The now-defunct magazine The Games Journal has this to say about the Library building in San Juan:

Simply put, this card is too powerful, even in a four-player game. Even with a cost of 5, you should devote all your energies to building it the moment you draw one. Although it is (usually) not that useful when choosing Producer or Trader, the fact that it gives a 2-card advantage when choosing Builder or Prospector means that the other players must altering their actions to counter this advantage, much moreso than with any other card. In fact, the best way to address this, is to build your own Library but this requires that you actually draw one. Ultimately, this means that there's a great deal of luck in whether you draw one of them or not.

Is the library really this strong? You give up six cards to get the Library (the Library card itself plus the five other cards it costs to build it). If it gets you one extra card every turn, as you choose prospector or builder, it seems to me that it's generally going to take much of the rest of the game to pay for itself. I think that's not so different from other cards. For example, the Carpenter and Quarry cost three and four respectively and both give you one more card every time you build a violet building (in slightly different ways, much as the Library gives you one extra card in slightly different ways as Prospecter/Builder). Is the Library going to pay for itself so much more handsomely than those cards (or many other cards)?

For reference the rules are available here.

4 Answers 4


The Library is a strong card and it is far stronger than most of the cards that boost a single action type. However, the Library also has disadvantages. In the early game, you can buy a Silver mine for the same price, which can give you a massive resource advantage.

A player must remember that the most important resource in the game is cards. A five cost building in the early game should give an immediate advantage that will help the player get more cards in the long run. The Library does this, but so does the Silver mine. A good question to ask is "what am I giving up to get the Library?"

Having played the game quite a number of times, the Chapel seems to be the most important card in the game. Most cards give you a 2:1 ratio of card costs:victory points. The chapel gives a 1:1 ratio for three cost and can accumulate points for the entirety of the game. The earlier you can grab a chapel, the better off you'll be. If one player grabs a chapel early game they can run away with the game quite easily as other players find it nigh on impossible to keep up without a chapel of their own.

It is the nature of card games that some are stronger than others. The Library is strong. However, I've seen many wins without it.


I haven't gathered formal statistics, but I play San Juan quite regularly and anecdotally, I would say that not having the Library seems to significantly reduce your chances of winning the game. But on the hand, there are various other cards, including the Prefecture and Palace, whose absence also seems to significantly reduce your chances of winning. And I think that's the thing: part of the strategy for winning the game is to acquire some of these key cards. So from that point of view, I'm not sure that removing specifically the Library from the game is really warranted.


The Library is much weaker than they say. Its value decreases sharply after the early game, and it has little value unless your cards are builder-centric (Smithy or Quarry+Carpenter) or prospector-centric (Goldsmith+Goldmine), which an opponent can easily interfere with.

  • The library only applies during your turn. Eg: the Quarry reduces building cost no matter who built, the Library does so only when you build. Aside from being a general disadvantage of the library, this also gives your opponents an avenue to exploit you: they can pull their cards in a way to manipulate what you can use your Library on.
  • Their comment ignores that the value of a card changes dramatically over the course of a game. The Library is an early-to-mid game card because it affects your economy (the flow of cards in and out of your hand). To be valuable in the mid-to-late game, a card must affect your victory points. So if your opponent has 9/12 buildings (9 out of 12) and you get a library, there is very little point in building it because you only have 3 builds left. You need something that's worth points, not something that gets you cards, it would be like planting your crops at harvest, starting a savings fund when you're 80, buying high and selling low, etc. An early library is powerful, a mid-game library is okay, a late-game library is wasted.
  • If you need cards, then it is only useful if you pull Prospector, or maybe Trader. Councellor lets you look through more cards, but not keep more. Producer doesn't put cards in your hand. Trader would get you cards, but it wouldn't even play unless you had 3 full production facilities, in which case trading off 2 is probably enough anyway. Builder will save you cards, which is similar, but does not help when your goal is to get more cards (eg for a Bank push).
  • The library is useless if your strategy is heavily goods oriented. It allows you to produce and trade 3 instead of 2. So:
    1. You need 3 production buildings. With the library, that's 4/12 buildings before you can take advantage of it. This means you're a third of the way into the game before it can be used. The whole point of the early game is to establish your economy, you want cards that can be used immediately, or you will fall behind. What this means in practice is that if you built a library, you would not take a goods-oriented strategy, so it restricts your ability to adapt, which can leave you emasculated by a clever opponent or the capriciousness of the cards you draw.
    2. It is very easy for others to undermine because it won't work unless you're the one pulling the producer and trader cards. If someone else pulls producer, then you only produce 1 instead of 3. Whether you pull producer or trader after this, the library changed nothing. If you produce and someone else trades, then whether you produce or trade, the library is wasted. If you decide to wait instead, figuring you can use the library on something like the prospector and use it on your production/trading the next time around, then they can similarly abstain, effectively sabotaging your production and relegating you to your weak roles or their strong roles.
    3. You probably actually need 4 production buildings, putting you at 5/12 before it's useful. This is because one of your buildings is the Indigo Plant. So say you have 2 Silver Smiths, that's worth about 6 cards per trade, the indigo plant makes it 7. That's a relatively small increase, if you built a third silver smith, it would take you from 6 to 9, a big increase.
    4. You probably have to throw cards away. If you're using it, you must have 3 production facilities, this means when you sell, you have a ton of cards coming in, but you can only hold 7, so you have to really twist the timing of the producing and trading in order to ensure you do it just before you think your opponent is about to trade, or you must purchase a tower to let you hang on to all those extra cards, so now you're at 6/12 cards (indigo, tower, library, 3x silver smith), the game is halfway over. But lets be honest, those cards are incredibly expensive, where did you get the money to build them? Your library can reduce the cost to build them, but if you're pulling builder, then who is pulling producer and trader?
    5. Note that there are ways to mitigate the above analysis (eg the Smithy can reduce the cost of those production facilities, Black Market can remove the pressure to perfectly line up your productions and trades and means you can buy cheaper production facilities, in fact, a smithy, black market, and library would be a pretty cool combo: smithy gets you cheap/free production buildings, you'd want 4 to make the timing work well, library fills them up, black market converts them into reduced building cost)

I just stomped my friends because of the library. People are saying it's not effective when you pick trader or producer but I disagree. Towards the end of the game I was constantly loading my producers one round then selling 2 or 3 the next. At one point I had 12 cards in my hand at the start of a round and dumped 9 victory points in my bank. I won the game with an indigo plant, silver mine and tobacco storage. No other producers. We've discussed removing it from the game to make it fair and not based on luck.

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