Ken Gruhl and Quentin Weir on the origins of their fast-paced party game, Happy Salmon
To see a group of people in a huddle throwing their arms around and frantically screaming phrases like ‘Switcheroo’, ‘High 5’ or ‘Happy Salmon’, you may be forgiven for thinking you’ve wandered into some kind of hysterical fish market.
But no, this occurrence at board game clubs and homes around the world is actually North Star Games’ popular fast-paced party game Happy Salmon, the brainchild of designers Ken Gruhl and Quentin Weir.
Happy Salmon sees players call out the action shown on their top card, in the hope someone else has the matching action (with actions including switching places, high-giving and the ‘Happy Salmon’ celebration). Once two players match, they must perform that action and discard that card. The first player to get rid of all their cards wins.
We caught up with Gruhl and Weir to find out more about the origins of the game, as well as learn more about the latest addition to the Happy Salmon family: Funky Chicken.
Where did the idea for Happy Salmon come from?
We had previously been working on a game with rotating partners, where you needed to do activities like high five and fist bumping. Although that prototype fell flat, we really liked a few of the elements from that game, and they stayed on the top of our mind.
Ken was going for a run outside while thinking back to this prototype, along with how other games could create chaos (like Pit), and the idea just popped into his head. The first prototype was basically the finished product.
The first iteration had an action to tap the other player on their head, but that felt too personal, so we scrapped that. When thinking about what to fill that spot with, we remembered a goofy celebration move called the Happy Salmon, which a friend had taught us in college. It fit perfectly, and helped create the name and light theme for the game.
How did you split design duties on the project?
Ken is the lead on the front-end design work, and Quentin jumps in for the evaluation of ideas and development. We share these responsibilities, but these are our main focus, and strengths.
Did you expect it to become the party game favourite that it has? Were publishers falling over each other to snap it up?
Actually, the game was not as sought after as you might have thought. We knew there was something special to the game because we had such a blast with the playtesting. Selling it was the hard part.
We had shown it to several publishers, and a few of those even sent it through their playtesting cycle before rejecting it. Since it is hard to explain why the game is so much fun, we theorized that publishers just weren’t sure how they could sell a deck of cards and build up excitement around it.
North Star Games were the first ones who saw the vision for how to sell it (and package it), and jumped at the chance to license it. They have been a great partner, and we look forward to where they will go with it.
How do you guys stay creative?
Ken loves creating things on a regular basis, which in turn makes it easier to continue creating. It’s a borderline addiction! The analogy of treating creativity like a muscle which you need to work out to keep strong seems correct. Finding inspiration from playing other games, as well as just different experiences in life, also help keep the creative juices going.
For Quentin, he spends a lot of time cultivating and cherishing the childlike portion of his brain, staying a little bit goofy and unhinged. This can sometimes be a difficult marriage with his straightforward, polite Midwestern affect.
This year sees the Happy Salmon family expand with Funky Chicken. Is this a series of games that can run and run?
We’re really excited to see the Happy Salmon family expand. The simplicity of the mechanics lends itself to a lot of flavours. There are many tweaks, ideas and laughs that we are looking forward to bringing to the Happy Salmon experience.
North Star Games has also created a Happy Planet brand, which embodies the playful and joyous experience of Happy Salmon into other games. We have another game being released called Monster Match, which will give a fresh look to a fast reaction game.
What makes for a great party game?
Party games can really excel at bringing people together to bond, laugh and cheer. Great ones are able to capture this with a wide audience, and we are thrilled each time we hear or see someone having fun playing Happy Salmon.
Check out Happy Salmon in action below: