Oh no! All you and your fellow companions wanted to do was hang out in the library, browsing and reading the vast selection of books and sipping on hot drinks. It was going to be a fun and chilled afternoon browsing the shelves, you thought, but you have accidentally unleashed a powerful magical curse. It's wreaking havoc in the library and has released a whole host of monsters and terrible things from the books around you, and is even moving the shelves around! You must work together to defeat the evil curse before it's too late and the library is overrun to the point of no return.
Game Time: 45 - 60 minutes
Library Labyrinth from Dissent Games (https://dissentgames.com) is a co-operative tile-based game for one to five players that celebrates inspirational women, and some non-binary people, from fiction and history. It was successfully funded on Kickstarter in March 2022.
Disclaimer: This review is based on a prototype copy, therefore components, art etcetera are subject to change.
The aim of the game is to gather a team of fictional and historical book characters to use their skills to capture escaped literary terrors and return them to the right shelves before it's too late. It takes place on a 25-tile grid that starts with the starting hex in the middle and the surrounding tiles flipped to their dark side. Each player starts with a self-selected hand of three book character cards from the six categories (Amazing Lives, Children's Fiction, Classic Fiction, Historical Leaders, Legends and Science), and one reward card.
As the game progresses, you gradually build a lit pathway through the library to discover the locations of the six shelf categories in order to re-shelf the terrors you unwittingly unleashed.
As you travel through the library, you may also find a floor tile with an image of a treasure chest. These are rewards. If you finish a move on a reward, you may as a free action take a reward card from the reward deck. There are two types: items that count for two of a specific symbols and boosters that are special actions you can take.
Your mission is hindered (or admittedly sometimes helped) by a wondering curse (represented by a wooden curse token) that moves clockwise around the board through the 'junctions' between the hexes and whose behaviour is determined by the disturbance cards . Each game, the number of disturbance cards is determined by the number of players (recommendations are 1 player = 16 cards 2 players = 18 cards 3 players = 21 cards 4 players = 24 cards 5 players = 25 cards).
A player turn consists of the following phases:
Carry out up to three of your possible actions:
Move (basic, move and capture, move and re-shelve)
Flip a dark floor tile to its lit side, and if it is a terror or shelf icon immediately activate it by placing a face-up terror or shelf tile onto it
Rotate a tile 90 degrees in either direction
Take a book card from any book character category
Donate/receive/swap a card from your hand with another player on the same floor tile.
If you do not use all of your actions, you may choose to pass one to the next player, but only one action can ever be passed at once.
Draw a card from the disturbance deck and carry out the instructions on the card based on the tile that is highlighted (in pink) relative to the current position of the curse marker (represented by the black circle).
Move the curse token clockwise to the next junction on the grid.
To capture a terror, you must move onto its hex with book characters in your hand who have the necessary combined skill set. Captured terrors then need to be taken back to a relevant shelf to be re-shelved - i.e. one of the shelves with a matching symbol. You do not have to re-shelve a terror straight away, as you may hold a captured one in your hand. Cards used to capture then only occupy one slot in your hand (hand limit is six). Once complete a re-shelving action you also earn a reward card and place your used cards in the relevant discard pile(s).
You and your companions win if you collectively complete all six shelf categories. This task is not as easy as it sounds, as you lose if there are ever six or more terrors visible on the library floor or if you run out of disturbance cards. You must endeavour to be as efficient as possible before you run out of turns. You can vary the difficulty based on the tiles you put into the starting grid, and the number of disturbance cards you start with to account for younger or first-time players.
You might be wondering what happens if you find yourself trapped in the library alone to defeat the curse. You need not be afraid, for in the solo version your semi-sentient trolley companion will assist you. It acts similarly to a second player, and is a bit like an overflow hand. It can move and you can pass cards to it. In the final version of the game there will be a dedicated trolley meeple to represent it. During your turn (which is every turn), you can move either your player meeple or your trolley meeple, or a combination of the two.
You still have three actions per turn and the trolley works like a normal player, but with the following changes:
The trolley CANNOT capture terrors or re-shelve terrors.
The trolley CAN flip and rotate floor tiles
Passing cards between your own hand and the trolley is FREE. It does not cost an action.
You may also pass captured terrors (and the cards guarding them) to the trolley. This is a change from the multiplayer game where captured terrors cannot be passed.
As my review is based on a prototype version of the game, it is not really possible to comment on the physical production quality of components. However, the tiles and cards in the prototype did feel good and sturdy quality, so I am confident that the final version will have a decent production quality. I am happy to hear in our interview during UKGE22 that the designers have thought about sustainability and there will be no plastic components (not sure whether this extends to not even having ziplock bags for in-the-box storage). I like the compact size of the box, which feels quite portable.
What I am able to comment on, however, is how brilliantly Dissent Games have showcased the characters they have featured. I adore the flavour text on the cards. It really adds to the game and would be great in an educational or family setting to open up discussion about the books, authors and characters. I love that they have individualised the descriptions of skills of each book character rather than just having the skills symbols.
Our pro-type version has a mixture of placeholder art and final art. The final art on the terrors and book characters is absolutely stunning. It is beautifully detailed and very colourful and I feel that the final version of the game will certainly command table presence.
The gameplay does feel quite challenging and there is plenty of replayability due to the variation in library layout each time. On our first play through we hadn't realised that you needed to set the number of disturbance cards based on player count and therefore it felt quite easy. I think this was partly due to how the rulebook is set out and written, but we do have prototype version and Dissent did tell us they recognise that the rulebook in its current form needs work, therefore I am confident this will not be a problem in the final version.
I personally found it a little fiddly to flip the tiles to maintain the same orientation, and also to rotate them 90 degrees. However, I struggle to think of an easy way round this other than spacing out the tiles as much as possible. You could maybe rule it that you choose the orientation when you reveal the tile but this would change the gameplay slightly and make it less challenging. Also, I would have liked the addition of an active player token so that you can more easily keep track (but appreciate not everyone is as forgetful as me).
Overall, Library Labyrinth is an interesting twist on a tile-based game, and would be great to play in an educational or family setting because of it celebrating inspirational women/non-binary people of history. The final artwork will clearly be brightly coloured, beautiful and enticing. It is nothing ground-breaking as there are cooperative games with similar dynamics, but I would still solidly recommend it.
If you missed out on the Kickstarter campaign, but would like to pre-order, visit the Library Labyrinth website and enter your details to be notified once pre-orders open. In the meantime, if you would like to give the game a go virtually for free, it is currently available to play on Screentop.gg.
Your resident Word-nerd
Want to hear from Mill from Dissent Games talking about Library Labyrinth? You can check out our UK Games Expo 2022 below: