Game: Ex Libris (Revised Edition)

Release Year: 2023

Publisher: Renegade Game Studios

Designer: Adam P. McIver

Player Count: 1 to 4 players

Play Time: About 60 to 90 minutes

Rules Complexity: Moderate

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Have you ever thought it would be awesome if there was a board game about being a librarian who's tasked with alphabetizing books and building up a balanced library of different book genres? Me neither!

And yet, here we are.

Ex Libris was first released back in 2017 by Renegade Game Studios, but it had some production quirks that kept the game from being great. Then, in 2023, Renegade went ahead and released a Revised Edition with a cheaper price tag, streamlined gameplay, and updated components.

Here's everything you need to know about the new version of Ex Libris, how it plays, my experiences with it, and whether it's a game that's worthy of one of those precious spots in your own board game collection.

This review is based on my own personal copy of Ex Libris (Revised Edition), which I bought from Detective Hawk Games. Not a free review copy.


Ex Libris is a worker placement card game with shades of hand management, spatial puzzling, tableau building, and set collection. It's a unique hybrid blend that delivers an experience that's wholly its own and greater than the sum of its parts.

You play as a librarian who's trying to create the best library of books, with the "best" library being one that satisfies various criteria. Books are represented by cards in hand, and you play cards to your personal tableau to build out your library. The primary goal is to ensure all your cards are arranged in alphabetical order.

Each book card actually represents multiple books, with each "book" belonging to one of six different genres. This comes into play because you aren't just trying to alphabetize the cards, but also trying to collect (or avoid collecting) certain genres. The good and bad genres are randomly decided at the start of every game, meaning each game plays out differently in this regard.

When you play cards to your tableau, they always have to be played adjacent to an already played card, and you can't have more than three rows, and you can't move them around once played (except by using special actions). This is where the spatial puzzling element comes in.

You also have 3 Assistants at your command, and you perform actions by sending those Assistants to whatever locations are in play. Each location has a different associated action, but most of them are variations on ways to acquire more cards, get rid of cards, or manipulate your library-in-progress.

As is the case for all worker placement games, the locations have limited spots—if all the spots are taken, you can't send an Assistant there anymore. But once all Assistants have been played, everyone retrieves their Assistants for the next round.

Here's the thing: the locations are constantly changing.

Every round, one location is made permanent while the remaining ones are cleared away, then new locations are revealed. This keeps repeating with an additional location becoming permanent every round, meaning the total number of available locations starts small but grows bigger over the course of the game.

Example locations that might show up in a given round.

All in all, Ex Libris is a rather straightforward game: arrange your library as efficiently as you can and make sure its composition of books serves the victory conditions. Whoever has the most points at the end wins. (The game ends when someone's library reaches a certain size dictated by the number of players.)

Setup and Table Footprint

Ex Libris doesn't take long to set up, especially once you've done it a few times and understand what needs to go where.

The main thing you have to do is shuffle all the book cards, of which there are 152—so it can take a while depending on how thoroughly you like your cards to be randomized. You'll also need to shuffle the location tiles, plus draw a random "good" genre and a random "bad" genre for the game.

After that, each player gets a personal library tile, their three Assistant meeples, their randomly drawn "personal" genre, and their starting hand of book cards.

Overall, setup for Ex Libris takes about 5 to 8 minutes.

As for table space, well... you're going to need more than you think.

The thing is, Ex Libris starts off compact. No one has started their libraries yet, plus there aren't many location tiles available to begin with. It's deceptively barren at the start, but it won't stay that way for long.

Each player is eventually going to need enough space for their personal tableau, which can be as large as 3 rows of 6 cards. On top of that, the location tiles will pile up as additional ones become permanently available every round.

In my experience, a standard 3-ft-by-3-ft card table isn't big enough to comfortably play Ex Libris with even just two players. If you don't have a surface larger than that, I'd honestly recommend skipping this game. The table space requirement is one of my biggest peeves with Ex Libris.

Learning Curve

While the overall concept of Ex Libris is pretty easy to grasp, it can be overwhelming for someone who doesn't play board games on the regular. It's a good candidate for anyone who wants to go a step up from the usual suspects of family board games.

Ex Libris comes with a nifty double-sided player aid that explains all of the locations.

The most overwhelming aspect of Ex Libris is that there are 18 unique location tiles, and each tile truly is unique in how it operates. You actually have to read the tiles to understand how they work, and I still find myself reading them over and over—even within a single game—despite having played several times already.

