Reef Board Game Review (Plan B Games)


A game about building a coral reef is a whimsical repast that can almost make you forget that we're actively destroying our actual coral reefs. Reef is a beautiful, tactile abstract strategy game in which points are scored almost like in Bunny Kingdom -- exponentially and randomly. There's a learning curve in Reef that's almost incidental: once the game clicks for you, you'll see yourself suddenly intuiting the ways to best play the game. Yet because the game doesn't have a lot of social interaction, the pace of the game can run infuriatingly slow.

Reef Board Game Details

Players: 2 to 4

Game Time: 30 Minutes

Age: 8+

Genre: Building / Set Collection

How is Reef Played?

There are four colors of reef that you're building across your own player mat. On your turn, you can do one of two things: take a card or play a card. When you take a card, it goes into your hand. When you play a card, it does two things, one after the other:

  • Lets you take and place reef pieces.
  • Lets you score your board based on the reef pieces you have on your board.

Reef comes with brightly colored pieces, which can be stacked to a height of four, and placed throughout your board. 

Therefore, you could be playing a card just to build your reef, or you could be actively scoring your existing reef, or you could be doing both. Cards often ask you to match specific patterns, so you might:

  • Score 2 points for every purple reef you have around a red reef.
  • Score 4 points for every stack of 3 purple reefs you have.
  • Score 3 points for every stack of 2 or more red reefs you have.
  • Score 1 point for every green reef that is currently visible.

And so forth. Reef pieces stack on each other and you can stack different colors on each other, but they still need to match the cards that you play when you play them in order to score. You can hold four cards in your hand at any given time, so your strategy is to build up your reef in a way that lets you score points in a cascade.

The Good: A Fast Game That Requires Abstract Thought

A single game of Reef can be played in about 30 minutes. Every player only gets a single action, so there isn't a lot of paralysis involved, and no one is interacting with your board. People can take cards that you're planning on getting, of course, but otherwise they really can't interfere with your strategies. Your strategy is only altered as a new card is revealed.

Reef comes with brightly colored reef pieces, a deck of cards, victory point tokens, and player mats.

You have four cards and the option of taking different cards. You need to figure out the best sequence to play these cards for the best point spread, while also being aware that other cards could come out to alter this. That means that you don't have a lot to keep in mind at any given time: you just need to consider the new cards as they come out, and order your cards in what is objectively the most effective way to do so. Nevertheless, it is satisfying when you're able to plan effectively and materialize a large number of points from nothing. 

The Bad: Can Feel Tedious At Times

With the cards that you have in your hand, there is an objectively complete strategy. The only complications come from leaving yourself open to take different strategies as the new cards come out. With that in mind, the game can start to feel slow, because you can only do a single action on your turn and because (for the most part) players really aren't interacting with each other at all. There are ways to interact with each other: you can try to pick up a card that you know would be good for them, or you could try to race towards the end of the game (by depleting reef pieces). But you can't directly interact, and that makes the game feel a little plodding even with the speed at which it plays.

The colors and art direction of reef are polished and fun, but something about the pieces just bothers me. 

You have four cards, and other than that you're beholden to the cards that come out when people take cards. You can easily wind up in a situation where you have less than optimal cards for your reef and there's little you can do about it: all you can do is keep trying to take cards to reveal more. This is a case for diversification, but it also serves to make the game feel slow sometimes when it really isn't. 

And there's something about the reef pieces that I dislike, though this is just a personal objection. They don't feel good. The tactileness of the game is a big part of it; stacking reefs is fun. But the pieces aren't fun: they're a little too large, a little too rounded, a little too boring. They don't look like a reef: they look like cogs.

Reef is a relaxing game to play, due to its non-confrontational nature.

All of those are really just quibbles. Reef is a solid abstract, analytical game, and I would recommend it especially to parents who are trying to each their children new games. Reef is rated age 8 and up, but probably could be played by a tenacious 6 year old. The bright colors and large pieces make it ideal for children and families. 

Reef Board Game Review
  • PRO: A satisfying building game that allows you to build up to large numbers of points through careful planning.
  • CON: Can feel tedious due to the lack of social interaction and the simplistic gameplay.