Reef Encounter

A Guide to Reef Encounter – Rules, Instructions & Winning Strategy Tips


Reef Encounter is a game that’s all about building and protecting a coral reef. It’s a tile-based game where players compete to have the most successful reef. The game was designed by Richard Breese, maker of Keyflower which I’ve written a guide on previously. I find the game worth checking out for its unique theme and deep strategy. It’s not just about placing tiles; it’s about managing resources, planning, and sometimes a bit of luck.

The game was first released in 2004 and has since become a favorite among board game enthusiasts who enjoy a challenging and strategic experience.

Quick Tip for Reef Encounter

Always keep an eye on your opponents’ reefs and be ready to adapt your strategy!

Rules for playing Reef Encounter board game

The rules of Reef Encounter are a bit complex, but once you get the hang of it, the game is really engaging. Each player is trying to grow corals, protect them with shrimps, and eventually consume them with parrotfish for points.

The game involves a delicate balance of expanding coral reefs, protecting them from predators, and ensuring their dominance over competing corals. Each player has a set of polyp tiles representing different types of coral, which they can place on the board to form large coral structures.

Parrotfish are used to consume sections of coral in exchange for points at the end of the game. Shrimp tokens protect coral from being overtaken by other players. The game’s unique twist is the shifting dominance of coral types, determined by the players through the use of algae cylinders that dictate which corals can overgrow others.

The game ends when the last polyp tile is drawn or when one player’s parrotfish consumes its fourth coral, triggering the final round. Players then score points based on the size and dominance of the coral consumed by their parrotfish. The player with the most points wins the game.

Equipment and Setup for Reef Encounter

To play Reef Encounter, you need a game board, coral tiles, shrimp pieces, parrotfish tiles, and algae cylinders. There are also polyp tiles and larva cubes which are used to grow and protect your corals. Setting up the game involves placing the board, preparing the supply of tiles and pieces, and giving each player their starting materials.

How to Play Reef Encounter and Game Mechanics

The game is played in turns, with each turn having several phases. Players can grow corals, place shrimps to protect them, and eventually have their parrotfish eat the coral. There are also special actions like attacking other players’ corals or defending your own.

  1. Choose Actions
  2. Grow and Expand Corals
  3. Protect Corals with Shrimps
  4. Consume Corals with Parrotfish
  5. Prepare for Next Turn

How to Win at Reef Encounter

Winning at Reef Encounter requires a mix of strategy and adaptability. Beginners should focus on understanding how the coral tiles interact and how to protect their corals. Intermediate players can start to plan more long-term and consider how to disrupt their opponents’ strategies. Advanced players will be able to predict opponents’ moves and optimize their own strategy to win.

Best Strategies for playing Reef Encounter board game

The best strategies involve careful planning and being able to adapt. Players should aim to control the strongest corals, protect their reefs effectively, and time the consumption of corals by their parrotfish. Sneaky tactics can include blocking opponents’ growth or strategically attacking their corals.

One of the best strategies is to focus on controlling areas of the board by strategically placing your coral tiles and parrotfish to secure regions that can be harvested for points. It is also crucial to monitor the shifting power dynamics of the different coral types; players can manipulate which type of coral is dominant through the clever use of shrimp pieces and algal tiles.

Careful planning of actions to efficiently use your limited resources (larvae cubes) is essential, as is the timing of when to consume coral with your parrotfish for points. Observing your opponents’ moves and adapting your strategy to interfere with their plans can give you a competitive edge.

Ultimately, I find that success in Reef Encounter comes down to balancing aggressive expansion with careful conservation of your resources and maintaining flexibility in your tactics to respond to the evolving game state.


Common scenarios include being attacked by an opponent or running out of room to grow your corals. In these cases, players need to be creative and find ways to turn the situation to their advantage, such as by shifting their focus or using special actions to disrupt the opponent.

Frequently Asked Questions about playing Reef Encounter game

  1. Q: How many players can play Reef Encounter?
    A: The game is designed for 2 to 4 players.
  2. Q: How long does a game of Reef Encounter typically last?
    A: A game can last between 60 to 120 minutes.
  3. Q: Can I attack another player’s coral if it’s protected by a shrimp?
    A: Yes, but you need to use a special action to do so.
  4. Q: What happens when all the coral tiles are used up?
    A: The game continues until the end conditions are met.
  5. Q: Is there a way to get more shrimps during the game?
    A: Yes, there are actions that allow you to add more shrimps to your supply.

Additional Subtopics

Other aspects of Reef Encounter include understanding the dominance of corals, which changes throughout the game, and managing your algae cylinders, which are a key resource. Players also need to be aware of the end game conditions and plan accordingly.

Reef Encounter Rulebook [EN/PDF]

Reef Encounter Review [Video]