Dive Down To Reef, A Family-Friendly Game From The Designer Of Century: Spice RoadNovember 5, 2018
Century: Spice Road was one of the big board game success stories of 2017. Designer Emerson Matsuuchi created a gateway game that appealed to both gamers and non-gamers alike.
Matsuuchi has returned this year with another gateway game, Reef, from Next Move Games. Can you grow your reef by collecting and scoring the most valuable patterns of coral? Or will you sink beneath your unfulfilled plans of underwater beautification?
When you first open up Reef, you’re greeted by player boards and a whole bunch of what looks like Duplo pieces. Yes, Duplo, those bigger, chunkier Lego blocks made for toddlers.
Thankfully, Reef is more than just a baby’s toy.
In Reef, you and your opponents manage individual reefs, attempting to build them up with various pieces of coral. To score points, you’ll build patterns of coral to match a card’s requirement.
On your turn, perform one of two actions: either take a card into your hand, or play a card from your hand to receive resources and possibly score points.
The hand limit is four cards, so if you already have four, then you’ll have to play a card.
When you play a card, you receive the resources depicted in the top half. After placing the resources onto your board, you may, if possible, score points based on the patterns depicted in the bottom half.
Play continues until one color of coral is depleted. Players then take one final turn scoring any cards left in their hands. The most points wins.
Reef is a wonderful gateway board game for 2-4 players. While an abstract game at its heart, the ocean theme makes for a pleasant experience. And playing with those chunky coal pieces is a fun throwback to childhood.
Veteran gamers will compare Reef to other recent abstracts like Azul and Sagrada, with its limited set of actions that belie the game’s depth. LikeMatsuuchi’s Century: Spice Road, it’s a game that’s light on rules, but not light on strategy.
Play is deceptively simple; whenever you choose to play a card, you’re just taking coral pieces, but it’s the bottom half of that card that opens up possibilities. Can you arrange your pieces to score the maximum amount of points? You can score multiples of a pattern, so building your reef on earlier turns can set you up for big scores later.
In fact, it’s this building process that gives the game its tension. Not only do you build three-dimensionally (up to four pieces high), you’re also limited to four cards so you’re forced to play cards to discard them. Do you play the card that scores an easier pattern? Do you save cards with tougher-yet-higher-point values for later or do you play it immediately since you need the pieces?
Sometimes the luck of the draw can hamstring you, as cards without your required resources can stymie your scoring opportunities. You can usually score something, though, with a little planning. There’s also less player interaction so there are fewer take-that moments than Azul or Sagrada, two games that I absolutely love.
While not as elegant as Next Move Games’ previous hit Azul, Reef is another solid abstract game that serves as a fine introduction to the board gaming hobby. Seasoned gamers will enjoy it as much as new players, and it deserves a space on any gamers’ shelf.