Some people are easier to buy gifts for than others. I would argue that I am one of those people. I have a wide range of interests in specific things and hobbies. I am a fan of various book, tv and movie properties, which means that anything related to those is also a good idea. I actually maintain my Amazon wishlist, so if someone were looking for a more specific, useful thing, there would be something on my list that I would want and cherish. So when someone gives me a gift that I didn’t ask for, and is slightly out of my wheelhouse, it’s exciting, especially if it ends up being awesome and something I’m excited to try out. Today’s game is sort of like that – it was not a game I’d heard of, but I would argue it falls within my “wide range of hobbies” category. It was a Christmas gift from the Boy, and considering it’s a board game about being a librarian/organizing books, I think he hit the nail on the head.
The game is called Ex Libris, and if that sounds familiar, it’s because that’s the phrase you see on bookplates that have been placed in books. It’s a Latin phrase meaning “From the library of…” and then usually people write their name underneath. So it should be no surprise that in this game, you play an aspiring librarian who is collecting books for your own library in hopes that it becomes the best library in the land. It’s both a worker placement game (one where you place your figures on different areas to have them accomplish different tasks), and a set collecting game (where you collect cards or tokens of some sort in order to complete some sort of task). It also has the library twist of requiring your collected set to be organized alphabetically, a mechanic I have not seen in a game before, but is appropriately unusual since there aren’t a lot of games about libraries, or anything else that needs to be alphabetized.
I was about to write “I have no idea why we didn’t play this game sooner, because it was a Christmas gift,” but then I remembered the baby, and thought “Oh right”. We haven’t played as many board games in the months since B showed up, and this summer has been especially hard to fit in gaming time, just because the bigger girls are so busy. At some point I’ll tell you all about the sequel to Above and Below that we’ve been playing, but that will mean waiting until we have the chance to play again to take pictures! In any case, we had a free afternoon last month, and decided to pull this one out and finally give it a go. The rules are…long. I had a heads up on both the Boy and E who was playing with us, because I’d watched a full playthrough (on Game the Game, which appears to be Geek and Sundry’s not-as-good replacement for Wil Wheaton’s Tabletop – RIP), but even showing them the rules portion of that video got to be a little tedious. Thankfully, by the time they both started nodding off, they’d gotten the gist of things, and we decided that we could address any other issues with the rules as we went along during the game.
And thank goodness that worked! What’s really nice is that there are multpile “levels” of difficulty built into the game, so it’s possible to play a much more basic version when you’re a newbie, but then add in additional degrees of difficulty and additional game pieces to add depth to the game. We played at a sort of “medium-easy” level – we chose to use the specialized libraries, but did not add in the difficult location cards. But now that we’ve made it through a game, we will probably add everything in next time and it will be great.
One of the things that I worry about a lot with games is that the Boy and I will be able to play with a relatively high level of strategy on our first try, simply knowing what the rules of the game are and how to play. We may improve as the game goes along, and we may also improve with subsequent games, but we can usually “get it” that first time around. With the girls, that’s not always the case – I’m thinking specifically of Above and Below or its sequel, which both feature and adventuring mechanic which is potentially more fun . But I think either this game is clear enough with its goals, and is more focused in general where E was actually able to do pretty well on her first run through, and she’s still under 10.
I mean, I still won. The scores are arranged here for the Boy, then E, then me, and I dominated. But again – I am a librarian by profession. I was really sneaky and lucky with my last move of the game. I had seen the playthrough video. But I was proud of how well E did and her gameplay (though at some point she’s going to have to figure out letter distribution and likelihood of drawing cards to get them in the spots she wants, etc. But again – that’s more advanced strategic thinking. 10+ is definitely an appropriate age range, though if you have a slightly younger kid who is also smart and able to think ahead, this game works for them as well.
I can’t wait to play again. And while theoretically I could wait for the rest of the family to be available, I don’t need to. In addition to modes appropriate for 2-4 players, there’s also a solitaire mode where you play to see if you can “beat the dealer” sort of thing. Is this a game for everybody? Probably not for people who require a little more action, and for whom organizing and alphabetizing isn’t on their list of interests (even if it’s near the bottom). It’s a funny game, with the titles on the books on the shelves being pretty hilarious and punny. It’s got a lot of replayability with the way that the locations are drawn, and the different library types. All in all an excellent gift, and one that was well targeted towards its recipient.