Coatl (Game Review by Brandon Kempf)

  • Designers: Pascale Brassard & Etienne Dubois-Roy
  • Artist: Silly Jellie
  • Publisher: Synapses Games
  • Players: 1-4
  • Time: 30-60 minutes
  • Times Played: 3

“We live in a rainbow of chaos” – Paul Cezanne

I adore games that have a toy factor to them. Bright colors, plastic bits that interlink, Coatl, looked like one of those kinds of games when I first saw it advertised. Honestly, I kind of thought Coatl might be the perfect looking storm of components and gameplay for myself and my family. So, I bought it, we played it and here we are, getting ready to talk about it. 

Thematically, the players competing to become the new Aztec High Priest. To impress the gods they must carve the most impressive Coatl sculptures. The Coatl are judged based on Prophecy and Temple cards and the player with the highest score, aka the most impressive Coatl, is the new Aztec High Priest.

At the start of the game, each player is going to get a player board, which stores your Coatl pieces, they are going to get Prophecy cards based on the player count and they are going to get one Temple Card. There are some Sacrifice Tokens that you can play with as well, and I’d go ahead and play with them even though the rule book will tell you to not your first time, they are easy to understand, don’t worry about it. In the center of the table, place the Supply Board, this is where the Coatl pieces will be available for drafting. Place two piles of Temple Cards off to the side, with the top card face up and the rest of the cards underneath. Place six Prophecy cards face up as well and the rest face down as the supply. Now, fill the Supply Board with the corresponding pieces of Coatl in the correct spots. 

On a turn, a player can do one of three things. They can take Coatl pieces, choose Prophecy cards or they can Assemble their Coatl. Players will do one of those things and then the player to their left will take a turn and so on until the game ends. 

When taking a Coatl piece, choose one space on the supply soard and add those contents to your player board. Each player board can hold up to eight individual pieces. If you choose body segments, you will take two, you have to have room on your player board for what you are choosing. If at any time after you choose to take Coatl pieces, the body segments are all depleted, or all of the heads and tails are depleted, you will replenish the supply, filling in the empty spaces with the matching type. Not having enough pieces to replenish the supply board, is one of the ways to end the game. 

If the player chooses to take new Prophecy cards, they simply choose one or more cards from those in the face up supply, or draw from the top of the deck and add those to their hand. Your hand limit is five. Prophecy cards are the main way that the players are going to score points throughout the game. Each Prophecy card has a requirement for the Coatl to score and point values for succeeding in completing that requirement. Some Prophecy cards can be fulfilled more than one time for an increasing amount of points and some have only one scoring.

The final thing a player could do on their turn is to assemble their Coatl. When doing this, the player is going to use their collected pieces to either begin a new Coatl, you may only have two incomplete Coatl in play though. The player can add to an existing Coatl and you may fulfill a Prophecy card. The player may do these as many times as they wish, as long as they follow the assembly rules which are pretty simple. You may only be working on two incomplete Coatl, to complete a Coatl, it must have at least one head, one tail and one body part, you need one to four Prophecy cards to complete a Coatl and no two exact same Prophecy cards can be used on the same Coatl. Once you place pieces and start a Coatl, you cannot move them or remove them and you may never join together your two incomplete Coatl. Pretty easy to understand. 

When a player completes a Coatl, you will fulfill as many of your Prophecy cards as you want to, up to four of them per Coatl, you must fulfill at least one. You will fulfill one Temple cards from your hand or the common piles, if able. You then announce your point value that the Coatl scores to everyone and flip all cards fulfilled face down next to the completed Coatl. If when completing a Coatl a player now has three completed, that can also trigger game end. 

The Sacrifice tokens mentioned earlier in setup, allow players to break the turn rules, instead of doing one of the three actions, they may use a Sacrifice token and perform its action. After using the token, discard it, they are one time use only. 

The game can end in one of two ways, as mentioned above, a player completes a third Coatl or there are no body segments remaining to completely fill the Supply board. The games ends a bit differently based on each way, but just know that other players are going to get a turn or two after to finish up what they are working on, if possible. 

After that, flip over the supply board to the scoreboard and start scoring your completed Coatl based on the Prophecy and Temple cards with the Coatl. The player with the highest point total, is the winner. 

I feel like that took me entirely too long to explain the game, and I apologise, but honestly, that’s kind of how I feel about the game as a whole, it can take a lot longer to play, with a smaller payout than I thought it would, or even should.

The jist of the game is to maximize your scoring of cards, and to do that, you want the cards to score more than once, if it can, remember, some cards cannot. All of the Temple cards can score twice, if you get one of the goals it’s a lesser value, but making both will score better. This all takes time though, sometimes the right parts don’t come out of the draw bag to the Supply board. We’ve seen though in plays, sometimes, you just don’t have the time. I’ve seen a game end rushed by just maximizing speed over efficiency, making Coatl that only fulfill one or two cards at the bare minimum while everyone else tries to build up bigger Coatl. It was frustrating, but it worked. 

