave you dry on category cards if the bids are generally high.
I’ve slammed French Game Publisher Iello in the past for releasing games that featured subpar components (“Steam Park” is a prime example), though in this case, it’s hard to mess up a deck of cards, a tracker, and dice. Thankfully they didn’t, making the game an easy recommend. It’s packed full of strategy and has a pretty quick play time to boot, making it an ideal way to get your fix for the night without having to allocate too much time out of your day. The price is my only real complaint…at $18-$20, the game could have stood to be a few bucks cheaper based on the number of components involved. Still, great job!
Final Verdict: 8/10