1 Chit, 5 Giggles
I don’t normally do this, but today my review will not only consist of a choice selection of words, but also a video of the very game in action, which should do half the work for me in recommending it. I direct your attention below then to this visual abnormality which you should immediately watch, before continuing on to read the words. (Might want to lower the volume first...)
That, my fellow gamers, was the game ‘Happy Salmon’, an absolute riot of a party game in which you and your fellow players have to rid yourself of a deck of cards by completing the very simple physical gestures indicated upon them. The only catch is that you need to find someone else with a matching card in order to do so. Each player’s deck is the same other than its colour, and with only twelve cards made up of four different types, there doesn’t seem like a lot to grasp. And there isn’t. It’s a ridiculously simple game, and perfect for gatherings of friends, and it’s over in a heartbeat.
The four different cards are; ‘High 5’, ‘Pound It’, ‘Switcheroo’ and, saving the best for last, ‘Happy Salmon’. The first two are fairly common hand gestures, and the third requires you to physically switch places with another player. The fourth is a delightful new type of greeting (well new to me anyway), where you and your opponent slap each other’s forearms several times in quick succession, therefore creating the sound that you’d expect a happy salmon to make, or perhaps one trying to make its way back into the water after leaping out onto a rocky riverbank. It’s a silly and family friendly greeting that really sells the game's mix of silliness and activity.
At the start of the game, on the count of three, each player turns over their entire shuffled deck of cards so that it’s face up, and one by one they must get rid of their cards by doing the action as written on their top card with another person showing a matching card. If you do, you get rid of the card and go on to the next one. Repeat until the deck is empty, and then celebrate your frantic and often very loud win. There is one additional rule, which is useful if you find yourself alone during your action hunting; if you don’t have a match, you can move that top card to the bottom of the deck. You’ll have to complete it later on, but it might save you ten seconds of screaming ‘POUND IT! POUND IT!’ to no avail.
This game is made by the same people who published the incredibly finessed and very low key game Evolution (which I reviewed here), a group by the name of North Star Games, which is a surprise when you consider how different these games are. They also publish ‘Wits and Wagers’. I wouldn't have necessarily considered them one of the big players. However, their breadth of games so far makes me wonder what the future for these guys might contain, and dare I say it, I’m a little excited.
The only negatives I have to give are the obvious ones. Primarily, this is a game that you will tire of, both physically and mentally. While these games are great in short bursts and when not too frequently brought to the table, playing this is like drinking coffee. A couple of them will energise you, but keep consuming it and either you’ll wear yourself out or come to hate the experience. I am curious about whether some form of expansion is on the way, which they would be mad not to think about, because it would certainly be easy to expand and maybe in future you could mix up the types of actions depending on your preferences, much like what Sushi Go Party did to its predecessor.
Secondly, this is not a game that can be played to its best if you are not able to stand up and run around, and so it’s not an accessible game. This can hardly be something to hold against it though. For what it’s worth, part of what made it so unique was the physical aspect of it, so I imagine and certainly hope that there can be variants in the future that will take this into consideration. EDIT: Apparently from the second print run onwards, a rule change was added so that if you cannot physically move, you can swap the cards instead, a neat consideration.
Finally, this is not a strategy game. You aren’t going to win because you’re being cleverer than everyone else. Instead, everybody gets the same chances to strike gold and the game feels better for it. You certainly don’t feel cheated if you lose. Therefore, if you’re a sore loser or a number cruncher, you’d best adapt your ways for this game or avoid it.
Overall, if you’re looking for a physical game that’s as fun and wildly entertaining as the best party games, then you’d be a fool not to pick this up. I’ll also be adopting the happy salmon greeting into my repertoire from now on too.
Review by Russell Chapman