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Subject: Not so brief encounter rss

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John Farrell
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As I have to give this game back to its owner soon, I had to learn the rules and teach it at Critical Mass. This game has a lot of components (polyps, larvae, algae, shrimps), two types of boards, and two types of player shields (including the parrot fish). The rules are very long explaining the interactions between the two. I can explain Vinci in about 3 minutes, and this one took me at least 20 minutes. It's a hard game. Even after you realise that, there's still a lot more rules to learn.

Players: Bertie Beetle, Nigel, Daniel, John

So we at least knew enough to get ourselves established on the board, get the bonus spaces, and to protect our corals with shrimp. The next difficulty was getting polyps in front of the board, because to achieve that, someone needed to leave their polyps undefended. The shrimps seem to cover almost enough to defend all the corals, but if you dare leave one or two polyps accessible, everyone plots a way to attack them.

There was some initial experimentation with algae to see what could be achieved, but after a couple of minutes we understood how algae related to the battle between corals, and figured out that we had to plan to destroy a polyp so we could buy an algae so we could change a dominance so we could eat some coral so we could play 4 polyps from behind and lots from in front so we could build a massive coral that couldn't be attacked so we could eat it and get some points. Of course, all of these plans were mostly theoretical, as the exact colour of larva you needed dictated the exact colour of polyp you needed to eat, and they were all guarded by the shrimps. I was always working on my next grand plan, and they were never successful.

Eventually Nigel ate one of his corals, which meant that finally there was some space on one of the boards, and the rest of us could expand. As we'd all placed our shrimp on the boards, we couldn't start a new coral without leaving one undefended, which meant that there were some opportunities to destroy polyps. However as people started eating corals, they also started to lock in dominances, which meant that the undefended corals might not be able to be eaten by whatever it was that was next to them.

As the game progressed, it remained hard to do anything, because you had fewer shrimp to defend with, fewer corals that you were able to attack, and fewer chances to get polyps in front of the shield. Daniel suddenly seemed to explode several of his corals, and Bertie's large orange growth suggested that he was a contender as well. Eventually, 3 hours after we started, Nigel ate his last coral.

Scores: John 33, Bertie 45, Nigel 32, Daniel 58.

Daniel's explosive growths won the day for him, but they didn't become possible until Nigel had harvested his first coral so there was some space. Nigel thought he was disadvantaged by harvesting first. Bertie had the single most valuable coral, with 9x4 point orange polyps, but Daniel had the largest with 10x3 point yellow polyps.

Overall, a massive intellectual effort, that would maybe be worth it if we could play an hour faster. It's a very pretty game, but very very complex, with enormous scope for clever moves. It's a pity we couldn't figure out how to make them.

Here are the rules we thought were unnecessary:
* bonus spaces on the reef boards
* polyps by the side of the open sea board for the bonus spaces
* actions 2 & 3 being the same
* action 9 being mentioned at all
 
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Christopher Hill
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Hello John,

You are right that Reef Encounter is a deep game. However, based on the content of your session report and the length of time your game took, I can't help think your group was missing some things. For example, did you know you can consume your own polyps? Or that you do not need to build exclusively off your own corals? You can start a new coral anywhere, it does not need to be built off existing corals. Also, your shrimp only protects the polyp tile it is on and the ones immediately adjacent (of the same type) north, south, east and west. It sounds from the text of your report you were allowing the shrimp to protect much more than this. One strategy our group uses a lot to gain consumed polyps, is to use the number 2 action to lay some tiles, lets say orange. Then use action three to eat those tiles with a coral that is dominant over orange. This is a good way to get some consumed tiles in front of your screen when all of your opponents corals are well protected.

All in all, I hope you give the game another chance. Once everyone gets comfortable with all the actions and then discovers some of the creative ways to use the system, the game should at worst take about an hour and a half.

Thanks for the session report.
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Stephen Sanders
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I had a very similiar experience the first game I played. One player fell asleep during the rules explanation, and I might as well have as I didn't fare any better than he did in the game. I don't mind playing a 3 hour game, like WotR, if it satisfies from start to finish, but this game just doesn't draw me into the conflict.
 
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John Farrell
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kinga1965 wrote:
I can't help think your group was missing some things.


We got all of those rules right, but we didn't think of eating in action 3 what we built in action 2. That could well have helped. I do think we would speed up with experience.
 
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John Farrell
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I'm not against playing it again, but I will need to get the other guys on board. An added complication is that none of us actually own the game, it has been loaned to me and has to go back soon.
 
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Magic Pink
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Friendless wrote:

* actions 2 & 3 being the same


That's just to show that you can do it twice but ONLY twice.
 
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John Farrell
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Magic Pink wrote:
That's just to show that you can do it twice but ONLY twice.


In the new printing, at least, the things you can do once have "x1" in their square. A simple "x2" would have expressed the idea more clearly I think. It was obvious to my players that you could do it twice but with different colours, which of course is not the least bit true.
 
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Friendless wrote:
It was obvious to my players that you could do it twice but with different colours, which of course is not the least bit true.

That line confuses me. If you mean your players thought they could take the action twice with one color, and then twice again with another color resulting in as many as four actions of playing a larva cube and placing tiles in the same turn, then you are correct. That is not possible.

However, you can play a larva cube and polyp tiles of the first color, and then play a second larva cube and tiles of the same or a different color, for a total of two actions.

I have to be honest by admitting that I have not yet conceived of a scenario where I would be interested in taking both of these actions in the same color, yet the rules do allow for it.
 
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John Farrell
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Beowulf wrote:
Friendless wrote:
It was obvious to my players that you could do it twice but with different colours, which of course is not the least bit true.


However, you can play a larva cube and polyp tiles of the first color, and then play a second larva cube and tiles of the same or a different color, for a total of two actions.


Because the two examples were different colours, it was obvious to my players that the two actions must involve different colours, whereas the rule is only that they may be different colours. That action summary card needs some redesign, I think.
 
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kevin long
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the game aid card is flawed in my sense of design - it should just be 8 actions versus 10 - don't need action 9 and as said already, 2 and 3 should be combined - also the arrows for the middle 8 actions are misleading - the designer tried to convey that the actions can be done in any order - but it looks more like they are supposed to be done in that order - the pictures of each action work great however! and the card is far more usefull than just relying on the rule book
 
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