Discount Salmon

“No wise fish would go anywhere without a porpoise.”  -Lewis Carroll


The Premise

Blue waters, calm waves, a gentle breeze…it sounds ideal for a fishing excursion. Well, this place has none of that. Instead, welcome to the shores of Lake Miasma, the most polluted lake in the world. The fish here aren’t exactly prize catches, but it’s not their fault. As players fishing on the cheap, the goal is to rescue / catch / put out of misery the most fish possible from this lake, and then make for the exit.


The Rules

Discount Salmon is a quick and gleefully deranged dexterity card game for 2-5 players. The game is light, portable, and playthroughs of the game are shorter than the time it takes to cook a fish, let alone catch one.

Lake Misama. Can we interest you in timeshare opportunities?

Lake Misama. Can we interest you in timeshare opportunities?

The game consists of two decks: Fish and Modifiers. The Fish deck contains 25 Fish cards that are randomly spread out face down, forming Lake Miasma. These Fish cards are what the players are after. The Modifiers deck includes cards that allow players to do so; each player begins the game with five Modifier cards.

The player who hates fish the most goes first, receiving the Fry Cart marker.

On a player’s turn, they choose and flip over a Fish card. Every Fish in Discount Salmon suffers one or two maladies from among five possible conditions: Stinky, Ugly, Dry, Toxic, and, uh, Not a Fish. When revealed, all players then attempt to either “cure” the Fish or make it more difficult to be won. Blue Modifiers are played to cure one of the Fish’s conditions, while Red Modifiers curse the Fish with yet another problem beyond the unfortunate life it already has. For example, Antidote will cure a Toxic condition, while Nuclear Waste will make the Fish Toxic.

This Dry, Ugly Fish has been cured with some Lotion and

This Dry, Ugly Fish has cured with some Lotion and Make Up.

The first person to fully cure the Fish claims it. Players may play up to three Modifiers at a time, drawing replacement cards either immediately after using them or when the Fish is won. Once everyone has drawn back up to five cards, the winner of the previous Fish selects the next one to reveal.

There are also two special Modifier cards that behave differently: the Blender causes the player to win the Fish immediately, while Andrew the Hungry Cat runs off with the Fish, ensuring that no one gets it.

Hey, cats are jerks.

Hey, cats are jerks.

Well, except for Andrew.

It’s also possible that players are unable or unwilling to cure the Fish. If after a few seconds no one acts, the player in possession of the Fry Cart creates some deep-fried seafood and takes the Fish. The Fry Cart is then passed to the next player, and then each player may discard and draw up to two cards to refresh their hand.

The game ends once all Fish are claimed (or stolen by Andrew). The player with the most Fish is the winner, having shown they have what it takes to scrape the very bottom of the world’s fishing grounds.

Everyone else…may actually be the real winners, for they ended up with a smaller pile of incredibly unhealthy Fish and prettied up tires.


Sounds Like Fun, Eh Old Chum?

Some games have you exploring the depths of a game’s strategy, navigating the different paths to victory. Others have you dive headlong into their vibrant and detailed worlds so that you can soak up the game’s theme and flavor.

"Are the fish supposed to be glowing?"

“Are the fish supposed to be glowing?”

In the case of Lake Miasma, it’s probably better for you to stay in the boat. It looks a bit murky down there, and we’re pretty sure sections of it aren’t supposed to bubble like that…

For safety reasons, and like many games designed to be short and sweet, Discount Salmon keeps the fun and excitement all on the surface. Luckily, that’s all that is needed here. Dexterity games like this are best when they’re sparse on rules and heavy on interaction.

What’s more, while being a dexterity-based game, Discount Salmon never fully crosses into the territory where someone with faster reflexes, quicker response time, and steadier nerves will always come away victorious. These factors certainly help in games like this, but the randomization of the cards needed to cure five different conditions offers enough variety to make it more equitable for everyone.

See? Now it's a fish!

See? NOW it’s a fish!

