Sushi: a food as beautiful as it is polarizing. Fish–raw or otherwise–may not be your thing, but you know what is?
And there are many of those to be had if you compose the best meal, preferably washing it down with the most pudding.
How It Works
Sushi Go! is a card drafting game for two to five players. Players are eaters at the sushi restaurant, choosing plates off the conveyors. The player with the best meal (represented by points) is the winner.
Sushi Go! is played over three rounds. At the start of each round, each player receives a hand of cards. On each turn, players will choose one card from their hands, and once every player has chosen a card, they will reveal the cards and place them in front of themselves for scoring, passing the remaining cards in their hands to the left.
Cards in Sushi Go! represent different parts of the meal and score points in different ways:
- Sashimi score 10 points…but only in sets of 3.
- Tempura score 5 points…but only in sets of 2.
- Dumplings score more points the more of them you have.
- Sushi rolls score 6 points for whoever has the most, and 3 points for second most.
- Nigiri score a base 1, 2, or 3 points each.
- Wasabi is worth nothing on its own, but it triples the value of the next nigiri played.
- Pudding cards score once, at the very end of the game (and are the only cards to remain in play from round to round). The player with the most pudding cards scores 6 pts; the player with the fewest loses 6 pts.
In addition to these cards, there are chopstick cards in the deck. Chopsticks are worth nothing, but they allow a player to take two cards from a future hand instead of one (placing the chopsticks back in the hand of cards).
Three rounds are played from one common deck (that is, it is completely random when cards appear). The player with the most points at the end of the game is the winner.
Sushi Go or Sushi Slow?
Sushi Go! is a very simple drafting game–and that right there might tell you whether the game is for you. For me, I wasn’t sure how I would like Sushi Go! I thought the artwork was nice, and I liked the idea of a compact drafting game that would fit in my pocket, but I wasn’t sure if the game would in any way replace, stack up against, or even serve a different niche from 7 Wonders, which already plays quickly and is one of my favorite games.
Turns out, it does.
7 Wonders, for those who don’t know, is a civilization game of card drafting that you can play in around thirty to forty minutes. I think it’s fairly simple, but as I’ve learned from the many, many times I’ve explained the rules, new players don’t always catch on right away. The game won the Kennerspiel des Jahres (or expert’s game of the year) when many thought it would win the regular, more family-oriened Spiel des Jahres.
So if 7 Wonders is already fairly simple, what place does Sushi Go! occupy? Let me illustrate. When I was at my family Thanksgiving celebration this year, my four-year-old niece wanted to play a game with me. She saw the cute sushi artwork on the Sushi Go! box and said she wanted to play it. I said I thought it might be a little advanced for her, but she insisted, and I’m a pushover. So I taught her how to play. And she played. She didn’t play well, mind you–but she participated. Playing well or not, she simply could not have done that with 7 Wonders: choosing a card in that game requires the resources to play it, requires monitoring your neighbors, etc. In Sushi Go! she picked the cards she liked best. And no, she didn’t win, nor was she competitive in the rankings, but she could enjoy the fellowship of sitting around the table with grown-ups and of doing what they wanted to do.
Okay, that’s an illustration on the extreme end. So a four-year-old can play it. That doesn’t necessarily make it fun for adults. Luckily, Sushi Go! is a blast for adults, too. (In fact, the adults at my family Thanksgiving played this game almost nonstop.)
The reason for this is that card drafting, like worker placement, is an inherently interactive game mechanism, investing every decision with weight. Every choice of something for yourself is also a choice against several other things. You only get one card per hand (unless you have chopsticks), so that choice has to count. As long as the cards themselves are interesting, the mechanism is a slam dunk.
In this case, the cards are interesting. Many of the scoring methods bear a resemblance to 7 Wonders (the sushi rolls are like military, the sashimi/tempura are like science), but their implementation is very different. The reason for this is that in 7 Wonders, everything is perfectly balanced–which is what you would want or expect from a more serious game, and one with asymmetrical player powers. In Sushi Go! there’s no guarantee that the cards you’re looking for will appear. Choosing Sashimi in your first hand in the round is a bit of a gamble, as there may not even be three Sashimi cards in circulation. The card order is completely random, and at some player counts, players won’t even see all the cards. This may be frustrating to some, but I think it provides a lot of the charm of Sushi Go!, especially since it plays so quickly. Would I like this if the game lasted an hour? Probably not nearly as well, but for a game that lasts ten to fifteen minutes (and can be played four discrete times in an hour), I’m okay with a little bit of chaos and gambling.
The components in Sushi Go! are sparse–all cards, in fact–but this is the game’s strength. The box size is similar to the Z-Man pocket-sized gamebox (think No Thanks! or Chronicle), so it’s easy to transport. The game, since it’s one big deck all shuffled together, is quick to set up. The score keeping cards are thematic (conveyors and trays/plates) and ingenious. You have to be careful not to shift them around, but they’re a nice touch and they help you avoid paper and pencil.
And the artwork is fantastic. It maintains a consistent lighthearted tone. (The little sushi even chat with each other in the rulebook–an unnecessary but not unwelcome touch.) The artwork doesn’t strike a false note throughout, and it’s the kind of thing that invites casual players in. Half the battle in 7 Wonders is getting new players to realize that it’s not as complex as it first appears–there’s no battle here. Each card offers an icon and text to remind players how it scores–a huge boon to the teaching process. The box says games will take 20 minutes, which initially made me question its viability. 7 Wonders doesn’t take much longer than that, after all. But 20 minutes is on the long end for Sushi Go! With adults–even new players–games will play in closer to ten minutes regardless of group size (the beauty of drafting games). And I can explain it in five minutes or less, even to players new to drafting games.
I don’t really have much negative to say about the game (there are a few scoring quirks–for example, how ties are handled–that can easily be house-ruled if you don’t like them). Sushi Go! is quick, good-looking, and functional. It’s super easy to transport. Yes, the game is simple, as it eliminates the currency and resources present in a more complex game like 7 Wonders, and some players may not like the cutesy artwork. As for me, this is a near-perfect filler game that I plan to keep stashed in my backpack. If time and space permit, I would probably choose 7 Wonders over Sushi Go! But there are enough situations where time and space do not permit (or when I don’t feel like investing the energy to teach a more complex game) that make Sushi Go! worth keeping around and playing often.