Serpent Stones - Board Game Box Shot

Serpent Stones

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The Aztecs were devout and brutal. Play against a rival house in a challenging and quick tactical card game. The gods must be appeased!

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Overview

In Serpent Stones, you are a Tlamatini (high priest) of an ancient Aztec warrior house and your sole mission is to protect your Temple Row and sacred Teotl Stones. With a hand of cards, you face off against your rival across a battlefield grid known as the Yaotitlan.

Eagle and Jaguar Warrior cards are played to the battlefield to form a chain that connects your Temple Stone to your rival’s in order to capture a sacred Teotl Stone. But the animal spirits may intervene in the form of Strike and Capture cards that can turn your own warriors against you, or even eliminate them altogether. Even the ancient Aztec gods themselves will guide the battle often to your despair. Capture three Teotl Stones and you will emerge victorious.

Serpent Stones game in play

Set up (Prepare the Yaotitlan!)

Players randomly choose which House (Eagle of Jaguar) they will command during the battle. Players position themselves on opposite ends of the fabric Battlefield mat according to their house. Three Teotl stone tokens are placed on each player’s Temple stone in the middle of their Temple Row. The deck is shuffled and seven cards are dealt to each player. Then, each player chooses and discards two cards so that their starting hand is five cards. The first player then plays their first card…

Gameplay (The Serpent Chain)

Note: Serpent Stones contains Basic rules as well as Intermediate and Advanced variants. It also includes an Expansion. We will be referencing the Advanced game and Expansion as the game is truly its best when using all these rules, and they don’t over complicate the game. The tiered rule system is still great for learning the game.

In Serpent Stones players alternate turns until one player Captures a Teotl Stone, or runs out of cards. On a turn each player:

  1. Draws one card from the Serpent Deck
  2. Plays a card to the Battlefield

After any actions are taken based on the cards played, that player’s turn ends and the rival player takes their turn. Let’s see how Warrior, Nahualli and Teotl cards can help players achieve victory on the field of battle!

Warrior Cards
There are two types of Warriors (Houses) in the game: Eagle and Jaguar. The first Warrior card played must match the players’ house and must be played to one of the player’s Keystones in their Temple Row. This starts their Serpent Chain. When placing a Warrior card, a player must point the card so that the arrowhead icons are pointing toward their opponent. A Warrior card must also be placed so that it is adjacent to a Warrior card in a player’s chain. (You can’t just place a Warrior out in the middle of the board. They must all be connected!)

Serpen Stones warriors cards

Nahualli Cards
Nahualli Animal Spirit are cards that are played from your hand against adjacent Rival Warrior cards. Strike cards (red) eliminate Rival Warrior cards, and Capture (green) cards rotate the Warrior card 180 degrees so that you now control that Warrior and he adds to your Serpent chain. Each Nahualli card has a pattern on it. When played all Warrior cards that are within that pattern are affected – even your own! There are a few considerations though when playing these cards. Strike cards will only affect Rival cards that are NOT of your house. And Capture cards will only affect Rival cards that ARE of your house. In this way you can’t just blow any old Warrior off the battle field. The deeper strategy then reveals itself with the Teotl cards.

Serpent Stones Nahualli Strike Capture cards

Teotle (God) Cards
There are six different Teotl cards. Each has a special ability and when you play them you must speak and pronounce the god’s name. (Not easy in Aztec) they are:

  • Quetzalcoatl – Draw a Card
  • Tezcatlipoca – Force Rival to discard a random card
  • Xolotl – Move a warrior card to an active Serpent Chain
  • Mictlantecuhtli – Place a Skull Wall Barrier in any unoccupied space on the board
  • Huitzilopochtli – Perform a Sacrifice
  • Tlazolteotl – Stop a Rival’s Sacrifice

Serpent Stones god cards

Most Teotl cards are self-explanatory. However the tactic of performing a Sacrifice in the game using Quetzalcoatl opens up some new possibilities. By Playing the Quetzalcoatl card, a player takes a card from their hand and places it face down on the Sacrifice Stone space near their Temple Row. Their turn is over. On the next turn, that player draws a card as normal, then plays the card on the Sacrifice Stone first, then plays a card from their hand. This creates a double turn, so to speak, and can be devastating when properly planned. Even more devastating is the Double Sacrifice which allows a player to play a second Quetzalcoatl card on their turn after the first, placing another card on the second Sacrifice Stone space, and initiating a three card play turn.

Play continues until a Teotl Stone is captured. At which point, the cards are cleaned up, shuffled and another round of play begins. The player who captures all three of their Rival’s Teotl stones is the victor… unless..

There is a special victory condition called the “Wrath of Tezcatlipoca.” If a player plays Tezcatlipoca on a Rival with only one card in hand, they are declared the immediate victor of the entire match. And that hurts.

