15 February 2021
Three fun-filled bags of feathered snakes please
I think most would agree that everyone needs a bit more colour in their lives at the moment. Last year’s ever-present blanket of dreary uncertainty followed by the long, dark winter nights has left many yearning for brighter times. Amidst this, our wonderful hobby became the ideal tonic, innately equipped to cater to a much needed sense of togetherness and vibrant escapism. But, could Coatl have perfected this tonic?
Coatl is an abstract, pattern building set collection game veiled in a loosely thematic, but beautiful, Aztec setting. Players will partake in a tournament to become the new Aztec High Priest, competing to carve the most impressive feathered snake sculptures. Essentially, this colourful backdrop justifies Coatl’s core gameplay loop of stringing together bright and chunky, interlocking plastic pieces – a satisfying activity in and of itself – but that’s just one part of a sublimely coherent whole.
Much of Coatl’s gameplay will see players snatching up snakey segments from a central, circular board - either a head, tail, or two body pieces. Once taken, the segments must be placed on a player board capable of holding eight individual pieces. Actually assembling Coatls constitutes the second of the game’s three actions, whilst the third concerns adding important Prophecy cards to your hand. These cards will make up the bulk of players’ points, with each offering varying amounts at the end of the game for achieving particular coloured patterns within a Coatl. To score, these cards must be played face-up next to a single Coatl, either during its construction or when it is complete. Players only have a hand limit of five, so applying them to incomplete Coatls is encouraged if players wish to maximise their options.
What’s brilliant about Coatl’s handful of rules is their flexibility. Taking an assembly action doesn’t stifle the game’s tactile excitement by allowing for just a single piece, it heightens it, letting players add as many segments or prophecy cards as they wish to any of their Coatls, or even complete or begin a new one. There’s no rigid order to this either, allowing players to flit back and forth between their options in a way that’s manageable for them. Not only is this generosity liberating, but it’s also just effortlessly understandable for new players and those unfamiliar with board games in general.
On paper, this may sound like a recipe for long turns or analysis paralysis, but the opposite is true. Turns are as quick and meaningful as they are fun and tactile, with games comfortably lasting around half an hour. It also doesn’t hurt that the game undoubtably looks the part. SillyJellie’s box art and linen finish card illustrations are strikingly vibrant, whilst other components, such as the titular beasts and three cloth bags, emphasise the game’s tactility and inviting table presence. As you might gather, Coatl is largely devoid of theme; players won’t finish games with a newfound understanding of Aztec culture. But, through its addictive gameplay and colourful charm, its setting becomes a welcome distraction to get lost in for multiple plays.
In summary, the Canadian design duo behind Coatl have admirably concocted an expert fusion of simplicity, tactility, strategy, and aesthetics, culminating in an attractively accessible game worthy of a place on the shelves of both families and avid gamers.
PLAY IT? MUST-PLAY
Coatl exemplifies the perfect formula for an accessible, tactile, and dare I say, uplifting abstract strategy game. An ideal choice for families or friends reconnecting after months apart.
If you’re looking for an irresistible double feature for game night, Coatl would serve as the perfect companion piece to Azul’s satisfying tile-laying.
Designer: Pascale Brassard & Etienne Dubois-Roy
Publisher: Synapses Games
Time: 30-60 minutes
What’s in the box?
1 Supply board/score board
4 Player boards
150 Coatl pieces
54 Prophecy cards
15 Temple cards
12 Sacrifice tokens
1 First player marker
3 Cloth bags
This review originally appeared in Issue 51 of Tabletop Gaming. Pick up the latest issue of the UK's fastest-growing gaming magazine in print or digital here or subscribe to make sure you never miss another issue.
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