Reef Route is another game published under the umbrella of Brain Games. What I like about this publisher is that their games are usually quick, colorful, have a sense of humor and fill that tricky niche of being simple enough for kids to play, but at the same time having enough depth to be enjoyed by adults as well. I previously reviewed both King Frog and Ice Cool (this year’s winner of Kinderspiel Der Jahres), and gave both of them really high scores for the reason I stated above. I also absolutely love their game Om Nom Nom, about the animal eating chain and bluffing. I like how these games subvert my expectations, by looking childish and simple, and then I discover fun, engaging gameplay and the level of strategy that I did not expect. The rule set of those games allows an equal playing field independent of the player’s age, and that is one hard thing to do well.
Reef Route, on the other hand, is played exactly how you would expect and doesn’t try to do anything beyond the ordinary childs’ board game.
• Designer: Arpad Fritsche
• Publisher: Brain Games
• Number of Players: 2-4 players
• Playing Time: 15 mins
In Reef Route, each player is in charge of the four fishes of their dedicated colour, trying to get to the safety of the barrier reef while avoiding aquatic predators, mostly sharks. On their turn, the player rolls two die and then moves the pieces on the board accordingly. If a fish of their own colour comes up, they can move it to a space forward, up or down. Similarly, with the predator. However, if the colour of their opponents fish is rolled, they can only move it forward. Simple, yet in a pleasant surprise, very mischief friendly. There are plenty of opportunities to set your opponent’s fish on the sure path to be eaten, as well as ways to avoid dangerous waters too. If all your fish get eaten, then you are out of the game. The first fish to reach the barrier or the last fish swimming wins.
There isn’t very much to the game. Roll the die, move the fish or the predator, try to stay alive. The more people are playing, the more dynamic and interesting the game is as it is harder to avoid confrontation or backstaberry. However, in terms of strategy, the game is quite thin. The randomness of the movement through dice rolling pretty much guarantees your successes or failures. The game can be made harder by choosing larger predators or a greater number of predators, however, otherwise, there is little flexibility in the gameplay.
Of course, I am completely aware that Reef Route is not targeted to me. I am absolutely sure that a lot of young board gamers will enjoy this game and will have fun playing it. However, Reef Route misses one crucial element that other games, King Frog, Ice Cool and Om Nom Nom, have: the understanding that children’s games have to be simple, but they do not have to be simplistic. That is what separates a good family friendly game from the rest. Reef Route will be fun to play once, twice, maybe three times, afterward other games will easily take its place.
The gameplay aspect aside, the look of the game is very appealing. The artwork, as you would expect, is bright and humorous, and the fish are drawn adorably. The components are simple, one board, cardboard tiles for all fish, player markers, and two die, but all are nicely done. I wish the board came as one piece and didn’t fold, as it takes awhile for it to stop bulging when unfolded, but that is nitpicking.
I really wish I liked Reef Route more. Its colourful fun look, as well as dynamic and fast gameplay, are some of its stronger points. This game is about the survival of the fittest *fish*, and I wish, it emphasized this more through skill than through luck. However, I like that there is a lot of player interaction and opportunities to throw an opponent into the shark’s mouth to save yourself. Yet, there is not enough to keep the attention or interest going. Kids will enjoy this board game, however, there are other board games, even in the Brain Games family, that deliver a similar type of fun better.