Updated: Jun 8
Coatl: The Card Game
WBG Score: 7
Player Count: 1-4
Published by: Synapses Games
This is a free review copy. See our review policy here.
By Steve Godfrey
Did you know Coatl is a Nahuatl word meaning "serpent" or "twin"? Now as someone who isn’t a particular fan of snakes, the idea of twin snakes is an absolute nightmare! For some reason though the colourful feathers go a long way to hide the nightmare fuel within and luckily the game itself is fun enough to keep me interested.
How to feather a snake.
Each player will receive a level card, 4 feather cards and a prophecy card which is placed on the “0” edge of their level card. Two prophecy cards are then placed face up in the middle of the table and the rest in a face down deck as a supply. Lastly, shuffle the temple cards and place one face up in the middle of the table and return the rest to the box.
On your turn you’ll place down two feather cards on the same or different ends of your Coatl. Each card has two colours of feather on either side and when you place one down you may rotate the card and you can either place it directly next to a card, or you can overlap the colour at the end.
When you’ve placed one card you can score any of the prophecy cards out on the table, including your opponents, as long as you satisfy the conditions with the feather card you’ve just placed. To do this you basically have to match the patterns in your Coatl with the prophecy card(s) you score. You then see how many times that pattern is satisfied in your Coatl and move that prophecy card to the appropriate space on your level card. You can score multiple cards that are on the table but you can only take one from each opponent per round. The more times you can satisfy a pattern on a card the better as they’re worth more points at the end of the game. However if you manage to satisfy a prophecy card three times, either in the same round or across multiple, you can lock it in place. This means that it’ll score six points at the end of the game and it can no longer be stolen by other players. Once you’ve placed both cards, draw back up to four feather cards.
Patterns come in a pretty big variety from simply requiring adjacent colour combinations to some cards requiring you to overlap other cards/colours.
After everyone has played eight feather cards (four rounds) everyone gets a final turn in which they place a head and a tail on their Coatl and score in the usual way. Everyone has a deck of head and tail cards and they come in every colour so you're not limited.
At the end of the game you score points for the position of all the prophecy cards around your level card and then see how many goals you achieved on the temple card. If you achieve one you get three points or six if you do both.
Doing a feather dance.
Underneath all the beautiful art and colourful layout of Coatl the card game lays a really good, thinky puzzle you get to solve every time you lay down a card. Before you place down you’ll be intensely staring back and forth around the table, then back to your cards, then back to the table, then looking at your friend's Coatl and thinking, man does that look pretty, before hurriedly realising it’s your turn and that you should probably be playing a card.
This game is the embodiment of maximising your turn. In a perfect world you’ll want to be able to take a prophecy from the display, from your opponents and score your own and if you can score them multiple times then you're onto a winner. Now obviously that’s not going to happen a lot, if at all, so you’re left with trying to puzzle out the best use of your turn and that’s where the fun lies. Well unless you count seeing your opponents trying to hide their cards from you like school kids trying to hide their answers from their mates.
I mentioned earlier that you can steal prophecy cards from your opponents and a lot of what you’re doing is trying to gauge not only IF you can steal from them, but also the likelihood that they’ll be able to steal that card back before you can lock it in. There’s a definite sense of a The Good the Bad and the Ugly/ Reservoir Dogs style standoff as you're staring at everyone else wondering who’s going to try and take whose cards first.
I think, because of that stealing aspect of the game that it’s not going to be for everyone. It’s just on the verge of take that. You’re not necessarily targeting a player because you’re merely taking advantage of what you’ve already built and what’s in your hand, but having something taken off of you after you’ve put the effort towards it doesn’t necessarily feel great. Especially in higher player counts when you have to wait three turns to see if your efforts and planning have been swiped away from you. Now this does increase the tension between rounds and that can be a lot of fun. But if you’re constantly getting your cards stolen it can easily feel like you're fighting a losing battle. Especially if you're not able to get cards back.
Don’t pull on its tail!
Coatl: the card game is essentially a tug of war mixed with a puzzle and the winner will invariably be the one who can figure out how to balance the two. This does put me in mind of games like Sagrada or the recently reviewed Betta, also by Synapses games. They’re all games which can have players pondering their turns trying to play out the possibilities, which can be fun, but equally if you're playing with someone who is prone to analysis paralysis then just be warned that games could easily stretch way beyond the 30 minute playtime on the box.
I know that some of the above does sound more on the negative side but Coatl the card game is a fun game and if the things I mentioned above aren’t an issue for you or just something that your group gravitates towards then I’d certainly recommend giving it a try. It’s a big puzzle in a small box with some beautiful artwork, what’s not to love!……..well, the snakes obvs.