Salmon Run (2013) Review
Being a salmon is not an easy thing, especially when the “love season” arrives. To be able to lay their eggs in pleasant areas, salmon swim up rivers by the millions. But it's not always safe. Besides the difficulty of the currents, danger also comes from other wild animals that take advantage of this period, to fill the stomach like bears or eagles. Of the many who wish to return to the sources, only a few will be able to do it. It's a kind of race to give life.
Jesse Catron started from this idea to create a rather original racing game. Salmon Run tells us about this intense journey in the form of a race between salmon. This game received a Kickstarter in 2012 and was released in 2013 by Eagle Gryphon Games, Salmon Run speaks to us with a very original theme that is little used in our game environment. This is certainly one of the reasons why the game went a little unnoticed. Yet it has many qualities.
It's a race. The faster and more efficient you are, the more likely you are to win. But beware, the current will not be a walk in the park. Like any salmon, you only have one goal: to arrive first. So you do not go backward. So you can only go forward ... even if sometimes it's not to your advantage.
The main mechanism of the game is deckbuilding. Each player has at the beginning the same number and same type of card. During the game, depending on the route your salmon takes, you will be able to collect other cards. These new cards will among other things, allow you to achieve new displacement or even to use other ploys to slow opponents. It is important to manage your deck and choose the future additions.
On your turn, you can play up to three cards from your hand. Except special cards, they allow you to move. Basic Swim cards are very simple to apply. If I play a “Swim Forward” card, I move one hex forward. This is how your salmon powers up the river. But beware, first worries, if you play three Swim cards in one turn, you will get tired. Getting tired is represented by drawing a Fatigue card. These cards serve no purpose other than slowing you down. Collecting cards, positive or negative, are added to your discard pile. Once your deck is empty, you’ll create a new one by mixing your discard pile. This is how you get your new cards into play (a bit like the majority of deckbuilding).
Fatigue is an essential element and quite smart game. Associated with a certain risk, you can very well choose to move faster or perform more dangerous actions at the risk of accumulating fatigue. These cards eventually come back and can sometimes slow you down significantly. It is however possible to rest. If you choose to do nothing, you can destroy one (by putting it back in the general reserve). But it costs you a turn. Fatigue cards are obtained when you force your fish to move three times, or when you make a jump, or try to escape a bear. Be careful to manage your condition well, in the long run fatigue can play an important role, or even serve you at the end of the game.
Each time you move, you will have to apply the effects of the hexes on the board. Some can be quite negative. But they can also allow you to recover new cards and add them to your discard pile. This is how you will customize your deck. But be careful, each type of card is limited in number. Later you’ll find cards with more efficient moves, wild cards that will serve as a wild card, opportunities to draw more, destroy cards in your deck, but also cards that will be used to slow down others.
Salmon are not necessarily tender to each other. Some cards may be played to decrease the abilities of your opponents. The case for example for “Rapids”, that will discard cards to your opponents (but also to yourself) according to the number of arrows on the box. You may also be forced to back off in case of strong current. You can also collect cards of eagles or bears to play on the others. The eagles allow you to discard a card of your choice, while the bears will increase fatigue. However, it is possible to counteract these negative effects. For this, you must discard a card identical to the one just played.
There are also special boxes: cascades. The cascades are not traversed in the same way as the normal squares. To go beyond a waterfall, you will have to play two Swim cards. The first will not be applied, while the second determines where you will arrive. This is called a jump. Jumping requires more effort for your salmon. As a result, you will gain a fatigue card following your jump. Some cascades will give you bonuses or penalties while others will be neutral. Crossing waterfalls can be an obligatory passage or an interesting risk to take.
The players will move their salmon and chain their turns until one of them arrives on the source area. At this moment, the end of the game sequence will trigger the end of the last player turn. If there is only one salmon at the source, then its owner wins the game. If there is a tie, the number of fatigued cards are calculated. Whoever has the least wins the game.
Salmon Run is a game that passed unnoticed. The deckbuilding aspect combines perfectly with the racing aspect. The interaction is very present, whether it is through the pressure of the duty to go faster than the others but also by the use of negative cards. These can slow you down without necessarily penalizing you seriously. The fatigued card system integrates very well with the theme while offering a well-thought-out risk-taking system.
Graphically, it is true that the game is not dreaming. Illustrator Eric J. Carter created a sober but not devoid of interest look. The icons are quickly assimilated and everything is easily identifiable. The meeples bear or fish are wooden and their representations are quite classic. There are no extras or extravagance, but all is ultimately effective.
Another strong point is its replayability. The game track is actually a set of tiles assembled to create the board. Each tile is double-sided and some make the course more or less difficult. We could have wished for a little more diversity in these boards or some of a greater difficulty, but there is already enough to vary the track. Between the chosen cards and the adjustable board, the game is rarely the same at each play. In addition, the duration of the game varies not only according to the number of players but also the size of the selected river.
Salmon Run is a real nice surprise. It's a game with simple rules (even if not always very clear). The game system is well thought out. The duration of the game is reasonable and in adequacy with the pleasure of play. It is possible to pull off some little tricks, without losing an opponent. The original theme fits well. Playable from 2 to 4 players, it works well in all configurations, even if the more you are, there are more possibilities. Not necessarily easy to find today, especially the various existing bonuses, like new tracks. This game deserved to receive a little more attention when it was released.
Technical Score 7/10
Even if the graphics are a bit dated, they do the work and the iconography is easily assimilated. The cards are good qualities. A little flat on the level of official rules that are sometimes a little blurry. The game is quick to install.
My BGG Score 7.5 / 10
(A good game. I have fun playing it)
Salmon run is a simple little game of racing but very pleasant to play. The theme really changes. A few more tiles would have been a plus. The game is fluid, tense, pleasant and a little deceitful.
Combined Score 7.25 / 10
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