Patolli (the Nahuatl name) or patole (the Spanish form) is one of the oldest games in America. Patolli (or variants of it) was played by a wide range of pre-Columbian Mesoamerican cultures and known all over Mesoamerica. Patolli was very much a game of commoners and nobles alike and it was reported by the conquistadors that Montezuma often enjoyed watching his nobles play the game at court.


Patolli is a race/war game with a heavy focus on gambling. Players would meet and inspect the items each other had available to gamble. They bet blankets, Maguey plants, precious stones, gold adornments, food or just about anything. In extreme cases, they would bet their homes and sometimes their family and freedom. Agreeing to play against someone was not done casually as the winner of the game would ultimately win all of the opponent's store of offerings. Each player must have the same number of items to bet at the beginning of the game. The ideal number of items to bet is six, although any number would be acceptable as long as each player agreed. The reason for having at least six bits of treasure is because there are six jade markers that will traverse the game board. As each marker successfully completes the circuit around the board, the opponent is required to hand over ownership of an item from his or her treasure.

Once an agreement is made to play, the players prepare themselves by invoking the god of games, Macuilxochitl, by offering incense, prayers and food. After psyching themselves up - the game begins.


The object of the game is for a player to win all of the opponent's treasure. To do this, the players may need to play more than one round of the game. In order to complete a round, a player needs to get all of the six jade markers from the starting queue position to the ending square position on the game board before the other player.

The jade stone markers come in two colors. One player would have an assortment of red colored jade markers. The other player would have an assortment of blue colored jade markers.

In order to get one of the jade stone markers on the board, the player tosses five specially prepared kidney beans on the game area. The kidney beans, or patolli, has one side marked with a white dot. Thus tossing the patolli would result in several patolli showing this white mark and others showing a blank side. In order to get on the game board, one patolli would have to land with the white mark face up and all the others face down (getting a score of one). The players take turns tossing. Once a player is able to get on the board, the game begins and the player is allowed to place one of the jade markers from the queue onto the starting square of the game board.

The game board is shaped like a capital letter X that has square and triangular shaped landing positions marked on it that run down one side and back up the other side of the X. There are 52 landing positions in all. The game board could be drawn on a bit of leather or on a straw mat and decorated with colored dye or it could also be carved into the floor or table top.

The four landing positions in the middle of the X is a special area. For instance, a player can kick the opponent jade off of the game board and back into the opponent starting queue if the player should 'land' a jade on the opponent jade in this area. The opponent would then be required to transfer ownership of one of the items being bet at this time.

Another special area is marked by two darker triangular shapes near the end of each arm of the X. If a player should land a jade inside one of these triangular areas, the player would be required to transfer ownership of an item to the opponent.

There are two special square marks at the end of each arm of the X. Any player who lands on one of these squares is required to roll the patolli and take another turn.

After a player has a jade on the game board, the player must move one of the jade markers the same number of times as there are white dots showing from the toss. If the player cannot move because he would overshoot the ending square or land on an occupied spot, then he loses the turn.

If the toss shows five white dots, then the player must choose one jade marker to move ten spaces.

Macuilxochitl is also playing the game. The Aztec codices#Codex Magliabechiano codex says: Patolli's god was Macuilxochitl, deity of music, dance, gambling and games, called God of the Five Flowers. Players are required to give Macuilxochitl an item if a toss of the patolli result in no white dots (all blank sides) showing. A space is reserved above the game board for these items. The winner of the round will receive the treasure located in this space as a gift from Macuilxochitl.

Spanish ConquestEdit

The Spanish priests forbade the game during the Spanish conquest of Mexico and were known to have burned the hands of people caught playing the game.


Anthropology by E. Adamson Hoebel, University of Minnesota, Third edition. 1958, 1966. p. 76. "... the diffusion of the ancient East Indian game of pachisi into prehistoric America, where it appeared among the Aztecs as patolli and in various other forms among other Indians. See notes 15, 16 17 below:

  • 15. E. B. Tylor, "On the Game of Patolli in Ancient Mexico, and Its Probably Asiatic Origin" (Journal of the Royal Anthropological Institute of Great Britain and Ireland) Vol. 8, 1879), pp. 116-129.
  • 16. E. B. Tylor, "American Lot Games as Evidence of Asiatic Intercourse before the Time of Columbus" (Internationales Archie fur Ethnogrophie, Vol. 9, supplement, 1896), p. 66. For a critical evaluation of Tylor's method, see C. J. Erasmus, "Patolli, Pachisi, and the Limitation of Possibilities" (Southwestern Journal of Anthropology, Vol. 6, 1950), pp. 369-387.
  • 17. F. Boas, Tsimshian Mythology (Bureau of American Ethnology, Annual Report 31, 1916), pp. 393-558. This is the classic study of the reflection of a people's material culture and social organization in their mythology.

See also Edit

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