Take the Great Barrier Reef With You In The Great Barrier Reef Card Game

Take the Great Barrier Reef With You In The Great Barrier Reef Card Game

April 16, 2020 0 By Ryan Sanders

Ryan previews the upcoming card game, The Great Barrier Reef Card Game, from Travel Buddy Games

The Great Barrier Reef Card Game

  • 2-5 Players | Ages 10+ 
  • Published by Travel Buddy Games
  • Designed by Keith Piggott
  • Kickstarter Date: April 21, 2020

Note: All photos are prototype materials and don’t necessarily reflex the finished products. 

In The Great Barrier Reef Card Game players are managing their own reefs, trying to satisfy the different types of sea life present in it. On a turn, a player will place a reef card onto their reef (personal play area, everyone will be making their own reef). A card is made up of four quadrants  – each with its own sea life. When laying down a card you must cover up at least 1 quadrant of a card already placed. After placing a card,  you will look at the number in the middle of it, either a 1-4 or an asterisk. After placing a card, you replenish your hand from the market corresponding with that number. So, if I layed down a card with a 3 on it, I will take the card that is in 3rd place spot of the market (there are fish above telling you each place in the market). An asterisk allows you to take any card. You then replenish the market with a card drawn from a facedown deck. Play continues until the last card has been played from the facedown deck into the market (number of cards scales with player count) – and then all players have 1 last turn to play. That is the basics of the gameplay.

There are some twists, of course, for scoring points in this game. Each fish type (there are five different types of fish) only scores if it is played in certain formations on your reef. For example, maybe your clownfish only want to be in groups of four in square formations together or your parrotfish only like to be in diagonals. These scoring formations change game from game, thanks to them not being tied to any certain fish. You will lay out the formation scoring cards at the start of the game, and shuffle some cardboard tokens that have a picture of each of five fish, and randomly add one to each scoring objective. This makes it so all five fish in the game, score differently (and differently each time you play).

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In the game there are also Tiger Sharks and Sponges that not only score you points at the end of the game if they are showing, but give you a special power if you cover them. That power is the ability to move up the points of a certain score formation. Sponges let you move any one scoring formation up 1 block in points (see photo) and Tiger Sharks not only move one up but one scoring tracker down. So players want to manipulate the scoring points based on what type of scoring formations they are or are not going for. At the end of the game, you also score points for any coral showing and LOSE points for any Crown-of-Thorns Starfish showing in their reefs. This may sound like a lot to wrap your head around, but in play, the rules come pretty naturally and are easy to teach and understand. It may take 3 minutes to teach, and then you are off to the races —  swimming with the fishes — are ready to play.  

Gameschooling Aspect – What Does It Teach?

  • Spatial Reasoning
  • Pattern Building/Recognition
  • Planning ahead with market

The age rating is 10+, and that is about right. Though it’s pretty easy to understand there is quite a bit of strategy going on, not only in wrapping your head around the spatial element, but also with planning ahead with the market. Maybe I want the card in the 3 slot, but don’t have a 3 to play, so I have to play this 4, which will give me a 3 card that I can play next turn and hope that I can play it to get the 3 I really need.

The Great Barrier Reef Card Game could also be good for a themed unit, on the subject matter or just reefs in general. Teachers/Parents could have students pick one of the sea life in the game (the fishes, tiger shark or even crown-of-thorn starfish) and do some kind of project learning about the animal.

Not only is The Great Barrier Reef Card Game fun, but it’s extremely clever and balanced for smoothness but also to keeps the puzzle aspect challenging with the number of fish, how often everything shows up on the different spot on the cards, etc – a lot of love and playtesting no doubt was put into this game, and it shows. The way the market works is not only one of the stand out things of this game, but works so well, that I really like to see the designer (Keith Piggott) revisit it in his future games, a whole series of games could be used around that market mechanic. 

The Great Barrier Reef Card Game is a compact game. (Score pad missing.)

Part of the whole idea behind Travel Buddy Games is to make their games easily travel-able, so I wouldn’t expect many stretch goals or expansions in the Kickstarter. However, there is one thing I really like to see in The Great Barrier Reef, goals. Either personal or public (or both) where you are trying to have the biggest school (connected) of  _____ (insert fish or shark name) or chain of coral. Where you want to have the most or least of something, or even you score points for having the most compact reef or you score points per edges/corners of your reef (so you want to make it bigger). There are quite a number of things I can think off the top of my head. I can only hope the game does well and maybe we can see a small expansion next year. The game is great on its own, but I think this could be a really great edition. 

As we close, if you couldn’t tell, my thoughts on The Great Barrier Reef Card Game are highly positive. I could see it being highly loved from puzzle game lovers, those that like card/tile laying games where you make your own personal tableau, and those looking for travel games. The art and the way the personal reefs look on the table makes for great table presence for such a small game. Small on the outside, bigger in the gameplay, The Great Barrier Reef Card game is a TARDIS game. One of those games that every once in while you hear about – a small game package wise, but has so much gameplay packed in it that it feels like a much bigger game. Fun, think-y, unique twist with the market, beautiful art, what’s not to love?

For fans of puzzle games like Circle the Wagons, Reef, Calico, and Point Salad. 

The Great Barrier Reef launches on Kickstarter April 21, 2020. 

Thanks to Travel Buddy Games for sending a prototype of the game (and a final copy in future) for an honest review. 


Ryan Sanders is the founder, owner, and editor-at-large of Adventures in Gameschooling. He’s also the guy behind its social media accounts. God has blessed Ryan and his wife Mary, with five children, which he homeschools. As a Christian, he believes that he should not only look out for your own interests but other peoples too (Philippians 2:4) and this is one of his guiding principles for Adventures in Gameschooling. Ryan’s expertise is informed by almost two decades of experience as a stay-at-home father and from the running The Inquisitive Meeple where he performed over 300 written and podcast interviews within the board game industry.