Game Buzz: Salmon Run

image by BGG user W Eric Martin
image by BGG user W Eric Martin

Salmon Run is a new game from Gryphon Games and designer Jesse Catron.  It was successfully funded on Kickstarter back in October, and has been making its way to backers and should be available in stores soon (if not already).  As you can probably guess from the title and cover, you’re trying to guide your salmon upstream to the spawning area.  It’s a racing style deck-building game, and has a fairly unique theme, so let’s take a look.

The game (for 2-4 players, 45 minutes) comes with 8 two-sided boards, 4 11-card swim decks, 1 standard die, 4 salmon pawns, a 32-card fatigue deck, 6 bear pawns, and a 48-card supplemental deck.  You set up the game by laying out the boards in a river formation, beginning with the start tile and ending with the end tile.  There are six middle tiles and you can use the ones you want.  They’re all rated Easy, Medium, or Hard, so it depends on the kind of game you want.  They’ll be lined up so that the current arrows are pointing towards the start.  The river will be kind of staggered, not a straight line.  Bear pawns are placed at each pawprint on the board, and the Fatigue deck is placed face up next to the board.  You’ll also make face up Bear, Eagle, Wild, Current, Rapids, Double Swim, and Basic Swim piles from the Supplemental deck.  Players all get a salmon and an 11-card Swim deck, drawing 4 cards to make their starting hand.

When you are the “current” player (yuk yuk yuk), you play up to three cards from your hand, resolving them in the order played.  These could be cards that allow you to move your salmon (swim), force all salmon to move with the current, jump the waterfall, move the bear, or look at another player’s hand with the eagle.  If you play three swim cards, you gain a fatigue card – this is the useless card for this game.  If you choose to play nothing but fatigue cards, you can return one to the fatigue deck.

Swim cards move you in a certain direction, indicated on the card.  You can’t move onto a rock (obviously), and must jump over waterfalls by playing two swim cards.  There are other cards you gain when you move onto certain spaces, and these cards all do certain things:

  • Bear: Playing a bear card allows you to move the bear two hexes.  If a bear is in a space with one or more salmon, those players add a fatigue to its discard pile.
  • Eagle: Playing an eagle allows you to look at another player’s hand and discard one.
  • Current: These cards make all salmon move with the current.
  • Rapids: These cards make everyone discard 0-2 cards.
  • Double Swim: These cards allow you to move two hexes with one card.  Note that they still must be used with another card in order to jump.
  • Wild: This is a swim card that allows you to move in any direction.

You could also land on a draw +1 space, which allows you to draw a card; or reeds, which allows you to remove a card from your hand, swim deck, or discard pile.

When you’re done with your turn, you discard what you played and draw back up to four.  When a player reaches the spawning pond, play continues until everyone has had the same number of turns.  If only one player has gotten there, that player wins.  If multiple players get there, the player with the least fatigue wins.

I think it’s interesting that we have a deck-building game that is also a racing game.  You gain new cards by landing on specific spaces on the river, rather than purchasing them (as with most DBGs).  It’s a unique theme, and looks like it will work fairly well with the mechanics.  The rulebook currently posted online is kind of a mess, but it was posted back in August, so maybe it’s been cleaned up somewhat since.  As with most games of this type, you probably really need to play to get it.  However, it looks fun enough for now.  I know a couple of members of my game group have it, so I’ll probably get to try it out sometime.  Thanks for reading!

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