Excalibur's Zone

Games are what I love, games are what I do. But family comes first.

Category: Boardgame Review

Biblios Dice Review

Biblios Dice by Dr. Finn’s Games

This game is a representation of medieval abbots seeking to establish the most prestigious scriptorium by reproducing and illustrating valuable manuscripts. Each player takes on the role of one of these abbots and attempts to gain the most victory points by collecting resources, gold, and the bishop’s favor. The game supports two to five players, takes approximately forty-five minutes, and is meant for players of age fourteen and up.

This past Friday night gaming session, two of my friends and I cracked out the game for the first time. I had a brief familiarity with what the game was about and the components that made up the game, but had not read the rules or played before. I’d done an unboxing video of my Kickstarter copy (I backed the game as soon as I had the budget to do so) but aside from that, had no other interaction with it.

The first run through the game was somewhat choppy at the beginning as I read the verbose rules to the other two players but it smoothed out rather quickly after the first roll of the dice. The first game went so well that we played a second time, something we rarely do unless the game is so fast that we can crack a few games in under an hour.

The way each round progresses is pretty balanced. The mule token travels across the market board in a stable way, with some minor variation based on a die roll. There were times we were rooting for a roll of one on the die or enough to get to a market phase (more on that in a moment). Our first time through, we were pretty haphazard and not very strategic. We concentrated on moving our cubes up the resource tracks and getting VPs as quickly as possible. The dice were sufficiently random that we couldn’t count on certain resources to show up each turn. After a few rounds, we started spending VPs for the extra reroll of one or more dice in order to try and get more faces showing our currently favored resource. This ended up becoming a nice strategic point to the game. We could mess up someone else’s position while improving our own. We also found that keeping the bishop dice had a good benefit. The market ended up falling on one player almost exclusively throughout the first game. He had been selected (randomly) as the first player. This was most likely coincidence.

The market phase quickly became an interesting part of the game. How much money were we ready to part with? Was second place all that bad? These questions were quickly sorted out and we found that splitting resource dice of matching faces between the two groupings was the way to go.

I won the first game with some “pretty close” scores, between five and ten points. I claimed first place in a few high value resources which pushed me way over the top.

We all agreed to a second play of the game but were much more cautious and strategic this time around. Even though I have a copy of the Hidden Objective variant cards, we did not use them. They would afford three victory points to the one in first place of the card they have. The cards are dealt randomly before the game and kept secret until final scoring.

This time around, I lost by a wide margin. One of the guys pulled off a forty-two point win with the others in the mid-thirties and my score at twenty-nine. Quite the crushing defeat there even though we had gotten our cubes out of the negatives. We also started taking the adjustment die on purpose rather than default to mess up the scoring for the others. If you score first place, it sucks when the value of the resource is a one. That was the downfall of the lower scores during this run.

Overall, this game is steeped in theme. Even though it’s been abstracted out to dice, you can see the mule making its slow march to market and you know what each of the resources is used for in a scriptorium. It is fast! You can play the game in half an hour to forty-five minutes easily; definitely less than an hour even on the first play. There is a lot of strategy to the game and it feels like a worker placement game (or dice placement). And most of all, the game was very fun! Playing a new game twice in one night and truly enjoying each experience was a treat. And this is one game that we’re going to play more often.

Our group has a method for determining which games get played and who chooses them. I will be setting up Biblios dice as one of my top contenders along with Innovation as a game that I will vote for every time! My only regret is not putting in the extra five dollars for the power die, which would afford even more game diversity.


Disclaimer: I do not know the staff of Dr. Finn’s Games personally and have only spoken with them via Twitter concerning Biblios Dice and the Kickstarter campaign. This is an unsolicited review and all opinions are my own. No favors have been exchanged for this review regardless of whether it was favorable or not.

You can find Dr. Finn’s Games online via Twitter (@DrFinnsGames) or their website (http://www.doctorfinns.com/). The original Kickstarter campaign can be found here: https://www.kickstarter.com/projects/337407318/biblios-dice

Battle Snails by Tad Watson

War! What is it good for? A bunch of entertainment, at least when I was a kid or when my friends and I had a deck of cards and wanted to play a quick game. How many of us have thrown down double twos and then the “I.Declare.War!” rhetoric where your king loses out to an ace?

Most of us may have played this game countless times when on vacation, on snow days, or on rainy days when we couldn’t play outside (at least that’s what it was like when I was a kid). War is a fun, simple game that anyone can pick up in a matter of seconds to minutes and have a decent time playing a game.

Well, my friend Tad (whom I know in person and am reviewing this game for) has developed a game that takes the basic rules of war and expands it to include commanders with special powers and platoons–evenly distributed piles of cards similar to what you’re used to seeing with war.