Furthermore, the spatial rules for the library tableau are just on the edge of complex. You have to play once or twice to get a real sense of how to strategize, and that's when the gameplay starts to open up.

Ex Libris is rather thinky with lots of factors to consider every turn. It's a lot for anyone who doesn't identify as a board game hobbyist.

Game Experience

Decision Space

The main puzzle in Ex Libris is this: How am I going to build my library tableau to score the most points? Every decision is in service to this goal.

That said, the one true decision that you'll be making from turn to turn is where to send one of your Assistants (i.e., which action are you going to take). This decision is limited by the locations available in a given round, so it's very tactical in that sense—what you can do changes across rounds and you need to constantly adapt.

And when it comes to deciding which action you want to take, you have several elements to think about.

The first element is efficiently acquiring book cards. Easier said than done, though. One location called "Wishing Well" lets you throw away cards from your hand and replace them by drawing from the deck. Another lets you take one of the cards stashed on the location. Another lets you search the discard pile and take from there.

The second element is efficiently playing book cards to your library tableau. When you play a card, you're committing to it—so you have to plan ahead and make sure you don't end up cornering yourself with a poorly laid out library.

Some locations are more efficient when it comes to shelving books, and some even allow you to draw and shelve with a single action. These locations tend to be more desirable, so expect players to fight over them.

The third element is efficiently making up for your mistakes. One location called "Librarians Lodge" lets you swap books in your library while another lets you shift a big group of them. Some locations even cause opponents to throw away cards or take cards they don't want, allowing you to force errors and come out ahead.

The key in all of this is that you only have 3 Assistants per round and that each location has limited capacity. If you can smartly plan out your actions, you can combo the locations to great effect—but it's entirely possible for your plans to be derailed if a location is suddenly unavailable because it was too popular.

This push-and-pull between figuring out the best order of actions every round and whether you'll be able to pull it off is what makes Ex Libris engaging.

Luck Factor

There's a fair amount of luck in Ex Libris, but there's also a lot of luck mitigation built into the gameplay to ensure minimal frustration.

The book cards and location tiles are shuffled and randomized, so you're always at the mercy of luck there. You could potentially draw a dozen book cards that don't align with your library strategy. You might also face a set of location tiles that aren't very helpful, forcing you to adjust for the round.

But the flexibility in scoring means you can adjust your strategy mid-game and still fare well. Plus, several locations provide ways for you to cycle through your hand, get rid of the clutter, and keep drawing to hopefully get what you need.

More importantly, several locations have stashed cards on them that you can pick through. Whereas drawing from the face-down deck is a total crapshoot, the cards on locations are face-up so you know what's available. When you spot a card that fits your strategy, you can jump on that opportunity.

In other words, the luck in Ex Libris successfully shakes things up and keeps things interesting while making sure you're still in control of your destiny. Luck might derail you in a given round, but the winner isn't decided by luck.

Fun Factor

Ex Libris is definitely more of a strategic, thinky, puzzle-solving exercise than it is a "fun" board game. Crunching through the possibilities and searching for the best sequence of actions is engaging, and that's great.

But is it exciting? Tense? Suspenseful? Not really!

At most, the competition for limited location spots might make me groan when a location I wanted is no longer available. Otherwise, Ex Libris is a quiet and thoughtful affair as players work out their plans in relative silence.


At the start of any game of Ex Libris, there isn't much going on. You have a small hand of cards and not many location tiles, so your actions feel simple and straightforward. You don't have much to think about... yet.

But with every round, more location tiles become available. And with every book you shelve in your library, you restrict yourself further as far as what books you can shelve in the future and where you can shelve them. Plus, your hand of book cards will undoubtedly grow over time as you draw more and more of them.

What this means is that you have far more to think about in later rounds, which can really slow down the pacing. Players who are prone to analysis paralysis will be tempted to overthink and drag things out even further. Not that it's boring, per se; I just mean that each round resolves in progressively longer time.

More damning is the fact that Ex Libris has a flat game arc. You might have more to think about as the game progresses, but the tension doesn't increase. The scoring is obfuscated so you never know who's in the lead, and you're basically just doing the same thing over and over again.

Overall, I think Ex Libris outstays its welcome and can feel repetitive.

