Conquere the furious river with swift swimming strokes! mind control bears and bald eagles! Get your fish laid! Wait, what? Come in friend and let me explain...
So there was this game on kickstarter that I totally missed so I couldnt wash my blackmarket bartending money by funneling funds into the project. Sadness. Then Eagle Games created a pre-order for it with the goodies stuffed inside the box. Great success! A month or so later the game end up in my hands and in this review we're going to figure out if it should find its way to you too or not.
I bought the game because it was presented as a deckbuilder (which is my heroin and needle in this hobby), but after having played it I got a mixed feeling on where it should land in the boardgame camp really. But lets not get ahead of ourselves. Let me explain about the game for you who don't have a clue what I'm talking about:
Salmon run is a racing game where each player gets to control a wooden pawn salmon with a pre-determined deck each. The game board is set-up with a starting tile and ending tile and as many tiles as you wish of the rest between these two to create the race track thematically called the river. If you want a quicker game you only pick a few boards and if you want a longer you take more. Pretty basic. The first player to get laid (its actually the goal of the game after all, lets not pretend otherwise) is the winner. To get laid you have to swim the fastest to the spawning ground, which is the name for the ending tile.
Red fish making babies. The poor yellow salmon only gets to watch :(
So this is a racing game where your means of racing is your deck of cards. You start with four cards in your hand and may play up to three and move your fish up the river. At the end of the turn you draw up to four more cards. You can manipulate the contents of your deck by moving to special hexes, some which will remove useless junk from your deck or will add different kinds of cards to your deck so you can pretty much customize how to swim during a race. In theory at least. The deckbuilding aspect isnt that strong within the game, even with the full race track laid out (which takes about 30 minutes to finish a game with). You rarely remove or add enough cards for this aspect of the game to really matter because you dont reshuffle your deck enough times for it to matter that much. If the starting deck had lower amount of cards and/or the race would take longer the aspect of what you add or remove to your deck would have more meaning.
A really goofy, in a good way, thing in the game is that there is bears around the board which is represented by brown wooden bear pawns and every player starts with a card in their deck that makes these dudes move. I interpet it that the salmon you play has awesome psychich powers that gets them to control lesser animals and pit them against your opponents. There is also ways to get eagle-cards (which sadly doesnt have their own pawns on the board, they are just a "fuck you" card you can play on an opponent). Somehow the salmon can get ahold of rapids and current cards that let them control the friggin' river like they where straight out of the bible. No wonder these salmon get laid.
Its fun, furious, fast and full of ways to mess with your opponent. But its a very, very casual game that won't work for those of us who needs a little more meat to the bones in a game. The board tiles have good artwork, wood pawns work and the cards are really fine for the shuffling you expose them to. The rulebook is clear and to the point, but might be a bit too simplistic on some stuff. As a 2-player game its a bit lacking and the weak parts of the deckbuilding mechanic in the game really rears its head, because its usually way more effective to just go an effective route straight for the goal than to swoon around trying to pick up fancy cards. The more players you add the more chances you have for it to actually have an impact, especially with the longest possible track (10 tiles).
In its current state I gave it a 6.4/10 rating, which probably is a full point too generous but I see the potential for this to become great. I went in hoping to get a new spin on the deckbuilding genre within a highly thematic setting and got out with a pretty nifty racing game, with a tad too high random factor at times.