Monks Have Obviously Never Heard Of A Kindle! - Biblios Review

Auctions…………..god I hate auctions. I don’t even like waiting for Ebay auctions to finish as nothing happens until the final 5 seconds of “sniping” tactics. But in board games it gets worse for me. To date there has been no game that uses auction mechanics that I’ve thought more than “meh” about. For Sale and Modern Art are relatively straightforward examples, but I find them boring. 20th Century was a recent game that used bidding which I put in the same category as auctions and I found that to drag on a bit. Power Grid is on the other end of the scale, but if anyone knows me or my podcast, then they’ll know that Power Grid is one of my Top 10 most hated games. Dull, tedious, long and boring, but I digress!

I should probably explain my reasons though. I don’t find auctions much fun in general but there’s a bigger problem I have. For me they just drag on endlessly with no satisfying conclusion other than “you can have it”. And players seem to take forever when considering their responses causing the worst case of downtime boredom imaginable. Now in Power Grid you’re dealing with such high values that analysis paralysis is inevitable, (one of many problems I have with it), but even in something like 20th Century where you’re bidding no more than 3-6 gold for any tile typically, how hard can it be to decide what you’re going to do with such a low value? Just bid or pass already!!

But fillers seem to do a better job because the auctions are quick and frequent. I mentioned For Sale, which is a popular one among non-gamers, but it’s a bit too simplistic for me. Then I hear Zee Garcia of The Dice Tower talk a lot about Biblios, another filler that involved auctions and I thought “oh boy here we go again”, but the more I read up on it, the more I was intrigued and I chose for one of my many board game rewards for assisting GamesQuest at Insomnia 54 this year, a copy of Biblios. So will curiosity be my downfall or could the unthinkable happen with me actually enjoying an auction game?




Designer: Steve Finn
Publisher: Iello
# of Players: 2-4
Ages: 10+
Play Time: 30 Minutes
BGG Rank/Rating: 273 / 7.22

  
Not What Usually Comes To Mind When Thinking About Monks

Players represent monks working in monasteries building up their libraries, attempting to gain the most of particular categories. The game plays in two very distinct halves, the first of which involves collecting and passing cards and the second being an auction phase.

In turn, each player chooses a number of cards (determined by player count) from the deck and looks at them. One of these they will keep, one will be put aside for auction later and the others will be placed into a common pile where the remaining players in turn order will choose a card for themselves. This process repeats itself with each player taking it in turns to draw cards until the deck runs out. Three types of cards exist:

Gold – required to purchase books later in the auction phase

Category Cards – monks, pigments, manuscripts, holy books and forbidden tomes

Church/Abbots – will instantly upon acquiring, change the point value of a particular category up or down.

Players are aiming to collect the highest value of cards for each category in order to score the points for it, however because the point value can change over the game, players have to adapt.

In the second phase, the remaining cards are put up for auction one by one. Players can buy further books with gold or can sell unwanted cards for gold. Again, abbot cards may feature which can change the point values. Once all the cards have been acquired by players, the values of each category are calculated to work out who wins overall. That play will score the point value remaining on the dice (1 to 6). Whoever has the most points after all categories are scored is the winner.



A Game of Two Halves

The way Biblios operates could be compared similarly to For Sale in that it feels like you’re playing two games. The first is hand management with an element of deduction for what the other players are going for, the latter being a straight up auction game. Both progress very quickly and lead to the same ultimate goal which is set collection at the end of the day.

Now the theme is an odd one to pick – monks trading books certainly makes selling the game to others a bit of a task, but it’s pretty pasted on and could easily be replaced with something else. That being said the dice and cards are of good quality and the artwork is of the same impressive nature that you usually get from Iello, which seems to be a trend really if you look at their other games like Innovation and Titanium Wars.  So even though the theme is pasted, it still looks pretty.

But where the game shines are the smooth mechanics and ease of play. You can learn this game in 5 minutes flat and get it finished in less than 30 minutes easily even with 4 players though 3 is the sweet spot in my opinion (seriously at this rate all games should be 3 players only and nothing else). The rules are not complex at all and I like how the cards are used for two different transactions. For e.g. you use gold cards to buy books, etc., but when auctioning for gold you discard book cards as if you were selling them. So the mechanics do make sense even with the light theme. And this “dual requirement” of needing gold and category cards causes a dilemma. Do you grab a mix of two or focus on one? Having lots of category cards gives you a head start, but unless you can get some gold, you’re stuck with what you got. Lots of gold puts you at a disadvantage to begin with, but then you have more power in the auction phase to grab the cards you really want.



The Abbot Decrees

Now set collection on its own would be pretty boring, but the fact that the values can change for the categories kicks it up a notch especially when you have to consider what the other players have or what you believe they know about your plans. Focusing on one category is fine, but if your opponents are paying attention, they might drop the point value so low that winning it is pointless (no pun intended). Of course you could diversify, but spread too thin and you risk not winning anything at all. The abbot cards bring in that uncertain element and you always the choice of bettering your position or weakening someone else’s, though who knows you might inadvertently shoot yourself in the foot if you increase a value only to have the category stolen from you by another player who disguised his true intentions well.

And to my immense surprise, I actually enjoyed the auction phase as well. You have to auction a good chunk of cards, but the bidding is done so quick because you’re limited by what gold/books are in your hand and you know what sets you want so there’s little room for analysis paralysis to squeeze into. Bids are thrown out at a fast pace and the auctions resolve nice and quickly. This is how auctions should be done. Quick, painless and to the point and this is even with 4 players involved when usually maximising the player count spells disaster.



Verdict

Now when I started this review, I told you that I hate auction games and the reasons why. So naturally you would have expected me to hate this game. Well I don’t and that makes this one of the biggest surprises in board gaming for me. Biblios is actually a good, fun little game that can be taught in 5 minutes and played in less than 30. Whereas most auction games bog down in endless high value bidding and mass analysis paralysis, this one speeds along quickly with low value, frequent auctions that keep you in the game rather than twiddling your thumbs endlessly (unlike other auction games!)
The theme is pasted on, that can’t be denied, but this tends to be the case with most filler games and at least the components and artwork are good quality to make up for it. It keeps you guessing who’s in the lead at any time and both strategies of “all in one basket” or “diversify” have winning potential so it doesn’t feel scripted.
If you own For Sale, you may find that the style of play isn’t very different, but this is more involved and in my opinion a better game all round. The apocalypse has finally begun, for I have found my first auction game that I actually like!

You Will Like This Game If:

  • You want relatively short filler game with plenty of interaction.
  • You like your auctions to be quick and frequent.
  • You like simple rules – this can be taught in 5 minutes.

You Will Not Like This Game If:

  • You don’t like auction games worse than me.
  • You are put off by the fact the theme is pasted on.
  • You own For Sale and feel that this game isn’t different enough to own both.


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