Battling Baddies in the Library: Library Labyrinth, a New Tabletop Game

Terrors abound in the library. Martian robots, Cerberus, and a Kraken are only a few of the miseries that have to be conquered. A team of collaborators must work strategically together to not only squelch those baddies, but contain them in their proper space—the book they came in. Sounds plausible, but this is not a worst-case book challenge scenario. Rather, it’s a short description of the new offering from Dissent Campaigns & Games called Library Labyrinth.

board game with playing pieces shaped like basilisk, people
Courtesy of Dissent Games

Terrors abound in the library. Martian robots, Cerberus, and a Kraken are only a few of the miseries that have to be conquered. A team of collaborators must work strategically together to not only squelch those baddies, but contain them in their proper space—the book they came in.

Sounds plausible, but this is not a worst-case book challenge scenario. Rather, it’s a short description of the new offering from Dissent Campaigns & Games called Library Labyrinth.

Library Labyrinth is a strategic, collaborative tabletop game that teams up players to fight evils that have escaped from between the pages of some of our most beloved books: The tornado that sets the story in motion in The Wizard of Oz, Fenrir the Wolf from Norse mythology, and Dracula, along with—yes—plagues and anxiety, two very real-world terrors.

In order to beat the terrors, players must capture and reshelve them so they can’t do more harm. Doing so involves guessing whether or not turning over the next tile will be a good move (a book to capture the terror!) or a bad move (another terror lands on the board!) and calculating steps ahead to see how best to move through the library labyrinth and contain the monsters. This can be surprisingly difficult and heart-racing. As writer Amy Rea’s son taught her to play, they both grew increasingly tense as they realized that if one more terror popped up on their board, they were doomed. (They persevered—in that round, anyway.)

But it’s not all about baddies. To assist in capturing the terrors, players draw cards from six different book categories: children’s fiction, classic fiction, legends, historical leaders, amazing lives, and science. Represented in these categories are amazing women, fictional and real, including Jo MarchMary Seacole, Noor Inayat Khan, Anne Shirley, Maria Quitéria, and Himiko. An accompanying booklet contains descriptions of each woman and why they’re important in their category. All the fictional women are characters from books in the public domain, and all the real women have passed away. A sensitivity reader was brought in to ensure the information about each was in good shape.



For UK-based Jess Metheringham, who came up with the idea for the game and oversaw its development with three other women, Library Labyrinth wasn’t her first rodeo. She brought Dissent Games to life with a game called Disarm the Base, a cooperative game where players find and disarm warplanes on a base while avoiding guards. It was a learning experience to develop her own game, including aspects of producing a retail game that she hadn’t previously considered. “There’s a disclaimer in the rulebook, which is basically: We’re not encouraging you to try this at home,” she said, laughing.

After completing Disarm the Base, Metheringham said the idea for Library Labyrinth started intriguing her in the summer of 2020. “I was coming up with these ideas, and they were just little bits of paper being thrown around,” she recalled. She knew she wanted to do something with books and amazing women. Just as Disarm the Base was part passion project, part business project, she thought a cooperative game about books and women would have large appeal, but also potentially be a good business decision.

But unlike the previous enterprise, the pandemic lockdowns keeping her home with two small children made developing a game on her own more daunting. “I realized firstly that I needed a bit of help,” she said. “Just getting through things—but also I’d got stuck. What do we do with books [in the game]? And what do we do with people popping out of books, and how are they doing this?”

It was time to reach out to others. First, she started talking with her friend Mill Goble, who became the co-designer of the game. “We started coming up with more ideas of how it was going to work,” Metheringham said. “We wanted it to be about all the things that you find in books, and it just seemed that a library was the obvious place to put it. Particularly when we realized we wanted it to be a bit of a maze. Of course, library goes perfectly well with a labyrinth.”

game cards featuring images of women in books, other graphics
Courtesy of Dissent Games

Goble had a theater background, including working with live immersive productions, and has created escape rooms. Another addition to the team was Samantha Grieves, a working artist, who did all the character art. “The logo was mine, and some of the background stuff is mine,” said Metheringham. “But Sam is the one who actually knows what she’s doing.” With the addition of Ella Royer, who’s worked in illustration, graphic design, and virtual reality, the four of them set out to explore the possibilities for a library-, book-, and woman-themed game.

Not that there weren’t hiccups. “For a while [the game was called] Trapped in the Library,” said Metheringham, “And then it was Library Lockdown, which we thought would go over terribly.”

An important part of the process was playtesting. Goble was instrumental in finding players to test and critique the game so they could take the comments and develop newer, stronger iterations. Some of the testing was entirely homespun. “I printed [the game pieces] on my home computer and glued them onto a bit of card,” Metheringham said, laughing. “It’s slightly more advanced than gluing it onto a cereal box. Not much more advanced, but very cost-effective.”

There were also digital tests. “The main digital program is Tabletop Simulator, which is a computer sandbox,” she said. “You create your private pictures and then import them. It takes ages to fiddle around with it. But once you’ve got it there, then you can flip the cards and move things around.”

They wanted two distinct groups of players to test the game. “Once we finished playtesting with ourselves, then we playtest with other designers,” said Metheringham. “The second audience is nondesigners, sometimes members of the public. More often it’s people who are members of the public but who know games.”

What they found is that designers can look at the nuts and bolts of the game to see what works and what doesn’t, often in ways generalists can’t. “The designers are looking at the mechanics with a clinical, cold sort of view,” she said. “Which is incredibly useful, but can be a bit, ‘That’s not actually how the average person really plays.’”

That’s something the nondesigner testers could comment on: Was the game playable, fun, and interesting? The feedback both groups provided caused the developers to realize that the story arc didn’t work as it was. “We took it all apart,” Metheringham said—“More than taking the roof off and putting it back together.” What had been board-based evolved into a tile-based game where players have various opportunities to turn over tiles, either to their benefit or detriment. Once that was accomplished, a third group of testers—largely nondesigners who could offer opinions on the latest iteration—tried the game at a variety of gaming conventions in the UK, such as the UK Games Expo.

Then it was time for a Kickstarter campaign, where more than 1,000 people preordered the game, along with another 500 from the United States and Canada. Metheringham still has a few copies left from the initial print run, she said, but expects they’ll sell out within several months, possibly by the end of 2023.

As for what the future holds, she added, she needs a breather from planning such a complicated type of game and may consider making little card games. She’s also considering boosting a previous project of Christmas cards that have a simple game on them. In addition, she’s creating worksheets to accompany Library Labyrinth to help players learn more about the extraordinary women in the game.

The game can be used in libraries, she said, with a staff member overseeing the play. It can be played as a one-person game as well, which could also work in a library setting. According to Dissent Games’ Facebook page, a new books game is in process, provisionally titled Books & Ladders.

Long-term, she’d love to come up with a way to make Library Labyrinth accessible for teachers who could run it in a classroom with 30 students (currently it can be played by 1­–5 players). That might involve making a mini-game with cards of the women and the terrors. In the meantime, the company offers workshops for libraries and schools that are interested in using the game. But any developments would be worth the extra effort, she noted. “Kids are going to naturally gravitate toward learning that way over ‘Just do this book report.’”

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