Codex Naturalis is a simple little tile placement/order fulfilment game that is easy to learn, plays quickly and has great table presence. During the game, you will be overlaying cards by their corners in order to build out in a way that fulfils end-of-game objectives. The first person to hit 20 points triggers the end of the game. That is essentially the be-all and end-all of the game. But let me explain it fully…
Place the scoreboard out wherever you want and give everyone a random starting tile card. Each starting tile card is unique so don’t worry that they look slightly different. Players can decide which side of the card they wish to build from. Generally, one side will give you more open corner slots for building, and the other side will give you permanent symbols that will aid you during the game. Let everyone take two markers of their colour and place one on the scoreboard and the other on their starting tile.
Shuffle the objective cards and give 2 facedown to each player, they then get to choose one and discard the other. The card they choose will be their own personal scoring objective that nobody else knows. 2 more objective cards will be displayed face up. These cards are common objectives that everyone will score for. The rest can go back in the box. All of these scoring objectives are scored at the end of the game and can trigger as many times as you have fulfilled them. There are generally 2 types of objectives. One is to collect symbols which will score you the depicted points for every set of those symbols you have visible at the end of the game. The other is card placement which will score you the depicted points for every set of cards you can arrange in the shown positions.
There will be 2 more decks to shuffle and place. The resource cards and the gold cards should both be shuffled and placed face down. Each player will get 2 resource cards and 1 gold card as starting hands. Then the top 2 cards of each deck are flipped face up and placed under the decks. The resource cards will mostly be the basic cards that will give you the symbols (resources) you need in order to play the gold cards and score objectives. The gold cards will mostly be cards that require a certain number of symbols displayed in your area before they can be played but will usually score you some immediate points if you play them.
The last thing to do is to choose a random starting player and give them the first player marker.
Playing The Game
On your turn, you will take 2 actions in the following order:
- Place a card. A player can play any of the 3 cards they have in their hand so long as they follow the placement rules. And as long as you have enough resource symbols showing if it is a gold card.
- Draw a card. A player can take any of the 4 face-up cards available (resource or gold cards) filling the empty space with the top card of the respective deck. A player can also choose to take the top card of either deck instead if they wish.
This is all there is to a turn. Like I said, it's a simple game!
Card Types & Iconography
Before going into card placement rules, I thought it would be best to explain the cards themselves a little first. And of course, show you what you can expect to see on each.
The first card you will see will be your starting card. Each starting card is unique (and double-sided). On these cards you will see the most common of symbols you will come across during the game. The 4 symbols are also associated with the 4 colours of cards you will be playing with. Blue fox symbol for the animal cards. Orange mushroom for the fungi cards. Purple butterfly for the insect cards. Green leaf for the plant cards.
The resource cards will also prominently feature the 4 coloured symbols. They also occasionally feature several golden symbols. These symbols are an inkwell, a quill, and a scroll. These symbols tie in with the gold cards and scoring conditions and will be in the same locations that the coloured symbols appear in. Even more occasionally, there will be a number on a small banner. This will always be in the top centre of the card. This gives you that number of points when you place the card.
The gold cards will feature all of the symbols already talked about, but these are the cards that will utilise those symbols. Gold cards are essentially mid-game scoring opportunities. The gold cards have a cost to them. This cost is displayed in the bottom middle of the card and will be a combination of the 4 coloured symbols. To be able to play the gold cards, you will need to have those symbols visible in your area. There are 3 different types of gold cards:
- Cards that award you 3 or 5 points immediately.
- Cards that award you 1 point for every inkwell/quill/scroll on display. This includes any on the card itself.
- Cards that award you 2 points for every corner you cover whilst placing the card. See Placement rules for a better understanding of this.
- Objective cards will be explained in the ‘Scoring and End Game’ section further down.
Placement rules for the cards are essentially really simple. Now that you have seen the cards you will be playing with, you will have noticed that the cards have hollows in some of their corners. These are what you will be using to guide your card placement.
You can place a card so that one of its corners overlaps one of the hollows on a previously placed card. Only the card that is already in play needs to have the hollow on it. The cards cannot be rotated and must remain in the original orientation. The cards you play (both resource and gold) can however be played face down. Each card is double-sided. The reverse side offers fewer symbols (and no scoring) but will open up more spaces to place future cards into.
It is important to place your starting cards pretty far from each other. This is because everyone’s play area will remain separate from each other.
That is all there is to know about the card placement.
Scoring Objective Cards & End Game
The end of the game is triggered once a player reaches 20 points. The rest of the round is played out to allow each player to play the same number of turns. The game can also come to an end if both decks run out.
The objective cards are then added up. This is scoring for the 2 public objectives and your personal one. They utilise the symbols you have on display. Some of them also take into account the placement of the cards and their colours. The objective cards all scored at the end of the game. There are 3 types of objective cards:
- Cards that award you a set amount of points for every group of depicted coloured symbols.
- Cards that award you a set amount of points for every group of depicted golden symbols.
- Cards that award you a set amount of points for each set of coloured cards in the depicted configuration. It is important to note that each resource/gold card can only be counted once (per objective) for this scoring condition. The depicted card configuration and colours must also be respected. This means they cannot be rotated or mirrored etc.
The player with the most points wins. If there is a tie then the player with the most points gained from objective cards wins. If there is still (amazingly) a tie, then it is a shared victory.
That's A Wrap!
That is all you need to know to play Codex Naturalis. It might seem like a lot, but it is a really quick and simple game once you get into it.
I hope you have as much fun with this game as I do, it’s one of my favourite small games to pull out and play. Happy gaming!