Review - Sushi Go Party!
Designer: Phil Walker-Harding
Artists: Nan Rangsima
Player Count: 2-8
Sushi Go Party! is the 2016 expanded version of 2013’s Sushi Go!. Sushi Go Party! is a simple card drafting game for two to eight players. Players try to build the best sushi meal possible from a customisable menu of sushi cards which are passed around the table as if on a conveyor belt at a Kaiten-zushi restaurant. The game is played over three rounds, with scoring happening at the end of each round.
How to Play
To set up a game of Sushi Go Party!, players place the game board in the centre of the table. Players must then decide which types of sushi cards to use in their game. The rulebook comes with eight set “menus” (selections of cards) but players can build their own menu according to a few selection constraints. In total, Sushi Go Party! comes with 23 different types of sushi card. Once players have decided what cards to use, the corresponding “menu tiles” (tiles explaining the rules of each card) are placed on the game board so that players can easily reference them. A deck of all the sushi cards on the menu (except whatever dessert cards are being used) is made and shuffled. A number of dessert cards, dependent on the number of players, are shuffled into the deck and players are dealt a hand of cards (7-10 depending on the number of players).
Rounds of Sushi Go Party! are simple and quick. Each turn, players simultaneously choose one card to play before passing the remainder of their hand to the player to their left. Once all players have played a card everyone reveals their card. A handful of cards have some ability or condition that needs to be resolved immediately (for instance, if two players play a miso soup card on the same turn, both must discard the card and will not score points for it). Players then choose a card to play from their new hand face down and pass the remainder of the hand left. This continues until all cards have been played.
Once all cards have been played, the round is over and the cards that players played are scored. This is straight forward. Players score points according to the rules written on the sushi cards and menu tiles. There is one exception; dessert cards are not scored between rounds, only at the end of the game. If the previous round was not the last round, all cards (except dessert cards) are gathered, more dessert cards are added, the deck is shuffled, and a new hand of cards is dealt to all players.
When the final round is completed, the played cards are scored as normal. The dessert cards for all rounds are scored. The winner of the game is the player with the most victory points.
Gameplay in Sushi Go Party! is simple and quick. There’s a very low barrier for entry to this game and there’s no reason why it can’t be taught to anyone, including children and non-gamers, once the concept of card drafting is explained. Downtime is almost non-existent as players play a card, pass their hand, and play another card. Decisions are also relatively simple so there’s no worries about analysis paralysis, further limiting downtime.
Having said all this, once you’ve played a few games of Sushi Go Party! you might find yourself realising that there isn’t much game here at all. Decisions amount looking at your hand of cards and making a simple calculation for what card maximises points. For example, a squid nigiri scores you 3 points, a miso soup scores 3 points if no one else plays one otherwise it’s worthless, so you have no reason not to take a squid nigiri in that case. Another example, tempura scores 5 points if you have two of them, that’s likely 2.5 points per card, while maki scores 6 points if you have the most maki pieces, that’s maybe 3 points per card if you play 2 maki cards or 2 points per card if you play 3 cards. These are the calculations you’ll make playing Sushi Go Party! which weirdly can make this game dryer than a very dry Eurogame.
But then again maybe this game isn’t designed for me. I noted above the low barrier for entry and to be fair to Sushi Go Party! any of the people I’ve introduced it to have enjoyed it a good deal, even those who don’t usually enjoy board games. Calculations are simple enough for kids to get involved and do well. So maybe the game isn’t for hobbyists. If you’re someone like me who is going to try to maximise their actions in a game, Sushi Go Party! probably isn’t for you, because it’s too easy to do.
Player interaction is also minimal in this game. Some cards allow for minor interaction, such as taking a card from another player’s hand with the spoon card or not getting any points for a miso soup because someone else has played one as well. Some cards also see players attempting to get a certain number of those cards first or have the most of a type of card in order to score points. Ultimately, most of the interaction comes from hate drafting or purposefully giving someone a final card that is either useless or actively bad for them. In large games this makes it almost impossible to affect players who are not directly to you left.
