“Starting with the player who most recently ate salmon” is not something you read very often in a game. Neither, for that matter, is ‘salmons’, which is not a real word but occurs quite a lot in the Upstream rulebook. It’s a Spanish game in which you’re a shoal of eight North American salmon swimming upriver to spawn, avoiding hazards like bears, eagles and blue herons, which do not actually eat adult salmon. It’s not a good start.
The river is made of placed hexes, including the predators and rocks, dams, rapids and waterfalls; each turn a player has five movement points to get around or over them. It’s partly a race and partly a race for survival: the tiles at the back are cyclically removed, along with any laggardly salmon on them.
There will usually be routes to avoid the obstacles but – here’s the clever bit – if a tile contains as many pieces as there are players then it’s full, and you have to navigate around it, or over it with a leap. Predators work in different ways: eagles only catch one fish, bears only catch salmon that are jumping and herons shouldn’t be in the game at all, dammit.
It’s pleasantly tactical, with both board and other players throwing up obstacles. The gameplay comes alive with more players, as additional fish cause blockages in the river, forcing others into the mouths of predators – though unfortunately the salmon pieces are a little too large for the river tiles. There’s a bit of a first-player advantage but it’s easily house-ruled out.
Nothing in Upstream is going to stretch your powers of strategic planning or drive you to fury – unless you’re David Attenborough – but it’s pleasant and different, and a surprisingly meaty filler.
Designer: Victor Samitier
Artist: Sergi Marcet
Time: 20 minutes
This review originally appeared in the November 2018 issue of Tabletop Gaming. Pick up the latest issue of the UK's fastest-growing gaming magazine in print or digital here or subscribe to make sure you never miss another issue.