Components

Like most Aztec themed games, bright colors and thematic artwork abound. Illustrations are more cartoon flavored, and excellently rendered by Jeremie Lederman. The cloth play surface is a very nice touch and the Teotl stones are very cool. The card stock is a bit thin but you don’t notice once you start playing. The graphic design however is where this game excels. The iconography on the cards makes the game very easy to learn and play.

Learning Curve

Easy. With the graduated game difficulty, you can begin play immediately after a shuffle then add in variants at your whim. Now learning how to pronounce the Aztec gods’ names? That’s another story.

Who would enjoy this game? (in Nahuatl!)

Family Gamer {QUEMAH}
Unlike actual Aztec history, this game is reasonably nonviolent. It is brimming with historical facts that provide a great background for the simple mechanics. Great father/son or mother/daughter game! Ages 8 and up.
Strategy Gamer {NOZO}
There is a fair amount of strategy in hand management and especially in card placement. But there is still a random card draw to consider. Fun for a not-so-hard-core Strategy gamer.
Casual Gamer {QUEMAH}
You play, shuffle, play again, shuffle, play again. Pick it up and play instantly. A game that inspires multiple plays is a perfect Casual gamer’s game.
Avid Gamer {QUEMAH}
This game employs many aspects of a successful game: easy to pick up, great variable strategies and a multitude of outcomes.
Power Gamer {AHMO}
Not enough bite on this one to thrill a Power gamer.

Final Thoughts

Serpent Stones leaves behind many of the characteristics that are found in some of the current tactical card games and creates a new level of player interaction with the simplest of card mechanics. In fact, it is the simplicity of card play that creates an elegant game and inspires repeated plays before the cards have even gone cold.

Now, there are some nay-sayers out there that say this game just doesn’t have any meat. Serpent Stones is like a cake; from the outside there is just no way to know what’s inside until you cut into it. So let’s cut into it! (No pun intended regarding Aztec sacrifice.)

Restricted card play. The Serpent Chain you must create is unique in that both you and your opponent must play your warrior cards so they connect to your Serpent Chain. At first, this is obvious, feels almost restrictive and it is easy to form a strategy based on your own card placement. But as the battlefield fills up, so does the available space, and the options. Players are forced to interact to either eliminate or capture their opponent’s warriors to advance their chain, or delay their opponent’s. As players actually close in on their opponent’s Temple Row they are forced into an offensive or defensive position. That leads us to the key aspect of the game: card interaction.

Serpent Stones game close up

Your warriors have no hit points, attack values, special abilities or endurance. There are no fancy weapons to attack with or action cards to play. Actual warrior battles take a fraction of a second. The use of the attack pattern mechanic may not be new, but is very well used in this game; providing that extra level of interaction in the card play that doesn’t over-complicate the battles. Teotle or God cards also add a level of hand and deck manipulation that creates the surprise or hidden tactic that supports a player’s strategy.

As with every card game the element of luck is ever present. Yes, you can’t play effectively if you don’t draw good cards. In Serpent Stones you very seldom find yourself with un-playable cards in hand. This is a huge positive as your hand doesn’t get choked and creates a head-to-head battle that moves like lightning. In this way, the game becomes almost like a puzzle more than a battle; with correct placement and timing to advance your Serpent Chain. It’s also like a tug-o-war; guessing and outguessing your opponent’s next move, working your hand to set up a multiple turn attack, advancing until you spot a weak point in your rival’s defense and then swooping in for the kill.

So, this reveals the very best part of Serpent Stones: the feel of the game. The game has great build – like a good movie or book plot. You can almost feel the warriors running at each other, colliding, dodging, attacking until one side weakens, relents and falls. This is supported by loads of Aztec historical facts and mysticism. Yes, pronouncing the gods’ names is a challenge, but let’s face it, you really do want to impress your friends by calling out in loud warrior’s voice: Qwetzy… um… Quacksul… aw heck.

One slight negative – the “Wrath of Tezcatlipoca” winning condition. I don’t think any gamer would like losing the entire match if one card is played when you have one card left in hand. It does make you play cautiously, but also might be too abrupt after a long pitched battle. Simply play without this rule if it’s not your cup of tea.

Serpent Stonesis above all else, elegant. It’s fast and fierce with great replay value. Is it for everyone? No. Those who want a deeper tactical card game experience can try Magic: The Gathering, Summoner Wars or Mage Wars. But don’t pass this one over. Below the seemingly shallow exterior of a draw and play card game are the deep waters of a challenging and fierce tactical card duel. Like the Aztec culture itself, dangerous, wild, and strangely compelling. Simply…a great game.

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