Take biodiversity to a whole new level with the game that is far less expensive than a trip to Australia’s Great Barrier Reef.
Players: 2 – 4 Best with: 2 – 4
Age: 8+ GN Age: Pre-teen
Game Type: Party Time: 30-45 minutes
Publisher/Year: Next Move / 2118
Game Play: Pattern Matching, Tile Stacking
Score: out of 12
Board games are a remarkable thing. With just a few unique pieces and some evocative artwork, you can become immersed in a brand-new world where you can be all manner of things; an adventurer on a forbidden island, a suspicious jewel thief, a potion-peddling quack, a demon trapped in Hell, or even Bob Ross. Well, now you can play as something truly alien and bizarre and found right here, just beneath the surface of our little blue marble, alive with vibrant colors, the rainforest of the ocean; the enigmatic Coral Reef. But I just have one question; is it an animal, vegetable, or mineral?
Incredibly, the official answer is animal, since the part that everyone thinks is just a rock is actually a part of a living organism (polyps) that can move, breathe, eat, and reproduce. But the “rock” is actually its pseudo-skeleton, comprised of secreted calcium carbonate, so it is also a mineral. And it lives in a symbiotic and intractable relationship with the algae that live on the coral, so maybe it’s a plant?
As fascinating as all that is, just how does one pretend to be a coral reef? First you ignore all the coral, polyps, and calcium carbonate. This game is all about the vegetation. You are tasked with cultivating all the beautiful and diverse plants and algae, which will henceforth be known as the red one, the green one, the yellow one, and the purple one; scientific nomenclature at its finest.
The setup is easy. Everyone starts with an individual board that represents your reef with space for 16 plants in a 4×4 grid. Place one plant of each color in the square in the middle. Deal two cards to each player and start a draw pile in the center of the table with 3 cards face-up on the table and one card face-up on the remaining cards.
The basic game play is just as simple. On your turn you may draw a card, up to a max of 4 in your hand, or play a card, which adds pieces to your board and hopefully, earns you points along the way. However the simplicity of the game ends here, and now the game becomes an intricate puzzle filled with anxiety, frustration, and delayed gratification. Wait. This is a fun game right? Yes, don’t worry, the game is a ton of fun and provides only the highest quality, premier levels of stress.
All this happy anxiety comes from the cards. Each card has two parts. The top tells you what new reef pieces you can collect and then add onto your reef. The bottom shows you the color combination you need in order to score point that round, after you’ve added the new pieces first. And the highest scores go to the combos that require you to have reef pieces stacked on top of each other, compounding the strategy even further, but it makes your board look real pretty.
Unfortunately, the pieces you get from playing cards will never help you with the combo you need to score. This requires that you think several turns ahead and leads to all sorts of unfortunate circumstances. Such as having to play several cards for zero points just to set up a high-scoring round and then watching your opponent take the one card you needed to make that happen. Or having the perfect cards in your hand that will lead to a multiple scoring rounds only to forget to play the correct first card; that has happened to somebody in every game we’ve ever played.
Or you can just play with the cool, chunky reef meeples and let strategy sink to the bottom of the ocean. In our most recent game, my eldest played his own game, setting up his reef like a patchwork quilt, came in last, and still had fun playing the game. That is a major testament to how fun this game is. Win or lose, strategy or not, big or little, Reef is just fun to play. Building your reef into cool, little, colorful towers makes you feel like a kid and pulling off an awesome combo makes you feel like Einstein.
When it comes to playing with a family this game is great. Both our 10-year-old and our teenager really like this game, and they both fully understand the mechanics and strategy, but the fact is that an adult has won every game. The kids just can’t outthink an adult in this game. We love teaching our kids game strategy and abstract thinking, and the earlier you can teach them the better, but this game might be a little more advanced than the box recommends. The game may be easy enough for a child to learn, but the underlining current is just a little too hard for a child to fully understand.
Our only other opinion about the game is a rather unfortunate one. We like the game, we always have fun playing it, it has a unique vibe when playing it, it has these intense moments of tension and release throughout, and we definitely recommend that you should try it, but it just isn’t on our family’s Best Games List. Whenever we have a game night, nobody suggests that we play Reef, which is a shame, because it is a really good game. It just isn’t a great game. Although it does make me want to travel to the real Great Barrier Reef.
As always, just keep swimming, and Game On!