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Played by the Aztecs of Central America, Patolli was a race game on a cross-shaped board. Pieces raced around the board according to the throws of five beans, which were marked on one side and plain on the other. Complete rules for the game have not survived, but board game historian R. C. Bell proposed a plausible reconstruction for them.
Patolli was played by the Aztecs at the time of the Spanish arrival in Mexico. It was a gambling games, and is recorded as having been played by nobles for high stakes such as precious stones and gold beads. Montezuma would watch the nobles play at his court.
Patolli has a slight resemblance to the cross-shaped race games of India, such as Pachisi. But the resemblance is coincidental, no contact having been made between the two civilisations between the invention of their respective games and the arrival of the Spanish conquistadors.
If the original rules for Patolli were ever recorded by the Aztecs, sadly they were destroyed along with much other Aztec cultural material by the misplaced zeal of the Spanish priesthood. Some early Spanish accounts of the game have survived, but none record complete and playable rules.
Depictions of Patolli in play.
An elaborate Patolli board.