Sushi Go Party! is designed to be played by 2-8 players. However, it is definitely at its best at higher player counts. The greatest strength of Sushi Go Party! is that, even with eight players, there is little to no downtime. Scoring takes a little bit longer at higher player counts but it doesn’t make much of difference to the game length. One slight issue with playing at the highest player counts is that the hand of cards dealt is smaller, and as such players will not see those cards again. At lower player counts, players will have hands return to them after going around the table, and this means players will have more information and will be able to make more interesting and informed decisions.
I would not recommend playing Sushi Go Party! at very low player counts at all. I played several games at two players and despite selecting a menu to mitigate issues of simple points calculation, the game was significantly dryer at two players. At two players, and even at three, you know exactly what cards are in your opponent’s hand and what cards will be coming back to you. This effectively removes risk from your points calculation, meaning all you have to do is compare the net points (I say net points because your opponents score needs to be factored in) per card of each card in you hand. It also makes Sushi Go Party! significantly meaner, with an increase in hate drafting since you have perfect information on your opponent.
On balance, I would say the sweet spot for Sushi Go Party! is at the 4-5 player count. There is some risk, which adds uncertainty to points calculations, while players will also see their initial hand more than once, allowing for more planning and strategy.
Sushi Go Party! has a ton of variability. The rulebook comes with eight premade menus that aim to feel distinct, but players can also create their own menus tailored to their group. The only cards that have to be used are the nigiri cards (which provide the most basic scoring). Players may make their own menu by then choosing a sushi roll from a selection of three types, three appetisers from a selection of eight types, two specials from a selection of eight types, and one desert from a selection of three types. In terms of card variety there is a lot for players to discover and play around with.
Gameplay remains largely unchanged by this variability but within the limits of Sushi Go Party! different setups do alter scoring and interactions quite a lot.
Despite being a lightweight game, Sushi Go Party! is dripping with theme. Every aspect of its design reaffirms the theme in some way. I’ll start with my personal favourite; the card drafting mechanism sees players passing sushi around as if it were on a conveyor belt at a sushi restaurant, and I’m not sure I can think of a mechanism in any other game that so perfectly fits what it is representing.
The rules for different types of sushi also adhere to the theme perfectly. In the rulebook, each sushi’s scoring is explained thematically first, then technically. For example, I’ve mentioned that miso soup only scores if no one else plays one, and according to the rulebook this is because “Everyone’s always jealous of that one person who orders a hot cup of miso soup!”. They are always jealous! Having one eel loses you 3 points but having two or more scores you seven because “You might not enjoy your first taste of eels, but it sure grows on you!”. Even keeping desert cards until the end of the game is thematic. This makes teaching the game a lot easier as players have familiar concepts to latch on to. This is particularly useful for playing with people with less experience of board games or with children, who I’ve argued are who this game is best for.
Every aspect of the design seems laser focused on its theme. Player scoring markers are soya sauce bottles, the scoring reference board is a menu, and the scoring track is a conveyor belt. It really feels like a lot of passion went into the production of this game.
Art and Components
The single best thing about Sushi Go Party! is the artwork. The cute, anthropomorphic sushi set a wonderful tone for the game and the chosen colours really make the game pop. The game manages to perfectly capture the kawaii aesthetic. The bright colours also make it incredibly easy to differentiate between cards at a glance.
As mentioned above, the game board is very thematic, but it’s also well designed, durable and pretty. The menu tiles which slot into it are similarly durable and have the same wonderful art as the cards.
The only real negative I can give the components is that the tin that the game comes in is an awkward shape which makes it difficult to store with other game and the insert for the game is bad. It doesn’t organise the components effectively, it is very difficult to find the cards you intend to play, which makes setup a chore, and since you are expected to store the game board on top of the cards, unnecessary wear occurs on the cards.
My opinion of Sushi Go Party! is mixed. I think if you’ve read the rest of this review you’ll have an idea of whether it’s for you or, more likely, whether it’s for the people you play with. If you’re likely to be playing with children often or from time to time Sushi Go Party! could be for you. If you regularly introduce new people to the hobby, then Sushi Go Party! can be a useful thing to have in your collection. I’m not implying that every newcomer needs to be handled with care and introduced to the simplest games first but for some people a simple, light rules game can demystify the hobby. The artwork is also great, which makes it easy to get to the table. I may not love Sushi Go Party!’s gameplay but I can see its worth.