Ex Libris review
Ex Libris immediately taps into the geeky love of organising collections by carefully curating types, genres and alphabetical order, and, most importantly, feeling pride in it.
In this game, players are collating their own library and competing with other aspiring book collectors for the honour to become Grand Librarian of a magical, but unnamed – yet clearly well-read – village. Even for those who might find that type of activity mundane or boring, Ex Libris still provides a game full of charm with a wonderful sense of humour.
Ex Libris effortlessly blends elements of worker placement and card drafting together. Players send their meeples around the board to different places to get more book cards and abilities, while building their own library back at home base. As with every good library, a certain set of instructions must be followed; for example, the obvious alphabetical ordering and structural shelf stability. Even in libraries, rules were made to be broken, and particularly sneaky players can even get away with some of the inconsistencies if the library inspector does not spot them at the end of the game.
Ex Libris is really good at rewarding players for almost everything they do. Collected the most books from the ‘prominent books’ category? Get some points. Have very stable shelves? More points! Here, have some points for the rarest category in your library, too! While keeping track of all the bonus points might initially seem overwhelming, all the scoring elements are so seamlessly integrated into the actions players would be doing anyway that they are not at all hard to achieve. The tactical choice within the game is to pick one or two of them to focus on, as well as keeping an eye on the types of libraries other collectors are making.
It is rare to find a game that is such a joyful experience throughout – this even includes its rulebook, which can be a real buzzkill in most board games, but that isn't the case here. Having trudged through so many illogical, unnecessarily complicated and term-heavy instructions that even some of the best games can have, it is refreshing to open a rulebook that is structured logically and has witty well-placed observations that make you want to play the game, rather than give up on it. The game components are equally a delight; each player chooses their own library, with a unique special ability and a matching meeple to suit, including a sasquatch, snowman and wizard meeples, and even a gelatinous cube.
All 152 cards have different book titles that not only match their respective letters and correspond thematically to the book category to which they belong, but are also funny. These include gems like Not a Guide That Won’t Help With Double Negatives, twin volumes Parasites & You and Parasites in You, An Incomplete Guide to Procrastination, and many more. The game also provides a dry-wipe checklist board and a marker for scoring, so take that, tear-away scoring sheets!
The components are generally so well thought-out and produced that one weird misstep in the design of the game’s worker placement tiles really stands out. Every tile offers a different power, typically described in white text across colourful and busy artwork, which is hard to see even when seated directly in front of the tile. With tiles rotating each round, it is hard to learn them and players have to keep referring to them by picking up and bringing them almost to their nose to see the text.
That graphical hiccup aside, Ex Libris is charm in a box. Although it definitely has a competitive edge, it is one of those rare games where the experience of playing it is more of a reward than the victory points at the end of the game.
Ex Libris effortlessly blends tactical gameplay with humour and whimsy, while celebrating our inner geeky love of collecting and organising.
Designer: Adam P. McIver
Artist: Jacqui Davis
Time: 45 minutes