Review: Reef

Publsher: Next Move Games, Pegasus Spiele

Designer: Emerson Matsuuchi

Art: Chris Quilliams

Player Count: 2-4 players

Play time: 30-45 minutes


I love board games. The opportunity to play games with complete strangers is something I will always look forward to. It doesn’t matter to me who wins, it’s about the experience and the moments that are created. Certain games have that “it” factor and make the first impression feel effortlessly fun. Reef is the next highly accessible game from Emerson Matsuuchi (Century Series, Volt, Crossfire), where players are drawing and playing cards to place coral pieces that will eventually score them points based on meeting specific patterns. Reef is the kind of game that will draw attention based on its vibrant table presences alone. Thankfully, the gameplay can back up the beauty and quality components. Let’s take a quick look at the game and hopefully you can scoop one up at Gen Con

Holy quality components Batman!


Each player begins the game with a 4 x 4 player board (reef). The coral pieces are four different colors (red, yellow, purple, and green) and shapes.  Reef is effortlessly color blind friendly, because you only need to identify the shapes on the cards to draw and complete patterns. I give a game bonus points for color blind friendly components, but I hope that becomes something I don’t need to give kudos to in the future.  Players  receive one of each coral type and place them in the middle of their player board. There is a variant where players can place their starting coral anywhere, but it makes the game easier for everyone with the standard setup. Each player also gets three 1-point tokens and two cards. Three of the cards are laid in a row and the fourth is face up on the deck. That’s the setup!

Everyone gets a player board, 3 points, two cards


What if I told you that you could learn how to play Reef by reading the back of the box? Reef is very easy to pick up and play in about 45 minutes tops and closer 35 minutes after you get the hang of it. The game is played over multiple turns until the card deck runs out or one of the coral types is depleted. Players can take one of two actions on their turn. A player may, play a card to gain resources and possibly score points or take a card from one of the four face up cards available cards. When a player takes a card, they have the option of taking one of the three in a row or the fourth on the top of the deck. If you take the top card, then you must pay 1 point to do so. The point token goes on the card with the lowest point value. I’m not entirely sure why this rule exists, but I don’t design games so I’ll stay in my lane. Players cannot have more than four cards any point, which means you have to play cards at some point. In a two or three player game, you will have the opportunity to plan out your strategies and trigger more combos. Reef doesn’t really have too much take that to it, but you are pressing your luck by hoping a specific card is still available on your next turn. In a four player game it’s too hard to plan out a specific strategy and hope for exact results. I’m guessing the game is designed to push players away from hoarding cards for too long and finding quick ways to score. The reason why players pare prone to building up their hand is because of the potential huge payoff you can get if you’ve set your board  scoring combos. So how does scoring work?

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Combo Time!

The second option a player has on their turn, is to play a card from their hand. When you play a card, there are two parts to pay attention to. The top half of card has two coral pieces that the player must take and place on their player board. Coral pieces can be placed anywhere on their player board, but you cannot create stacks higher than four coral high. The patterns are pretty simple to understand. You have, L shape, 2 stacks of 2 or higher, four high stacks, three in a row, wild stack color of 3 and there are a couple more patterns. The patterns are completed based on which shape is on top. You can have multi-shaped or colored stacks, but the pattern conditions are met by what shape is currently highest or visible to the player. The best part of the game is the feeling of triggering scoring combos on the same card, if you meet the same scoring patterns more than once. If you don’t score multiple times off the same card, maybe you have a couple scoring turns in a row. As I said before, sometimes holding cards may work out for you. First time players will likely get their “moment” to score a quick combo here and there, which makes a good first impression in my opinion. I didn’t have one person I played with that didn’t understand how to play or trigger scoring combos, which is a major positive for me. I mean I want people to play with me and not feel like I’m using them to rack up wins. Take a look at some of the pictures below to get an idea of how the scoring works.

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What’s So Good?

The production quality is top notch. I like the boards, components, and the whole table presence.

The game is easy to teach and perfect gateway game. I got to play this with a random stranger at my son’s birthday party. He picked the gameplay quickly for a person who hasn’t played a board game in 10 years.

There is enough strategy in the game for the core gaming audience. This is not a brain burner by any means, but I can recommend this for a game night filler. If you want a two player game, this will definitely be a hit.

Any Concerns?

Two and three players seem to be the optimal player count. At four players, it’s difficult to play a turn strategy a turn ahead. Your opponents can snatch the card you want because you could potentially have three card draws in a row. Some player may feel like this is a take that mechanic or the game lacks strategy

It has simple mechanics and for some players it may be too simple. I can’t tell you this game has multiple layers of strategy that make it a medium weight game. 

This is an abstract game. Yes the pieces and art make the game look like a reef, but this is not a thematic game. When I say abstract game, some people dismiss the game immediately. 

Final Thoughts

Reef is definitely staying my Kallax. I want to be clear, it has nothing in common with Azul. Furthermore, there is no need for competition between the two for space in your collection. For some reason that needed to be said, cause it was something I heard often before and after Origins. There is too much fun to be had between both titles. Reef could be my next go to gateway game because its so easy to teach. It has the table presence to impress anyone walking by and it plays fairly quickly once you get a couple turns into your first game. There is nothing wrong with this game, but I know abstracts are hit and miss for some gamers. Hey, you might have too many in your collection already. I think Reef is a good game, but not a mind blowing game by any means. I will keep this one in my collection and see if it keeps my interest years from now. This would be the second game by Emerson Matsuuchi that has a home in the collection (Century: Spice Road), so I’m looking forward to his future designs. If you’re looking for a new family weight game to add to your collection, Reef is definitely a solid game that I highly recommend.

Thank you so much for checking out my review of Reef. Do you have any questions about the game play? Please leave any thoughts or questions in the comments and thank you for your time.

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