Books Of Time Review
Books of Time hit me right in the nostalgia. Not because I’ve played another game like it, because I’m not sure I have, but because of the sound.
Clack! Clack! Clack!
As someone who went to Secondary school in the late ’80s/early ’90s, most of my schoolwork was held in ring binders. For some subjects we had those fancy lever-arch folders, but for the rest it was the ring binders that always looked like they were after your flesh when you closed them.
Why am I telling you all of this? Have I finally lost it? Nope, it’s just because Books of Time makes a big point of using those same vampiric ring mechanisms to create the titular books, so you’d better get used to the Clack!, because you’re going to hear it a lot.
Getting your books in order
Books of Time is a set collection game hidden between the pages of its engine-building books. There’s no denying it looks really different and visually arresting the first time you see it. The little books before each player, the lectern with the central chronicle, the pages all over the table – you won’t have seen another board game that looks like it. There are other ways the designer could have tried to accomplish the same thing, but the choice to go with the ring binders definitely helps it stand out in a sea of themeless Euro games.
Themeless? It seems like a weird thing to say, right? A game where you physically put together little books by adding pages between covers being themeless. The blurb in the rulebook says:
“Challenge up to three of your friends, or play solo, and tell your own story that will be written and remembered for ages to come!”
That’s a bit of a leap, to put it lightly. The pages on offer to add to your books have some really pretty illustrations representing different advances in science, trade and industry. They also have various symbols representing the actions and resources you’ll get for either adding the pages or activating them during the game. Oddly though, and almost certainly to make printing cheaper and easier for international markets, there’s no text on the pages. When you choose to place a page in one of your books you do it solely for the reasons of how it gels with the other pages in your books, and more often, because of the way the symbols work towards your sets.
Ultimately it means your books will mean nothing at the end of the game, nor will they make any sense. You’ll have pages with pictures of Marie Curie, a horse, Jazz music, and a scoop of cocoa beans, all nestling up next to a book showing a route around the Cape of Good Hope. Put bluntly, from a theme point of view, your books will mean nothing at the end of the game.
A real page-turner
Despite my negativity about how the theme of making books is handled, the game itself is really good fun. As is often the case with a Board&Dice game, there are a load of different things you’ll want to get done, and not enough turns to do them all. I don’t know if Board&Dice have some kind of requirement that games should have three tracks to progress up, but Books of Time follows the same format as others have in the past, including Teotihuacan (review here), Origins: First Builders (review here) and Tabannusi (review here), and gives you three to try to climb.
Climbing those tracks can give you some seriously good rewards, but movement up them costs resources, the same resources you need to spend to add pages to your books. I like the way the game only bothers you with two resource types: pens and paper, along with some folders which act as wild. It makes planning much easier than other games, and helps the game lean towards the middle of the difficulty spectrum.
As well as paying resources to climb tracks and add pages to your books, you can also choose to activate books, which is often the most satisfying thing to do. You get to claim the benefits on both pages on view, before flipping to the next page and queuing up the next delicious combo. Pages not only give you stuff for using them, but also add a third prong to the points trident. Each of your three books – red, green, and yellow – can net you some hefty points, but with conditions.
Green pages just need to be of different types, while red ones like you to have two or three of the same kind, with some extras for variety. The yellow book is the trickiest of all, where the game wants you to have placed pages in a certain order to score. Scoring of the books is dependent on discarding objective tiles along the way. You might want to go all-in on getting those yellow pages sorted, but if you discard the top two tiles and only leave yourself with the third, most difficult objective, you’re looking at either zero or 24 points.
None of these decisions are too contrived to make, but you need to make your mind up early and stick to your guns.
As a straight-up mixture of engine-building and set collection, Books of Time is great. It hits smack bang in the middle of medium-weight as far as I’m concerned, and it’s great to see Board&Dice make this visually appealing commitment to something lighter than its usual Euro fare. The theme is non-existent, as I mentioned above, but that doesn’t mean it isn’t a lot of fun to make your little books. It creates a personal bond between you and the thing you’re making which feels pretty unique, but personally, I could live without the flesh-threatening Clack! of the rings snapping shut.
I’ve played some games of it where I’ve managed to get everything right and go whizzing round the score track like a merry-go-round, and others where it hasn’t gone so well. I’m not sure if the difference between those games was skill, luck, or a combination of the two, but I’ve played more than one game of Books of Time where it’s become obvious from a long way out that I’m not going to achieve the objectives I’ve set for myself.
The components were my biggest worry. As a teenager who was permanently armed with a packet of hole reinforcement sticky hoops for his binders, I worried that the pages would show wear quickly. So far, so good. No tears, no growing holes, and no broken binders. I strongly recommend not adding those hole reinforcements by the way, because you’ll need to shuffle the pages lots, and I’m not sure that would go so well with stickers on every page.
The combination of the toy-like hook of the ring binders combined with the unique set-collection stuff makes for a fun game. Beneath the surface, there’s nothing going on here that you haven’t seen in countless other Euros through the years, but it’s all wrapped up in a nice, appealing package. If you want something that’s more about printing books, have a look at Portal Games’ Gutenberg (review here), and if you want something that does a better job of taking a trip through history with a game more tightly woven into the theme, try Trekking Through History (review here). Books of Time is a satisfying, enjoyable game with a great gimmick which might not knock your socks off, but you’ll still have a good time with it.
Review copy kindly provided by Board&Dice. Thoughts & opinions are my own.
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Books of Time (2023)
Design: Filip Głowacz
Art: Zbigniew Umgelter, Aleksander Zawada
Playing time: 60-75 mins