This is a combination how-to-play (more simplified than the rules) and a review.
The basic goal of the game is to feed your parrotfish. The parrotfish eats coral polyps (tiles), of which there are five types in the game (pink, white, grey, yellow, and orange).
At the end of the game each tile will score one point PLUS one point for each type of coral polyp that type dominates. (I'll explain dominance more in detail later). But suffice it to say you want to have as many polyps as possible, preferably those that dominate lots of other coral polyps.
At the beginning you will draw a number of these polyps depending on how many players and you will secretly feed one to your parrotfish. This is the main bit of hidden information in the game. Generally, you will feed one of the colors for which you have the fewest tiles, since the ones you have more of will likely need to be played (also explained in more detail in a bit). Anytime you play your polyps you will need a larva cube in the same color to go with it - so before you start you'll assess the tiles you have and pick two larva cubes of any color. All these initial cubes and tiles go behind your privacy screen.
There will be as many reef boards out as there are number of players, these are what you build your coral polyps on. There is also another board which contains the dominance tiles and also the "pool" of polyps & larva cubes that you'll get to refill from.
On your turn, there are lots of different things you can do - some you'll always do and some rarely.
1) If you're ever going to feed your parrotfish, that has to be the first action of the turn. The first four tiles in the polyp cluster you're eating go back in the box, the rest go in your parrotfish. The shrimp on that cluster goes out of play - if this is the first feeding you've done, put it on one of the shrimp-shaped spaces on the dominance board. I'll explain what this means later. If this is a later feeding, just put it in your parrotfish to get it out of the way. You can only feed your fishy the clusters that have your shrimp on it, so you can AT MOST feed him four corals during the entire game.
Next you have about 7 choices of other actions to do, in any order.
2) & 3) You can, up to twice per turn, pay a larva cube to play tiles of that same color.
You can play up to four from behind your screen and as many from in front of your screen as possible (I'll tell you in a minute how they get in front of your screen - at the beginning of the game they're all behind it.)
Playing the tiles is fairly simple - just put them on an empty reef space on the board. If you lay it next to an empty white space (only one on each board) it's a freebie - an extra tile of that color will be played there from the supply.
If you have at least two tiles in your polyp cluster, you can also 'attack' other corals
already on the board IF your coral type is dominant over the opponents AND if they aren't currently protected by one of the opponent's shrimp (I'll explain shrimp in step 4). Seque into explanation of dominance.
[Dominance: There are ten double-sided dominance tiles. Each shows the relation between two types of coral (ex. yellow and gray). On one side, yellow is dominant over grey, on the other grey dominates yellow. Whichever side of the tile is up displays the current food chain. So, if yellow dominates gray and your coral is yellow and the opponents is gray, you can (if you have at least two tiles in your cluster already) start replacing his corals with your own. (If you want to know how you can CHANGE the dominance, look at step 6.) Any of the polyp tiles you replace in this way go IN FRONT of your privacy screen.]
So to sum up, you can lay out two sets of tiles per turn.
4) You can place one of your shrimp onto an unoccupied reef. The shrimp protects the space it sits on and the four orthogonally connected spaces (if applicable) but not those connected diagonally. Polyps protected by shrimps cannot be attacked no matter what the dominance order says. However, you can only have one shrimp per coral cluster so as your cluster grows bigger it will be impossible to completely protect it without changing the dominance structure.
A couple of caveats - you may only have two shrimp on the same reef board. This prevents one player from locking up one of the reef boards (for the most part!)
There is no restriction to how many shrimp you may place in a turn (except that you only have four shrimp total at most!)
5) You can move a shrimp from one space to another. There is no restriction to how many times you can do this. However, keep in mind you can't put a shrimp on someone else's cluster or on one of yours that already has a shrimp or on a reef board that you already have two shrimp on.
6) You may pay any polyp tile from IN FRONT of your privacy screen to flip one of the dominance tiles over. Except it's not quite that simple.
If you look at the dominance tile, you'll see it has two blocks with one of the polyp colors and one block with a second, and then the fourth square has a couple anemone looking things on it. The one on top's color is important. When you flip a dominance tile of that particular anemone color, ALL other dominance tiles with that same anemone color are also flipped. Oy! This is a very clever (IMHO) balancing mechanism that helps to keep one color from becoming too powerful too easily, however as the game progresses and tiles get "locked" (see 6.a) the balancing gives way to good playing. There is no restriction to how many tiles you may pay to flip during a turn, except for locking in 6.a below.
6.a) If you have already fed your parrot fish at least once, then you will have a shrimp on the dominance board. This means you have an extra, special action available to you. You may, once per turn, pay one tile from IN FRONT of your privacy screen to LOCK a dominance tile in place by putting one of the alga cylinders (of the appropriate anemone color) on top of it. This tile can no longer be flipped.
