Books that go bump in the night!
Strange but true; I don’t have any horror themed games in my collection – no Mansions of Madness, No Cthulhu or Lovecraftian themed tabletop offerings. Actually, I do have the super fun Dead and Breakfast by Braincrack Games. But that’s more Scooby Doo than scary (in the best possible way!). So getting the chance to preview Horror in the Library by Blue Donut Games was a step into another world for me!
Live on Kickstarter now with fulfilment by Zatu Games, it is time to check out what’s happening inside Horror in the Library!
Before we start, I should just mention that I have only tried the Kickstarter preview copy. As such, rules (including an experimental monster attack mode which the publisher kindly let us playtest), components and artwork could change by the time the game gets to tables. On that basis, my comments are related to the version we have played.
Horrors await you amidst the dusty shelves!
Horror in the Library is a 19th Century Victorian themed competitive game for 2-6 players. It’s got tiles. It’s got cards. It’s got dice rolling. And, perhaps most importantly of all, it’s got monsters! Oh and it’s not Cluedo (which is fun but just not this!).
In Horror in the Library, you have been invited to dine at the mansion of the Mad Professor. A game guy, he has set you each a challenge to find missing pages from a book that will lead you to the portal out of the knee-knockingly spooky library.
Using only your fortitude and your mind, you must collect the item pages that match the item tiles in your inventory. If you are the first out the door, you’ll not only survive (phew!), but inherit the Mad Professor’s fortune (and insider otherworldy secrets!). So worth a turn round the terrifying table then.
How can we play? Let me count the ways!
I would ordinarily describe the set up of a game in a preview/review. But here that is a little tricky. Mainly because it is completely up to your game group how you arrange the tiles, how competitive you want to be, and how long you want to play. And that’s cool for a start! As time-starved gamers, knowing that we can shorten or extend gameplay to suit our evening and group without sacrificing satisfaction is always a plus point!
There are some constants that I can highlight. The library itself is made up of a series of room tiles. Big square tiles with little metal knobs that allow for easy spinning. There’s also a portal tile which is your exit outta there! Your game space will be made up of some of these room tiles connected to the portal tile. We played our first game with a 3×3 grid placing the portal in the centre. We then played another where we went rogue and placed the portal down a long and winding corridor of connected rooms!
There’s also a big library screen which shows the item page types you’ll collect when standing at a bookshelf, as well as Blessing and Curse Cards and coins that you get to take when rummaging through a desk. Oh and a host of Monsters and item tiles. Finally, you’ll have your own player boards, search and fortitude markers, and a character standee.
If you want a longer game or have more players, you can select more item tiles to collect and/or add more room tiles to the library. If you prefer something nippy, however, you can shrink down the space and the searches.
On your turn, you have the option to take up to 3 actions. These range from moving around, spinning a room, searching bookshelves and desks for pages or Blessings/Curses, exchanging collected pages, collecting fortitude and moving through mirrors. You can also take unlimited bonus actions like fighting monsters and using your Blessing/Curse cards that don’t count towards your 3 limit.
Certain actions, like searching through shelves and drawers or pushing through a closed door, require fortitude to do them. And so a big consideration throughout this game is how to keep your fortitude meter sufficiently stocked. Some Blessing cards also give you extra fortitude, but others strip it away. And losing a fight with a freaky monster is definitely going to hit you hard in the fortitude stakes. Thankfully you can always take a breather by staying and looking at a pretty picture. Whilst there you’ll gain some backbone by rolling a dice and rewarding yourself with fortitude! Nice.
Monsters will appear in any room where there are at least 3/4 (player count dependent) search markers in play at once. With searches going in cycles of 6, markers will be removed for use elsewhere throughout the game. Should 3/4 markers appear in that room again, however, another Monster will be summoned there to buddy up with its fellow freak!
If you enter a room with a monster, somebody summons one into the room where you are, or you pass through a monster occupied room, you will immediately lose fortitude. You’ll also have to lose an item card that someone else can collect when they next enter. But choosing to attack it could reward you with more. So you push your luck and fight? Hmm, decisions decisions! As the game goes on, the strength of the Monsters increases so you’ll be losing harder or gaining more over time.
With everybody having a certain number and type of item tiles to collect face down on their board, only you know what you need to win the game. But you will know the colour type of the items other players are gunning for as the reverse side shows the colour letter. Keeping your item cards face up, other players will know if you have what they want and could start making some nefarious negotiation proposals. Otherwise, you can always exchange 2 of one type or a set of 3 different types to hunt through a deck for one you want (remembering to shuffle your discards back in for others to pick!)
Once you have all the item tiles you need, you can make your way to the portal. If you have enough fortitude to enter and can defeat any Monsters lurking in the doorways, you win the game and the Mad Professor’s fortune, not to mention his spooky secrets!
Horror in the Library is a light game but there’s a lot going on. You’ve got to gamble against fighting or fleeing Monsters, chain actions together for optimal combination moves, collect the right item cards, leverage Blessings and counter the Curses (which can sometimes be a double-edged sword!), be in the right place at the right time, and deduce where your opponents are likely to be heading as well as what they are collecting in an attempt to stop them!
The rooms in the base game are all quite similar – some have more doors or no desk etc. We found ourselves shuffling backwards and forwards between the more useful ones quite a lot just to top up fortitude and then search. That’s not to say we didn’t traverse the board (or spin them just to thwart each other!). As searches are limited to one per player per shelf/desk feature in any one room, there is a drive to move about. Especially as you can summon (and hopefully defeat!) monsters if you drop enough markers in one. I understand the planned expansions will include new rooms with more variety which will give more variety.
There’s also a big luck element in Horror in the Library – dice rolling for item cards and monster battling, not to mention fortitude gains when looking at pictures. And even the position of the items you are looking for in each deck is in the hands of the shuffler. Some players might not like the randomness of that. But strategy can mitigate a considerable amount with decent fortitude management, well timed Blessing/Curse play, and using actions to collect and exchange the item cards you have for the ones you want.
The components we saw are only a prototype, but they were definitely chunky. Handy when you’re spinning tiles and drawing coins from bags. Having spotted a few things, the publisher kindly confirmed that the wording on the Blessing/Curse cards is going to be clarified slightly so that it is super clear when a power can or must be used. They are also going to consider the current characters and having an advanced set of rules to amp up the challenge for more experienced gamers. And that combined with the way the game can scale in terms of players and time should make it a very versatile option.
If you don’t take your horror too seriously, this is a fun gateway game with potential to engage advanced gamers with some strategic choices along the way. Given its flexibility in terms of playing time, and possibly the introduction of standard/advanced rule set, the designer is trying hard to ensure there’s something for everyone inside the Mad Professor’s Library!
And if you want to find out more, check out the Kickstarter page here