Where does the Sushi Go? It goes in my mouth!
I don’t know, I haven’t ever had sushi. Why isn’t there a game called Pizza Go? I know where pizza goes.
Yeah, I don’t know anything about nigiri or wasabi but what I do know is that the visuals on Sushi Go are some of the most adorable depictions of sentient food that I have ever seen. Their cheerfulness hides the fact that you are selecting them for their death by mastication. It’s a bit grim when you think about it, I guess. Perhaps best not to. Just admire the charming aesthetics. Don’t think about what it means. Don’t question it. Don’t argue. Ignorance is strength. Close your eyes. Shhhh. Shhhh. It’ll all be over soon.
Sushi Go is a tremendously simple card-drafting and set collection game. It’s so simple that you can plop it down in front of almost anyone and they’ll be cheerfully playing it within seconds. Everyone gets a handful of cards. They pick a card, they play a card, and they pass their remaining hand on to the left. Everyone does that until all the cards are gone, and then you add up the scores. At two hundred words into this review, I can already feel myself running out of meaningful things to say. That’s really all there is to it.
So, bye I guess!
Okay, no – sorry, but no. Let’s do the Meeple Like Us thing and drill down a little farther. Specifically, let’s drill into why I don’t like it very much. I should say I don’t dislike it – I have few meaningful objections to Sushi Go as a gameplay experience. It just needs fattened up if it wants to keep me interested. I want to be able to wrap my arms around its expanding body and say ‘It just means there’s more of you to love’. That’s hard as the game stands, because it has all the meaningful girth of a fart in a hurricane.
Enough about my misbehaving gastro internal tract though – let’s talk Sushi. Our hand begins with delicious cards. Cards full of promise and seductive opportunity. Mouth-watering cards that we want to plop into our mouth but musn’t. We pick the juiciest morsel we have and then pass the rest of our sushi treats on to the next person. And that’s where you’ll find the meat of the game. Do you get meat in Sushi? I mean, aside from fish? I honestly don’t know. You’ll play a round of this, stuffing yourself until ready to burst. Then you’ll play another round. And then a final round. Those are your three courses, and in each of them you’re desperately trying to pluck the good stuff off the conveyor before the greedy bastards before and after you ladle it onto their plates. Do you get ladles with Sushi? Plates? God, I honestly don’t know. Does it even whiz by on a conveyor? How deep does this rabbit hole go?!
Every kind of card in Sushi Go is scored differently. Some of them, such as the nigiris, are scored instantly. You just get a dollop of points for playing the card, and even more if you can play it on top of a wasabi card. Some cards are a risk – sashimi gets you a delicious and moist ten points, but only if you can get three of them in a single course. Tempura is a less enticing five points, but you only need a pair to score. Maki rolls are scored at the end of the round, and you’re in competition with everyone playing to get their points. That hand you have in front of you is full of opportunities, but remember – you’re passing it on once you’ve sampled from the menu. It’s the player upstream from you that gets the second bite.
Everyone does this, taking a card and playing it down. Sometimes you don’t play a morsel, you play chopsticks – and that’s pretty much the only way you can guarantee two mouthfuls in a single serving.
The chopsticks card allows you to defer a selection – later, you can play it back into the hand you have in exchange for two other cards. It’s a risk though. It relies on a single hand you get having two things you want, and its value diminishes with staggering rapidity. Maybe you saw two sashimi in an earlier hand. You play the chopsticks in eager anticipation. But then you see, with mounting horror, someone ahead of you pick a sashimi from that hand, and then the person before you picking another. When that hand comes back around to you those chopsticks seem like symbols of abject failure.
In the process of this adorable dining experience, each player is taking ownership of an ongoing food fight. They’re setting the lines of battle. As soon as you see someone going for something you want, it’s hard not to feel resentful. Sashimi, really? You need three of those to get the ten points. You had a hand with four sashimi. You peeled one off, and passed the other three along. The instant you pass your hand in Sushi Go is when you experience instant buyer’s remorse. You think on the path you could have taken. If sashimi is going to be so popular, maybe you should have played a wasabi? Assuming of course someone was going to pass you a decent nigiri…
Well shit. What now? Do you go for dumplings? They’re not worth much in ones or twos, but their worth gets incrementally greater the more you have. Do you want to risk it? Five dumplings is fifteen points, but if you only end up with one it’s a single point. Do you want to go for maki rolls? No-one else is doing that. Yet. But if you place it down, you’ve fired the starter pistol. First mover advantage though, maybe?
Or maybe it’s best to just play a nigiri – three points for the squid is not to be sniffed at and if someone is playing a wasabi card you’ll want to limit their scoring opportunities.