Everything here works as advertised. The colorful plastic pieces fit the theme and fit together and make for an interesting table presence. They can be a bit fiddly and annoying from time to time, but all in all the pieces work well. I’m irritated about the scoreboard being on the other side of the Supply board. The rulebook tells you to announce what each Coatl you finish is going to score, which adds this weird memory thing to the game for the other players as they try to figure out how many points they need to score on theirs. It really doesn’t fit with the game, give it a score track and you’ve solved that issue. Also, the rulebook does have a couple vagaries in it that can be nitpicked, like parts where they don’t tell you if you should take a Temple card or not. Most of us will err to the correct side, but things like that shouldn’t be left to the player’s using their gaming experience to decide what should happen, especially in a lighter weight game like this that non-hobby people may see and pick up. 

All in all, I enjoyed one play of Coatl, was fine with it on the second play, and by the third play I was pretty well done with it. It really was just not that exciting to me. As I said, it definitely does what it advertises, but while the pieces and how everything plays out in front of you can be interesting to see, it’s not really all that different when you get down to it. We’ve done this a lot over the years. We’ve collected things, to complete goals on cards that are going to score us points to hopefully win the game and create some fun memories while doing it. People are going to like this game, and I can see why with its ease of entry and it’s charming, colorful looks, but when you get down to it, it has no personality, it has no soul. It’s a dressed up dead horse that we’ve been beating on for years. Games like Coatl can be fun, and we can enjoy our time around the table playing them, they are comforting and definitely have their place. Honestly though, I’d like to start seeing something a bit more different, something that takes a chance, something that takes old ideas and freshens them up and creates something a bit new, or at least does things a bit differently. I’m not looking for a reinvention of the wheel, but at least do something different rather than just change up the theme when trying to fool me into thinking this is something I’ve never played. 

Thoughts from the Opinionated Gamers:

Dale Yu (3 plays) – with review copy from publisher: So, unlike the other OGers, I actually kinda liked this one.  I think that the way that the colorful pieces link together is beautiful on the table, and I did like the puzzle of trying to get my snake to meet as many scoring criteria as I could come up with.  However, my initial rating was similar to the other people in this review – it only improved after I saw how this game worked with more casual gamers.  With my younger nephews, this was a hit, and I could see how this game works better with that group.  They weren’t concerned about possible inconsistencies about whether you take a temple card or not – they just took my instruction and went with it.  We had a great time, building out our snakes and trying to score points.

I’ll admit that the game is a bit fragile, and that is going to be a problem with some gamers. There is a possibility for a quick win – though I don’t think that it is a dominant strategy.  As you only need to build a minimum snake of a head, tail and body – it is quite possible if you have a good card draw that you can build three small snakes and score them before other people can get their scoring engines going with larger more valuable snakes.  My guess is that this is why the scoring track is on the back of the board to try to prevent people from knowing the score near the end and then rushing their last snake to completion if they think they have the upper hand.

Though I’m not sure if this was the intent of the publisher, I think that this game has a good role as an entry level or just past gateway game for me.  The permutations of the scoring cards probably keeps this from being a true gateway game, but just barely.  This game will work well in those situations.  If we’re able to have family holiday gatherings this year (which is still very much up in the air), this is the kind of game that I’d be inclined to pull out.  I’ll admittedly probably not play this again with my regular group of veterans, but that’s OK.  There are different games for different situations…

Chris Wray (2 Plays): I traded this away after two plays.  I agree with everything Brandon says: this is pretty, and fun to fiddle with, but this has been done a million different ways, and nothing here feels fresh or interesting after the first game. 

Ratings from the Opinionated Gamers:

I love it.

I like it.  Dale Y

Neutral. Brandon, Chris Wray, John P

Not for me… James Nathan

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6 Responses to Coatl (Game Review by Brandon Kempf)

  1. frankhamrick says:

    Have only played it two player with my daughter – 3 times. She tends toward lighter games, and I toward heavier games. We both really enjoy this one. The table presence; the tactile feel of the plastic pieces; the puzzle of trying to max your score; and the tension of the rush to finish before others, make this one a winner for us. I do find the rule that gives others two final turns after someone completes their third snake does mitigate the threat of players trying to rush the game end. For me – this is a definite keeper.

    • Brandon Kempf says:

      Yup, I fully admit there are going to be people who enjoy this one. I couldn’t get my kids to try it with me though. But that’s mostly a statement about them, not the game, they rarely play games with me anymore. Glad you enjoy the game & thanks for reading!

  2. Tasia says:

    My friend in an archeologistthat specializes in the Aztec era. I wonder if her children and family would enjoy playing this game?

  3. Gerrard says:

    Is this game better than Reef?

    • frankhamrick says:

      Have played Reef only once. It didn’t catch my fancy like Coatl. Maybe I just enjoy the look and feel of this one better.

    • Brandon Kempf says:

      I enjoyed Reef more than I did Coatl, now, Reef has issues as well and isn’t perfect, nor is it really a new idea, but it did play easier and more enjoyably for me
      .

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