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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Tuesday 16 October 2018

Keep your friends close, anemones closer:- Reef

Game: Reef

Publisher: Next Move Games

Designer: Emerson Matsuuchi

Year: 2018

Reef is a 2-4 player abstract game in which you take the role of a coral reef. You'll be attempting to grow your coral in the most eye catching an appealing way. As you might expect this has resulted in a eye catching game design too, with chunky colourful, stack-able pieces and a gameplay that encourages creating a colourful player board covered in coral.

Each player starts the game with a 4x4 grid of seafloor, starting with 4 pieces of coral on it, one of each of the 4 colours. Players will then take turns doing one of 2 actions: either taking a card or playing a card. This repeats until either one of the piles of coral runs out or the cards run out at which point the player with the most points wins. Should you take a card, you may take any of the 3 cards on display for free, or take the card on top of the deck at the cost of placing one of your victory points onto one of the cards on the display.

Reef set up for a 2 player game, the number of coral pieces available varies by player count.

Playing a card consists of 2 phases, first you gain 2 new pieces of coral as drawn on the top half of the card. There are very few placement restrictions; you can put your new coral wherever you like, even on top of other coral pieces, but each stack can only go up to 4 high. After placing your new coral you get to score points according to the rules on the bottom half of the card. Typically you will be looking to get patterns of certain colours or certain heights for example you might score 3 points for having 2 orange corals next to each other at least 2 high. When you evaluate your points you look from a top down perspective, so only the top piece of coral in a stack counts. You score as many times as the pattern occurs so forward planning can result in bumper rewards!

Reef is very much a game about efficiency, every card you play gives you 2 coral and then scores you based on what you have present, but almost none of the cards give you the type of coral you need for the card's scoring rule. So you have to try and combo your cards. In an ideal world you'll manage to string them together so that each card sets up the next, but in reality you often have to play several cards to set up your next big score. It feels so satisfying when things go right, and equally frustrating when the cards you want just aren't appearing.

It's hard not to directly compare Reef to Azul, from the same publisher. Both are easy for gateway gamers to pick up, both are absolutely stunningly gorgeous, and both play fantastically. Where I feel Reef falls back a little bit is in the luck, sometimes a deck of cards just doesn't like you and for an abstract game that can feel pretty harsh. However where it wins is play speed and simplicity, anyone can pick up Reef and understand it, and with each player having 1 fast action a turn you often find it's your turn again barely by the time you have collected your point tokens from last round! This is further reinforced by the gameplay encouraging thinking 2/3 moves ahead, at any one time you know what you are going to do to create the best combo over the next few turns. Unless a fantastic card appears then you have no excuse for slowing the game down!

The previous two rounds let me set up for the scoring on this round, of course I still need to place the 2 red coral somewhere where they won't destroy my scoring pattern.

In summary Reef is beautiful, fun and easy to pick up. You may not like the luck of card drawing in an abstract game, and it may be a little simplistic for heavier gamers. But for a fast, light gateway game there's a lot to love. Personally I think Azul still wins the 'abstract wars' for the time being, but Reef is well worth picking up!


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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