Discount Salmon also wholly embraces its chaotically interactive nature, giving you a ten minute window in which you and the other players slog it out over who gets the glory of taking home the most unappealing fish. It neither asks for nor demands anything more than that. Indeed, Discount Salmon doesn’t make any intellectual demands of you at all. Rather, it encourages you to play through its outlandish premise with wild abandon.

There is little room for thought, because, well, that isn’t the point. This isn’t a flaw, as Discount Salmon is more about the journey to collect what is effectively unusable bio-refuse more than being triumphant. In this game, playing to win is secondary to the fun of fixing up disabled fish and snatching them away from other players. And by the third fish in, Discount Salmon has a weird way of making you want to do exactly that.

As such, while this is an ideal sort of game for Socializers, it’s not a game for Architects, Daredevils or Strikers. Moreover, while the theme of the game is self-evident, there’s really not enough for Immersionists to latch on to.


Slippery Matters

Shockingly, for a game that involves the fish in the most deplorable of conditions, there are only a couple things that aren’t all that ideal. The most notable of these is the game’s graphic design. Discount Salmon does a terrific job illustrating the various decrepit states of the fish of Lake Miasma, and when placed against basic pastoral backgrounds, it keeps the overall feel of the game, dare we say it, upbeat. Given the almost pathetic demeanor of these hapless fish, it’s hard to not want to help them out if possible.

How else are you going to know this fish is Ugly?

So hard to see you might almost not know it’s an Ugly fish.

However, while the artwork is pleasant, the surrounding graphic design is slightly less glamorous. That is, the card’s iconography blends into the background colors, namely on the blue Modifier and yellow Fish cards.

For the Fish cards, this can make their conditions difficult to see on snap inspection, and it may take a few precious extra seconds to ascertain exactly what’s wrong with it. In a dexterity game like Discount Salmon, those extra seconds can be the make-or-break difference on whether or not you win that round. It’s something most people can adjust to once the game is underway, but it seems like an unintentional obstacle to overcome – and one that could be easily rectified.

The other area that can detract from people’s enjoyment is a simple matter of conveyance. Discount Salmon bills itself as a fast-paced Trick-taking game. Fast it may be, but a trick-taking game it is not.

Trick-taking games involve everyone playing some kind of resource each round, and a winner is determined in accordance with the game’s rules. These kind of games also have a “trump” resource that beats any others being compared.

No one wants unintended results.

Unintended results are bad.

In Discount Salmon, you aren’t strategizing over which card to play to beat your opponent’s cards. You aren’t really strategizing, period (sorry Tacticians). Instead, you’re slapping down cards to fix the fish before everyone else, and only the right cards will do that. Even the Blender and Andrew are more wild cards than trump. In this, Discount Salmon is far closer to a rapid set-matching game than trick-taking.

That being said, this nuance in definition doesn’t impact the actual worthiness of its gameplay at all, but it can influence the people being lured in to the game and the experiences they’re expecting to have.


The Takeaway

For a game about catching things from the depths of Lake Miasma, Discount Salmon is a surprisingly buoyant affair. The game is an exercise in fast-paced, goofy fun, and it doesn’t flop around pretending to be anything beyond precisely that. Discount Salmon is very quick, very light, and endearing in ways that it shouldn’t be for a game about the bottom rung fish of the world. Although the fish in the game come in all forms, including stinky, there’s no real odor here, as playthroughs are simple and accessible to just about anyone. Discount Salmon proves to be a charming little dexterity-laden social game for when time or attention is in short supply. Through its cheeky artwork and oddball premise, it easily entices players to bust out their poles and save some fish.

Or tires.

Whatever. Tires totally count.

Especially if they’re deep-fried.


Discount Salmon is a product of Water Bear Games.

Cardboard Republic Snapshot Scoring (Based on scale of 5):
Artwork: 3.5
Rules Clarity: 4.5
Replay Value: 4.5
Physical Quality: 3.5
Overall Score: 4

Photo Credits: Futurama fishing expedition by Comedy Central.