Codex Naturalis

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In CODEX Naturalis, you must continue the work of the illuminating monk Tybor Kwelein, assembling the pages of a manuscript that lists the living species in primary forests. Can you put the pages together in the best order possible? And are you prepared to sacrifice a species to develop your manuscript? In the game, each player starts with a single card on the table, a card that sho…
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Category Tags , , , , , SKU ZBG-COD01 Availability 3+ in stock
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Exceptional Components
Stunning Artwork


  • Artwork
  • Complexity
  • Replayability
  • Player Interaction
  • Component Quality

You Might Like

  • Incredible value for money
  • Superb components
  • Easy to learn and teach
  • Takes up very little space
  • Stunning table presence

Might Not Like

  • Comes in a tin (I love it though)
  • Game ends pretty quickly
  • Not big hand friendly
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In CODEX Naturalis, you must continue the work of the illuminating monk Tybor Kwelein, assembling the pages of a manuscript that lists the living species in primary forests. Can you put the pages together in the best order possible? And are you prepared to sacrifice a species to develop your manuscript?

In the game, each player starts with a single card on the table, a card that shows some combination of the four possible resources in the middle of the card, in the corners of the card, or both. Players also have two resource cards and one prestige card in hand, while two of each type of card are visible on the table.

On a turn, you place a card from your hand on top of one or more exploration zones that are on cards you already have in play. An "exploration zone" is a fenced-off corner of the card; your starting card has four such zones, one in each corner, while resource and prestige cards have only three.

Resource cards have no cost to be played, and they often depict resource symbols in their exploration zones.
Prestige cards deliver points when played, but they often have a resource requirement, e.g., three leaves or two wheat/one water/one stone, and you must have those resources visible in your manuscript at the time you play the prestige card. You score points from this card immediately, with some cards having a fixed value and others a variable one depending on how many of a certain symbol are showing or how many exploration zones you covered this turn.
If you wish, you can play a card from your hand face down; such a card has four exploration zones, but provides no resources or points. After you play, draw a face-up card or the top card of either deck to refill your hand.

When a player reaches 20 points, you complete the round, then each player takes one additional turn. Players then score points based on how well they matched two public objective cards and one secret objective card, after which the player with the most points wins.

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.

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

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!

Zatu Score


  • Artwork
  • Complexity
  • Replayability
  • Player Interaction
  • Component Quality

You might like

  • Incredible value for money
  • Superb components
  • Easy to learn and teach
  • Takes up very little space
  • Stunning table presence

Might not like

  • Comes in a tin (I love it though)
  • Game ends pretty quickly
  • Not big hand friendly