Board Game Gumbo: Sagan Says - Point Salad
Board Game Gumbo is pleased to present another new review from Sagan Ezell, fellow game group member. Sagan is an omni-gamer from Lafayette, Louisiana, and helps run the Southern Board Game Festival. Here are his thoughts on the game. You can reach him on Twitter @SaganEzell
Quick question, what’s the best game you own?
If you’re anything like me, you probably froze up, thought about it really hard, and said something like, “All my games are so different it’s hard to pick just one BEST game.” If you’re even more like me, you would automatically go to your biggest, most complex, or most impressive games. I’m thinking of Mage Knight, Rising Sun, Gloomhaven, Game of Thrones, Twilight Imperium. Of course, a concept like what’s BEST is very subjective and varies widely based on perspective. So let’s narrow the field a bit and try again. Let’s try to figure out what will be best for the biggest number of people.
What’s the game you own that can be effectively played with the biggest number of different people?
Now the list is changing a little bit. I can’t fill the entire room with dreadnoughts and war suns EVERY weekend. Honestly not even most weekends. I can’t spend time with my mother-in-law while continually reminding her that she has to assess the enemy damage BEFORE her attack phase (unless using ranged or siege attacks, obviously). It wouldn’t work for her. I can’t ask a stranger coming to their first game night, “How would you like to spend half an hour learning some rules? If we get through this quickly we can probably play half the game before the store kicks us out.” That person wouldn’t be coming back to game night next week.
No, clearly the BEST game in a situation like this would be a filler game. A good filler is short, easy to teach and play, and flexible in terms of player counts. Fillers aren’t usually what comes to mind when most serious gamers consider their “best” games, but maybe we should change that thinking. Fillers are what get most new people into the hobby. Sure, sometimes people jump into the deep end and start their collection with Kingdom Death: Monster, but those are the exceptions. Fillers are consistently among the most played games at most game nights I attend, and looking at the BGG stats, you can see tons and tons of fillers in the most played section for any time period you want to check, despite the fact that there is hardly a filler to be seen on the top games list on the site.
I say all that to say this. I’m about to talk about the most filling filler I’ve played recently, and I think that it’s a game that we should all take seriously as being more than “good for a filler” – it’s just good. It’s good as a game, it’s good as an example of design, and it’s good for the hobby as a whole, because I see it as a game that can bring lots of new people into the awesome world of board gaming. Just clicking on this page makes it probably apparent that I am talking about Point Salad.
What is Point Salad?
Released by AEG in 2019, Point Salad is a card drafting game designed by Molly Johnson, Robert Melvin, and Shawn Stankewich. In this game, 2 to 6 players take turns drafting cards from the center of the table.
On a turn, a player may either take 1 “point card” which will enable them the chance to score points from the rest of their tableau, or 2 “vegetable cards,” which only serve to activate the point cards for scoring. As an example, I might have a point card that gives me 5 points per set of 2 carrots I have at the end of the game. Naturally, once I have that point card, I have to keep my eye out for carrots for the rest of the game to maximize my points. The neat thing about the design is that vegetable cards can apply once to each point card a player has. This means I can add a card that scores per sets of 3 carrots, and a card that scores per set of carrot+onion+tomato I have. Now each carrot I pick up is applying potential scoring to 3 different cards, and I’m aiming to be the carrot king.
This game is streamlined to an extreme degree. The game comes with a whopping 108 cards and a rulebook! That’s it. It doesn’t matter though, because the amount of game that is packed into those 108 cards is truly impressive.
For starters, I mentioned that there are point cards and vegetable cards, but in truth, they are the same cards. Each point card has a vegetable on the back. The way that you create the drafting area is by shuffling all (dependent on player count) the cards, point side up and making 3 different stacks. Then, 2 cards flip off the top of each stack and turn into vegetables. Each time a vegetable is taken, it is immediately replaced, by flipping new cards off the point stack.
Taking the correct vegetables can also deny an opponent the point card that they need for the next turn. There will always be an equal number of each veggie in the game, but every single point card is unique, with different combinations of positive and negative points for different veggies.
