SNAP Review – Codex Naturalis
Do you know what a “codex” is?
Yeah, it’s a sort of ancient book that was hand lettered and hand-bound. Not as easy to read as a modern book, but a whole lot easier than a scroll or a wax tablet!
And a codex was the first reference book, since you can open to anywhere – and gave ample room for illustrations – even using both sides of the page!
Medieval thinkers such as Galileo hoped to catalog all that was known of the natural world, and create a Codex Naturalis.
Codex Naturalis is a small card game designed by Thomas Dupont and illustrated by Maxime Morin. 2-4 players can play in about half an hour; there’s no reading required and it’s for ages 7 and up.
In this game, you’ll compile information about the four kingdoms living in the forest: animals, plants, insects, and fungi (I’m a fun-guy!), to add to the Codex Naturalis.
Let’s talk about the art in this little game.
The cards are really small, but they’re gorgeous. There’s these monochrome illustrations, with saturated purple, or red, or blue, or green, and they’re set off by gold foil highlights. (Just look at how pretty these are!)
There’s no other game that quite looks like this and captures some of that ancient illustrated manuscript feel.
The symbology is clear, but it took a little getting used to.
And you need that to play the game! So let’s talk about how to play Codex Naturalis.
At the beginning of the game, you’ll get a hand of three cards, plus a starter card to lay on the table, and a secret objective.
Each turn, you’ll play a card from your hand, then draw a card to replace it.
Playing a card means covering one or more corners of cards that are already in your display on the table. You can only cover open corners, which are indicated with bold outlines… but some of these corners have resources (plants, animals, insects, fungi). When you cover a resource, it’s no longer available for you to use.
Why would you want resources? Because the Gold cards (which award points) require you to have certain combinations of resources showing in your display before you can put them down. Each Gold card has its own requirements and its own way to award points – some are a flat 3 or 5 points, some are 2 points per corner covered when you put the card down, and some award points for showing book-making objects: quills, inkwells, and papers.
After you’ve played a card, choose a new card; either from the Resources or from the Gold.
If it turns out you can’t or don’t want to play a card from your hand face-up, you are always allowed to play it face-down, whether it’s a Resource card or a Gold card. This gives you four open corners and a resource in the middle of the card that can’t be covered.
Track your points on the central board as you receive them.
When a player reaches 20 points (or the two card decks run out), finish the round and give every player one more turn.
Remember those secret objectives we mentioned earlier? Every player has a secret objective, and there are also two common objectives, face-up on the table.
Objectives award points for sets of matching resources, sets of book-making objects, or specific card arrangements – and they can be earned more than once if you have enough sets.
At the end of the game, everyone calculates additional points earned from meeting these objectives.
What did we expect from Codex Naturalis?
Every Bombyx game I’ve ever seen has been beautiful, and this is no exception. I was surprised by just how small the box is, though. And I’m not usually a fan of games that use really small cards like these ones.
Reading through the rulebook, there are some typos and misprints. It’s not enough to make the game difficult to understand, but it’s helpful to be aware of them if you encounter them – it could lead to some confusion.
I was a little confused because the box says 7+, but once we opened this up and looked at the rulebook, it seemed kind of complicated. There was a lot of detail on the cards, and I wasn’t sure how that was all going to work together with the gameplay.
Let’s talk about the surprises.
The first surprise is that theses small cards are still nice and clear for almost everything. Being this small keeps the game from being a total table-hog.
With the art style on these cards and the way you can overlap all of the different cards, including finding ways for branches to re-overlap if you do it right, it really felt like I was building this complex inter-related world, which was my probably favorite part of the game.
This is a relaxing and gently-puzzling sort of game. But our kids didn’t love it. Part of that is the theme, which is just not that interesting for them. But part of it is because of the way the points are scored.
Although Codex Naturalis is all about building your own manuscript for points, the points are publicly tracked and become the end-game trigger. This meant our kids felt like they were falling behind – or they focused too much on the points on the cards themselves and forgot about the objectives, both public and private. Those objectives can allow huge jumps at the end of the game.
Would we recommend Codex Naturalis?
I think we do recommend Codex Naturalis. It’s probably not a game that I’d pull out with my youngest gamers, but this is a good game to start playing with that middle age range. The box says it goes down to 7, and that’s about right. It will make your younger kids feel a bit older as they play a game that, artistically, feels so mature.
This is a serious subject! Cataloging the plants and animals and fungus, etc. of the world!
It is. So what would we rate Codex Naturalis from Bombyx?
I think we’re going to give it 3.5 Pages out of 5.
Find it on Amazon or at your local game store.
The Family Gamers received Codex Naturalis from Bombyx for this review.
This post contains affiliate links, which do not change your price, but help support The Family Gamers.
Age Range: 7+ (better for older kids)
Number of Players: 2-4
Playtime: about 25 minutes