Biblios Dice Review

Biblios Dice, by Doctor Finn’s Games(Capo Dei Capi), is, perhaps predictably, the dice version of one of our favorite games, Biblios.  The original was a light set-collection game with a really unique balance between card drafting and auctioning, and Biblios Dice retains a lot of what makes Biblios such a fun, accessible game.  While the common trend is for ‘Game: The Dice Game’ to be a lighter, faster version of the original, Biblios Dice doesn’t feel like a watered-down experience; this game delivers Biblios’ solid gameplay along with a delightful dose of dice-driven chaos!

Right up front, the player shields give you everything you need to play the game. Smart design
Right up front, the player shields give you everything you need to play the game. Smart design

jessmJess:  ‘Dice-driven chaos’?  How could you resist?

andysmAndrew:  Why would I resist?!  But I have to say, ‘chaos’ makes things sound a touch more dramatic than they are.  There’s still plenty of strategy.  In fact, in some ways, Biblios Dice is a little heavier than the original.  But lets hit the basics first, shall we?

Designed for 2-5, Biblios Dice is played out over a series of rounds, during which players will compete to both earn the most influence over 5 resource tracks, as well as to control the value of those tracks.  There is also a 6th track for the Bishop’s favor, as well as the Market board.  The 5 resource tracks are topped with value dice, which reflect what those tracks are worth, point-wise, at any given moment.  Gameplay revolves around climbing these tracks as well as manipulating the value dice so that the tracks you dominate are worth more points and those belonging to your opponent are worth less.

Each round, the first player will roll all these pretty custom dice –

jessmJess:  I can see why you like it already.

*Ahem* – and then, in turn order, players can pick a single type of action from those shown on the dice, taking that action for each die available.  This drafting process continues until all dice have been drafted and resolved.

Nice dice for rolling
Nice dice for rolling
  • For the Resource dice, each face corresponds to one of the tracks, allowing you to advance up those tracks one space per die (that includes the Bishop track, which I’ll get to shortly).  Aside from the Bishop, each resource track is identical, with several checkpoints along the way that provide more victory points to those who cross them first.  When claiming resource dice, the player takes all of that die that is available (so if there are 3 Scrolls dice, a player would claim them all at once, advancing up the Scrolls track 3 times).
  • The Gold die is simple – when claimed, it awards the claiming player some coin to be spent during the auction.  There is also the ‘gold for all’ face, which gives each player some coin.
  • The Adjustment die is used to manipulate the faces of the 5 Value dice.  This die lets you increase or decrease the worth of the 5 Resource tracks, letting you either favor your own tracks or undermine those of your opponents
Mid-game, those value dice have been moved quite a bit. White must be annoyed
Mid-game, those value dice have been moved quite a bit. White must be annoyed about Red, but thrilled about Black!
Let's say this is the auction. How do you split it?
Let’s say this is the auction. How do you split it?

The last die that gets rolled with the rest, the Mule die, is actually a really neat aspect of the game.  Before any players get to draft dice, the mule moves along the Market track as many spaces as shown on the die.  As long as the mule hasn’t reached the end of the track, play proceeds as above; draft a die and take its indicated action.  But if the mule die moves the mule to the last spot on the track, instead of a regular turn we have an auction.

On an Auction turn, instead of drafting dice, the first player takes the dice and creates 2 pools, one with 5 (or 6 dice in bigger games) and the other with 3.  It is entirely up to the first player to decide how the dice get split up.  Then players use cards to bid on how much they would pay for their pick of the two pools.  Players bid simultaneously and can bid as much as they have gold acquired.  Once the bidding is settled (when everyone passes), the player who bid the most gold pays that amount and gets their pick of either pool of dice, taking all the dice (and actions) therein.  The player who bid the second-most gets the leftover pool, but only pays half of what they bid.  The mule then wanders back to the monastery, resetting the Market board and gameplay returns it its regular pattern.

andysmAndrew:  One of the reasons I think the Market track/mule die design is so interesting is that it adds a really neat layer of uncertainty to the game.  The randomness of the mule die itself means you never know precisely when a market day will occur, meaning you don’t know exactly how many turns you have to gather gold for the auction before one comes up.  And as first player, how you divide the dice pools for the auction is a really interesting tactical decision – do you pool together all the desirable dice in hopes that you can win it, or do you divide things up to minimize their impact?

