I received my missing pieces in the mail earlier in the day, and I was determined to get in a game of Reef Encounter.
Reef Encounter is a fairly complex game about growing coral, and eating it. There are 5 different kinds (colours) of coral and an eco-system that has each kind dominant over others. You have 4 cute little wooden shrimp that you use to claim and guard groups of coral. At the start of your turn you can choose to eat one of your shrimp and all the coral that it is guarding. After paying a tax of 4 tiles, the rest are put into your parrotfish's belly to be counted as part of your score at the end of the game. The game ends after a player has eaten all 4 of his shrimp (then the other players get one last turn in which they can only eat a shrimp and do nothing else). Eat tile you have in your parrotfish is worth at least 1 point, it also earns a bonus point for every other colour that it is dominant over. So if white tiles are dominant over yellow and grey tiles then they are worth 3 points each. A tile then can be worth anywhere from 1-5 points depending on the eco system at game end.
You can affect the ecosystem and change dominance as part of your turn, and also lock down certain dominancies (only after you've eaten at least one shrimp). The other way the game can end is if all 10 dominance tiles have been locked down.
One of the main actions on your turn is the ability to lay down new coral. This can expand your current territory, or create new territory that you intend to claim, or just eat some of your opponent's coral to prevent them from eating too big of a reef. If you grow a coral over another colour (that it is dominant over) you get to collect the tiles that you've enveloped and can use them as a sort of currency to perform other actions. This is how you can affect the open sea ecosystem, or you can just use them to lay down larger reefs during your actions. (You can normally use only 4 tiles to grow a reef, but you can add as many tiles as you want that you've already devoured before). The key to winning the game is building up a good store of these "currency" tiles in front of your player shield. One strategy is two just grow a reef and then immediately devour it back up with another reef just to collect the tiles.
In our game Mory started out looking to be strongest as he built and devoured some very large reefs and we were unable to stop him (though I did sacrifice a move that I really wanted to make in order to take out one of his reefs... eventually I was able to use that reef I made anyways). I ate a small 5 tile reef just to start getting the game moving and be able to lock down dominance tiles. Then Marc grew one of his reefs to be exceedingly large, but placed his shrimp badly which allowed my to come in and eat alot of it setting up a good spot to eat a reef of my own. I was then set up to eat two fairly large reefs, and I ended the game in three straight turns (though possibly four). Because of the speed that the game ended with, the other players (especially Eliezer) were unable to get their reefs in a shape to be eaten successfully and were caught with uneaten and/or suboptimal reefs. This was mainly a learning game though as we were just feeling out the mechanics.
Avri 34, Mory 23, Marc 20, Eliezer 10
The games feels a bit like Tigris & Euphrates as you're laying out tiles for growing and attacking reefs instead of kingdoms and you have shrimp instead of leaders. The way you draw new tiles though is a lot more controlled than in T&E, as there are 5 open sea spaces that each have a larve cube (needed to lay out new coral growth) and between 1-3 tiles on them. At the end of your turn you choose one of the 5 spaces and collect the contents. So you may wish that there were differently coloured tiles along with the yellow cube, but in the end there is a lot more control over what you draw here and there is no issue with "not drawing enough reds." (Not to knock T&E, I still love T&E and think you can win with pretty much any tile draw... but some people think otherwise.).
It took us about 2 hours to play it for our first game, and about 20-30 minutes to explain it. It's actually not all that complicated once you get into it, but there is a definite learning curve in that you will need to play a few times to figure out what you really want to be doing. I'm looking forward to playing it again.