However, when you lock that tile, any other tiles of the same anemone color as the one you're locking flip right then. So you may want to consider having extra tiles in front of your screen to use to flip them back if need be! But you can only lock one per turn, once you have fed your parrot fish the first time.
7) You may trade one polyp tile from IN FRONT of your screen for a larva cube of the same color. There is no restriction on how many times you may do this.
8) You may trade one larva cube for a polyp tile of the same color. This tile goes IN FRONT of your screen.
9) (This just indicates that all the actions 2-8 are optional - you can do none of them on your turn if you so choose.)
10) This action everyone will take, and it ends their turn. On the board with the dominance tiles are five squares each with one of the coral polyp colors on them. Each of these will always have one larva cube of the appropriate color and between 1-3 polyp tiles of random color.
At the beginning of the game, all these are fully seeded to larva cube + 3 random tiles. At the end of your turn, you pick one of these stacks and put the cube and tiles BEHIND your privacy screen.
Then, they reseed as follows - add a new larva cube of the appropiate color to the pile just emptied. Then add one random tile from the bag. Going clockwise, add one random tile from the bag to any stack containing less than 3 tiles. Because it takes three turns to reach "full" again, this ends up encouraging everyone not to take the same color. This has its good and bad points. In a four player game, it means that that color won't replenish fully until right before that same player's turn, which I could see might be a problem. So if you really want to stop a player from dominating (pun intended) one color, you might need to 'take one for the team' and take a stack that isn't full.
Play continues until one of several ending conditions is met:
1) All dominance tiles have been locked (most likely).
2) One player has run out of shrimp (not as likely)
3) The reef boards are full so no tiles can be played (not so likely)
4) There aren't enough cubes to replenish at the end of a turn (very unlikely).
Everyone except the player who ended the game will have the opportunity to feed one last time, however with a penalty - the first FIVE tiles will be tossed out instead of just four.
Then, the tiles in each parrotfish are revealed and scored as I explained above - each tile of a color is worth one point + one point per dominance.
Grey: 2 dominance
Pink: 3 dominance
White: 1 dominance
Orange: 4 dominance
Yellow: 0 dominance
Anye has 2 yellow, 5 pink, 4 white, 1 orange
Brian has 1 yellow, 7 grey, 5 orange, 3 white
Chris has 4 yellow, 8 pink, 5 grey
Derk has 3 grey, 5 white, 8 orange
yellow = 2 x 1 = 2
pink = 5 x 4 = 20
white = 4 x 2 = 8
orange = 1 x 5 = 5
total = 35
yellow = 1x 1 = 1
grey = 7 x 3 = 21
orange = 5 x 5 = 25
white = 3 x 2 = 6
total = 43
yellow = 4 x 2 = 8
pink = 8 x 4 = 32
grey = 5 x 3 = 15
total = 55
grey = 3 x 3 = 9
white = 5 x 2 = 10
orange = 8 x 5 = 40
total = 59
The game seems to me to actually be a highly disguised abstract - and as my opponent last night said, "a bit of a brain burner". But all in a good way. It seems to have a good mix of strategy and tactics (though heavier on the tactics, as you will need to throughout the game attempt to stay on top of the dominance structures when planning - and this is something that a couple other players can change quickly in between your turns.) It plays in about two hours in my experience and this is the general wisdom as well, but it's on the heavier side of the German style games. Personally, I like the art and design except for the too-slight color difference between the white and grey coral tiles (the patterns are quite different though). Component quality is excellent and the game even comes with sufficient baggies and a dark tile bag.
I've played this game with 2 and with 4 and it worked very well both ways. I think I'm going to enjoy playing it for quite awhile yet.
GET A SILK BAG FROM THE GRAVEYARD DUCK TO LIVE LONGER.
Nice review but one minor mistake: Action 4 only allows you to place 1 shrimp per round from behind your screen.
I assume this is the reason for shrimp even being allowed to move to open rock temporarily when you're placing tiles; as if you had to pull them back behind the screen you might not be able to bring them back out again.
Lake in the Hills
2) One player has run out of shrimp (not as likely)
I think this is just as likely as locking all the coral tiles. Really, it depends on your group so it might be more likely for some. If I'm down to my last shrimp that is at a size I would normally eat and the coral tiles are facing a way that scores me a lot of points, why wouldn't I eat my last shrimp to end the game? It'll take me longer to lock in the tiles.
Yes, I stand corrected. That's what I get for writing from memory
I only played three times.. but a valid strategy seemed to be if you acquire an overall lead in the sheer number of corals eaten, to focus on ending the game quickly, and thus running out your shrimp in a hurry and forcing others to settle for eating suboptimal amounts of coral with theirs...
2 of 3 ended this way.. but we were all new, so this may be a beginners 'mistake'.