Full disclosure: A review copy of Cóatl was provided by Luma Imports.
As is the custom here, I am writing another one of my Mini reviews, which just means that it’s somewhere around 2000 words instead of 3500 words. What luck for you. Either way, it’s gonna be a pretty mixed bag of titles this month; no real rhyme or reason to them, which will be pretty exciting as we get closer and closer to the big 700. It’s totally possible we’ll hit 700 before the end of the year, which is even better. If I were still able to do four a week that means we’d be at 1000 before 2021 ends, but, alas, y’all will have to be patient. As will I, I guess. But should be a fun month just looking at what I’ve already got drafted, so let’s dive right in! One game we’ve got coming up is Cóatl, from Synapses Games! Let’s see how it plays.
So you’re trying to become the newest High Priest by impressing others with your snake-sculpting abilities. You’re pretty good, not going to lie, but you’re going to have to be pretty specific about understanding what people want if you want to get the new job. Unfortunately, there are other folks who seek the position that you feel is rightfully yours, so you’re going to have to face off in a battle of snake construction if you want to be able to call yourself the new High Priest. Will your efforts end up pleasing the gods (and the other locals)?
Player Count Differences
I haven’t really noticed many? I think the major places for that kind of stuff is around the two markets in the game. For the pieces, having more players is helpful, in my opinion, since it causes more market churn (as players take more pieces that they individually need). For the Prophecy Cards, it does make it a bit more annoying to have more players, since there’s now another set of grabby hands going after the cards that, in your mind, you rightfully deserve. How dare they, you whisper to yourself as you watch your opponent take the card that you had clearly claimed with your eyes. No respect. Anyways, even then, that causes more churn which can push out more potentially helpful cards, so, the randomness of it may work to your advantage? I’d hope so. That said, this game benefits a bit from being able to plan ahead, so adding a fourth player might be more entropy than I want to deal with. I’ve had a lot of fun at both two and three players, though!
- Don’t take too many heads or tails, especially since, you know, there’s really a limit to how many you can use. There’s definitely a desire to go after the heads or the tails so that you can finish your cóatls, but if you’re not paying attention you risk taking more than you need (or ones you specifically don’t need), and there’s no real “return” mechanism, so that can really mess with your score.
- See if other players are eyeing the Prophecies you want to go after. If they’re not, then you can leave them there for a bit. Just make sure nobody’s going to use their Sacrifice Token that lets them clear the board of Prophecy Cards! That would be a huge bummer for your plans. Similarly, if you want to make space, add a few pieces to your cóatls and then play Prophecy Cards from your hand so that you’re free to take more. Just remember that you’re limited to four Prophecy Cards, maximum!
- Know when to use your Sacrifice Tokens. They can introduce big swings, especially if you use them to grab the exact tokens that you need or to clear the Prophecy Cards. Or, you know, spite your opponent and take the one Temple Card that they need. Cruel, but, as I say a lot around here, effective.
- Rushing the end of the game can work out in your favor, especially if your opponents don’t have heads or tails handy. If you can successfully trap an opponent by activating the endgame when they have no head or tail, they will not be able to complete their cóatls even with two extra turns. That will cost them a lot of potential points and likely cement things for you. To that end, if you’re not going to end the game, keep an eye on your opponent and make sure they don’t snake you, pun absolutely intended.
- That said, don’t lock yourself into cóatl types too early in the game, especially if you think there will be turnover on the Temple Cards. This is a common problem for folks, as they try to split up their three cóatls from the start of the game. On one hand, it lets you spend more time mining Prophecy Cards for the exact right ones for your cóatls, but it makes it much harder to be flexible when the Temple Cards change. I’d recommend maybe investing in two, which, lucky you, you can only have two incomplete cóatls at a time.
- Optimize, but don’t overoptimize. Like I said, try to get yourself well-set-up so that you have good Prophecy Cards, but don’t waste several cycles of turns trying to get the perfect cards or the perfect cóatl pieces. At a certain point, take what you can get and make the cóatl so that you can still score something.
- You can stall if you don’t like what’s available in the center, but that only works for so long and at lower player counts, in my opinion. Similar to what I just said, but this is more at a macro-level. If players are all avoiding taking some pieces from the center, eventually everyone’s hands will be full and nobody will be able to add more pieces to their cóatl, and you’ll have to take the pieces. If you know that and see that moment coming, try to make sure you’re taking the pieces at the most strategic time.
Pros, Mehs, and Cons
- The components are really what makes this game. Yeah like, I’m not going to say you should really get games for the components, but my god, this game lets you make feathery snakes that mildly articulate around the joints? Incredible. Tabletopia offers a nice approximation of the game, but I really love getting to snap the cóatls together. It’s really delightful and it makes a big impact both on gameplay enjoyment and overall table presence.
