Pátzcuaro – Build Altars in Memoriam

A closeup of the Patzcuaro box cover overlaying the games components; including shop tiles, colorful altar cards and objective cards.

In the vibrant city of Pátzcuaro, Mexico, a cherished tradition unfolds each November. Families gather to construct altars (also known as ofrendas) in honor of their loved ones who rest in peace for Día de los Muertos. In the game Pátzcuaro, players immerse themselves in this cultural celebration, competing with neighbors to fashion the most captivating family altar—a pyramid of cards adorned with cherished mementos.

Throughout the game, players will venture around the city, visiting various shops to gather essential items. Each shop trades cards in a unique way, adding depth to choices. After navigating the bustling city streets, players return to their altars and place cards to create a poignant tribute.

Pátzcuaro is a game by Rubén Hernández Santillán, published by Draco Studios. Its for 2-4 players, ages 10 and up.

Patzcuaro setup
4 player setup


The aim of Pátzcuaro is score the most points from items in each of the altar’s levels and from objective cards. Players build their altars by forming a pyramid with Altar cards: four on the first level, three on the second level, and two on the top.

Walk the Path

Each shop tile has an action space at the top and bottom, forming a circular path (rondel) around the play area.

On your turn, move your player token 1-3 spaces clockwise along the path, skipping over other players’ tokens. Then, take the action listed where you land.

closeup of the street board and cards in Patzcuaro


Each shop tile offers a set of actions with a specific card requirement, such as a specific color, an exact number of items on the card, or at least one of a specific item. There are five types of actions that may appear on a shop tile:

  • Trade – Reveal at least one Altar card from your hand that matches the shop’s requirements. Place your revealed card(s) under the shop, and take all other cards that were already on the space.
  • Altar – Take a card from your hand and place it onto your Altar. You can place Altar cards to the second or third levels as long as each card on those levels has a base.
  • Draw – Draw a card from the Altar deck to your hand.
  • Reveal – Reveal an Altar card from the deck and place it on a shop space that the arrow points to.
  • (Other Players) – In turn order, the action/benefit shown is given to each player not on this space.

Once per game, if you can’t or don’t want to take all the actions on a space, you may instead flip your player card and draw two cards. If you’ve already flipped your player card and can’t act on a space, you must move to an Action spaces where you can. If you’re unable to complete the actions on any of the three spaces you can reach, then move to any Action space and draw a card.

After moving and taking an action, play passes clockwise to the next player.

Game End

Players keep taking turns until either a player completes their Altar or the deck runs out. Then, each other player may place one last Altar card from their hand onto their altar.

For final scoring, add points for each level in your altar:

  • On the first level, choose three item types – gain a point for each of those items.
  • On the middle level, choose two item types to gain two points for each item.
  • On the top level, choose a single type of item and gain three points for each of that item.
  • Score points for any completed objective cards.
  • If your player card is flipped, deduct five points.

The player with the highest score wins!

Patzcuaro Altar cards and scoring aid
This Altar is ready for final scoring


Pátzcuaro drew me in with its unique theme, colorful art, and set collection mechanics. Its star mechanic, a rondel for action selection, blew me away. I don’t think I’ve played a game with this mechanic. Well… I’ve played tons of Patchwork and New York Zoo, where players travel around a circle of tiles, choosing ones to take for their boards. While technically they are classified as rondel games, Pátzcuaro locks onto the spirit of what the mechanic is, moving around a board to take actions.

Having access to limited actions on your turn encourages you to plan ahead, and sometimes the space you want next is occupied. At higher player counts, the rondel gets more crowded, and your options change quickly.

Patzcuaro is crafty in its use of actions: you always have to trade a card to take cards from a shop. This forces interesting hand management decisions, because you might have to sacrifice a card you could potentially use. Watching other players’ altars will make you think twice about putting down a card an opponent might need.

Patzcuaro rondel board
White player must put down card(s) with a candle or a portrait on this space.

Theme and Variety

Theming blends perfectly with mechanics in Pátzcuaro. The art work is cute and charming and very inviting for family play. Pátzcuaro has great table presence, and at the end you’ve actually built an ofrenda that’s uniquely cool to admire.

Pátzcuaro offers plenty of variety through double sided Shop tiles and Objective cards. No two games ever felt the same and I found myself wanting to play games back to back!

Family Friendly

The 10+ age rating for Pátzcuaro seems appropriate. While the rondel is simple, the shop action symbols add some complexity.

When setting up the game, choose shops with simpler actions to make it more child-friendly. This way, you can tailor the game to be easier for younger players to understand.

A reference card would have been helpful, as we frequently passed the rulebook around during our early games. I also had to consult external sources to fully understand a few rules, like the level 3 objectives.

Despite a few initial hiccups, my group really enjoyed the game. It didn’t overstay its welcome, and turns moved at a good pace. Pátzcuaro also played well with two players, although cards in shops didn’t cycle as quickly, and there wasn’t much blocking of action spaces.

Patzcuaro game with hand of cards

Ready to build the best altar? Grab your sugar skulls and pick up copy from Amazon or your friendly local game store.

The Family Gamers received a copy of Pátzcuaro from Draco Studios for this review.

This post contains affiliate links, which do not change your price, but help support The Family Gamers.

  • 9.5/10
    Art - 9.5/10
  • 9/10
    Mechanics - 9/10
  • 7/10
    Family Fun - 7/10


Age Range: 10+
Number of Players: 2-4
Playtime: 30 minutes or less