Reef is a tile-laying game where players try to make patterns, by laying tiles on their player boards, and score patterns using the cards they have in their hand. It is the follow-up game after Azul, made by Next Move Games where they will publish games with 4 letters on the title.
This game is all about picking and playing cards, laying down tiles, and score points based on the lovely patterns you made in your player board. What’s interesting here about Reef is the dual use of the cards. They can be both use to lay down tiles AND score patterns. The cards (see below) shows at the top on what colour of tiles you place and the bottom shows what patterns you can score on that turn. Here’s the thing, though: the tiles you place and the patterns you score are always never the same. This clever dual use allows you to chain your scores. Play a card to place tiles and then score; next turn, you play new tiles. Then, score on the patterns you made in your previous turn; rinse and repeat. Like a machine-gun spitting out points at you turn after turn.
Someone was a clever cookie and asked: Can I score multiple patterns using 1 card? Darn, right you can. So, you play a card that scores 2×2 orange square shape, then you can score multiples of that pattern (but you cannot use the same tiles to score more than once). Again, those clever moves you made, preparing yourself to score that jackpot, paid off and you scored 3 of the same patterns – putting a grin on your face and watch points flowing out of your personal slot machine.
And yet, this game is so simple that you can teach it in around 3 minutes. A game you can show to non-gamers and teach it to them before their attention span goes elsewhere. However, it is with this lightness that I feel that Reef is a bit too simplistic. After playing a full 3 player game of Reef, my friend and I both have the same conclusion: we don’t have the need to play this game again.
A game that I feel that I’m just doing the same things again and again. Take a card, play a card, place tiles, score if you can – and then repeat. There’s no sense of increasing pace or escalation. There’s no tension that I made a wrong move or done anything to look up to my friend and see what she’s been doing. Any bad move would mean that I lost the opportunity to score on my next card or that I delayed scoring for another turn. I am doing the same thing on turn 1 and on my final turn. It feels just… fine?
Looking at other games by Emerson Matsuuchi, I have grown to love the bountiful Century: Eastern Wonders and that’s the one I would play first given the choice between the two. Eastern Wonders gives you a shared map where all of you sail between the islands of the East. A game where you have to pay your smug friends whenever you land on where they sit, and all of you race to place as many posts as possible.
Or maybe, Azul? Of course. The impeccable Azul is – for me – the better cousin between the two four-letter games. The tightness of Azul makes the game tense and exciting. A wrong move or waited too long for those tiles are opportunities for your friends to swoop in and ruin your plans – and it’s all your fault. And every time I place new tiles into my board, it feels like I’m building towards a particular goal. In Reef, I didn’t paid that much attention with the other players, or what my board will look like in its entirety.
Azul, also, is better looking, even if you say that that they look like Starburst. Reef is like playing with a bucket of bath toys with cards. Yes. They feel nice and tactile. Yes. They stack. But the intricate Iberian patterns of Azul are exquisite. I’d rather play Starburst: the game.
[All images are from Boardgamegeek.com]