Game Review: Reef

Go under the sea with this new release from PlanB Games!

One of the most relaxing things you can do for yourself is to spend time in front of a fishtank. Fish, coral, plants and so much more lends to a serene landscape giving you much needed stress relief in an otherwise hectic life. One of my favorite types of displays has always been saltwater tanks with full sized coral reefs. The design, the beauty and colors really catch your eye. Well what if we could take reef construction and add it into a boardgame, complete with textile pieces in which you can construct your own design?

PlanB games has done just that in their newest game, Reef!


Reef is the newest game from designer Emerson Matsuuchi and producer Sophie Gravel. Illustrations for Chris Quilliams. It is deveopled by Next Move Games and Plan B Games. It is designed for 2-4 players.

The components include:

-112 total coral pieces (28 of each red, purple, yellow, green)

-88 point tokens

-4 player boards

-60 cards


The premise of Reef is simple: obtain and play cards that let you build up your reef while scoring points based on th patterns you create. The most points at the end of the game wins!


Each player starts with a player board that is 4×4, 3 1-point tokens and 1 each of the 4 starting coral pieces. Each player will also receive two face-down cards into their hand. The rest of the cards are placed face-up in a draw pile and three cards are placed next to it from the pile face up to create the draw display.

Reef is played over multiple rounds. Each player will get one turn in the round and then it passes clockwise. This continues until the end of the game is triggered. On your turn you must perform one of the following actions:

1-Take a card from the display into your hand

2-Plan a card from your hand to grow your own reef and score the reef pattern if able


If you choose to take card into your hand, you may pick one from the three in the display or the top one off the deck. If you take the top you must put 1 token on the lowest scoring card in the display row for the layer that takes that card. You may not exceed four cards in your hand at any time. If you have four cards you must play a card on your turn.

To play a card from your hand, you place it face up on your discard pile and follow these two steps in this order only:

1-take the two coral pieces shown on the top of the card and place them anywhere on your board. They may be placed on a blank spot, another piece or even on top of one another. Once a stack hits 4 high, it is at its limit. Also pieces played to the board may not be moved.

2-score the pattern on the bottom of that card. If the pattern does not occur, you score no points. If it appears once, you get the number in the bottom right corner of the card in victory points. You will get that many points for each scoring match that does not overlap. Meaning if you need three yellows in a row and you have a row of three that makes a 90 degree angle with two more yellows it only counts as one.

Things to keep in mind when playing this: the top piece is the only relevant piece. Eveything below it only helps it to get to the top level but doesn’t affect the score. A number on a piece means it must be that height on pieces. A “number+” means that height or higher. 

The game ends when either the deck of cards runs out or all the pieces of one coral type are gone. Play continues until the end of the round, and then one more round is played where each player may score all their cards in hand for 1 match per card. Then the scores are totaled up and the highest total points wins the game!



What could be better:

Variety. I love the pieces but wouldn’t mind seeing a few more colors worth of choices to add to your player board. Maybe a wild coral piece similar to the joker tiles in Azul might be a good addition to the stacks and give you a more unique looking reef setup.

Solitaire. While there is some interaction in this game, for the most part you are playing your own board and making your own decisions. This is rarely impacted by others unless they take your card that you were hoping to grab. Maybe with more play I can see the strategy behind this, but I don’t see it being a strong combat mechanic.

What I liked:

Design. Once again Emerson hits it out of the park with one of the most beautifully designed games on my shelf. The pieces of coral are great, large and vibrant in color while being different enough to differentiate them on the player boards. The game boards and cards are well done also, lending a colorful, impressive look to the overall aesthetics of the game.

Gameplay. The thing I like most about Emerson and his game designs is that they are very easy to learn and start playing-there is little learning curve or difficulty to get into the game immediately-you can get a quick overview and jump right into the game. Reef is no exception-the game is quick to pick up and jump right into and really causes you to think 3 dimensionally as you construct it.

Accessibility. This game is easy to learn and challenging to master but can be played by a wide age and experience level. Young kids will be draw by the shapes and stacking mechanics, experienced players will try for those big swings of points to make a card really shine. It fits well right in the middle of both of these worlds for most gamers also. This is one that will frequently be seen on family nights for sure.



Related imageThis game is solid in so many ways. It is a beautiful game, designed to recreate the floor of the ocean as you build up the reef and score points as it grows. Family and friends alike have enjoyed playing this game in our home, and I am sure it will continue to impress new players with the ease and flow of gameplay. If you are looking for a game that focuses on hand management and set collection but forces you to think outside of your normal 2-dimensional board then Reef is the game you may be searching for!

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