It is difficult to find a game that pleases a wide variety of gamers equally. It has been my experience that games with thick rule books, deep strategy, and longer play times tend to turn off non-gamers or party game types. Games with few rules and less strategy cause many veteran gamers to play once (if that) and chuck ’em. On occasion, I have been able to get both groups to reluctantly admit to having a good time with certain games – Love Letter and Werewolf come to mind. But that was before I brought iELLO’s Biblios to the table. Since opening it up I have playedBiblios at family gatherings with non-gamers, the local beer garden with casual gamers, and at the store’s game day with the hard core players, and it seems that everyone digs Biblios.
Biblios plays 2-4 people. A four player game still takes around 30 minutes. The concept is pretty simple – be the monk to collect the most books in up to five different categories (represented by five different colors) by game’s end. Each category has a six-sided die assigned to it starting on the “3” side. These dice are the only victory points available in the game. There are 87 cards in the game. Most of the cards either have 1-3 pieces of gold on them or a colored book with a number ranging from 1 to 4. There are also a few “church” cards that let you manipulate (condemn or approve) one or more of the 5 victory point dice assigned to the book categories. The simplicity of the goal and mechanics in Biblios is deliciously disproportionate to the amount of stress and intensity involved in a play-through.
The game is divided into two phases. During the first phase of the game the cards are placed in a face down stack on the table. On your turn you will draw cards from the stack equal to the number of players, plus one. You decide which card to keep for yourself, which cards will be placed face up for the other players to pick up this turn, and which card will go face down into the auction pile to be bid on by players in the second phase of the game. The hard part, though, is that you draw one card at a time and decide what to do with that card right then, before drawing the next card. So, when you look at that first card, you might have a tough choice to make – that two gold looks pretty good and can be used in the auction later, but what if there is a 4 point blue card coming up that will help you corner the market and secure that category’s victory points at game’s end? After the player makes her choices, the rest of the players, in clockwise order, pick up a face up card and place it in their hands. Then it is the next player’s turn, and so on. This process is repeated until the deck is empty. The cards that were placed face down in the auction pile are shuffled. Then the auction phase begins.
In the auction phase, each player takes a turn flipping over one card from the auction pile. Then players go in clockwise order, bidding gold for book cards, or bidding a number of cards to discard for gold cards. You keep doing this until the auction pile is empty. Then the players compare their cards from each of the five categories. The player with the highest total number value for that color wins the die for that book category. The number on the face of that die is the victory point value for that category. That’s it.
The draw of Biblios is the number of difficult choices you have to make on every turn for such a relatively short game. Also, the design is tight enough that every time we play it seems the games are extremely close. Adding to the difficult choices is that with only 6 possible points in each category (six sided dice), the church cards become game changers. Players get a sense of who’s winning a particular book category as the game progresses, so when they get the chance to move a victory point die up or down they have to decide to help themselves or hurt other players to even the victory point field.
All in all, I think it would be difficult to find a game that can get players of all types more excited than Biblios does. The picture on the box may make it seem like a boring game of churchy stuff, but don’t let that dissuade you. First of all, it is not. Second, and more importantly, I think every time we have played someone forgets whose turn it is to flip cards because everyone gets so caught up in the intensity and decision making involved. And I mean that as a compliment. If you’re looking for a game that can please the masses, you can’t go wrong with Biblios. It is so ordained.