Yukon Salon: Preview

Fairway ventures further North to the frigid tundra of the Yukon. He’s decided to quit making and reviewing games to pursue his real passion: styling hair. But not just any hair, lumberjack beards and bear hair. Yes. In today’s preview, Fairway takes a cut at Yukon Salon.

The game is coming to Kickstarter, tomorrow.

Yukon Salon is a two- to four-player dice-rolling and set collection game with just a touch of storytelling.  Any given game takes about ten minutes and is easy to teach and play.

Initial Impressions

  1. Yukon Salon makes clever use of multi-sided cards to provide for lumberjack beard and bear hair styles. Playing the cards on the respective clients definitely draws grins and smiles from the players.
  2. The theme is definitely unique. You can almost see how it was probably a typo of another game idea: Yukon Saloon. But this is decidedly more hilarious.
  3. There’s not a lot of depth to the main mechanic: seat a client, select a hair style, and then roll the dice. The most interesting bit is trying to convince the client to actually take the hair style (the “claims” mechanic).

Game play

In Yukon Salon, players are competing hair stylists in the frigid Yukon. The clientele of this particular salon is basically what you’d expect: bears and lumberjacks. Okay, maybe not exactly what you’d expect. Each of the clients is in search of a new hair style. For lumberjacks, they’re trying to clean up their beard — I’m not sure who they’re trying to impress. For the bears, they’re in search of new hairdos. Each successful client-hair-style pairing earns the stylist points (and abilities). The player at the end of the game with the most points will win.

The game consists of a deck of clients and hair styles.  To start, players assemble a client deck using a number of cards depending on player count.  Each card in the client deck is either a bear or a lumberjack. Each client card has a point value (in neon pink for bears or white for lumberjacks), a special power, and a classification (corsages for bears, hats for lumberjacks).

The card in the style deck has an illustration of a hairstyle and two values and two one-time use powers depending on whether it’s applied to the bear or the lumberjack. The number or power oriented correctly when placed tells you which you get for which use case.

The two decks are separately shuffled. Players are given a starting hand of style cards (depending on player order, you may get additional starting style cards) and a draft of clients is turned face up and placed in the lobby of the salon.

Beginning with the first player and proceeding clockwise, players will take turns until all the clients have been styled. On your turn, you get to take two of the following actions: seat a client in your chair (you only have one), draw a new style card, and/or style a seated client.  To seat a client, you take one of the face up clients from the lobby and place them in front of you. You then reveal a new client from the deck and place them in the lobby. For much of the game, players will only be able to seat a single client — some special powers will add additional seats.

To style a client, you will take a style card from your hand and place it on a seated client. When you do this, the two values on the card will align giving you your styling goal. In the example to the right, putting the “Dandy” on “Big Angus” makes the styling goal nine.  To do this successfully then, you must roll at least the value of that goal. If you’re able to roll that number, you will score that number of points, and earn the two right-side-up bonuses on both cards. In the Big Angus example, “+1 to Bear rolls” and the immediate action of “Draw 1 Style from a player.”

If you’re unsuccessful, you have two options. First, you can discard styles from your hand to increase your die roll by the number of cards discarded. This is a good choice if your roll was close. Second, you can make “claims”  in an attempt to convince your client to let you give them the style. To make a claim, you must come up with a number of unique reasons your client should take the hair style equal to the client value.  Claims must be unique to the game and once one is used it cannot be repeated. For example, you’d need to come up with five claims for Big Angus like: “Big Angus, The Dandy is all the rage down South in Saskatchewan.” A successful claim attempt lets you re-roll the dice and try again.

The game ends once players have styled all the clients.  At the end of the game, players sum up the total of all their successfully styled clients (client value plus style value) plus any bonus points they may have earned from cards.

On the green

Theme. This game will wind up in people’s collections if for no other reason than it is a humorous theme. If you tack on the fact that the cards attach to clients to form bear hair and lumberjack beards, then there’s a certain level of just-gotta-have-it going on.

Claims. By far, the best mechanic in this game is the one about “making claims.” This is part storytelling and part opportunity to make hysterical jokes. Clearly, this was not “necessary” for a re-roll opportunity, but makes it quite entertaining. We kept thinking that there should be a non-roll-for-it version of the game where players must earn the style by convincing other players as a proxy for the client.  Designer, make this happen.

Illustrations.  The old-timey, line drawings are all well done. and definitely add to the feel of the game. Considering they’re black & white, they’re nevertheless highly detailed and eye-catching.

Where it comes up short

This is not a deep game. And anyone hoping that a game about styling bears’ hair in the Yukon wanting much more will probably be disappointed. I dunno. Is that one of those things that should go without saying? In any case, there are a few things you should know:

Roll a big value.  The game is, at its heart, a roll a big number game. Your decision to pair a high value client with a high value hair style just means you’ve got to roll a big number or have a bunch of style cards to discard. Most players end up doing the safe thing: some combo that requires they roll around a seven. The bonuses you accrue (e.g., +1 to all rolls) let you go for the higher ones later.  Doing it that way, your odds are good enough, and a bad roll can just be claimed into a re-roll, that you’ll have enough style cards to get that style.

Not a perfect transitions in the illustrations. Some of the illustrations transition from beard/hair to style better than others. I’m not sure there’s a good fix for this other than adjusting where the hair/beard starts and stops. Maybe it’s too much to ask, but a nearly seamless transition would have been top-notch.

In the hole

Yukon Salon pairs a hilarious theme with nicely illustrated cards. Piling onto the hilarity is the fact that the style cards can be played as beards for lumberjacks or hairstyles for bears. I can’t really think of a more absurd set of player conditions. While the core game doesn’t offer a lot of depth, we really enjoyed coming up with fantastical claims in an attempt to convince our clients of the ridiculous styles. This game would be a fantastic icebreaker game, especially for a group of new gamers.

Yukon Salon is in the hole for a par.

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