See, it’s not just about ensuring you have a nice meal – it’s about spoiling the meal everyone else is trying to have. You’re the five year old in the restaurant, shouting, crying and screaming and making everyone else’s evening horrible. Sushi Go is about hate-drafting as much as it is about set collection. It’s a balancing act, trying to earn points while doing your level best to deny them from everyone else. Along the way, you are subtly influencing the course of the meal. You passed on a hand containing three sashimi – the very act of doing so influences the decisions that everyone else will make. Paradoxically, sometimes the best decision in a time of plenty is to invest in rarer commodities.
Ka is a wheel. Its one purpose is to turn. Every time it does, it brings into your hand a diminished set of opportunities. What matters is keeping your options open so if a rare delicacy floats on by you can grab it. Don’t wait too long though, because the food is getting colder (is sushi hot?) and more stale (does that happen?) every single turn.
Seeing one of your sashimi make its way onto another player’s plate is frustrating. Yes, you knew they’d do that. No, it doesn’t make it feel better. You knew they’d take one of the three sashimi you left them, and now there’s only two. Wiser players around the table saw two competitors for sashimi and wisely decided to find nourishment elsewhere. You’ll pick up another one when it comes your way, because of course you will. You’re in too deep now. It’s YOUR sashimi. they’ll pick up the other. You never should have gone for sashimi. You were an idiot. A mad, impulsive fool. But you know, maybe there’s another one making its way to you around the conveyor? You won’t know until you’ve sampled every hand. You just better hope that if and when it comes to you that you’re in a position to grab it.
And so it goes – picking the card that works best for you, or most disadvantages your opponents. Everyone is nibbling constantly at each other’s leavings so it’s not like you can surprise anyone after everyone has sampled the full set of cards. You do the best you can with the hand you get, and that hand might have slim pickings indeed as time marches on.
At the end of the round, the scores are totaled up. Any puddings that were in play remain in the game and are only scored at the end of the meal – everything else is cleaned away and you begin the second course.
And that brings a whole fresh new potential meal in front of you. So much promise. Such delicious offerings. But which one to pick? Wasabi? What about playing a pudding? There aren’t many of those in a deck… but that tempura looks pretty enticing. Or maybe this time you’ll actually make a set of three sashimi? Neither of you got the set last time, so surely they’ll stick to less risky fare leaving that open to you? What’s the right call? What’s the best thing to do? Why won’t anyone help you, oh God? All you can do is play and hope, because you won’t know you made a mistake until the first cards are down.
Sushi Go is a pleasant enough diversion, and at around fifteen minutes of play-time it doesn’t pretend to be more than it is – a simple game anyone can enjoy without pressure or preparation. It captures much of what is good about card drafting, and doesn’t try to bolt on anything more. It’s very likable. It’s nice. And it’s also almost instantly forgettable.
Ultimately, Sushi Go is a game about probability management and little more. Aside from the chopsticks, you have very few ways to meaningfully direct your fate other than noting what cards are available and the chances your opponents will take them. Once you say goodbye to a hand, it’ll be several turns before it comes back to you and as such you’re entirely at the mercy of the drafting your opponents do. Often, they’ll pick the cards that screw you the most. So you’ve got two sashimi? Even though I have no chance of making a set, I’ll play the last one in front of me. Going for dumplings? Haha, you’re the dumpling. You’ll never see another one come your way if I have anything to do with it. Depriving others of scoring opportunities is as valid a tactic as picking up the things you actually want for yourself. That’s true of almost every card-drafting game but it’s especially pronounced in Sushi Go because of how few levers you available to influence the result.
It’s a very approachable game – you don’t need to learn much more than ‘this is how the scoring works’. That approachability though is the exact thing that keeps it tethered in the lands of ‘basically okay’. In the end, you just don’t have the ability to play with any kind of strategy or creativity. After everyone has sampled each deck once, you know exactly what’s making the rounds, and what each player is likely most interesting in going for. You can’t play hidden cards, or discard and redraw cards, or anything that would inject some additional interest into play. There aren’t any roles (except MAKI ROLLS, ha ha I’m so funny) or secret scoring conditions. There is nothing but what you see in front of you.
But let’s be honest – not every game has to offer more than, literally, what you see on the tin. This is a game that will perfectly slide into all of those secrets nooks and crannies that something like Concordia couldn’t hope to reach. If you’ve ever brought out Ticket to Ride and someone said ‘Wow, this looks complicated’ or Lost Cities only for someone to say ‘this is beyond me’, then Sushi Go is still almost certain to work. It’s thoroughly unthreatening, and fun enough for a few hands that it might be just the thing to get reluctant friends to say ‘okay, I enjoyed that – have you got anything with a bit more flavour?’. It might be the appetizer that is sufficiently delicious to make your friends hunger for more nourishing fare.
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