REEF is a very enjoyable and entertaining fun abstract game in the genre of tower building. In this case the towers being built are Coral growths and for the game these coral components are made of brightly coloured and oddly shaped plastic pieces that have a weird feel when touched, sort of tacky/rubbery, not unpleasant just weird. They are also designed to clip together so they don't fall over easily when stacked. The odd but pleasant shapes, along with the bold bright colours, Red, Yellow, Green and Purple, give REEF a sparkling visuality.
The other components are Player boards, Point Tokens and Cards. These are slightly more sombre than the coral pieces but are equally strong for regular use. One of the player boards has a Starfish on it so whoever is dealt this becomes the opening player, hence we immediately named it the 'Startfish' board.
Players begin with one three one-point tokens, a 4x4 grid board and one of each colour of the four coral pieces that they place on specifically marked positions on their personal boards, but in whichever order they wish. The order they are placed really doesn't matter as the cards will determine how you place new coral pieces as you obtain them.
The cards are two fold in use and are marked in sandy white and sea blue halves. The sandy (top) half denotes the coral tiles you will collect when you play the card. The sea blue half gains you points (shown on the bottom right of the card) if you can match the pattern it displays on your player board. If for example you have made a Green 'L' shape and the card you play shows a Green 'L' shape then you score the points shown on the card and move your score marker accordingly. The 'L' shape does not have to be made from coral pieces the same height or even of the same colour as long as the top shows all Green pieces. This idea has, of course, been used in several games of the tower building genre, the difference in REEF is that a single card will always give you pieces when played but unless you also have the required shape on your board you will not score anything. The coral pieces, 2 per card, are never the same as required for the pattern. Example: the aforementioned Green 'L' shape may have two Purple coral pieces on offer.
The REEF cards available to be collected are in a three card display next to the draw deck. A player's turn consists of either taking a card from the display (and replacing it with the top card from the deck) or playing a card from your hand (you may only hold four cards so there is a point where your choice is made for you) and collecting the coral and perhaps also scoring a pattern. Patterns are seen from a top down perspective. It does get a little frustrating at times when you have to play a card and you haven't been able to complete the pattern, thus wasting the opportunity to gain VPs.
The patterns on the card are not specific to the orientation of the card. That is there is a specific way the card is played, Sandy top, Sea Blue bottom, VPs bottom right, but the pattern on your card can be found in any orientation on your player board. Towers can be built of any/all colours, there is no penalty or rule against placing one colour atop another, it is only when scoring a pattern that the top of each stack counts. Sometimes the pattern on the card specifies that the stack/s must be over or of a certain height, shown as (for example) '2' which means only stacks two-high count, or '2+' which means the stacks can be two high or greater than two high.
You can see each other player's personal player board so that it is often a reasonable strategy to take a card from the display that may not immediately benefit you but your taking it will be a disadvantage to the opposing player. This is the most interaction there is between players.
This is another excellent game from the publishers of AZUL, and like that Award Winner this is a highly enjoyable family strategy game which is easy to learn and a lot of fun to play. Core board-game players should enjoy this game and find it a reefreshing change from the multi-layer strategy games usually offered by the Euro Games companies.
It has all the requirements to be an Award Winner, though I would rate this in the family game genre; possibly not Game of the Year material but certainly a game you should have on your shelf if you enjoy abstract games, especially those with a main mechanic of Tower construction.
Simple, effective card play, nothing that hasn't been seen, done or used before, but recreated here with a theme that hasn't been overused as so many other chrome settings have. Beautifully designed, great components, nicely priced and with an attractive marine-based theme, just the thing to set down before a family of games players with less than an hour of playing time available to them. Like AZUL this is a game you can happily play twice in a row with each game playing similar to the previous but just different enough to keep the session fun.
The way the game plays can be different for everyone as every player is free to put the coral pieces they obtain onto their personal boards however it suits them. They can attempt to fill the patterns on their cards or create patterns for later use hoping to be able to get hold of patterns that will yield broad rewards; some cards score according to the pieces in the 8 spaces touching a central piece. Often you have to sacrifice a good scoring pattern to obtain the coral pieces required for another pattern you hold. This generally where the game is won and lost, the decision on card discarding.
I would happily recommend REEF to anyone who is a casual gamer with friends and family who like quick and easy over longer strategy games.