Date played: October 31, 2020
Basic details: 2-4 players; 30-45 minutes; competitive
Gist of the game: Players design a coral reef using 4 colors of coral to accrue points based on their coral configurations, identified on cards. The player with the most points at the end of the game wins.
Players begin the game with 3 point tokens, a 4×4 player board, 2 cards, and 1 coral of each color.
3 cards are placed face up for the coral display and the remainder of the deck is placed face-up next to the display.
Reef is played over a series of rounds, with one turn per player per round. On a turn, players must take one of two actions. They can take a card from the display or deck into their hand. A player can have no more than 4 cards in their hand. If a player chooses to take a card from the deck instead of the display, they must place a point token on the lowest-value card in the display.
When playing a card, a player takes the two pieces of coral indicated on the top of the card, places them on their board, and then may score their board according to the configuration of coral on the bottom of the card. Players do not have to be able to score in order to play the card, but they must place the designated coral anywhere on their board. Coral may be stacked up to 4 high, but it is only the top color coral that matters. Some cards require reef to be some exact height, or a minimum height in order to score.
The end of the game is triggered when any one color of coral runs out or the card deck runs out. Once one of those conditions is met, the rest of the round is finished before scoring takes place. Players may score configurations of cards remaining in their hands once, even if that pattern appears more than once in their reef. The player with the highest score wins.
Color commentary: The large plastic reef pieces give the game a fun tactile experience. As should come as no surprise to anyone who reads the blog as regularly as we post, we played the first game incorrectly because I forgot the specific language of one of the rules. In the first game, we took and placed the coral pieces when we drew the card, rather than when we played the card. As I in fact noted at the time we were doing this, “It’s hard to balance taking coral with playing cards. I wish you could do both on the same turn, or at least have the option of doing both, like maybe taking two actions on a turn.” On the other hand, playing it in that particular incorrect game introduces greater strategy, especially as the end of the game nears, in order to get the coral you need now to play more valuable cards later. Playing correctly, there’s still some tension, but a lot less. For a slightly deeper game, our inadvertent house rule could be used.
It’s interesting to balance shorter-term scoring opportunities with playing a longer game for more valuable scoring opportunities later because the coral you have to take may or may not be in any way related to the possible points available from a card. For instance, I had a card that would grant 2 points for orthogonally adjacent greens and yellows both of which were at least 2 high, as well as a card for any 2-high stacks orthogonally adjacent to one another. The pairs of tiles on each card were worth the same points, but playing one first might facilitate additional points that would not be earned by playing the other card first on the basis of which coral each card provided.
Micah won the first game in a 62-63 squeaker. I won the second game 65-60, and in the third game, there was a glut of cards giving purple coral, so the game was much shorter than the other two and I won in a blowout of 52-42. However, M also revealed that he had a path to victory that he opted not to take in order to prolong the enjoyment of playing the game. I feel like I should be offended, but let’s be honest, I’ll take the win.
Thoughts from M: The rules (or at least the way Petra described them to me) make the game seem more complicated than it feels when you’re actually playing. There are lots of things to keep track of, but this game is a ton of fun. It involves spatial recognition, color combinations, and cards conveying two separate pieces of information, all of which I am terrible at, but this game was the most enjoyable of the set of 4 we matched up (a comparison post is in the works).
Petra’s rating: 7/10
M’s rating: 8/10
10 – super fun game that I can see myself playing frequently well into my retirement years (M’s 10 benchmarks: Lost Cities, King of Tokyo; Petra’s 10 benchmarks: Carcassonne as a bundle of all its expansions and forms, Dinomals, Kingdomino)
8-9 – really fun game that I’m happy to play again and again
6-7 – fun game that might get old at some point
4-5 – fun game to play sparingly
2-3 – game I don’t especially enjoy but will play if my partner really liked it
1 – game I never want to play again (joint 1 benchmark: SeaFall, which was so terrible we never made it to actual gameplay)