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Subject: The two-shrimp tango rss

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Tom Hudson
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Reef Encounter is an easy game to learn, a hard game to teach, a hard game to play correctly, and a hard game to play well.

The game itself is easy enough to learn. The rules are well written and organized and there are not too many ambiguities, but it’s very hard to teach because of the theme. What’s your role? You’re not the parrotfish—what are you? Plus there’s all the jargon: polyp, alga, larva, coral tile, coral reef, rock, etc.

In actual play I’ve found it to be an exceptionally easy game to screw up. The combination of rigid and loose mechanics leads to many illegal plays. Did that tile come from behind the screen, or from in front? Those seven tiles you played, how many where from in front of the screen? Perhaps these miscues come from the abstract theme—I don’t know but we have to constantly monitor one another.

And playing the game well is still uncharted territory even after five playings.

It seems to me that the critical point in the game comes when you have two shrimp left. When you move from two to one, you should be prepared to end the game. Why?

First, the strongest defense is two shrimp-guarded corals protecting one another. One shrimp is very vulnerable.

Second, by midgame it becomes very hard—sometimes impossible—to find corals that can be attacked. In this case, the only way to make progress is to feed off your own corals, hence the need for two shrimp.

I am by no means an expert and each game brings new discoveries so take these for what it’s worth, but as of now my two rules of thumb are:

1. As soon as one player moves down to two shrimp remaining, do the same. This way you won’t be caught with egg—or shrimp—on your face if they decide to end the game.
2. Don’t move down to one shrimp unless you intend to end the game on the next turn.
 
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J C Lawrence
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In teaching the game to half a dozen or so groups I've never found the theme a problem for the new players. Then again I teach Reef Encounter the way I teach all games: as an abstract game. Theme really only gets mentioned as a joke.

As for the two shrimp limit: In general by the time I eat my second shrimp I'm already dedicated to driving the game out. I ate the first shrimp so as to be able to start locking dominances. Eating the second shrimp is signal that I consider that my hand and my placements are good enough to drive the game out and win.

Please don't get carried away with the two corals each with a shrimp, each protecting the other unless one is tiny, one is huge, and you have locked the dominances in the correct direction. In more normally facile situations such setups are rich pickings for other players: Grow one coral across the orther and cut off a big chunk, reverse the dominance, and grow the second back across the first, cutting off a bigger chunk, then shrimp any remaining attractive chunks while also gaining a fat load of tiles in front of your screen.
 
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Maarten D. de Jong
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november wrote:
In actual play I’ve found it to be an exceptionally easy game to screw up. The combination of rigid and loose mechanics leads to many illegal plays. Did that tile come from behind the screen, or from in front? Those seven tiles you played, how many where from in front of the screen? Perhaps these miscues come from the abstract theme—I don’t know but we have to constantly monitor one another.

Isn't this easy to avoid by just choosing your tiles first and then placing them on the boards? In addition, all other actions involving swapping tiles for something else use tiles from in front of your screen. In other words, I don't really see how you can mess up, especially with all the nice pictograms on the player aid, but then again, I'm probably biased.

Quote:
First, the strongest defense is two shrimp-guarded corals protecting one another. One shrimp is very vulnerable.

Shrimp are never vulnerable. They have little protective clout, yes, but vulnerable, no. You can never force another player's shrimp to move. Try growing corals along the edge of the board!
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J C Lawrence
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november wrote:
Did that tile come from behind the screen, or from in front? Those seven tiles you played, how many where from in front of the screen?


Keep your tiles behind your screen in stacks of never more than four, each one with the cube it needs to play (if yuo have it). If you have too many cubes and not enough tiles, than build sets which sum to stacks of four after cube/tile trades. Stack your tiles before your shield by type. After that play is simply a matter of grabbing a stack from behind and (some of) a stack from in front.
 
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Tom Hudson
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I’ve played this with two different groups now and both exhibit a lot of blunders and illegal moves. I think this is because the theme is one that is hard to get comfortable with. I play it abstractly but I’ve been bitten by color issues on the components—black=gray, pink=red. In poor light I’ve mistaken the black (gray) cube for white (we have the Z-Man edition).

Another odd thing about this game is that my light-game friends seem to like it as much as my heavy-game friends.

This game’s history with my gaming groups has been unusual. I’m the one that introduces the new games and keeps bringing them out. Some stick, some don’t. With Reef Encounter, I thought about trading it after the first few plays but EVERYONE else likes it. So I’ve kept at it (no choice; it’s hot around here) and—sure enough—it’s grown (hehe) on me too.
 
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