The final option of the game is that players will have the option to flip a point card that they have over to its veggie side once per round, meaning that if you made a plan that just didn’t work out, you can salvage something from it, or if no veggie on the board matches what you need, maybe the top point card in the stack has what you’re looking for.
What’s so great about it?
This game has everything that a good filler needs to succeed:
1. It’s fast to teach and fast to play. I’ve taught the game to dozens of people of all different experience levels with gaming, and the teach has never taken more than 5 minutes, even when people ask questions about things. The game itself is listed at 15-30 minutes, and that’s a pretty accurate time frame, with most of my plays clocking in around the 20 minute mark at all different player counts.
2. It scales really well with a wide range of player counts. The only change you need to make to the game is removing a set number of each veggie to scale down the game for fewer than 6 players. Aside from that the game moves quickly around the table, and while there is slightly less downtime with fewer players, even at max count I haven’t seen anyone bored waiting for their turn.
3. It has a lot of truly interesting choices. Just because it’s simple and short doesn’t mean that it’s boring. The choices a player might make from round to round are interesting. Sure, sometimes your opponents leave you the perfect 2 veggies to pick up, but will it be better to grab those cards now and secure points, or to grab another point card that will synergize really well with what you already have, but lose you those immediate safe points? Should you make a move that will get yourself 6 points, or the move that will deny your opponent 10?
4. It looks interesting and approachable. This is crucial for getting new gamers into it. The graphic design is clean and functional, the art is appealing and colorful. It’s so easy for a total stranger to walk up to the table, see the game, and almost immediately know how to play the game, based purely off graphic design alone. The simplicity makes it look fun, and having something LOOK fun is one of the best ways to bring a new player in.
There are lots of little touches that come together to make the game what it is, and most of all, it’s fun. It’s a game that I would bring out with anyone, from my family, to my students, to my serious gamer friends. Having that broad of an appeal is no small feat, and Point Salad really deserves a lot of respect for pulling it off as well as it does. Even the name plays a part in completing this effect, as new gamers will see an easily digestible salad theme and clear point scoring goal, while experienced gamers may have their curiosity piqued from recognizing the term point salad as a descriptor for other games that they have enjoyed in the past.
What’s wrong with it?
Honestly, not much. Obviously, if you’re looking for deep complex strategy, this isn’t going to be a game for you. However, I would say the amount of strategic thinking might surprise you in this one, and it’s certainly worth a try for even the heaviest gamers. Worst case scenario is you lost 20 minutes of your game night, which is probably time that would have been spent setting up something epic anyway. The only real complaint I have with the game is that at the highest player counts it gets pretty tough to plan ahead, as the entire board state changes in between turns, so don’t hold your breath that the card you really really want will still be available for you once the action is back to you. With that being said, there will likely be a fresh challenge for you to figure out on your turn, so it’s really not too much of a loss.
I’m still not sold
Okay then, let me tell you a story. I brought Point Salad with me to a student event that I was chaperoning for my church. This event was on the beach, and had thousands of high school students from all over the region attending. One day, I had enough of the sun, so I bought a few students to the hotel lobby to play some games. We played games for about an hour and a half, largely ignored over on the side of the room.
I brought out Point Salad, and by the time the first game was over, we had attracted a small crowd of students from other groups who wanted to try it out. None of these kids had experience with board gaming at all, but they were drawn in by the design and thought that it looked fun enough to delay their going to the beach and hanging out with their friends. All the new people were strangers to us and to one another, but they quickly made conversation, got into the spirit of the game, and had a great time. Instead of passing by one another while avoiding eye contact or having some extremely awkward conversation while meeting new people, this simple little game allowed the beginnings of some fast friendships between total strangers.
One of the students asked where they could get their own copy of the game to play with their friends and families back home, which is a first for me for a new gamer at a non-gaming event. Gaming is inherently a social activity that lets us share experiences with other people, but it’s easy to lose sight of that, especially as we pick up more and more games that are intimidating to those outside of our own bubble. Pull out a game like Point Salad, make your game night inviting and approachable, and make some new friends!
Super quick to teach and play
Simple options, but interesting choices
Scales well among all player counts
Graphic design is fantastic
Colorful and approachable enough for anyone to try it out
Fits in almost any gaming bag
It can be hard to plan ahead as player count increases