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Interview with Jesse Catron

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This image was pilfered shamelessly from BoardGameGeek.com.

G.K. Chesterton once said that “a dead thing can go with the stream, but only a living thing can go against it.” In Jesse Catron’s Salmon Run, currently on Kickstarter from Gryphon Games, players are living things–salmon, to be exact–swimming against the current in a race to the spawning pond. The game has already met its initial funding goal, and with over a month left to go, it is swimming toward its stretch goals. Jesse was kind enough to talk to me about the game and his experience designing it. He also gave me some strategies so I might be able to beat my wife! Check out the interview below.

We’ve heard from game designers and other creative types the importance of the “elevator pitch,” being able to quickly summarize what you’ve created in the short ride of an elevator. What is your “elevator pitch” for Salmon Run?

As long-winded as I tend to be, this may be difficult, but here’s my “elevator pitch”: Salmon Run is a fun and fast-playing race between salmon past waterfalls and hungry bears upriver to spawn. It uses a unique path-dependent deck-building mechanic and features modular boards for variability and replayability. It is for 2-4 players and plays in 20-45 minutes.

I’m intrigued! What do you mean by “unique, path-dependent deck-building mechanic”? How does this game differ from others in the genre?

What I mean is that how you build your deck depends on the path you take upriver.  In Salmon Run, each player starts with their own swim deck with basic movement cards. Players use these cards during the race to progress upriver. Along the way there are special hexes that represent more powerful cards like double swims, bears, currents, eagles, etc. Swimming into these special hexes allows the player to add that card to their deck and therefore build an improved swim deck. In essence, better cards are acquired via movement instead of through money like other deck-builders. One could say that the true “currency” in Salmon Run is movement. Another important difference is that cards you don’t play on your turn remain in your hand and can be used on subsequent turns. This gives Salmon Run some long-term planning and more hand management than many other deck-building games.

Salmon Run is a game where players utilize deck-building to enhance their ability to race rather than just a race to build the best deck.

Your game, as you explain it, seems like an ideal fit for Gryphon’s line, especially their bookshelf series of games, which supports a similar philosophy (accessible games that are fun for gamers and non-gamers alike). How did you come to be published by Gryphon? Did you approach them or did they approach you?

I also think Salmon Run is a good fit for Gryphon, and luckily so did they! Salmon Run is actually part of Gryphon’s family series with Pastiche, Charon Inc., and Bridgetown Races. I approached Gryphon with Salmon Run (then called Pond Farr). When looking for a publisher, I did some research to find a company that had games with a similar complexity and target audience. I submitted my game to them by e-mail. I gave a short description of my game, what makes it unique, and why it is a good fit for their company. I attached the rules and a few pictures. They were interested enough to request a prototype. After conducting their own playtests over the next few months, they offered me a contract. I feel very fortunate to have my game published by Gryphon.

What other games or designers, if any, most influenced you in creating Salmon Run?

The designer who had the biggest influence in the creation of Salmon Run was probably Michael Schacht. Not so much in the specific mechanics of Salmon Run, but more in his general approach to making very accessible family games with simple rules but hidden depth. Meaningful choices without unneeded complexity is what I admire in his games and what I attempted to emulate in Salmon Run.

What hints would you give to new players of your game? Without giving too much away, what points of strategy can new players easily overlook?

Ha, you expect me to reveal my secret strategies! I guess I’ll reveal a few:

  • Many new players avoid fatigue at all costs and lag too far behind. Don’t be afraid to exert yourself or jump a waterfall if the time is right.
  • You don’t have to lead the race the whole time, but keep yourself within striking distance.
  • Pay attention to when your opponents play their powerful cards, like the bear, current, etc. Once used, those cards will have to cycle through their deck before they can use them again. You have some free time to make a move.
  • Don’t forget that some cards are useful defensively as countering cards.
  • If you get stuck and can’t move, play cards to get them out of your hand so you can hopefully draw the right cards.
  • Take a look at the set-up of the board. Try to plan out what cards you want to pick up accordingly.  Double swims are especially useful in open stretches while wild cards are best for boards with tight maneuvering.

Besides the Kickstarter page, do you have anywhere else you’d like to point readers?

Unfortunately I don’t have a blog, but readers can feel free to follow me on twitter (@ktronod). A free print-and-play of my game Walls of Light is available to anyone interested: http://boardgamegeek.com/boardgame/111295/walls-of-light.

Salmon Run is currently on Kickstarter and is already funded with 37 days to go. Check out our preview of the game next Wednesday, and don’t miss out!

I'll try anything once, but my favorite games are generally middleweight Euros.

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