Reviewed by Herb Levy
BIBLIOS (Iello Games, 2 to 4 players, ages 14 and up, 30 minutes; $24.99)
In today’s world where video has made a formidable assault on the written word, it is nice to see a game whose theme centers on the power (and majesty) of books. In Biblios, designed by Steve Finn, players assume the role of medieval monks at the helms of their own monasteries, all competing to amass the most impressive library.
Packaged in a box resembling a book (a nice design touch!), Biblios, when opened, reveals a Scriptorium (a small board), five large colored dice and a deck of 87 cards. In the Middle Ages, books were hand written and colored by the clergy; the cards are divided into suits in keeping with those elements. There are monks (brown), manuscripts (orange), pigments for those illuminated manuscripts (blue), holy books (green) and forbidden tomes (red), The dice are placed on the five spaces reserved for them (all color coded to match the suits), each with a starting value of 3. Depending on the number of players, some cards from the deck are removed.
There are two basic varieties of cards: gold and “non gold” cards (with a “sub-set of “Church” cards within the non-gold). Gold cards come in denominations of 1, 2 and 3. Non-gold cards appear in each of the five suits showing varying values of from 1 to 4. Church cards have the ability to raise or lower one or more of the die values for the five suits in play!
Biblios is played in two parts: a “Gift” phase and an “Auction”. In the Gift phase, the active player draws one more card than there are players and must decide, one at a time, where to place it. ONE of the drawn cards may be KEPT and added to his hand, ONE card may be added to a growing auction pile for later distribution and all others not so assigned are placed face up where the OTHER players, in turn order, may freely claim ONE and add it to their hands. (If a Church card is claimed, its modification ability is immediately triggered, applied by the claiming player and the card discarded.) The entire deck is thus given out.
As the Gift phase swiftly comes to its conclusion, players will find themselves with a hand of cards. These cards will be used to bid for cards in the auction deck. That deck is shuffled and, one by one, a card is revealed. All players may bid for the privilege of controlling that card.
A bid for a gold card means discarding that number of cards from your hand. Cards discarded may be of any type and are removed from play face down. The gold card being auctioned is then added to the winning bidder’s hand. Non-gold cards (whether part of a suit or a Church card) MUST be paid in gold only! Gold cards used to fulfill the winning bid are discarded face up – and no change given. Won cards of a suit are also placed in a player’s hand but Church card effects are applied immediately and the card discarded. If a card receives no bids, it is simply removed from play. When all cards have been claimed (or discarded), all hands are revealed and compared.
The player holding the highest value of cards in a suit wins the die for that suit. That die value is Victory Points. This is done for all five suits. If tied on a total, the tied player holding a card with a letter closest to A (all cads have a letter designation) wins that die. With all suits resolved, the player with the highest number of Victory Points wins! (Tie? Then gold serves as tie-breaker. Still tied? Then we go down the suits – starting with those monks – to determine the winner.)
The two pronged approach to play used by Biblios combines a bit of streamlined deck building (after all, you start with no cards at all and gradually build a hand) with a hefty dose of card/hand management due to the dual nature of the auctions.
Generally, you make a bid in an auction and high bid wins. In Biblios, high bid will win too BUT the “currency” used in your bids changes based on what is up for auction. Gold cards are essential. You need them to capture enough suit cards to win the suit and gain VPs in order to win. Because all types of cards (even lesser valued gold cards) may be used when bidding for them, you find yourself giving up cards (and weakening your strength in some suits) to gather up more gold so you can bid on other cards to be auctioned! The risk here is losing a potential plurality in certain suits. This see-saw decision making compels you to divine the right tipping point at the right time – and that’s what makes the game both challenging and fun. For this reason, the game plays better with fewer players which gives you greater insight as to just what that tipping point might be.
Although Biblios is a game that has been around for a while, it has only hit our gaming tables relatively recently and I, for one, am glad it did. Biblios is easy to learn but filled with interesting choices giving it a bit more bite (and a bit more depth) than what could be considered a filler. And that makes it a winner in anybody’s book! – – – – – – – – – – – – – Herb Levy
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