The Librarians: Adventure Card Game (Review)

The Librarians, my comfort show, something which makes me smile now in board game format – how could I resist? This went up on kickstarter around September 2020 I believe? It’s so long ago I don’t really recall. It was supposed to ship for May 2021 and I eventually got it this week (so early-ish July 2022). Was it worth the wait?

Well! I have never played anything like it before so the learning curve was steep to say the least. I had a stab at playing it with mum and spent more time paging through the rulebook and being confused than playing. I think we had a half-hearted go at a couple of rounds before we gave up as it had got too late. Today I had some spare time (and it is supposed a game for 1-4 people, so solo play is possible) and so I had a good whack myself. I think I know how it is supposed to go now and so I figured review time!

First: Aesthetics
Before I get into the actual gameplay lets talk about what this game looks like. When I unboxed it I believe my mum’s comment was “wow! it certainly doesn’t look like it was designed in someone’s bedroom” – in other words I think she thought that maybe ‘kickstarter’ meant it wasn’t professional. Anyway, in case that’s not clear it IS super professional looking. I got the Collector’s Edition so it came in a golden box. The text/image doesn’t stand out all that well unless you get the box into the light and then it does. I imagine that’s some kind of fancy effect. It’s very cool looking anyway.

I believe this may eventually be going to retail somewhere but because I did the kickstarter I got extra stuff from the stretch goals (+ the collector’s edition). So I got a long card box which contained individual card boxes for each ‘hero’, there are divider cards that look like old-style library check-out cards with names for each hero, campaign etc. There’s some very solid and heavy feeling metal dice, which are identical in function to the normal plastic dice (which were also included). There’s alternate artwork for all the heroes apart from Nicole Noone. What this means is that the hero card (sort of like the player token) has different pictures on it. The function of the card is the same but it’s a bit of fun flavour to go “oh I’m feeling like photo today” as all the artwork is photo stills from the show. It’s fun to play “name that episode” if nothing else haha. There’s also a playmat which I joke means “you too can have that ‘new car smell'” as it does smell just like a floormat in a new car. This playmat doesn’t really add much but it’s nice to have.

The card boxes are much bigger than are required for the hero decks. When talking about the game with others I have had it recommended to get sleeves to protect the cards. I guess that makes them thicker which would then take up some of the extra space. I don’t know whether I will get the sleeves or not, as I’m not too fond of the feeling of plastic and I like the feeling of the cards in my hand. I’ll think about it. It’s also possible that the extra room is for future proofing. When the game went up on kickstarter originally they were talking about future expansions. Whether the long delay and the grim global reality re: shipping etc. has scuppered that I don’t know. Either way it doesn’t really matter.

EXCEPT there is a bit of a question about how to store the game. The way the hero decks are, aside from 7 cards (+ the hero card) the decks are fluid and so might not want to always store them as that specific hero. Plus the loose cards store better in the long card box than floating around the big box but I discovered that if I put some of the individual card boxes into the big square box I then get corner dents on the hero boards where it presses into the edges. So I’m not sure about that either. I don’t like to throw anything out that came in the box, but I suppose if I tossed the shaped bit of card and then made a solid ‘floor’ of the individual card boxes, that wouldn’t leave any odd corners to dent stuff. I could then put the loose cards and perhaps the dice and tokens in the long card box. I tested this and it works well so alas shaped card, you are heading for the recycling box. I feel weird about throwing it out but oh well.

Oh! One of the kickstarter stretch goals was also for a ‘foil’ treatment on a handful of cards. This to be honest isn’t anything to write home about. It doesn’t look like any foil effect I’m familiar with but they are bonus extra cards (as the originals shipped too) and they work just fine so I’m not complaining.

What I do slightly complain about are the handful of printing errors that are somehow still present despite the delay of over a year. I don’t think that should have happened. Also some of the icons are quite similiar and quite small on the cards. Bigger and more distinct would have been helpful.

So final verdict on aesthetics? I’m going to go with 4/5. They did a good job but I can’t quite call it perfect.

