Tuesday, 2 June 2015

Another Kickstarter (p)reivew - Sultan's Library

It's time for another Kickstarter (p)review. This time I spent some time with a prototype copy of Sultan's Library from Photon Games. Sultan's Library is a "take that" card game that has players competing to impress the Sultan by filling his library with rare books. 

The kickstarter launched today and is doing well so far. 

I've broken Sultan's Library out at a few of my home game nights as well as bringing it out to a variety of Windsor Gaming Resource events

The game seems to go over very well with players who enjoy the "take that" or "gotcha" genre. Games like Munchkin, Red Dragon Inn and Lunch Money.

Note: the prototype I received was a very early print and play prototype and I'm assured that the final components and art will look much better than what I had to play with. Due to this I used mainly images from Photon Games' website and their kickstarter for this (p)review.

What is Sultan's Library all about?

Sultan's Library is a card game for 2-4 players. It comes with about 120 cards which are split into two decks. The first is the Action Deck which contains Journey and Action cards. The second is the Location Deck which has Locations, Events and the thing everyone is fighting over: Books.

In addition to the Books there are four player cards, tokens representing each character and a larger Sultan's Library location card. Based on what I can see on the kickstarter page it looks like some additional components will be in the full version like a Start Player Token and two more characters (called Envoys).

The goal of the game is to use your Journey cards to explore different locations and try to find rare books. When you find books you need to return them to the Sultan's Library location. The first player to return three books wins. 

How do you play?

At the start of each turn players draw two cards from the Action Deck. From there they can perform up to two actions. There are seven actions to choose from:

1) Explore the area - this is how you find books and move around. The player plays Journey cards with enough Explore value to match or beat the explore cost of their current location. If they can do this they flip the top card of the location deck. If it's an Event it's read out loud and takes effect. If it's a location, then the Envoy moves to that new location. If it's a book, then SCORE! The player found a book. It's placed at that location waiting to be picked up.

2) Pick up a book - pretty self explanatory but it's worth noting that you can only carry two books at once. 

3) Deposit a book - this is how you win. Drop off a book or two at the Library. Note you have to be at the library to do this.

4) Play an action card - there are a bunch of different actions. These are what make it a "take that" game. You can steal books, explore for free, move yourself or others and even burn books already delivered to the library.

5)Use your special action - each Envoy has a special ability, this action lets you use it.

6) Travel - every location has an explore cost, by paying two more than that explore cost (in Journey cards) you can travel to any face up location. 

7) Scrounge - if your hand sucks and you don't have enough cards to do anything you may spend both of your actions to scrounge, drawing two more cards. I found that this happened a bit too often and it feels like missing a turn.

Each location you travel to has a different explore cost and most have some kind of special ability. They can let you travel quicker, be a dead end and force you to retrace your steps, explore the area by discarding cards etc. Books come in different values with some being more valuable than others.

Players continue taking these actions until someone has deposited three books. Then there is a quick final scoring round, where the player who dropped off the books get the value of their books. All the other players (odd I know) get bonus points based on how many books they are currently holding and their location. This can sometimes mean the the player who dropped off their third book isn't the one to win.

Photon has put up a rather good how to play video that is worth checking out if you want to dive deeper into the gameplay.

So what did I think?

I hate to say it, but Sultan's Library is not for me. 

I really love the theme. That is what got me to agree to (p)review the game in the first place. The idea of traveling around to various locations looking for ancient tomes (without a Cthulhu theme) was really appealing. I also really love the artwork that so far exists for the game. Very few of the cards in my preview copy had art but I really like the look of the ones that did. The problem for me is the fact that it's a "take that" game.

Every time someone is close to winning, someone plays a Book Burning card. Just when you think you are going to stop someone from winning they pull out Extra Guards and cancel your action.

Like most games in this genre this can cause the game to drag on longer than I think it should. This seems to be even more common with more players are you cycle through the Action Deck quicker.

All that said, I don't like "take that" games in general. I really dislike Munchkin and I dislike Sultan's Library for the same reasons. But, Munchkin is a hugely popular game. It's Steve Jackson Games' best seller. That means lots of people like it. That also means I'm in the minority as far as not liking this style of game. 

While the game fell a bit flat on the first play with my regular group of gamers (who also aren't big Munchkin fans) it was rather popular with other players at WGR events. People were having a great time with it. It's very easy to teach and the theme is really cool. It's just not my type of game.

So if you are like me, and not a fan of "gotcha" games: I can't recommend this one. But if you do like "take that" games I think there's something worth looking at in Sultan's Library. It is turning out to be a beautiful looking game with a unique theme and I wish Photon games the best of luck with their kickstarter.


  1. Hi Moe, thanks for the preview! With the way our first day of funding went, I'm confident Sultan's Library will be a great success. Feel free to join us here: https://www.kickstarter.com/projects/369033234/sultans-library-untold-riches-await-within

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