At Gen Con 2015, I met Nick Bentley from North Star Games. He talked to me about what was next for Evolution, and also about a “super secret game” that he couldn’t show me because it was “easy to replicate.” Then he began to talk about fist bumps and high fives, and he slapped my arm in a very strange way. Suffice to say I left that meeting a little dumbfounded.
But! Now Happy Salmon is here, and it’s one of the shortest board games ever made, with some of the cutest packaging ever made. Two questions remain: can you get your uptight Eurogamer friends to play it, and is it fun? Here’s a reminder of my scoring categories:
Components – Does the game look nice? Are the bits worth the money? Do they add to the game?
Accessibility – How easy is the game to teach, or to feel like you know what you are doing?
Depth – Does the gameplay allow for deeper strategies, or does the game play itself?
Theme – Does the game give a sense of immersion? Can you imagine the setting described in the game?
Fun – Is the game actually enjoyable? Do you find yourself smiling, laughing, or having some sense of satisfaction when it’s over?
Components: The game is really just a deck of cards, but it comes in a cute zip-up bag shaped like a fish. The game is fast and furious, the cards would get beat up – except that North Star went above and beyond with cards that are essentially plastic – not sure how to describe them, other than to say that they’re very durable. The MSRP of $14.99 seems perfectly reasonable, considering how nice the components are. No complaints!
Accessibility: This is a real-time game like Pit, but in this case you are trying to get rid of all your cards. You flip the top card of your deck and try to get someone to do that action with you – either a fist bump, a high five, a switcheroo (change places), or a “happy salmon”. If no one will do it with you, put it on the bottom of your deck and flip a new card. If you run out of cards first, you win. That’s literally it. I’ll add that I really appreciate them putting an alternate rule in the rulebook for the “switcheroo” for people with accessibility (in the physical sense) issues.
Depth: This game takes five minutes tops, and it’s more about goofing off than anything else. But there are a few strategic things you can do. If you can keep an eye on what other players are calling or not calling, you can be more strategic about skipping cards. You can also physically “sneak” and steal first bumps or high fives from other people as they go to do it!
Theme: I guess it’s fish-themed, due to the “happy salmon” move and the case. Though I don’t like fishing or eating fish, I appreciate the cuteness factor and think it’s important for making a game like this “look” fun.
Fun: I forced my game night group into playing this in between two longer Eurogames, and this may have been the most fun we had that night. It’s so off the wall goofy and stupid, and somehow sneaking this into gamers’ hands reminds them what it’s like to be a kid again. Speaking of, this is an automatic hit with kids or junior high groups. Anytime I’m chaperoning an event in the future, I’ll be sure to have this in my bag.
Happy Salmon is a stupid, goofy game that only lasts a few minutes – but it’s also an important chance to step back and laugh at ourselves, and that makes it awesome.
4 out of 5