Let’s be real what are we here for? Gameplay! How’s that?
As I said the learning curve is STEEP. It took me a very long time to work out how to do it, compounded I think by the fact that solo mode is punishing. I’m sure it’s possible but I think you might have to curate your own deck (rather than using the suggested one) and/or get lucky with what cards you draw. What I found when playing is that I would lose as even if I managed not to acquire extra fate tokens, I didn’t complete the missions fast enough and you get one fate token per round regardless – and if you get 9 it’s game over. When I pretended I was two people is when I finally managed to win. It was still a near-run thing as I had 8 tokens and it was a ‘nail-biting final round’ with a bit of a hail mary to avoid that last token.

The problem with pretending to be two people is it gets confusing. You see the gameplay works by the player controlling a hero. That hero can control a sidekick (normally just 1 but sometimes there are special rules which allow for another). That sidekick functions a bit like another hero in terms of what they can do. Then there’s the ‘Aid from the Library’ card which is again like another sidekick and can do things. I found I was losing track of what move I was supposed to be on, who had done what, whether I’d assigned/taken the right tokens, whether I’d recommended to apply the end of round fate token etc. It’s hard enough to keep it straight if I’m just controlling one character but in the game where I finally won I had 2 + Aid the Library + 2 sidekicks.

Right I’ll start from the beginning and lay out the beginning of the game and then a typical round.

Say I’m playing solo Eve Baird. For the setup first I deal myself 5 cards from my deck. I look at them, decide if I want to keep them. Say I like 3 of the cards but I’m still looking for something and haven’t found it so I discard 2 and draw 2 more. Maybe I get what I want, maybe I don’t. Anyway with my 5 cards in hand I shuffle the deck and take 4 cards off the top. These 4 cards are ‘energy’.

That’s the setup for the start of the game in terms of hero stuff. You also need to pick your mission that you want to play through, lay out the mission cards, the disturbance card (this is what gains fate tokens/how you lose) and also set out the adventure deck.

After that it’s time for the first round. There are 4 different types of cards found in the player deck: sidekicks, artifacts, attachments or events. They have an energy cost associated with them. Before the round begins you can choose whether to pay energy to put a sidekick, artifact or attachment in play. Those cards have effects. Like sidekicks are basically like another hero giving you more turns at defeating the bad guys/mission later on in the round. Artifacts and attachments offer buffs and gameplay things, like you can gain energy or draw more cards, heal yourself, get a +1 to your roll etc. You can play the event cards whenever during the round, doesn’t have to be at the begining, unless they are basically an ‘action’ event card, in which case that has to be done during the ‘action’ part of the round.

When cards are laid (or not) I draw an adventure card. This can be a complication which is something like do a roll and if it fails I need to discard hands from my deck, my hand, or my hero takes damage etc. Or it can spawn an enemy that has health and has to be attacked, or it can spawn an obstacle (similar type deal). If it’s the complication type card then it is usually dealt with immediately. If it’s one of the others it just puts them into play and then it moves onto the next part of the round.

This is when the hero takes action. They can choose what they do. Whether they tackle an enemy, an obstacle, do the challenge on the mission card etc. The choices matter because while a fate token accrues 1 per round (as like a steady ticking clock to failing the game), additional fate tokens are gained if there are enemies/obstacles in play. You can assign an enemy to yourself so it doesn’t add +1 fate but then it’ll damage your hero (and if you lose all your health you also lose the game). Both enemies and obstacles can be ‘exhausted’ which means don’t do damage/add fate tokens. So there’s a strategy to it, one I struggle with as I said before I was taking too long and with a maximum of 9 rounds – time is up. The hero can also choose to essentially sit out and either gain 1 health or 1 energy, in addition to overcome (rolling dice to do something) or playing an event/action card.

After that it’s the enemies turn to strike back. This is when they damage the hero, add the fate tokens etc. This is also where the mission would progress. You accrue progress tokens for the mission in different ways. For the first scenario ‘Attack on the Library’ everytime you defeat an enemy you add 1 progress token to the first mission, there’s an enemy that when beaten gives you a progress token. Sometimes in hero decks there are cards that if you attach to an enemy/obstacle, when beaten they give a progress token. Stuff like that. Playing solo you need 3 tokens to get past the first mission. You then flip the card, do what it says like drawing more adventure cards etc. And then you need to progress on the next mission card until you get to the part where it says you win the game.

