Note: This preview uses pre-release components and rules. What you see here may be different from the final, published game.
Growing up, the mystique of the Arabian Nights was ever-present in the media and pop culture I was consuming. Whether it was the Disney film Aladdin, the Arabian Nights expansion for Magic: The Gathering, or playing Prince of Persia, it was a story and mythos that I was intrigued by.
Sultan’s Library by Photon Games casts you as an explorer in this world, searching the land for books filled with knowledge to return to the Sultan. Does Sultan’s Library deliver you to an oasis of an enjoyable game, or does it leave you wandering lost in the desert? Read on to find out!
Sultan’s Library by Photon Games is a pick-up and deliver and hand management game for 2-4 players. The game plays in less than 30 minutes, and plays best with 3-4 players.
In Sultan’s Library, you take the role of an envoy of the Sultan on a mission to bring back knowledge from the world to the Sultan’s Library. During the game, you travel between various locations searching for books, which you then deliver back to the Sultan.
Along the way, you have to deal with the trials of traveling in a dangerous world, as well as your fellow envoys who are looking to thwart your attempts to please the Sultan while retrieving books themselves. Play ends when a player returns three books to the Library, then total knowledge points are added up to determine the winner.
How to Play:
For setup, two decks are created – an Action Deck and a Location Deck. Players draw from the Action Deck into their hands, with cards that represent and power the various options they have on their turn, as well as cards that provide Explore Points that power various actions. The Location deck contains the various places envoys will visit over the course of the game, events that occur while traveling, and books that are unearthed for return to the library.
On each player’s turn, they draw two cards from the Action Deck, then can perform two actions on their turn. Actions can be any of the following:
- Explore by spending Explore Points. This lets you draw the top card of the Location Deck, which will unlock either a new location, an event that takes place immediately, or a book that can be picked up.
- Pick up a book in their location.
- Drop a book off if they are in the Library.
- Play an Action card from their hand. These allow for more card draws, extra movement, messing with your opponents, and so on.
- Use your character’s special power. Each envoy has their own power, like the Thief who can steal books from other players.
- Draw a card from the Action deck.
Players explore, find books, drop off books, and go through the turn cycle until a player drops off three books in the Library, at which point the game ends and scoring occurs.
Players get points based on which books they were able to deposit, and all players other than the player who ended the game get bonus points based on if they were in the process of bringing books back to the Library. The player with the highest score is declared the winner.
Being in the role of the rules teacher in my game group, I truly appreciate a game that has a simple rules set and straightforward gameplay. I know that this was the goal of the designers of Sultan’s Library, but I feel they took it too far in their goal of creating a game that trends on the lighter side of the spectrum. The mechanics are extremely repetitive, which led to a number of uninspiring plays. We felt that the only reason why the game felt slightly more interesting with 3-4 players was because of the “take-that” nature of some of the cards, trying to convince your opponents to mess with other players’ plans and not your own.
Game balance was quite a concern for us as we played, with some of the cards and actions being extremely harsh and causing great setbacks for the players. In one play, I encountered a card that forced me to discard my entire hand on the first turn, which hamstrung me for the entire game. In another play, I was able to play a card that destroyed one of my opponent’s hard-earned books, undoing turns of work. Needless to say, it was very frustrating at times. In talking with the designers, they informed me that some of these issues had been addressed in further design revisions, with some cards being modified and some of the harshest ones being eliminated altogether. However I didn’t get to try these modifications myself.
We felt that the game played better with 3 or 4 players, as the greater number allowed players to cycle through the decks faster, allowing more books to be located more quickly. In some of our plays, we found that to be an issue, with one player consistently finding the books while the other players were drawing cards that ended up being useless to them as the lead player moved quickly to victory, especially in the 2-player game. In addition, the final scoring did not quite work for us, as we felt that the “catch-up” points awarded to everyone but the person who retrieved three books first to be a bit clunky. We also would recommend a change to the “everybody loses if still tied after multiple tiebreakers” rule, maybe to a shared victory instead.
Sultan’s Library presents a game with simple mechanics and easy rules. We hope that the designers continue to take feedback about the gameplay as they work through the development process, to create a game that is worthy of your Kickstarter backing.
If you’d like to become a backer, pledges start at $22 the full game and stretch goals. Sultan’s Library is scheduled to be in backers hands in October of 2015 and you have until Thursday, July 2nd to become a backer. Head over today and check it out.
As always, we don’t post ratings for preview copies as the components and rules may change from the final game. Check back with us after the game is produced for a full review.