If I told you we were going to play a game about accumulating knowledge and building the biggest library, you might quickly get an idea in your head about what kind of game that’d be. Browsing shelves of books to find the best one, maybe collecting sets, maybe trading, sounds relaxing, right? You won’t be so relaxed when I burn your books, rob you blind, and toss you down a canyon.
Ryno Lourens’ game Sultan’s Library (Print-and-Play provided by the designer, currently on Kickstarter at https://www.kickstarter.com/projects/369033234/sultans-library-untold-riches-await-within) has the gorgeous art and beautiful theme of a peaceful (and pacifist) eurogame, but just under the surface lies the chaos, thieving and backstabbery of a game like Munchkin, Lunch Money, or Red Dragon Inn. The result is a game that stands apart thematically from the pack of light, take-that-style card games.
The goal of Sultan’s Library is to contribute books to… uh, the Sultan’s Library. Each book is worth some Knowledge Points, and the most Knowledge Points wins, but the books are buried in a deck chock full of non-book things, which you may hope to avoid…. but probably won’t.
A typical turn in Sultan’s Library will be familiar to many players well seasoned in kicking down doors and looking for trouble. You’ve got two action points to spend each turn, playing cards, searching locations, or using your special abilities. Flipping a card from the top of the Exploration deck costs some Explore Points (granted by other cards) and an action, but the return on that investment varies wildly. You’re never sure what you’ll find, but that’s where the books are so you gotta explore, even if the cards in that deck can put players in some tough situations. You might be exploring the library, but wind up in a Dead End (quite difficult to leave) or a Pleasure District (where you’ll drop the books you’re holding! for some reason!)… or find the Miraculous Fountain of getting actions for free! It could be a new location to move to (with good or bad abilities attached,) an event (again, a boon or a burden) or a book, which can be scooped up for points… however, picking up the book from your current location costs an action, so if you end your turn with a book at your feet, odds are it won’t be there by the time it gets back around to you.
That’s probably fine, though, as the Action deck (from which you replenish your hand each turn) contains tons of ways to exact your revenge. Drawing cards from the Action deck provides you with the Explore Points you need to move around the realm, but also contains many special moves to bring misery crashing down on your foes. They’re planning a big move on their turn? Make them discard cards and lose actions. They’re saving up cards to attack you? Hang onto a “Extra Guards” card to thwart their efforts. They’ve deposited a book and they think they’re safe? Torch it. That’ll show them.
The first player to deposit three books at the library ends the game, but is pretty likely not to win; The Sultan gives out a Mario-Party-like cascade of bonus points at the end for being in the library or for having books on your person. This means that depositing books might not always be the best choice… maybe you hang onto them for a bit, keep them safe from the Book Burning cards and wait until the time is right… the problem is that each player has an ability of their own that they can always use, so you’ll need to watch out for sneaky thieves who might snatch your newfound Knowledge Points out of your grasp.
Sultan’s Library is a twist on an old formula: at the core you’re still “kicking down the door,” flipping cards off the deck hoping for something good… then when you get something bad instead, ganging up on the leader to stomp them into oblivion. The fact that the goal here is parallel growth rather than direct conflict helps to address some of the issues people typically have with these kinds of games, and makes it feel like players can always catch up, regardless of how far ahead another player may seem. Most of my games stayed within the expected time limit, but with four players (especially more cutthroat players) the game can run a bit long, as continually stomping down the leader can artificially extend the game time. If that’s not a big deal for you, (or your group isn’t particularly toothy) then that shouldn’t stop you from enjoying it. If you’re a fan of chaotic but vicious little card games, and you’re into the novel theme, check it out on Kickstarter at https://www.kickstarter.com/projects/369033234/sultans-library-untold-riches-await-within