REEF ROUTE from BRAIN GAMES is supposedly a children's game for 5 year olds and upwards.
However I am pretty sure that its designer, Arpad Fritsche, and illustrator, Dovydas Cluplys, only pitched it towards kids because they didn't think that experienced games players would find any challenge or value in it. Sometimes though it's good to look beyond the basic mechanics of a game, in this case it's a simple roll the dice and move the Fish or/and Sharks along the small piece of ocean represented by the board.
The Fish are small brightly colourful and appear as the same Fish type on all tiles but in four sets of four colours. There are three pairs of Sharks; 2 small, 2 medium and 2 large. The board is a pleasant representation of the Ocean with some coral caught i9n the rays of light shining through the water, an anchor, not yet rusting, several plants and weirdly a chain with an old war-style floating mine atop it - I say weirdly because this mine has nothing to do with the game whatsoever. The board is alo overlaid with spaces large enough to hold a single Fish or small Shark tile, wide enough and long enough to hold a medium sized Shark (same width as a small Shark but twice the length) and a 4 square area of spaces is the correct size for large Sharks to occupy. When the board is filled with these colourful tiles it looks fun to a youngster and interesting to a gamer.
Playing the game with children:
Each player is given or chooses a colour and takes the round disc that shows it and their Fish. Then all 16 Fish are placed at one edge of the board (the farthest from the safety of the reef) completely filling the first two lines of spaces; all Fish are used even if there are less than 4 players. We always let the younger players place their Fish where they want to within these lines even though the rules say that players take turns in placing their Fish (each player has a chosen colour), for the sake of peace and quiet it is usually best to let the youngsters put their Fish out first. Then select the two smallest Sharks and one of the long, thin Sharks and put them at the other end facing the Fish, swimming away from the reef.
The game play is simple, on a player's turn they roll both dice and the results will be either two Fish (same or different colour), one Fish (any colour) and one Shark (Sharks are black on the dice) or two Sharks. Whatever is showing on the face up sides of the dice are the creatures moved, one space forwards, upwards or downwards - never diagonal and never backwards; also players may only move Fish that aren't their colour forwards, never Upwards or Downwards. Sharks always move first if there is as Shark and a Fish showing on the dice. If two Sharks show you can move two different Sharks or one Shark twice.
When one player's Fish reaches the reef they win or if all the Sharks reach the start area for the Fish then the player with the most uneaten Fish wins. Fish get eaten when a Shark is moved onto their space, there is no rule as to whether a Fish gets eaten if it is moved onto a Shark's space, though I think the outcome would be obvious. Young players love moving their Fish away from the Sharks and moving their parent's and grandparent's Fish into the path of the Sharks so they could get eaten.
Playing Adults only games; GGO style:
The setup for the Fish is the same as in the basic game except that now you use 3 or 4 Sharks and generally ensure that you choose the largest of them so that swimming past them is much harder. Also, to make it more strategic, we allow players to move any Fish or Shark upwards and downwards instead of just forwards. We also use a points scoring system so that instead of the first Fish to the Reef being the winner we play until all Fish are home, scoring them as they arrive: 16, 15, 14, 13, 12 etc and the player who has the highest final score is the winner. Yes, once all the sharks have passes it should be just a case of dice rolling, but you can have fun moving opponent's Fish up and down instead of forwards. However we like to change the rules further and have the Sharks turn round when they reach the end space so that they are now (okay they are swimming upside-down) swimming after the Fish.
These couple of rules additions suddenly change the whole context of the game and create a challenging strategy game for experienced games players that still plays in around a quarter of an hour. Give them a try.
Whether you play REEF ROUTE as a family fun game with children or if you play it the Games Gazette way it is a wonderfully illustrated, carefully crafted, simple but effective race game, thoroughly enjoyable.