Finally the reset point. You can draw 3 cards, or you can take those 3 cards as energy, or any combination thereof and also this is when tokens move around. So Ezekiel Jones can have a lot of devices and they enter play with tokens, and they remove at the end of the round, when there are no tokens remaining those devices can then be activated when the player chooses. Then another round begins, so start again with sorting out what cards to play or not, and then draw adventure card etc.

Anyway that’s the basic overview. It mostly resolves around rolling the dice. There are 8 of them (4 for the hero, 4 for the enemy). The hero dice can land on success, blank/nothing, a special action, a combo success/special action, or double success. The enemy dice are the same in reverse. One enemy ‘win’, cancels out one hero success. So say the hero rolls 3 success and the enemy rolls 1. That hero has a +2 and so if they are attacking an obstacle/enemy they add 2 damage/progress to the card. With some enemies/obstacles that would defeat them, others it just damages them leaving them still up for another hero/next time. If the hero gets a special action that can enable them to do something on one of their cards. If the enemy gets a special action then same deal if they have a card in play that has the serpent symbol on it.

So it’s like deceptively simple in terms of it’s just rolling the dice, but at the same time incredibly complicated due to the decisions that need to be made about what to attack, who attacks what etc. plus luck does obviously play a big part as it’s dice rolling. If you break even or get less successes than the enemy gets wins, then there’s no default penalty (but there might be on some enemy cards/missions I haven’t seen yet) but you make no progress which is a penalty in of itself due to the ticking clock of the fate tokens. You can help yourself win the rolls by discarding 1 card from your hand per roll to change one of the dice to a success. Also some heroes have cards that enable them to do that in other ways.

There is an awful lot to remember and a lot of cards to look at/hold. It’s a cooperative game so you can lay all your cards out on the table (no need to hide), and you can devise a strategy with the other players as there might be some synergy between moves they can make and what you do. However, you need to obviously keep your played cards separate from your hand. I found that sometimes I had cards that I could have played which would have helped me but I didn’t notice as there was just so much going on. Also as I said at the beginning remembering to add/remove tokens e.g. if playing Ezekiel and he has his devices they lose tokens at the end of the round, enemies damage heroes (so health/damage tokens moved), then fate tokens need to be sorted etc. It’s a lot.

Right final verdict on gameplay? I think I might have to go with the classic – “Easy to learn, difficult to master” – and of course ‘easy’ is a relative term as it did take me several hours to get my head around it. I think I’ll give it a 4/5 rating again because it’s good, and there’s a lot of depth to it which will give the game great longevity BUT I don’t like the ‘ticking clock’ of the 1 fate per round thing. I realise that gives games a time limit but losing sucks and running out of time doesn’t feel good. Now this might be because I suck at the game but I think it took me 4 or 5 attempts before I managed to get past the second mission card (there are 3 for the first scenario). Imagine laying the game out, all those cards, all the complex moves/tokens etc. and then you lose. That’s all the time we have to play folks, better luck next time – not a good feeling.

I waited a long time for this game. I thought it would be a slightly late birthday present to myself last year. As it turned out it was a very late birthday present to myself this year (so not really a birthday present at all). I asked the question at the start – was it worth the wait?

Well I don’t know if anything is worth a 14 month extra wait so I’ll rephrase “am I happy to have it in my hands?” and the answer to that is absolutely yes. There are two things that I love most about this game: 1) it can be played solo without modification and as my choice is me on my own, or me with mum, that’s great. I’ll get so much more play out of it because I can play by myself when I want. 2) it is nothing like any game I’ve ever played before – it’s different. With games they can get a bit boring when they are all the same. This is something new which offers me variety when I’m choosing what game to play. Now both of those reasons don’t even touch on another major reason – it’s The Librarians!! My favourite games are the licensed ones, they add something extra and I just enjoy them more. I have a Marvel themed monopoly, three different Star Wars themed games, and they are usually the ones I pull out first if I get to choose what is played.

Then there’s the actual game itself which I think will be a lot of fun, and probably a lot of frustration as well. However, to soothe the frustration it is The Librarians with the mini-game of ‘name that episode’ and just generally being surrounded by the show which brings me comfort. It’s quality made with just a handful of niggles and yeah I’m really pleased with it.