The Happiest of All Possible Planets
To this day, Happy Salmon remains the only game to occupy the hallowed annals of Best Week without first getting reviewed here on Space-Biff! Doubly embarrassing, considering that it earned its spot two Best Weeks ago. That’s right, way back in the dark ages of 2016.
But today I’m setting things right. Especially because North Star Games has since rounded out their Happy Planet line with two more creatures.
Here’s what you need to know about Happy Salmon: it isn’t a game. At least not by certain criteria.
Oh, we nerdy folk love to define things, don’t we? As much as we like to complain about labels, we love to stick them onto things. What is a game? Is it an activity with rules, decisions, and win conditions? More? Less? Or is the question something we ponder to fill the cannonball-sized hole in our hearts?
In Happy Salmon, everyone gets a card. That’s six sets of cards. Twelve if you possess both the green salmon and the aquamarine salmon. Each card shows an action. Not a solo action, for this is not a game for people without friends. In fact, the solo mode is pathetic. You’re just tossing cards into the wind, really.
Right, each card shows an action. An interactive action. For two human persons. A fist-bump, perhaps. A high-five. The salmon action means that you flap your hands against each other the way our lizard-people overlords shake appendages. The switcheroo means an actual switching of human bodies. Once you were here and your friend was there; now your positions are reversed. It’s a type of irony for people who don’t quite understand irony.
Stand in a circle. Somebody shouts that the game is afoot. Everybody flips their cards and begins trying to find a match. Make a match and you ditch your card onto the floor, or grass, or asphalt, or whatever surface you happen to be playing upon. First one to get rid of everything wins, though what they win is indeterminate. The right to play again? But don’t even the losers earn that right?
Happy Salmon can be played loudly, everybody bellowing, “Salmon! Salmon!” Which is amusing, because “salmon” is one of the top twenty funny words in English or any other language. If that doesn’t appeal, Happy Salmon can be played quietly, everybody beckoning with hand signals. Expect lots of collisions. Maybe a broken toe or bruised ego, if somebody’s toes or ego are in a delicate state. Either way, there are no real decisions.
Scratch that. There are decisions, but only in the theoretical realm of social scientists. You can, for example, choose to not match with somebody because they’re winning, though you will never actually do this, because a single game only lasts maybe ninety seconds and there isn’t enough processing power in the human brain to keep pace with the chaos. Similarly, you can — and perhaps will — dump a card back into your deck because it seems like nobody can make a match with you. But the instant you dump a card, somebody will shout or beckon for that very same type of action. This is what stuffy people call a “false choice.”
Funky Chicken is nearly identical. However, I like Funky Chicken less because its actions are more annoying. Spin around, make a chicken-dancing fool of yourself, that manner of behavior. One of the actions is a hip-bump, which makes me uncomfortable because my grandmother always warned that the hip-bump was the second act of the “marital embrace.” My wild days are behind me. Now I only hip-bump with my spouse.
But I don’t know, maybe fornicators would like Funky Chicken better. Not that there’s anything about Happy Salmon that fornicators would find objectionable.
Yes. Happy Salmon is the better option all around.
By comparison, Monster Match feels like a totally different creature. It’s about rolling dice and then, in a brisk and perhaps even too-brisk manner, trying to nab a matching monster that’s worth a lot of donuts. As in, rolling the four and the arms means you need to grab a four-armed monster, and hopefully a monster who enjoys donuts as much as you do. If there isn’t a match, you get to grab a special token for bonus donuts. Grabbing a non-matching monster, though, makes you lose donuts.
Sometimes, late at night, I lay awake and wonder what donuts are.
That’s all I have to say about Monster Match.
None of these games are about decisions. And they’re still games. Or maybe only activities. If you want to fight about it, you’ll find me as formless as water.
Instead, the Happy Planet titles — and in particular Happy Salmon — are about sheer movement. Reflex. Even adrenaline, though I don’t want to sound too scientific about it. They’re about putting yourself in a circle and then doing something goofy, and sometimes colliding, and sometimes hitting somebody’s knuckles too hard, and sometimes stepping on a card. Don’t worry, they’re sturdy cards. Most of mine are bent by now. That’s how often I play Happy Salmon.
What is a review? I don’t know. Sometimes I feel the age of the critic slipping to an end. There are no professionals, only people telling you what you want to hear. That goes double for something like Happy Salmon. You either think it’s hilarious or frivolous. Both are true, anyway.
Doesn’t change the fact that I totally adore this dumb game. Activity. Whatever.
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