Guest Post: We Were Playing it Wrong: Sushi Go!

Today we have fellow gamer and friend of the site JayBeeThree, who shares his experience with a rules mistake that not only ruined a game for him but perhaps dessert as well.

Sushi Go
Sushi Go!, by Phil Walker-Harding, 2013, 2-5 Players

The Basics: There’s a popular phrase in Japanese: 仕方がない (shi kata ga nai), literally meaning “way of doing, cannot” and commonly translated as “It can’t be helped” or “it’s no use.” Shi kata ga nai is not just an idiom similar to English’s “What’s done is done,” it’s a philosophical outlook. The idea that unseen, unchangeable forces influence our daily actions and there’s nothing we can do as individuals to change it for the better. After all, life is suffering and the pockets of joy we design for ourselves can be torn away.

Such is the way with Sushi Go!, a light card drafting game designed by Phil Walker-Harding, played over three rounds that are separately scored. Like a sushi bento it’s quick, light, and easily digested. Some cards grant you instant points, others reward long term planning, and some are all-or-nothing. I expected a tight card drafting game in the same vein as 7 Wonders.

What we I did wrong: Here’s where Sushi Go! falls off my platter and onto the dusty floor— the dreadful pudding. The player with the most pudding scores 6 points; the least loses 6 points. “Not a bad incentive” I originally thought, thinking foolishly that it was scored at the end of each of the game’s three rounds. But true to the theme pudding does not want to be enjoyed until the end of the game. And those points are split evenly among tied players.

As a scoring mechanic it becomes completely unnecessary. Here is a card that is statistically worth the fewest points in the game, will rarely influence the final outcome, and doesn’t see an effect until the very end. You have to play your whole hand by the end of the round so the game ends up becoming a crapshoot of who sees the least pudding. It’s like that one Aunt who thinks canned fruit and nuts suspended in jelly makes for a delicious dessert at Thanksgiving. She hands it to you and waits in anticipation. You smile sheepishly, ask how her self-employment is going, and nonchalantly pass it to the poor fool reaching for the buttered rolls.

I can’t help but feel that 7 Wonders’s military mechanic should’ve been a more satisfying fit. If you win you score 1, 3, and 5 points per round up to a max of 18. The loser only ever takes -1, up to -6. In 7 Wonders, not having military sucks but isn’t the end of the world. Investing too heavily into military takes your attention away from higher scoring cards. It’s a more tightly designed mechanic that keeps players thinking about their every action.

Conclusion: What should be a satisfying finish is a sour ingredient that spoils the pot. Curse you, pudding. You are wasted calories bloating an otherwise passable game. When I see your smiling flushed face, channeling your best Urkel “Did I do that?” I can’t help but feel defeated on turn one. Shi kata ga nai.


Guest Post: We Were Playing it Wrong: Sushi Go!