This little guy actually shakes things up quite a bit
This little guy actually shakes things up quite a bit
Curry the bishop's favor and reap the rewards!
Curry the bishop’s favor and reap the rewards!

jessmJess:  And the auction itself is pretty cool.  Instead of just raising their bids one at a time, each player secretly uses their bidding cards to commit gold to their bid.  And those bidding cards are limited, so you can’t just keep raising by 1 to be safe!  And the best part is that, since the second place bidder only pays half, there are times when you can really drive up the bidding, only to get a bargain on the second-choice pool.  It’s really slick.

Play proceeds until one of the two end-game conditions are met, either when players have reached the top of 4 resource tracks or on the turn that someone hits the top of the Bishop track.

The Bishop track is interesting because it works a little differently than the rest.  Firstly, instead of victory points being awarded at the 3 checkpoints, players are awarded bishop tokens, each of which gives some neat 1-time benefit, such as coins, VPs, or increases along other resource tracks.  The second thing that makes the Bishop track desirable is that the higher you get along it, the better your end game gold-to-VP exchange rate will be.  Finally, being higher up on the Bishop track makes you win ties, which is always a good thing.

So once the end of the game is triggered, players add up their points.  The highest player on each resource track gets 2x the Value die for that track in points.  2nd highest gets the Value die, and 3rd gets 1/2 the Value die.  Then players convert their leftover gold into VPs (at the rate given by their placement on the Bishop track), and then add up any VP tokens they’ve snagged along the way.  Whoever has the most points wins!

Auction cards. Each player gets the same spread, but each card can only be used once per auction
Auction cards. Each player gets the same spread, but each card can only be used once per auction

andysmAndrew:  So let’s get the obvious comparison out of the way.  In the question between Biblios and Biblios Dice, I have to lean towards Biblios Dice.

jessmJessSo shocked!  Andrew Fisher prefers a game with pretty custom dice!  Film at 11!

andysmAndrew:  But not because of the dice!  Well, not just because of the dice.  It’s because of the game-feel.  The card drafting in Biblios is absolutely excellent; the game has an awesome, tight engine that does what it does really well.  And in Biblios, you have the added challenge of mentally keeping track of the cards your opponents are favoring (let alone the ones you have gifted them), so that you can be strategic when you manipulate the values of each category of good.  In Biblios Dice, though, the drafting is quicker and more interactive.  The lack of hidden information during that phase makes it more engaging as a group action, and gameplay is far less solitary.

I'm not saying you *have* to organize your bits this way, but these bits need organization
I’m not saying you *have* to organize your bits this way, but these bits need organization

jessmJess:  That’s all true.  And then in the auction rounds, you get back a little of that hidden info feeling because of the simultaneous and secret card selection mechanism.

andysmAndrewHowever!  I don’t think Biblios Dice replaces Biblios.  They share many elements, for sure, but they deliver a different enough feel that I think most collections will have room for both.  I mean, if you have to pick, I guess I would pick Biblios Dice, but the original is so good, I can’t see parting with either.

jessmJess:  You won’t catch me telling you to get rid of a game about being an archivist, that’s for sure.  And Biblios Dice even makes a solid 2-player game, which most auction/drafting games can’t do well.  Of course, I want to kill that automated 3rd player each time he steals those precious VP chips, but at least the bastard is easy to implement.

As far as we’re concerned, Biblios Dice is actually the slightly bigger, slightly longer sibling to an already wonderful game.  If Biblios is a fantastic filler game (and it is), Biblios Dice is just a touch meatier than that, providing some awesome gameplay in a neat, dice-driven package.  We think Biblios Dice is a great game for any group.  Grab your copy today!

(Thanks to Dr. Finn’s Games for sending us Biblios Dice for review. Neither their generosity nor the dice influenced our opinions…well, ok, maybe the dice did.)

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