The Mesoamerican game

Ever wanted to know what games the Aztecs played? Patolli is a unique racing game in that your goal is not to finish the race, but to strip your opponent of all his belongings. You must roll the patolli - the 'red beans' - and move your pieces, and depending on the result you may get the chance to take one of his items, you may have to give up on one of yours or even get to place and offering to Macuilxochitl, the pre-Colombian god of the arts, who is always greedy for more.

This Mesoamerican game has similar mechanics with the Indian game Pachisi, although the two cultures had not made contact. If you like one of them, don't forget to check out the other.

Patolli is a game for 2 players, with an approximate duration of 20 minutes.


Patolli means “red bean” in the Aztec language and refers to the fact that the game was played by rolling beans (marked on one side) instead of dice. The game, or variants of it, was played by many Mesoamerican cultures and is believed to have been popular for two thousand years.

From the Teotihuacans to the Aztecs, from the Toltecs to the Mayans, Patolli was played by virtually every people in pre-Colombian Central America, and was passed on both pacifically and through conquest. The game also transcended social barriers and was as much appreciated by the common folk as by Moctezuma II himself.

Patolli was intimately connected to religious pratices, as were most games then. It was identified with Macuilxochitl, the Boy of Flowers, a god of music, poetry, dance and arts. People would commonly make offerings and sing chants to him before playing. That was, undoubtedly, a great problem for the Spanish conquistadors, who intended to convert native populations to Christianity and decided, to this end, to eliminate all pagan practices in the American lifestyle.

Such mission included burning invaluable manuscripts about all aspects of Mesoamerican culture, including texts and game sets of Patolli, and also outlawing it. The game survived, though, in remote areas that were protected from the conquistadors. Many old texts, images and game boards also survived, and they give testimony to the importance once held by this game to pre-Colombian cultures. Patolli is oddly similar to Pachisi, an ancient game from India, and it has been cogitated that they were variations of the same game. The mechanics of these game are incredibly similar, but they really (and surprisingly) were created independently.