A to Z Gaming: Ex Libris

We arranged our bookshelves in our magical libraries in Ex Libris, the next game in our A-Z game shelf play-through.

Basic Info: Ex Libris
Players: 1-4
Time: 30-60 Minutes
Designers: Adam P. McIver
Artists: Jacqui Davis, Adam P. McIver, Anita Osburn
Publisher:  Renegade Game Studios



In Ex Libris players take on the role of a book collector, each trying to put together the best book shelf to gain the title of the village Grand Librarian. This is done by creating a stable shelf with books in alphabetical order representing a range of genres – creating a balance between your particular specialty, the town’s desired focus, and all genres while avoiding the banned books.

The game is set up with a board that identifies which genre is the “prominent” work treasured by the village and which genre is banned by the village. And there are worker placement tiles dealt equal to the number of players.

Players each get a library with three workers, a genre to focus on, and a hand of cards representing sections of books for their library.

In traditional worker-placement style, the round proceeds with players placing their workers on spots and taking actions based on those spots. The actions in this game center around getting cards in your hand, shelving cards…er books..on your book shelf, and, when possible and necessary, rearranging your bookshelf.

You also have a special worker that has an additional ability when you place it, depending on which library you drew at the beginning of the game. These abilities include shelving or drawing additional book cards, using spaces already occupied by an opponent, or grabbing things out of the discard pile.

The book shelf is built by playing cards into a tableau. Cards represent a specific place in the alphabet – both letter and a place within all cards containing books with that letter. Once one card is placed, the following cards must be orthogonally adjacent, with a maximum height of three cards, but no max width. At the end of the game, cards that are not in alphabetical order will be turned over and its books not counted for scoring.

At the end of the round, the worker tiles are cleared of workers, with some having actions that trigger at this time. The lowest-numbered tile is moved up to the permanent locations row on the board, the rest are discarded and new tiles dealt.

The end of the game is triggered when a player has shelved a set number of cards (which changes for different player counts) at the end of the round. One final round is played, and then players assess their scores.

Each player gets points for the “stability” of their shelf – one point per card in their shelf that makes a solid rectangle. The players with the most prominent works on their shelves get points. Negative points are assigned for each banned book on shelves. Finally, players get points for each of the books on their shelf that’s their particular focus, and points for the type of book they have the fewest of (not including the banned books). Whoever has the most points is the Grand Librarian and wins.

Okay, I’ll admit that alphabetizing and shelving books might not sound like the most exciting theme for a game, but it really works.

I like the shifting worker placement locations mechanic – you never quite know which places will be coming up. However, you do know that the lowest numbered one will always stay, so if there’s something else out there you’re thinking about doing, you best do it before it disappears.

I also enjoy the puzzle of shelving the books – do I start somewhere in the middle of the alphabet, trusting I’ll get the right letters to fill in? Do I start in the beginning or end of the alphabet because my cards skew that way? When do I lock in my third shelf and what’s the best location to lock it in?

In addition to the necessary player interaction that comes in a worker placement game, there are also a few specific worker placement spots that mess with other players. However, for the most part each player is concentrating on their own bookshelf. So, for me, it has the right amount of player interaction and “got that.”

The art in this game is delightful, especially reading all of the titles of the various books. Often we find ourselves giggling at the book titles in our hand, but unable to tell each other what we’re laughing about. The iconography is clear and each book card shows the books as different colors AND icons, so it works whether or not you can differentiate the colors. I also like that the library gives a summary of how many cards there are for each letter of the alphabet.

The game also has a great solo variant. You only use selected worker placement locations and are playing against the public library – essentially the discard pile. In addition to the public library getting discards from locations and actions, at the end of each round you discard a number of cards, increasing that number to increase the difficulty. Otherwise the game plays the same. This is my favorite solo mechanism – where you have some control over the score you are trying to beat.

All in all, I’m really enjoying this game.

How is it as a 2-player game?  This works well at all player counts. In the two player game you aren’t fighting for spaces as much, but honestly, you often aren’t fighting for spaces, since more and more are added throughout the game.

How about the art and component quality? I love the art. As I mentioned above, each book has a unique title, and they’re fun to read. The icons are clear and help keep the different genres apart. The special meeples are each unique and look like the special characters they are meant to portray.

The location tiles are a sturdy cardboard and the cards are a good quality. I especially like the dry erase board for scoring – it’s very handy, and feels much less wasteful than a pad of paper. As a bonus, the dry erase pen even works!

Will this stay in my collection? Absolutely – I love the theme and the gameplay. It’s different every time with the shifting worker locations and the mix of book cards. And, if that’s not enough, it’s got a great solo variant that I enjoy playing.

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