- Not a ton of downtime. There’s still some, naturally, but I think at two the turns are short enough that you rarely have too much of a break. Even moreso if, for instance, while one player refills you take a look at the Prophecy Cards or build your cóatl, if that’s what you want to do with your turn. Since the three potential actions all kind of interact with different parts of the board, there’s a lot of potentially non-overlapping things to do.
- I do generally like the art quite a bit. Honestly, the game’s color scheme is beautiful. It’s a bit annoying for me, since the black cóatl piece meant I had to use my white backdrop, which is harder to edit well, but I did what I could. I think the game has great table presence physically for sure, but it’s also just a really beautiful game. Love the way the colors come together on the cards.
- I like that there feels like a genuine sense of progression during the game, and it’s clear where players stand, even if you don’t know how many points they have. I always like seeing the cóatls that players come up with, but it’s also a very helpful progress tracker. If you see a player with two complete and one incomplete cóatl and you’re only at one complete cóatl, you’re lagging behind. I also appreciate that you flip the points cards down once they’re scored so that players can’t count points. You can keep track if you want, but it makes it a bit more challenging, like the bags in Evolution: Climate.
- Just, functionally, it’s very difficult to play the same game twice, given the supply and cards are randomized. Lots of different ways the game can turn out! I do really like that; it forces me to consider the cards as local maxima rather than global (in that I need to find what can help me the most right now rather than waiting for the Perfect Card to show up). It’s a nice game for that and I appreciate that I’m not always picking the same color across plays.
- There’s a really great feeling when you luck into the perfect cóatl that you need to score big. Sometimes you just flip the right Prophecy Card and earn a bunch of points and it’s great. Other times it doesn’t happen! But the nice thing about luck in games is that it’s amazing when it works out and just okay when it doesn’t. I don’t think bad luck in this game is absolutely killer.
- I also like the way scoring works in this game quite a bit. I appreciate that you have to get a few points from a bunch of cards that can overlap a bit if you really want to do well; it encourages planning but still rewards flexibility, and I think that’s a very good move for a game like this. Means it’s not just pure strategy from start to finish, and I tend to prefer that.
- Having a way to get rid of pieces you regret taking would be pretty nice. I keep looking for it in the rules but I can’t find it. I guess … don’t take pieces you’re not sure you’re going to want? That seems like a bit of a weird oversight though.
- Similarly, it can be a bummer when the cards in your hand don’t synergize well. Try to get better ones or don’t go after them quite as aggressively. Sometimes it pays to take cards when your hand is partially full so you only have to take cards you explicitly want. That said, being able to throw a few away would be nice.
- Refilling all the spots needs to be a thing that the player split among themselves, otherwise it gets tedious very quickly. When I play games for photography reasons I often play a run of them just against myself so that I don’t annoy other players and whew, refilling all the slots for everything for the entire game was a chore. Hopefully you’re not only playing against yourself anytime soon.
- I think making the generic piece symbol on cards the body piece symbol can lead to player confusion. This really messed me up in a few games, as taking those cards could have helped me a lot. The head and the tail both count for cards that are looking for body pieces in a certain configuration; I think making a generic piece shape that didn’t match one of the existing ones would have alleviated a lot of confusion.
Overall: 8.25 / 10
Overall, I’ve had a lot of fun with Cóatl! I would be remiss if I didn’t say the main source of my joy has been the pieces. They’re fun to play with, they can bend a little bit, and they’re just incredible, visually. Very striking, very cool. It makes the game pop on the table (and in photos) and I imagine it would have been an awesome convention game if, well, conventions had happened this year. Thankfully, it still plays well online (via Tabletopia) and has other things going for it beyond just the visuals. I think it does a nice job blending short-term flexibility with long-term strategic planning to give players the chance to make small adjustments for potentially valuable returns, which is great. I do wish the cards were a bit clearer about what scored (the rulebook helps, but the symbols still throw me off a bit), but, as with any game that primarily uses icons, there’s a bit of an early learning curve to get set up. Beyond that, though, I think the game makes a number of smart decisions around limiting what you can take to disincentivize hoarding and limiting what you know about your opponents to disincentivize players keeping perfect track of everyone’s score at any given time, which is good! It would be great if it were possible to get rid of extra stuff I didn’t want, but that’s sort of the penalty for taking more than I need, I suppose. All that is to say, though, that I think Cóatl is a solid title that’s a bit on the lighter side, if you’re looking for that! Great components, great colors, and a lot of fun.