In the Middle Ages, abbots in charge of monasteries (apparently) competed with each other to obtain the most treasured holy books and manuscripts for their libraries. In Biblios, by Steve Finn, 2-4 players do exactly that, taking on the role of one of those abbots and try to get the most points by collecting those books.
Biblios, originally published in 2007 as Scripts & Scribes, is a card game where players must use both a push-your-luck card drafting and auctioning mechanics to collect as many points as they can in five different categories to try to become the best monk of them all!
Biblios is a fairly lightweight game in terms of components. Included in the book-shaped magnetic box are five dice, a small board, and a deck of almost 90 cards. The dice each have a different color (brown, blue, green, orange, and red), representing the five categories players can earn points in by getting a majority of that color’s cards by the end of the game. The deck, then, contains cards for all five colors, with brown and blue having values ranging from 2-4 (for a total of 25 possible points in each category), and green, orange, and red having values of 1 or 2 (for a total of 11 points each). In addition, a large portion of the deck is made up of gold cards which range in denomination from 1-3 gold. Finally, there are Church cards which allow players to modify the values on the dice either up or down, which will be explained in more detail later.
The setup for Biblios is relatively simple. All five dice are placed on their corresponding space on the board with their “3” side facing up. Then, the deck is shuffled and several random cards are removed, depending on the number of players: For 4 players, 7 random cards are removed; for 3 players, 3 gold cards (1 of each value) as well as an additional 12 cards are removed; and for 2 players, 6 gold cards (2 of each value) and 21 additional random cards are removed. This means that you are never sure what’s in the deck — the randomly removed cards could all be money or low-value cards, or all of the high-valued cards from one category could have been removed. Once the deck and dice are prepared, you’re ready to play!
The game is played in two phases. In the first phase, the Gift phase, players draw cards from the deck and allocate them to themselves, their opponents, and to a pile which is set aside until the second phase of the game. On each player’s turn, they draw cards one at a time from the deck — one more card than the number of players. For each card (before they draw the next one), they must decide what to do with it: they can keep it for themselves, put it face down in the auction pile which is used for the second phase, or place it face-up in the public space for their opponents (one card per opponent goes in the public space – 1 for 2 players, 2 for 3, and 3 for 4). This creates a press-your-luck element to the game: if a somewhat good card comes up first and you keep it, you may miss out on the opportunity to keep a better card that comes up later. On the flip side, you may hold out for a good card and be stuck with a relatively worthless one. After all of the cards have been allocated, the other players, going clockwise, choose a card from those the active player has made publicly available. In this way, everybody gets a card each turn, but the active player’s is secret while all other players’ selections are public. If a player ever selects a Church card (which shows either a -1 or +1 and one or two dice), they must immediately adjust one or two dice, based on the number on the card, either up or down by 1 point. After one complete round of distributing cards, play passes to the next clockwise player, and continues until the deck is depleted.
After the Gift phase is complete comes the auction phase. The cards that were set aside in the auction pile previously are shuffled, and then play continues with the player who would have been next (which should also be the player who had the first turn). The active player flips over the top card of the auction deck and bidding begins with the next clockwise player. For Gold cards, players bid a number of cards on the available card. For example, if a player makes a bid of 2 for a gold card and wins, they must discard two cards from their hand before receiving the Gold card they won. For other cards (colored cards and Church cards), the bid is in Gold. When a player wins a gold bid, they must reveal the Gold cards they are using to buy the available card. Note that change is not given — if you make a bid of 4 and only have a 2 and 3 gold card in your hand, you must overpay for your bid by discarding the whole 5. Also note that the penalty for not being able to pay for a bid you made is severe — each other player draws a card randomly from your hand and adds it to theirs, and the card up for auction is auctioned again, but you cannot participate this time. The rules for auctioning are otherwise fairly straightforward — each player, in turn, either bids a number of gold or cards or chooses to pass. The bid must always be at least one higher than the previous bid, and after passing, a player cannot bid again. Thus, after all but one player have passed, that player that had the highest bid must pay and receives the auctioned card. The next player then becomes the active player and begins the auction for the next card in the deck. If no players bid on a card, it is simply discarded.
Once all of the auction cards have been purchased or discarded, the game is over and points are allocated. In each of the 5 categories, players reveal how many points worth of that color they have in their hand, and the player with the highest value takes that color die from the board and scores the number of points showing on the top face of the die. In the case of a tie, all of the cards have a letter in the bottom right used solely for tiebreaking purposes. The player holding the letter closest to the beginning of the alphabet wins that category. Because of this, cards which are otherwise equal (in terms of points), may have one that’s better than the other based on its tiebreaking letter. After all categories have been scored, the player with the most points from dice is the winner! IN the case of a tie, the winner is the one with the most gold left in their hand, and if still tied, points in the first category on the board (brown) are compared, then the next, and so on until a winner can be determined.
For a game without a theme, (even though Ethan says there is a theme, which I guess technically there is, but whatever), I actually really like this game. The game goes relatively quickly when people are familiar with the rules and is a nice filler between longer games. In a two player version, many of the cards are taken out (I believe 21), so it can be scaled for different numbers of player, though it seems to play better with 3 or 4. Something I really like about this game is that I can focus on one or two of the colors and still win, something I really have a problem with in other games. I really like being able to sort of “choose the fate” of the game with forcing some decisions, but that could be my God complex talking.
- Scales for 2 players
- Easy to learn
- No theme
- Decisions rely on other people
I really like Biblios as a moderately quick filler game. If you have 3 or 4 players who have played before and know what they’re doing, a game can fly by in 20 minutes. In those kinds of games, everyone gets really intensely focused, and usually the only words you’ll hear are bids and passes during the auction phase as everyone silently tries to figure out if they have majorities in the categories they’re hoarding and trying to remember which cards they saw the other players taking. Another thing I like about this game is that it is very well designed from a mechanical and gameplay perspective. You might have thought it funny the level of details to which tiebreakers were described in the Gameplay section, but I have played a game of Biblios that did come down to the third or fourth tiebreaker (tied in points, tied in gold, both had no points in brown and thus no tiebreaking letter in brown, and had to go to points in blue), so to me having that contingency accounted for shows a great level of planning on the part of the designer. In addition, I really like the press-your-luck aspect of the gift phase, where you may keep a card only for a better one to come up later when you can only auction it or give it to your opponents, or you may sacrifice a moderately good card hoping that something better comes up only to be stuck with a 1 gold card. Finally, the components, for as few of them as there are. are really great quality. The card art is nice and gets the job done (and included symbols which can aid colorblind people, and the box has a magnetic closure, which I’m always a fan of. Unfortunately, even a great game has some negatives, and Biblios is no exception. The first I can think of is that the theme really does not come through strongly. In theory, you’re all monks in a monastery trying to build the best library of holy books, but that theme doesn’t really come through in the gameplay at all. Even though all of the categories have names and corresponding symbols (pigments, holy books, manuscripts, etc.), it’s a lot easier to refer to them by color (blue, green, orange, etc.). Another aspect that some may find off-putting is that this game, a lot more so than others, I’ve found, really requires a play or two to “get” how to play. The first game I played I lost terribly by trying to diversify in all of the categories, and subsequently ended up with a majority in none of them. Fortunately it is a quick game and we were able to play again immediately afterwards, and I did substantially better. All in all, Biblios is a great, “thinky” game in a quick, filler game package.
- Packs a lot of depth into a quick filler game
- Good combination of set collection, press your luck, and auctioning.
- Great component quality
- Not very thematic
- Can take one or two full games to fully understand how best to play