The goal of the game is to have the most soldiers remaining after the Great War, or the final round of the game. The setup is pretty straightforward: create 4 piles of cards with 10 soldiers in each pile (1 platoon per pile), the remaining 12 cards are set aside in your “barracks”. Then draw 8 commanders (on larger cards) and choose 4 of them, one for each pile of cards. Place them face down behind each of the piles. The remaining commanders are discarded.

The game then begins with both players revealing their first commander (the one to the far left). Commanders have special abilities associated with them and an activation number. The lower the number, the earlier in the turn the commander acts. Many commander abilities do not activate immediately, but those that do can limit cards in an opponent’s platoon by removing the most valuable card, assassinating the opponent’s commander, or other abilities. Other commanders produce effects that last the entire round such as keeping your soldiers if their value is within 6 of the opponent’s or eliminating an opponent’s soldier if it is twice the value or more of yours.

After both commander’s powers have been activated, the round moves forward like a standard game of war. Unless modified by a commander, high value wins a skirmish and the victorious soldier is sent to its owner’s barracks and the defeated soldier is sent to its owners graveyard. If two soldiers match, a war takes place. Three soldiers are dealt face down and a fourth soldier is revealed face up. Compare values of the new soldiers as normal. Unlike War, however, if the soldiers tie again, you compare commander values with the higher value breaking the tie. All soldiers (face up and face down) that partook in the battle are sent to the barracks or graveyard for the victorious and defeated players respectively. If there aren’t enough soldiers for a player to complete the war, both players deal enough so the shorted player dictates the face up soldier. If a player has no soldiers while the other does, the one with soldiers adds the remains to his barracks. Continue doing this for each of your platoons for a total of 4 full rounds of combat.

After all soldiers have been placed in the barracks or the graveyard, shuffle the barracks and deal cards to each of the four platoons as evenly as possible. Draw 8 new commanders, choose 4, and discard the rest. The battle continues as normal for this round as for last round.

Finally, after all soldiers have been sent to the barracks or graveyard, there is the Great War! This last round is fought without commanders in the traditional War style. Once the Great War has finished, each player counts the number of cards in their barracks and the one with the majority wins! Ties are not broken and in the case of one there is no winner.

The components are straightforward: 1 deck of commanders with two graveyard cards, two barracks cards, and two instruction cards. There are 48 commanders, split into two colors of identical commanders at 24 of each color. You need two decks of standard playing cards or you can purchase two custom decks of playing cards one with snails and another with other animals as card art. Either way, you’re ready to go!

The artwork is all done by Tad, is simple, yet has some humorous situations. For example, the Assassin Commander has a snail sneaking up behind another snail with a salt shaker or the Kamikaze Commander depicts a snail flying a paper airplane into a swimming turtle.

The cards are on 300gsm linen, oversized stock for the commander cards while the custom playing cards for the soldiers are smooth finish. I do not like the plastic cases the soldier cards came in and think that tuck boxes would be the best all around (commander cards come in a tuck box). Also, some of the cards are misprinted, through no fault of the developer’s but the print house’s. The components themselves are what you would expect for a game of this type, though I do like the upgraded cards that the commanders are printed on.

In terms of fun, the game is a good time waster or filler. Some may find it too random, which is one of the issues with the original War game. The addition of commanders and the commander powers makes the game quite a bit more strategic, however.

On a scale of 1 to 5, I would have to give the game a score of 3.5 of 5. This is all due to how much fun I would have with the game, if I’d play it again (I would), and if I’d recommend it to another gamer (I would). It’s a fun game for children learning to match numbers and work with number lines (what numbers are greater than or smaller than each other). The original game of War scores lower at 2 or so, since it’s such a simple game. The addition of the commanders, the multiple rounds, and splitting the player’s decks into four piles that make this game more fun. I like the tie breaking mechanics which tie the commanders to the battles, and I do like the fact that you can’t go into endless declarations of war, which made the original War fell like a tedious and overly-long game.

I have two full sets of Battle Snails available for giveaway which I will announce at a later date.

Until next time: enjoy playing games. Enjoy playing Battle Snails! Please take a moment and visit my Patreon campaign page, become my patron and help a bunch of people. Not only do you help me, but you help a bunch of other people who need the financial aid. One-half of all my net proceeds from Patreon go to charity!

As always, this is Excalibur, and I’m out!

This is an unsolicited review of Battle Snails. Tad Watson and I are friends in real life and he has kindly provided me with a copy of Battle Snails to review as well as two copies for giveaway purposes. This review is unbiased in it’s assessment of the components and final rating.

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