Game Review: Patolli

By LeeAnn McNabb
Adult Services Librarian
Union Township Branch Library
Clermont County (OH) Public Library

When the Conquistadors arrived in Mexico, they found this game was popular among the Aztec. The game, however, is much older than the Aztec: both the Toltec and Maya played it.


Category: Gambling, Luck, Race, and Strategy game
Complexity rating: 1.50/5.00
Region: Ancient Cultures of the Western Hemisphere
Players: 2-4, but some believe this is best played as a 2-player game
Playing Time: 30-60 minutes

Age: 10+

Patolli has been categorized as a member of the Pachisi/Ludo family, which are other race games with a similar looking board. We have historical descriptions of the game and why it was banned by the Conquistadors and priests who conquered Mexico and Central America. Their descriptions say that people would bet their lands, home, children, crops, and even themselves as sacrifices in these games. While I don’t doubt there were high stakes, I do take a grain of salt with anything said by Conquistadors about the indigenous populations of Latin America. Catholic priests were known to burn the hands of people caught playing the game after it was outlawed. It only survived in the more remote regions of the former Aztec empire and is still played in those areas of today.

Patolli is a fast-paced action board game, where players compete to be the first to successfully maneuver 4 game pieces around the playing board. Players must avoid being captured because they will have to bargain with their captor to be released. The game is also heavily influenced by the luck of the dice, and a player’s strategy must change from minute to minute because of this. What makes this game unique when compared with other Pachisi/Ludo family games, is the gambling.

A feature that I like in this game are that you can decide the approximate length of gameplay. At the start of the game each player receives from 2 to 4 playing stones, the more stones per player, the longer the playing time. Each player also receives an equal share of the betting stones. And, the added benefit is that you can remove the gambling to make it an easier game to learn and play.

My grade: 3.0/5.0

In case you’d like to make a board for yourself and play, here is further info on how the play the game!

The Patolli gameboard has 52 spaces arranged in the shape on an X (see earlier in the article). Each player has six counters that represent their 6 belongings up for grabs. The five dice aren’t the kind that we think of for modern American board games, but how they’re made vary.  Below is the image of the dice that came with my vintage set, but you can also use beans and mark dots on one side of them!

Game Components

  • Game Board/Playing Mat
  • Five dice
  • One dice cup
  • Sixty betting stones
  • Sixteen playing stones, divided into four colors
  • Two storage pouches

Gameplay instructions here.

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