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Subject: Reef Encounter hits the table rss

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Jason Reid
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Brooklyn
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Hi all! This is my first ever session report.

Game night tonight was me (Jason), Daniel, and Jesse. We use a Google spreadsheet to vote ahead of time on which game will be featured on the table, and I was quite excited that this night was going to feature Reef Encounter. Jesse and Daniel had never played it, and I've got only a few games under my belt but am quite a fan.

The explanation went well. Earlier in the week I had rewatched the "Board Games with Scott" video review of Reef Encounter, so that I could familiarize myself with how he explained the game. I bought the game after watching that review the first time, so I figured it would be helpful. Sometimes I'm nervous about explaining this game, as so much of the play is emergent and might not come across during a mechanics explanation. But I was encouraged by the number of "Ooohs", "Aaaahs", and "Neats" I heard during the overview.

So, onto play. Daniel drew first player, who only draws six tiles at start, so it came as quite a shock to Jesse and I when on his first play he layed out four orange polyps. He connected to one of the starting polyps, grabbed a starfish freebie, and had a size-six orange reef on the board already.

Jesse and I started much more slowly, given our resources. I got out some white and orange coral, and Jesse got out some yellow and gray. Pink was noticeably absent from the sea for much of the early game. Daniel, who's orange beast had been safely positioned out of easy reach any dominant coral, was able to get that reef up to eight polyps before cashing out his first shrimp. A few coral consumed later, and Daniel was already on his way to locking down Orange's dominance in the ecology. Jesse and I both fed our parrotfish a shrimp, me netting a few white and Jesse netting some gray. Jesse quickly locked down gray's dominance over orange, preventing Daniel from sweeping the market with orange early. Within a few rounds, Orange had locked in dominance over white, pink, and yellow...only gray held out, and Daniel had a nice lead.

Newbie sickness then set in on Daniel, though, as once he had consumed his massive reef and locked down that color, he floundered a little bit (heh heh). He had a few reefs going but never really formulated a strategy. He also placed his shrimps well on the reefs initially, but tended to not move them to other, more vulnerable spots as the game evolved. This would cost him later.

As the game went on, I had been consuming some of my own reefs with other polyps, building up some nutritious currency. I largely left the market alone (aside from the occasional tactical flip), not ready to commit yet. I eventually made a big move, laying down a quite defendable size-nine yellow reef, and one turn later I was able to feed it to my parrotfish. At that point I became the first person to eat two shrimps.

At this point, having consumed yellow and white and still holding onto the base of an orange reef, I began to lock down a bit of yellow's & white's dominance. Daniel discovered a few pitfalls of locking down orange's dominance early...namely that competition for orange in the open sea rose, and he was limited in his ability to consume orange tiles with other colors.

Tick-tock. Everybody continued to jockey for position on the market. I started grabbing nothing but orange larvae and whatever tiles were with them (even if less than three), in order to stockpile this valuable commodity. Space eventually opened up next to my orange reef, and I was able to expand and feed my parrotfish. All I had left was a shrimp on a gray reef, and the market was close to locked down entirely. As I was playing with newbies, I warned them how close to end the game was.

I felt that I had a comfortable lead, and that I was prepared to end the game by eating my last shrimp, when Daniel made a big move. He joined one of his white reefs with another on the other side of the board. I was staring at a size-13 white reef, guaranteed to be worth at least 27 points all by itself. But Daniel didn't move his shrimp.

Jesse had a lot of resources, but he knew the end was nigh and had to bulk up his reef rather than attack Daniel's. It came to me, but I was ready. I traded in an orange larvae for a tile, and played another orange larvae with three orange tiles. After laying down the requisite two to give my pet an appetite, I consumed the one, vulnerable white tile needed to break Daniel's leviathan in half.

I immediately ended the game by flipping the last market tile, to yellow-over-white, and then locking it down. Daniel and Jesse were able to each consume one more reef (at a one-polyp penalty), and I left my lone shrimp on the board.

Final Ecology:
Orange - 4pts
Yellow - 4pts
White - 3pts
Pink - 2pts
Gray - 2pts

Final scores:
Jason 47
Daniel 39
Jesse 20

Though he scored poorly, Jesse really enjoyed the game and feels like he picked up the strategy about halfway through. He's normally a very skillful gamer so I'm looking forward to seeing what he'll bring to the table next time. Daniel was more iffy on it, as he declared frustration with not being sure what to do after the early game. But he wants it to hit the table again as well.

*edited b/c my math was wrong*
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