A word of warning: Ex Libris takes longer to play than the 45 minutes indicated on the box. Even at 2 players, I've had games take as long as 90 minutes to finish. (Libraries are smaller with more players involved, so the overall play time is pretty consistent despite changing player counts.)

Player Interaction

For the most part, Ex Libris is a game where you're focused on your own tableau and trying to be more efficient than everyone else. However, there are some minor elements of player interaction that keep it from being a solitary affair.

Most of the player interaction is indirect, chiefly when players vie over limited worker placement spots. You can ruin someone's action-combo plan if you snag the last spot at a location they were hoping to use. Similarly, you can take cards that are stashed at a location before someone else does, throwing them for a loop.

Direct player interaction is minimal. You'll never directly alter or damage someone's library-in-progress. However, some location actions do force others to do things, like the Tax Collector which forces everyone to discard a card. And then you have the Assistants Guild, which allows you to bump an Assistant off of a location spot so you can take it instead.

Overall, Ex Libris plays like a solo game where you're only concerned with yourself, but there are small elements that remind you that there are others at the table.


I'm torn when it comes to the replayability of Ex Libris.

The strategic decision-making gameplay is certainly intriguing. It keeps me engaged and it rarely feels like there's a clear answer on how to win. I love tactical games that force me to adapt to changing circumstances but allow me to stay within a greater strategy as I work towards a longer-term plan.

I love the idea of a worker placement game in which the location spots are constantly changing from round to round, and I love the idea of a spatial tableau builder where the goal is to arrange a library of books in alphabetical order.

I also love the game's subtle approach to variable setup. The valuations of each book card change because the "good," "bad," and "personal" genres are randomized at the start, so you have to keep solving for the best cards. It's like Sudoku: the game stays the same, but the puzzle is different every time.

So, the ideas in Ex Libris are fantastic.

But I can't get over the learning curve, the poor pacing, and the flat game arc.

To really excel at Ex Libris, you need to internalize all of the location actions so you can play to what's available and to what might be available later. Sadly, the location actions are complex enough that they're very difficult to internalize, which makes the learning curve quite steep and inaccessible to non-hardcore gamers.

More importantly, Ex Libris just outstays its welcome. It takes too long to wrap up, which wouldn't be an issue if the pacing and game arc had more tension, more excitement, more of a climactic finish. Instead, it's flat and forgettable.

I would really like this game if it were closer to a 30- or 45-minute experience. But for how long it actually is, I don't think the experience is worth the time. If someone wants to play, I will... but I don't feel compelled to revisit it.

Production Quality

I'd say the overall production of Ex Libris is okay. The components are fine and the artwork is fine, but there are some quirks of usability and graphic design that can cause friction during play.

The card quality is good with functional graphic design. I appreciate that Ex Libris went with a smaller card size, given how much space they take up when played to the tableau. I also appreciate that all the important info is along the top of each card, making it easy to parse at a glance. Plus, the card quality is good enough that it feels like they'll last for many replays.

The location tiles are chunky but unnecessarily large. At first, I was impressed by the chunkiness of the cardboard for the location tiles. What I don't like is how big the tiles are, which unnecessarily takes up a ton of table space.

I also dislike the graphic design on location tiles, particularly the ones that involve stashes of book cards that sit on the location tiles. The problem is the book cards cover up the text on the tiles, making it a nuisance to re-read what locations do (and I frequently need to re-read because the locations are often complex).

The wooden Assistant meeples are cute and practical. I think the Assistants are cute and lend a whimsical mood to the game, especially with their screen-printed designs. I very much appreciate that they went with wooden meeples instead of cardboard tokens or boring wooden cubes. Good move.

The box insert is well-organized but not conducive to vertical storage. The included organizer is pretty good and straightforward to use, making setup and cleanup easy. My complaint is that some of the compartments aren't entirely secure, so tiles end up sliding around when the box is carried—and if you want to store the game vertically on your shelf, forget it. It's all going to be jumbled up.

The Bottom Line

Ex Libris (Revised Edition)

Approved Score Guide
  1. Unique blend of worker placement, tableau building, and hand management
  2. Strategic/tactical/puzzly gameplay that's thinky and satisfying
  3. Just enough interaction to keep players engaged with each other
  1. Much longer play time than listed on the box
  2. Flat pacing and game arc, feels like it outstays its welcome
  3. Takes up a lot more table space than it should
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