Games can so often fly past my radar, especially when releases come thick and fast from various publishers. I had never heard of Coatl until the other week and a quick browse of the games page on Board Game Geek showed me that this was a game I certainly didn’t want to miss out on. Coatl (pronounced Co-at-ull) sees players fighting to please the Aztec High Priest by constructing brightly coloured Coatl sculptures. Various prophecy cards demonstrate the patterns that will score the players points; the more intricate the pattern, the more they will score.
Of course, the theming of the game is influenced heavily by Aztec culture and while the theme isn’t that deeply embedded within the actual gameplay, it was interesting to understand the influences that lead to the design choices for the game. In terms of the title, a Coatl translates from Nahuatl to “snake” or “serpent” and is often depicted in Aztec culture as a feathered snake. Of course, the game revolves around players building these Coatl sculptures but the bright colours of all the Coatl pieces certainly reflect that of Aztec culture.
During a turn, you can either take a headpiece, a tailpiece or two body pieces which will then be placed on your player board (you can hold a maximum of 8 pieces at a time on the board). These pieces will be one of five colours and it is these colours that matter, as the way in which you place and construct them will eventually dictate how many points you score at the end of the game. While you want to collect pieces for your Coatls, you will also want to build up a hand of prophecy cards, since these are what earn you points throughout the game. The various cards display patterns and colours that must be included in the Coatl for it to score, with some cards also displaying multipliers that can boost a player's score considerably if they combine the cards together.
Coatl, at its core, is a set collection game. Players select the different Coatl pieces during their turn, while also attempting to construct a Coatl that meets the criteria on the various cards that they have drafted from the available selection. Initially, realising this, I was worried that the theme was loosely latched on to a game that would be far too familiar for many. I was very wrong! While the premise certainly isn’t new, the theming gives this game a real shine and the tactile nature of the set collecting really feels fulfilling when constructing the Coatl.
While players take only one action per turn, this gives the game a pleasant flow and avoids the dreaded analysis paralysis which players so often stumble across while playing games like this. Don’t get me wrong, this game is not without thought, and players need to be careful when drawing pieces from the central board as the only way to be rid of them is to add them to your existing Coatls or start a new one. This could completely throw your plans if it doesn’t match up with the cards in your hand, but it’s that risk that makes Coatl enjoyable. You may need just one more blue piece to finish off one of your sculptures, but that piece also comes with a green piece, a piece you simply do not need but you know will hover on your board until you can find a use for it.
A lightweight joy
The delightfulness of Coatl also comes from its lightweight ruleset. The rulebook is concise and while there were a few points that perhaps weren’t as clear as I would like them, it definitely didn’t halt us while learning the game. We had the core premise down within 10 minutes and, after two games, we were fairly concrete with the entire ruleset. This makes the game easy-going and when paired with the tactile, colourful Coatl pieces, this is a definite addition to a family collection! That being said, I wouldn’t say it is exclusive for that group of gamers and I’d certainly be happy sharing and playing this with my gaming groups. The theme, the components, the premise and the gameplay itself all fit together so seamlessly and the result is a game that flows well, looks great and gives a great sense of enjoyment and achievement.
Yes, the theme does, at times, feel a little latched on, but this certainly doesn’t diminish the game in any way. I think my main criticism of the game is the card stock, albeit a minor criticism. The stock used is very thin and flimsy and, considering the cards are handled a fair amount throughout the game, a thicker stock may have been a better option. On the flip side, the three canvas bags that you get to store the Coatl pieces in are fantastic quality and a really nice addition so that almost outweighs the thinner card stock.
Coatl: Final thoughts
Honestly, do not let this game pass you by. For me, personally, I had grown a little tired of set collection games but Coatl seems to change it up slightly, even while the concept feels familiar but in a good way. The theme, as mentioned, certainly runs no deeper than the artwork and components, but you wouldn’t expect anything more from a game like this, so it is no way a negative. What theme there is has been expertly executed and the tactile use of physical plastic pieces that slot together to form the Coatl sculptures feels rewarding and fun!
There is plenty of variety when it comes to the prophecy cards and this just adds to the replayability. This variety means Coatl isn’t a game that will see a couple of rounds on the table and then be shunned to the back of the shelf. Coatl has really impressed me and playing it has been a real pleasure. It’s a family-friendly game that looks appealing, plays well, and will have a lasting impression. It certainly did for me!