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Gamewright's Sushi Go: A tasty, fun-for-all ages little card-drafting morsel

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Sushi Go

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Noting that a given game is "like" another game can be a helpful tool in a number of ways. If you're told at the outset that a game involves card drafting, for example, you have an immediate sense of the game before a teacher opens his/her mouth or you open the rule book. On the other hand, trying to characterize a game by comparing it to another game with a similar mechanic can be misleading, or in some cases, a complete turn-off. You'll pardon the presumption, but I think a lot of gamers would shy away from a game if they were told it was 'like' Monopoly, or used a 'roll and move' mechanic (like Monopoly).

That said, let's talk about Gamewright's Sushi Go, a card drafting, set collection, simultaneous action selection, hand management card game that immediately struck me as similar to another game, which, under normal circumstances, I'd name specifically. However, one of the five people with whom I played Sushi Go recently, referred to this other game as "one of the most boring games (he'd) ever played" and with some reservations, I'd agree with him. For the moment, let's pass on the inclination to bad-mouth the game to which Sushi Go can be likened and let the Gamewright offering stand or fall on its own merits. Later, maybe, we can reveal the comparison, and see if it holds up.

Okay, after requisite shuffling, a certain number of cards, dependent on player numbers (2-5), is dealt from a deck of 108; between seven and 10 per player. The game takes place over three rounds of play. Cards used in each round are not shuffled back into the deck for dealing in subsequent rounds, so you'll be working with a diminishing number of options as the three-round game progresses. For this reason, you might want to take note early of the number of each type of card available in the game. There are, for example, 14 Sashimi cards in the deck, and you need three of them to earn 10 points (no more, no less). If you've watched four sets of three go by in the first two rounds of play, there's no point trying to collect them in round three. Keeping track of cards as they're played and disappear between rounds is important, I'd say, especially when it comes to Pudding cards, which we'll get to in a minute.

Our group, which started with four and would expand between games to five, had never played this before, and were learning it from me, who'd never played it before either. Straightforward rules had us underway in a matter of minutes, each of the four of us with eight cards in our hand. Each of us selects a single card from among those we hold, and places it face down in front of us until all players have made their decision. The single card is then turned over, while the remaining cards are passed to the player on our left (a variant suggests passing right and left, alternately). This continues until all cards in the round are in displays in front of the players. These displays are scored, according to card values.

The group determines which player has the most Maki Rolls in their display (individual Maki Roll cards depict from one to three Maki Rolls). The player with the most gets six points. The player with the second most gets three points. Ties are split evenly (3 and 1 point). Displays are then perused for Tempura cards (every two of which are worth five points), Sashimi cards (every three worth 10 points) and Dumpling cards (with progressive points from 1 to 10, dependent on the number in a player's display).

Then we have the Nigiri and Wasabi cards. Nigiri cards are worth 1 point (egg nigiri), 2 points (salmon nigiri) or 3 points (squid nigiri). However, if you have managed to place a Nigiri card atop a Wasabi card (with no independent value), your points for that Nigiri card are tripled. A Wasabi card is only good for tripling a single Nigiri card, though you can have multiple Wasabi cards tripling multiple Nigiri cards. You do not score by putting a Wasabi card atop a Nigiri card, only by placing a Nigiri card (dipping it into) atop a Wasabi card.

Two more types of cards to talk about. Pudding cards, which unlike other cards, do not get moved to a discard pile at the end of a round, and stay in your area throughout the three rounds of play. When the final round is scored, the player with the most Pudding cards will earn six points, while the player with the least (or none) will have six points deducted from their score. Players split positive or negative points in the event of ties, and if, by chance, all players have the same amount (there are 10 Pudding cards in the deck), nobody scores points.

Finally, Chopstick cards, which have no intrinsic value and thus, do not figure into the scoring at all. Instead, they are used during round play to give multiple players the opportunity to play two cards on their turn, instead of just one. On a given round, a player must first put the Chopstick card onto his display. On a subsequent turn, with that card on display and just before everyone reveals the single card they're keeping, the player with the Chopstick card calls "Sushi Go," places a second card down on his/her display, picks up the Chopstick card, and puts it into the hand of cards that he/she is passing to another player.

The group that gathered to play this, played it five times in a row; three with four players, and then, two with five, when we hailed someone over to join us. Fifteen rounds altogether. That says more about the reaction than any words, although there were a few; quick, easy, fun.

We learned a few things, too, that will serve us in the future. Do not ignore the collection of Pudding cards, for example. The way this game plays out, the loss of six points, if you end up with the least amount of Pudding cards, is significant. Keep track of cards. Not only those that are being passed in a given round, but those that remain to be dealt. Because of their multiplier effect, you should never pass a Wasabi card (you'll be forced to do this if, for whatever reason, you have two in your hand). Do not underestimate the power of the Chopsticks card, and consider carefully before invoking your "Sushi Go" option of playing two cards out of your hand. You're not likely to come across the opportunity to put a Squid Nigiri (three points) atop a Wasabi card very often, but you should always be on the lookout for this combination, which is worth nine points, more sometimes than you can earn in other ways in a single round.

Like many Gamewright offerings, Sushi Go features quality card stock and comes in an attractive, portable metal tin for safekeeping. It's also a lot of fun, with just the right touch of strategic thinking involved to elevate it above a strictly children's game. It's age range begins with 8-year-olds, and it's a good one for them, because while they'll have a tendency to not understand the long-term planning necessary to pull off a victory over adult opponents right away, it won't take long for them to grasp it. Game one will get them thinking about the ways to maximize their scoring opportunities, while subsequent plays will have them performing in ways to make that happen. Good learning game for the younger set, and devilishly clever exercise for elder gamers, too.

Sushi Go, designed and with artwork by Phil Walker-Harding, is published by Gamewright Games, who graciously provided me with a review copy. It features a two-player variant, but is better with three or more, aged 8 and up. It's been rated just under a thousand times on BoardGameGeek and maintains a respectable 7.14 average. It can be purchased for around $10. Fyi, the game to which it is most compared is 7 Wonders.

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