Reef Stakes

The Game
Reef Stakes (2018) is a game designed and produced in Malaysia. It is designed by four marine conservationists with the aim of bringing awareness to the masses. This is an educational game and it is now in its third edition. 
During setup, every player gets a role card. Your role determines which three missions you get assigned. The first player to complete all three missions by playing them onto the board wins the game. The missions are Level 5 cards, and they are either nature missions or development missions. The tourism operator above has one nature mission and two development missions (icons at bottom right). 
The game board (well, actually a mat) is a 7×7 grid on which you get to place your cards. Most cards in the deck are cards of Levels 0 to 4. The Level 0 cards are simply rocks. These are the only cards which can be placed directly onto the game board without any restriction. Level 1 to 5 cards come in two types, nature or development. Level 1 cards can only played attached to a Level 0 card. Level 2 cards must be attached to Level 1 cards, and so on. You can attach a Level 1 nature card or a Level 1 development card to a rock (Level 0). The rock itself doesn’t have a type. From Level 2 onwards, the card type must match. A Level 2 nature card can only be attached to a Level 1 nature card, and not a Level 1 development card. 
If a card is directly on the board, you can attach a card to its north, south, east or west, as long as there is space for the new card. You can even stack the new card on top. However if a card is resting on top of another card, the only way you can attach a new card is on top of it. The easy way to imagine this is when you are on the ground floor, you can grow in any direction, but once you are on the first floor, you can only go up. Side note: this is the British way of naming floors. The American way would be first floor in any direction vs second floor and above only upwards.  

There are some action cards in the game, e.g. the rightmost card in this photo. They have various powers, and some of them let you remove cards from the game board. In the most severe case, you remove a series of cards from Level 5 tracing a path of destruction all the way back to the Level 0 rock. This can be disastrous, but it also means an opportunity to start over and space freed up for new expansion. Space is a finite resource after all. 

The game ends once a player plays his or her third Level 5 card and wins the game. 
The Play
We did a 6-player game, which is the highest player count. The game is simple. On your turn you just draw a card and play a card. The cards have flavour text, and they are all related to challenges in preserving our oceans and marine life. 
One issue we had with the game was it was highly risky to play any Level 4 card, because you would be setting up for your opponent to score. When one player first played a Level 4 card, the other players quickly played their mission cards (i.e. Level 5 cards) attached to this Level 4 card. By the time it was this player’s turn again, there was no more space for him to play his own mission card. All he had was gratitude from the others. 
The players’ remaining missions is open information, so before you play any Level 4 card, you can see who will benefit from it and count whether there would be any space left for yourself by the time your next turn comes. Still, I find this Level 4 card conundrum an issue. 
There is some variety in the action cards. They create some unpredictability and player interaction. 
Cards can be stacked on top of other cards. 
The board can get quite crowded. 

The Thoughts

Being a jaded old-timer, once I tried Reef Stakes I could quickly tell this was not a game designed or produced by a game company. It is a game created for educational and awareness purposes, and not a pure game product. It works for non-gamers and casual gamers, but it may not be very interesting for hobby gamers. 

If you are interested to explore the topic of marine conservation through game form, check this out at . 

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