Mobile Menu

Salton Sea Board Game Review

Have you ever wanted a big box game experience but not in a big box? These Kallax shelves from Ikea can only hold so many games, and my game room only has so much space for games. So when Devir and their Public Relations firm asked if I wanted to look at Salton Sea I was instantly intrigued.

This is coming from the same company who released the wildly popular big-game-in-a-small-box titled White Castle, so obviously I was excited and intrigued. I haven’t played White Castle, but have only heard good things. But we are talking about mining in the Salton Sea, so let’s get into it!


Version 1.0.0

What I actually love about this game is that the rulebook includes background on what exactly is happening in the Salton Sea today, including in depth information on the mining, why it’s happening, and how it will help reduce the need for fossil fuels. It’s interesting to get so much background on a game, but I actually really enjoyed reading it! Good on you, Devir!

In Salton Sea, players are looking to earn points across various turns, by spending money and using actions that will allow you to place workers, get more workers, and much more. The interesting hook in this game is that the action cards double as money as well, so one side of your card provides you money to spend, while the other side provides an action to use.

This is a great, AMAZING feature because there is so much decision space here. Do you take a great action or do you spend the money and lose the card? This makes this game so great, and it’s apparent very early on. Usually I’d wait to talk about a mechanic like this until later in the review, but I think it’s worth noting right off the top.

Throughout the game you will be collecting goods to spend on a variety of different things, and you’ll start out with a little bit of storage and have access to more if you choose to make the upgrades. You will also be drilling into the ground to get even more stuff, which brings me to the next positive about this title – you always seem to be getting or doing something substantial. Very few turns felt inconsequential – almost everything seemed to have a purpose and a reward. Again, this is something I love to see in games.

As you drill to get more resources you’ll hit rocks, and rocks will damage your equipment, which is marked on your very compact and busy player board. As if things were not complicated enough, you can also get resources that can be manufactured into other resources, you can sell resources to earn money, you can buy shares in the three central board companies, and much more. There is a ton going on, but if you read the intro to the actual Salton Sea, I feel it’s all very thematic.

Outside of the really cool card and money mechanic, Salton Sea is doing what most worker placement games do. You start with a certain number of workers, but can earn more as the game progresses. You will need to balance your various tasks and spots on the board to make sure you maximise your products, complete contracts, and earn points. Ultimately, outside of the money and card mechanic, there isn’t much that separates Salton Sea from other worker placement games.

While that might sound like a negative, it really isn’t it at all. The hobby is full of companies taking advantage of producing games with similar mechanics but different themes. So many companies release less ambitious games, and honestly, they are often very decent games. But they aren’t great – Salton Sea, in my opinion, is great. It’s a big box experience in a small box, with tons of choice, tons of ways to pull ahead and catchup, and lots of different strategies to attempt to employ.

And to not overstate it, but the money and card mechanic is absolutely fantastic. I’ve played a ton of games, and I’m sure that somewhere there is a game doing some similar, but it’s not something you see often. It is so well implemented in Salton Sea, and some of the hardest decisions I had to make were between spending cards as money or keeping them as actions.

It’s so tough, and it’s great when you make the right choice, and so agonizing when you make the wrong choice. But that’s what makes this so great – whether you succeed or fail always seems to be on you as the player, and while there is some interaction between players when it comes to choosing cards, buying shares, etc. ultimately you control your own destiny based on how strategic you are.

This game can drag just a little bit, and because there are so many different abilities there is a lot of time thinking about what to do. In that sense, if you aren’t into games that can drag out quite a bit, this might not be for you. There is a LOT of decision space in this game, and this game can – and has in my opinion – slowed down to a crawl, almost making the whole experience feel very awkward actually, while waiting for someone to take their turn.

Still, it’s something I love – it’s a great game that probably won’t get played a ton going forward, but I’m always happy to play this one if suggest by someone else, or chosen during a local game night!


Article By

blank Adam Roffel has only been writing about video games for a short time, but has honed his skills completing a Master's Degree. He loves Nintendo, and almost anything they have released...even Tomodachi Life.

Follow on:
Twitter: @AdamRoffel