This game review was originally published in Tumbleweird , November 2018.


Emerson Matsuuchi proves once again that he’s the master of distilling a mechanism down to is essence and letting players explore it without getting bogged down by extraneous theme or over-complication. In Reef, each player is growing their own coral reef in order to match point scoring patterns; whoever has the most points wins.

Turns are simple: players either draw a scoring pattern card or play a scoring pattern card. Playing a pattern card also forces a player to add pieces of coral to their reef. Pieces are added by either placing coral in an empty space on a player’s board or stacking coral on top of an existing stack. After placement, a player evaluates their reef against the pattern on the card they played to score a number of points.

Play rotates and continues until either the deck of pattern cards is exhausted or all coral of one color has been claimed by the players; either of these events marks the final round which is played through to completion.

Reef takes only a few minutes to learn, and strategy tends to extend only to the next few turns so it’s an easy pickup. Once a card is pulled into your hand, it’s yours to use when you wish. Aside from the pressure of a 5-card hand limit, and possibly missing out on a chain of pattern matching cards if another player picks up one you’d like to use, Reef is fairly stress free.

The components are great. The player boards and point tokens are decent weight chip board. The coral pieces are very well made. They’re heavier than they look, and very smoothly molded so that stacks hold together well without being a chore to separate (I’m looking at you, Takenoko).

I’ve played the game a handful of times, and I’m enjoying it. While to coral reefs you end up forming are interesting to look at and provide a fair bit of table presence, I wouldn’t go as far as to say Reef is a pretty game. Like a lot of Matsuuchi games, theme really plays second to mechanics to the point that theme is almost unnecessary. If you’re looking for a quick abstract game that has a minor curve between first-time player and tenth-time player, Reef certainly fits in that space.

Designed by: Emerson Matsuuchi
Player Count: 2-4
Playtime: 30-45 minutes
Time to Learn: 15 minutes
Complexity: 2/5
Replayability: 3.5/5
MSRP: $40
Will my mom play it?: Yup. It’s simple to pick up and start playing, and there’s not a ton of long-term strategy.

I purchased this game from Adventures Underground because they’re awesome.

Written by Brendan Quinn; President of Tri-City Area Gaming. Learn more about the 200+ annual gaming events we host by visiting


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