I hope you will forgive me first of all. Usually, I would flex my creative juices in this section by writing a (hopefully) comical, atmospheric, or ambiguous intro. I spent a long time debating how to structure the intro to this review. Codex Naturalis being a very small and mostly abstract game, there is not much to draw inspiration from. There is no story, no real overarching theme, and the game isn’t set in a fantastical land or era of time. The game is simply, what it is. And what it is, is everything I look for in a small box card-driven game: fun! So, I decided, inevitably to simply keep this one short, sweet and straight to the point. Much like the game in question.
Codex – Ancient ‘Book’ of Information
Codex Naturalis is a game that sets you on a mission to finish a lost manuscript of detailing species found, you guessed it, in nature. This is achieved by creating a sprawling map of cards in front of you, trying to lay cards down in the optimal layout to earn the most points. There are 2 revealed shared scoring cards for everyone to build towards, and your own personal, hidden scoring criteria. The scoring varieties are variations of colour placement patterns or to have so many visible symbols showing. *yawn*.
Let’s be honest, that sounds like an absolute drool-fest. It is objectives we have seen a hundred times before, but yet; Codex Naturalis manages to really shine bright amongst the crowd. Not half thanks to all that super inviting gold foil that catches the light in such an oh-so-perfect way. Oh my gosh does this game look superb laid out on the table!
The way in which this game functions is that you need to play cards that overlap corners of already played cards, this, in turn, will cover up symbols that you have already played. It is the visible symbols that will dictate if you can play scoring cards or not, so sometimes a gamble and a sacrifice need to be made. Do you really need that one lonely insect symbol?
(The answer is probably yes, but damn does that fungus farm look amazing!)
Naturalis – To Be Born of Nature
You are all working on your own little map of nature. So, the only interaction that really comes between players is if you manage to snab an available card that you can see that another player needs. After you play a card, you draw a card. There are 4 visible available cards to choose from, or you can take a gamble on drawing the top card of either the resource deck or the scoring deck.
The interesting thing about this process is that even if you take a gamble, the back of the cards always shows you the colour/type of card it is, so you know at least the basic information of what you will be getting. And, interestingly enough, you can play cards with either side facing up, the back of the card will give you a permanent symbol in the centre which you can’t cover-up. This usually gives its own limitations however such as only one symbol on a card or limited corner spaces available to use. It is a welcome little mechanic however as it means you will never not have an option available to you.
The cards are divided into 4 types, animal, insect, plant, and my personal favourite, fungus. There are also a few additional symbols you will see on the cards occasionally which will be used in some scoring conditions such as inkwells and parchment. Always highlighted in that sweet sweet golden foil.
Codecs – 140.85 for Campbell
I have mentioned a couple of times already about how good this game looks. The pictures I have taken for this review really do not do it justice. Like, seriously. I found it impossible to capture its splendour with my setup, I implore you to check out the pictures on Codex Naturalis’ BGG page for more awkwardly taken shots trying to capture the golden aesthetics. The table presence of Codex Naturalis really is far bigger than you would expect from such a tiny tin. And yes, it comes in a tin. I am aware that a lot of people can be put off by games in a tin, but I think the golden foil artwork on the front works so well on the metallic surface. I do not think it would look the same on a card box. It is also so small that it is hardly intrusive.
Going a step further with this, I am also going to say something that some might crucify me for. But hey, I have never been one for majority influence. This games’ looks and aesthetics are so polished and sleek, that I think it deserves to be in a metal tin, sitting on top of all those massive, bland-looking euro games you have collecting dust on your shelves. It looks fantastic and it screams to be placed on display!
Pokédex of Poké-natures
Yeah, I really don’t know enough about Pokémon to try and make that ‘joke’ work. And yes, I used a Pokémon reference for the part of the review where I reflect on the things that I don’t like about the game. I don’t like Pokémon. Fight me. I have built up an entire fungus farm to protect me.
Anyway. This game is incredibly short-lived. The term ‘doesn’t outstay its’ welcome’ is sickeningly overused in game reviews. But I feel like this game has the opposite problem. It seems to fizzle away before it is even welcomed onto the table. You can smash a game of this out within a good 15 min session. I feel like the ‘winning’ point threshold is reached by someone far too soon. You only need 20 points to win, yet the score track goes to 29. Now I have only played this game at 2-player, so this is something that should be alleviated with more players.
The only other thing I don’t understand is that everyone has 2 colour markers. One is placed on the score track, to, you know, track your score. The other one is placed on your starting card. But why? It doesn’t do anything as far as I can tell, it just kind of sits there feeling awkward and out of place. Just like me at social gatherings! It baffles me. The only thing I guess it is likely there for is to remind you of what colour you are, something that I don’t have trouble within a 2-player game. I am usually the person trailing far behind.
Also, a small personal gripe I have with the game is how small the cards are. Don’t get me wrong. I love the cards and even their size, but my issue is with the practical side of the game. I have man-mountain hands and so I find it hard not to continually knock the decks over when drawing cards. They are glossy and foiled, and so a delicate touch is required to prevent them from all sliding across each other and sliding onto the table.
The Final Scoring
This is likely the shortest review I have written up to now. But the game is just that: short. But it leaves a great impression. I first came across Codex Naturalis on BGA and went into it expecting some sort of quickly thrown together thing that barely managed to present itself as a ‘game’. But boy was I quickly proven wrong. After a single game of this, I ordered a physical version for myself. It was a game that I just knew I wanted in my collection.
The artwork and components are truly of outstanding quality. That gold foil! I will say it again and again and again, but that gold foil really makes the artwork in Codex Naturalis pop like no other game I have come across so far.
The gameplay itself is incredibly simple and easy to learn with the occasional turn where you need to make a decision that may cost you the game. This keeps you engaged and really pushes you to optimise your moves. I say this a lot during my reviews of small games, but this is truly the perfect game to introduce new gamers into the hobby as it is a pure standard of how great a game can look and feel. It plays well as a warmup game, pallet cleansing game, or even a game to play with a tipple with friends. I really do recommend checking this game out, I would hate to see it become one that gets overlooked.