We originally (p)reviewed Library Labyrinth back in 2022 ahead of its Kickstarter launch. Now it's out: backers should have their copies and we hope to see the game filtering through to retail; copies will be available at the UK Games Expo this weekend. Library Labyrinth is a fully cooperative set collection and exploration game designed by Jessica Metheringham and Mill Goble and published by Dissent. Art is by Samantha Grieve and Ella Royer. The premise is that the 2-5 players (plus the game is also playable as a solitaire) are in a library that's under a magical curse that is bringing to life 'Terrors' and characters from the books. You have to explore the library, capture the Terrors and return them to the library shelves.
The game is played on a modular board made up of a 5 x 5 grid of octagonal tiles. These are all initially dark (face down) but they will be flipped as you move your meeples to explore neighbouring tiles. They may also be flipped by a 'Curse' token that each turn moves around the board in a clockwise direction, affecting one of the four tiles to which it is adjacent.
The library is divided into six categories of book: Children's Fiction, Classic Fiction, Legends, Science, Historical Leaders and Amazing Lives. There's a deck of cards for each category and the cards each relate to a character or historical personage - all of them female. For each of these heroines, the card shows a number of icons. You won't know what icons your card will have on it until you draw it, except that there's a core icon for each category and all the cards in that deck will at least include that icon. Players each start with a hand of three character cards (plus a Treasure card, which may add a further icon or will offer a special effect). One of the actions you can take on your turn is to draw more character cards, up to a hand limit of six. You can also trade cards with any player whose meeple is on the same tile as you.
Players can take three actions on their turn, including flipping an adjacent tile from its dark to 'lit' side. Lit tiles show the position of the book stacks, so you'll be able to see the direction from which they allow access. You can, as an action, rotate a tile and you can move to lit tiles provided the entrances match up. Some tiles will otherwise be blank, some will show a Terror and others will show a Treasure icon or a 'shelf' icon (book). When you reveal a Terror you draw a token from the Terror pile. That will be the specific Terror you need to capture. It'll show the icons you'll need to match to capture the Terror: collect the requisite icons from your heroine cards, move to the Terror tile and collect the Terror. However, you then need to return the Terror to the correct stack (ie: bookshelf with a matching icon)...
To win, you'll need to have returned a Terror to all six book categories - which means you'll need to have explored and found all six bookshelf tiles. If ever there are more than five Terrors revealed as loose in the library then players lose. You'll also lose if the Disturbance deck runs out. We mentioned the Curse token that moves around the library. Every time it moves (ie: on every turn), a card is flipped from a Disturbance deck. It's this card that determines which adjacent tile is affected. Aside from flipping a dark (unexplored) tile, it might, for example, cause a lit tile to be rotated 90º (so moving the relative positions of the tile's entrances). Because a card from the deck is flipped on every turn, the Disturbance deck essentially acts as a game timer - with the number of cards in the deck adjusted for the number of players, ranging from 25 cards for a five-player game down to just 16 cards for solitaire play.
Library Labyrinth is a light family game. Half the tiles conceal Terrors, so players daren't neglect their fire-fighting capture responsibilities or they risk being overwhelmed as the Terrors on the board exceed the permitted number... Nevertheless, playing with open hands and being able to pass cards to other players, and even to donate one of your actions to another player, mean that it's not too hard to collect the set of icons needed to capture a Terror, and you can always modify the difficulty level by varying the number of Terror tiles. You'll find that the greatest challenge is in successfully navigating the labyrinth created by the way in which the tiles stubbornly fail to line up.
Adults and children alike playing the game will recognise some of the heroines from popular fiction but they will almost certainly also learn a little bit about other fictional and real-world female role models. And not just the usual suspects: the game draws on literary and historical sources from Eastern as well as Western culture. Play your cards right and you may even find some players seeking out the source books to read for themselves about the protagonists they encounter in this game.