Welcome to The Game Shelf!

After getting into the board game hobby at the end of 2014, we've decided to share our thoughts on the games we're collecting on our shelves. The collection has certainly expanded over the last few years and we've been making up for lost time!

Sometimes our opinions differ, so Amy will be posting reviews every Tuesday and Fi will post on Thursdays. We hope you enjoy reading some of our opinions on board games - especially those for two players.

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Thursday 18 October 2018

Thoughts from the Yellow Meeple:- Reef

Game: Reef

Publisher: Next Move Games

Designer: Emerson Matsuuchi

Year: 2018

Reef is the next game coming from the publishers of the extremely popular Azul. The two games share the same publisher, and the same 4 letter name that is rumoured to be the theme for a line of family weight abstract games from Next Move Games, an imprint of Plan B Games. The games also share a great attention to component quality. Whilst Azul had a very classy look, Reef has gone the route of bold and colourful, creating a different but still very appealing aesthetic on the table.

That's really where the similarities end. Reef is an abstract game that stands on it's own as a family weight 2-4 player game. The colours might fool you into thinking the game is aimed at children, but there's actually a really neat card drafting, puzzly, three-dimensional game in Reef that I believe rivals its Spiel des Jahres winning predecessor. Let's take a closer look!

In Reef, each player is building their own coral reef, by playing cards from their hand to place two coral pieces and score based on the current state of their reef. On your turn, you can either play a card from your hand, or draft a card from the centre of the table. When you play a card, you must add the two coral pieces indicated on the top half of the card, then you score based on the bottom of the card, for example gaining one point for every green coral visible in a top down view of your reef. More challenging patterns score more points and at the end of the game, most points wins. The rules of the game are unbelievably simple, but the meat of the game is in creating a chain of events that allows the cards to play off each other and means you score well at every opportunity.

I haven't met anyone who doesn't enjoy stacking their components and I love lots of games that make a game out of this joyful past-time. Reef really feels like an innovative design, using stacking and pattern building to give the feel of a tile laying game with hand management that almost edges into the realms of a very flexible and ever-changing engine builder. The mechanisms weave and flow together so well that the game feels fast paced, even though some decisions are very thoughtful and forward planning is paramount.

Even the end-game in Reef is well thought out, and has particular appeal for more experienced gamers. The game ends immediately when one colour of coral runs out, but this doesn't have the same deflating feeling as many games with a sudden end-game trigger. Firstly, you can see it coming, but secondly, the left over cards in your hand trigger one scoring each. If you see that the end game is fast approaching, you can use your last two or three turns to deliberately avoid taking more coral in the colour that is low, and instead stockpile some cards that could give you a 15-20 point end game boost if you're really successful.

To circle back to the comparison between Azul and Reef. Although they are very different games, they do fill a similar category for me in terms of family weight games, that I could teach to almost anyone, but have something extra going on to stretch new players and keep seasoned gamers satisfied too. For me, Reef is the easier teach, but I think new players, like my parents, who frequently play Azul would find it more challenging to do well in initial games because forward planning is so critical. I think the aesthetic is also key in terms of the success of the two games. Azul just looks like a classic that will be around for a very long time, whilst Reef, although super appealing, does have a more toy-like quality.

Personally, I think Reef might have the edge for me. It's slightly less cut-throat than Azul, especially at the two-player count we frequently play at. It also scratches a bit of an engine-building itch, although it's not strictly in that style of game. Reef looks great and plays really smoothly, and is really rewarding when you execute a brilliant sequence of turns. For the Yellow Meeple, it's an 8/10.

Reef was a review copy provided by Asmodee UK. It is available for an RRP of £36.99 at your friendly local game store or can be picked up at http://www.365games.co.uk/.

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