Review: The Sealed Library

A solo journaling game by Matt Sanders

25-09-2020 - 4 minutes, 34 seconds -
wretched&alone solo creativity thesealedlibrary

It's time for my first review!

I have a few other games I want to review, but I played through this one today and figured I'd give it a shot while it's fresh in mind. It's the first solo RPG I've played in probably 20 years.

The Sealed Library by Matt Sanders is a solo journaling RPG powered by the Wretched & Alone system which is made by Chris Bissette. You can find it here.

I learned about it because of the kickstarter of The Wretched, which is the same type of game but in space.

In the Sealed Library you take on the role of a junior librarian in a sealed library in a place under siege by invaders. You are all alone and have to do your utmost to save the precious texts of this ancient library. There is not much hope of survival but you have no choice but to try.

The tools

  • A journal or other means of recording your story
  • One six-sided die
  • A set of playing cards
  • 10 tokens of your choosing (I used blue glass beads)
  • A tumbling tower (optional, but the game works better with the tower)

I also decided to play the game with this Ancient Library Room music for some atmosphere.

Everything you need

How it works

The game is divided by days. Every day you have to roll the die and draw the corresponding number of cards and reference some tables to see what happens.

Different suites have different meanings. Hearts are good things, diamonds are discoveries, clubs are bad things, and spades are resources.

Some cards might force you to pull a block from your tumbling tower. The tumbling tower is the invaders. When the tower falls, the invaders breach the library and the game ends.

You read the result of the card and fill in any details until finished, then keep doing it until you don't have any more cards for the particular day.

Once you have resolved the cards you think about what happened during the day and jot it down in your journal. Then the next day begins.

My impressions

I spent almost exactly two hours playing this game and found it surprisingly immersive despite the fact that I had an open window with car noises outside.

The game's mechanics were mostly fluid, there were only a couple of times when I had to think and cross-reference some things in the booklet (pdf).

One thing I wasn't super impressed by was the handling of resources. The game has no way of knowing how many resources you've got at any given moment. I had actually made up a pretty good stash of food and water, but just a day or two later it implied that I had almost run out of rations. This wasn't a big problem though as the game is mostly freeform anyway and I could easily handwave it to fit my situation.

I love how the game gives plenty of options for using my own creativity by a plethora of open ended questions. For example you might find an original manuscript of an epic finished by the son of the original author. This version differs greatly from the published version though. What was this story about? What was different from the public version?

I actually went out and bought a tumbling tower specifically for this game since I wanted to try the recommended experience. Note that the author lists options to not use the tower, but I can only agree that it adds to the suspense. My tower was probably just 3 or 4 pulls from falling by the time the game ended for me.

My story ended after both getting bit by rats and contracting a terrible disease on the very same day. The day before I had figured out a way to store the works out of reach from the invaders. It was too late.

I felt so much for my poor librarian. He had spent 17 days in isolation trying to survive, patch up the barricades, and save books and scrolls. His fate was not unexpected, but it touched me.

Verdict

I was not sure what to expect when I tried out this game. It ended up being an interesting and unique experience. I'm glad I played it.

I'm not entirely sure it will be as interesting on the second playthrough since the prompts are limited.

With that said, I love the format and the simple rules. It fits perfectly for a solo game.

I ended up with about 25 pages on my small writing pad. Almost every word was all mine and not taken verbatim from the prompts. The game managed to really jog my imagination. That's a great feat.

There were only a few things the game fell short on.

First of all, it doesn't feel like a very replayable experience, but I think that might be common with these types of games. I really don't have enough experience with them to know.

Second, there were a few confusing parts in the rules. One example was the handling of the aces. You actually had to read the prompt of one of the other aces to know the effect of the one you were holding. This did end up breaking my immersion quite a bit.

With all that said, it's still a solid game that I would estimate takes roughly 2-3 hours per playthrough depending on how quick of a writer you are.

Rating: 4/5