Published on September 8th, 2016 | by Luke Turpeinen0
Illuminate Your Manuscripts
A review of Biblios
One of my favorite animated movies is The Secret of Kells, which tells the story of Catholic illustrator-monks in the British Isles who must defend themselves against Viking raids. The movie has the young protagonist go on a quest to fetch a particular kind of berry to use in their ink, and in general attention in paid to the craft of those monks of the 8th and 9th Centuries. If you have never seen them, the texts are spectacular– the pages of the Book of Kells, which is a real book, are roughly 6.5 x 10 inches (close to our 8.5 x 11 Letter size) and all of the detailed work was done by hand during what could be called one of the darker parts of the “dark ages”.
In the card game Biblios (by Iello, 2007) you play as the abbot of a European monastery who gains prestige by producing the best illustrated manuscripts. To get the most prestige you will need to have the most or the best ingredients– preferably both. While getting prestige seems to be an odd goal for someone who is presumably a man of God, and especially so for a monastic order- I’ll chalk it up to humans being humans wherever they are.
In order in get prestige, each abbot is going to need access to the ingredients used in making the manuscripts, as well as people to make them. In Biblios this is represented by the five suits: Illuminators, Scribes, Manuscripts, Scrolls, and Supplies (whose symbol is a skull for some reason). At the start of the game, each category is worth 3 prestige each. As the game goes on, players will be able to alter the value of the categories by increasing or decreasing the value of the die. At the end of the game, the player with the highest total value of cards from a single category (say, Scrolls) will get points equal to the number on the associated die.
Biblios plays out in two phases: the Donation Phase and the Auction Phase. During these phases players will use three kinds of cards: resource cards, gold cards and bishop cards. Resource cards correspond to one of the five suits and have a value on them, the sum of which will be your score in determining control of that suit, and thus its prestige points. Gold cards are used in the Auction Phase to bid on cards. Bishop cards modify the value of a die, which changes the relative value of the suit in the end game, and they may be played in the Donation or Auction phases.
In the Donation Phase, on their turn, a player will draw a number of cards equal to the number of players +1. That player will then draft a single card to keep, then draft a card to be set aside for the Auction Phase, then lays out the remaining cards face up. The remaining players draft cards from the face-up pool in turn order. The turn passes and this repeats until the entire deck is gone through.
Next comes the Auction Phase- the players shuffle the cards placed aside during the Donation Phase and gather the Gold they collected. Each card previously set aside goes up for auction, with players using their very finite resources to bid on cards they think they’ll need at the end of the game. Sometimes gold will come up for auction and you can use your resources to buy it in this phase.
Once everything has been auctioned, players tally up the sum of their cards in each category, claiming the die of each category they win. The player with the highest combined value of dice wins!
I found Biblios to be simple and refreshing. It plays very fast, but has you constantly making decisions that feel valuable to your final goal. Biblios is great because it lets you feel like you have just enough information to eke out a victory, but never enough to be truly sure of that. The uncertainty is definitely addicting, and we’ve been known to play back-to-back sessions which spawn even more instant rematches.
Biblios plays great at 2, 3 and 4 players- though it feels like a very different game each time. The nature of the excluded information, and the amount of info you have to try to keep track of makes 4-player games feel much more random than 2-player games. Personally, I prefer to play with 2 players, though the 3-player version is extremely fun as well.