Sea Salt & Paper is a 2-4 player that mixes hand management, set collection and push your luck elements with perhaps some of the most wonderful art you’re likely to see in a card game. Let’s dive in and take a look.
Setup And Play
Getting this game ready is lightning fast, as all you need to do is shuffle the deck and deal two cards face up to form two discard piles. That’s it. On your turn you’ll either draw the top two cards from the deck and keep one, discarding the other to either of the two piles, or you’ll take either face-up card and add it to your hand. Not only is it easy to setup, but it’s also very quick to learn too.
You’ll play over a number of rounds that can end once any player hits seven points, but exactly when that round ends is entirely up to you as players.
There are four sets of duo cards (fish, boats, crabs and the dastardly shark/swimmer combo). You score a point per pair and if you play them out of your hand to the table, you’ll also activate an additional bonus. A pair of fish let you draw the top card of the deck and add it to your hand. Two boats grants you an extra turn – particularly if you’ve had to discard a card you really wanted as you’ll be able to immediately reclaim it. Two crabs will allow you to choose either of the discard piles and take any one card and add it to your hand. Finally, playing a shark and swimmer combo allows you to steal a random card from an opponent.
The majority of the other card types follow a well-trodden path of set collection which will feel very familiar if you’ve played Sushi Go or similar games. The shell, octopus, penguin and sailor cards score you an increasing number of points the more you have. The little twist there is that each set has a different number of cards in the deck, ranging from two solitary sailors, up to a bountiful six seashells. There are a couple of cards that score one-off bonuses at the end of a round, such as a point for each boat or each ship. Finally, there are four mermaids that call to you like sirens as you see them revealed.
Mermaids score you one point per card in your largest colour set in your hand. Having two or three mermaids allows you to consider the next biggest sets as well, allowing you to rack up some large point scores quite quickly (as long as nobody pinches one from your hand). If you manage to get all four mermaids in hand, you win the game instantly. As someone who’s been on the receiving end of that whilst being one point from victory, I can tell you it feels like a wave breaking over you and knocking you flat on your back onto the beach.
I’ll talk about how you end a round and score in a moment, but first, let’s look at those cards some more.
Origami Art? Are You Squidding Me?
Let’s get straight to it – these cards are gorgeous. Each card is unique (except for the identical mermaids) and is made up of a stunning origami model on a beautiful pastel background. It genuinely feels satisfying to pick up the folded boat riding a folded paper wave and bring it into your hand. I’ve been so distracted by the artwork that on occasion I’ve kept the wrong card in my hand by mistake. I honestly can’t remember a more lovingly and beautifully put together card game than this.
Not only that, but the cards also have ColorADD symbols on each of them. ColorADD is “a universal, inclusive and non-discriminative language that enables the colourblind to identify colours”. The game comes with a couple of reference cards that show which colours relate to which symbols, making it instantly accessible to everyone. It’s also completely language independent as there’s no text on any of the cards.
Fin-ishing A Round
You’ll keep taking turns until you have at least seven points from the combination of pairs you might have played in front of you, and the cards you have in your hand. From that point onwards, you have three choices when finishing your turn. Firstly, you can say nothing – pretend you’re lagging behind and try and build a big score before someone else calls time on the round. Secondly you can call for an immediate stop to the round. You’ll score the points for your cards, and so will your opponents. Finally, you have the option to push your luck, calling stop, but giving everyone else one last chance.
If you decide to gamble, you reveal your entire hand and publicly declare your point total. Every other player gets one more turn to try and beat your score. If they do, you score only a ‘colour bonus’ – one point for the largest number of identical colours in your hand, while the other victorious players score all their cards.
If you gamble and win, you score all your points plus the colour bonus, further inflating your score, whilst opponents only score a colour bonus. Pushing your luck this way is definitely risky, but it’s such a tempting way to try and gain a bit of an advantage during a close game. I’ve played games where I’ve confidently given my opponent a final chance to beat my score of 12, only to be comfortably beaten by a secret hand containing 15 points or more. As you get more familiar with it, you think you know what a confident score is, only to continually be surprised.
The overall game ends when one player reaches the target score – 40 points for two players, 35 for three and 30 in a four-player game. What does tend to happen is that as someone gets close, there’s a race to seven, shouting “STOP” as soon as you can to get over the line first and claim the winner’s crown.
Is It Really That Good
Yes. Yes it is. Sea Salt & Paper has been making waves (sorry) across the Zatu bloggers community, where it’s not uncommon to have two or three different online games on the go at the same time. I’ve been playing a game the whole time I’ve been writing this review.
I played a couple of games on Board Game Arena the day before my physical copy arrived, and I’ve played it multiple times a day in both formats since then. It’s overtaken Love Letter as our favourite small-box (or bag) card game – although we don’t say that in front of Love Letter while it looks at us from the shelf “in case it gets too sad”. My daughter woke up at 7:30am during half term to play this – that’s how good it is. And she beat me as well.
There’s very little not to love about Sea Salt & Paper. It’s pocket-sized, quick to set up, simple to learn, fast to play and every single card is absolutely gorgeous and it’s available for about £10. I don’t think you can have a better card game experience for that money.
The only gripe I have is that keeping track of your score during a round can require some concentration and/or counting on your fingers, and keeping running totals definitely needs a pen and paper close by. That’s it.
If you get a chance to play this, or pick up a copy, you simply must.