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The Great Barrier Reef off the coast of Queensland Australia is so massive that it can be seen from outer space, yet the card game from designer Keith Piggott and Travel Buddy Games is small enough to be carried in your pocket and played on even the smallest of tables. Travel Buddy Games is a new publisher dedicated to merging two passions: gaming and travel. Each game must be portable enough to carry with you and be thematically tied to a specific destination. They dove deep with their first release so keep reading to find out if this game is smooth sailing.

The Great Barrier Reef Card Game; So-fish-ticated!

In The Great Barrier Reef Card Game players take turns building up their own section of the Great Barrier Reef with cards from their hand. They’ll attempt to arrange species of fish into one of five patterns selected at random at the beginning of the game. Each pattern will score a number of points at the end of the game based on adjustments made during gameplay. The player with the most points at the end of the game (when the draw pile runs dry) is the winner.

Setting up the Game

The Great Barrier Reef is composed of nearly 3,000 individual islands and stretches over 1,400 miles from tip to tip

Setting up The Great Barrier Reef Card Game is quite simple. Shuffle the stack of scoring cards and deal out 5. Prepare the scoring cards by shuffling the 5 fish tokens and placing one face up on top of each scoring card. This has the effect of pairing that fish and pattern for the duration of this game. Additionally, place 1 scoring token on the pink space of each scoring card to set the starting value of that pattern.

Shuffle the reef cards then deal 3 to each player and 1 face up in front of each of the 4 number tokens.

Here’s the game set up for three players.

Giving Nature a Helping Hand

During the game players will expand their reef by adding cards featuring angelfish, parrot fish, clown fish, surgeonfish, emperor fish, sponges, tiger sharks, and the invasive crown-of-thorns starfish.

On your turn you’ll place a card from your hand face up onto your reef. With the exception of the first card, all other cards must cover at least one quadrant of an existing card in your reef. Cards may not be placed underneath other cards and may not be rotated.

Placing this reef card will cover up a sponge, allowing you to increase the value of one scoring card. This particular card will also allow you to select from any of the four numbered draw piles.

If the card covers up a sponge you may move the scoring marker up by one on the scoring card of your choice. If it covers up a tiger shark you may adjust one scoring card upwards and another scoring card downwards. Finally you’ll draw a new reef card into your hand from the supply based on the number in the center of the card you played that turn. Refill the supply from the deck and continue playing until the deck runs out, at which time each player gets one more turn to lay down a reef card.

In 1981 the Great Barrier Reef was labeled a UNESCO World Heritage Site in an effort to give it some legal protection.

After all players have played their final card, add the matched patterns in your reef and the number of visible sponges and tiger sharks, then subtract points for each visible crown of thorns starfish. Easy peasy!

Here’s the reef scoring cards at the end of the game.

How much would this reef be worth based on the values above?

If you came up with 15 points then you’d be right!

Keeping up With “Current Events”

The Great Barrier Reef Card Game exemplifies the Travel Buddy Games mindset. Set smack in the middle of the largest organic structure in the world, the game is composed of just a single euro-sized deck of reef cards, a smaller set of variable scoring cards, and a few tokens. But even with the small number of components, the game is larger than life. The variability of the scoring cards combined with the rearranged fish tokens means that no two games will be quite the same. And because the card you play dictates the card you draw into your hand, players will need to think a turn or two ahead so that they can secure the perfect card to play on a subsequent turn.

Add in the fact that you’re able to dynamically adjust scoring by covering up sponge and tiger shark icons and you’ve got yourself a tense game with lots of fun and some really thinky moments. I predict this game is destined to become a family favorite for many people.

The Great Barrier Reef Card Game Kickstarter campaign ends on May 19th and is already funded. You can grab a copy for yourself for just $15, and as a nice little incentive every backer gets a gift card to Miniature Market.

If you enjoy playing games about coral reefs, you might also enjoy Reef.


The natural beauty and staggering scope of the reef encourages eco-tourism, but the very thing that brings in valuable revenue to the Queensland region and its people is also to blame for the harm being caused to the reef itself. Here are some links containing more information about the Great Barrier Reef.

* https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Great_Barrier_Reef
* https://greatbarrierreef.org/
* https://whc.unesco.org/en/list/154/
* https://www.queensland.com/en-us/explore-queensland/great-barrier-reef

Disclosure: Meeple Mountain received a free copy of this product in exchange for an honest, unbiased review. This review is not intended to be an endorsement.

Disclosure: Meeple Mountain was provided a pre-production copy of the game. It is this copy of the game that this review is based upon. As such, this review is not necessarily representative of the final product. All photographs, components, and rules described herein are subject to change.

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Andy Matthews

Founder of Meeple Mountain, editor in chief of MeepleMountain.com, and software engineer. Father of 4, husband to 1, lover of games, books, and movies, and all around nice guy. I run Nashville Game Night, and Nashville Tabletop Day.

7 CommentsLeave a comment

  • Very cool review. Will have to check out the Kickstarter.

    BTW — near the end of the review, there appears to be a missing piece of information. There is a sentence that reads: “You can grab a copy for yourself for just , and as a nice little incentive every backer gets a gift card to Miniature Market.”

    After the word “just”, I think you meant to have something there.

    Anyway — thanks for the review and have a great day!

  • As an Australian, it’s weird to me that someone in Missouri is making a game about our still-there nature reserve… It’s like if I had made PARKS. Somehow it would be different if it was a historical thing, like many games are. But being still there, and subject to coral bleaching and other matters that are threatening it’s survival, its just a strange feeling to have someone from “outside” making money off it this way.

      • That is a good point, and it got me thinking. I wrote this comment on the campaign page:

        ==========
        OK. saw a review of this on MEEPLE MOUNTAIN and thought I would check it out.

        One person on that site made an interesting comment about the idea of someone not from that area making money on that nature preserve. So I have to ask — is any of the money from this campaign going to go to any charity dedicated to maintaining and saving the Great Barrier Reef?

        Honestly — not trolling here — I would like to know.
        ==========

        I got this response:

        ==========
        I wouldn’t assume you were trolling 🙂

        Travel Buddy Games are meant to inspire travel to the places they are set and we hope this game does make people want to see the Great Barrier Reef in person and that visitors to that area contribute to the local economy and behave responsibly in their time there.

        Though we are not donating campaign funds to charity we are including a fact sheet about the Great Barrier Reef in the game which includes tips on how to be a good visitor – including using reef-safe sunscreen and volunteering with conservation organizations when you visit.
        ==========

        I am very sorry for the formatting; there is not a good way that I am aware to do “quoting” here. 🙂

        • Anyway… the campaign is over and it was quite successful. I am rather happy to have found this game (thanks to this review) and to have supported this campaign. Looking forward to getting this one. Thanks!

    • Hi Adam,

      I’m the publisher of The Great Barrier Reef Card Game. All our titles will kind of fit into this category of places that are currently potential travel destinations. The main idea Travel Buddy Games is to inspire players to travel to amazing places (like the Great Barrier Reef) and to bring those places to their homes when they play.

      Our plan with every title (this one included) is to include a fact sheet about the destination both as a way to highlight what is great about it and to point out what challenges exist around the destination.

      For The Great Barrier Reef Card Game our fact sheet talks specifically about coral bleaching as a problem facing the reef right now. We urge would-be visitors to always use reef safe sunscreen and to consider volunteering with a conservation organization as part of any visit to the Great Barrier Reef.

      I assure you, no disrespect is intended. We are just a travel minded brand encouraging people to see the most amazing places in the world and to do so in a socially responsible way.

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