Sushi Go! Review

Sushi Go card game in play

An interesting little drafting game that Gamewright sent my way is called Sushi Go!

In Sushi Go!, each player is attempting to make the best overall Sushi dishes to serve their patrons, in order to become the best sushi restaurant in town!  This consists of three rounds of drafting cards.  The different cards that are taken are worth points, but only if they are played correctly.  For example, Tempura only score points for each pair of them that you have, Sashimi requires sets of three, and Wasabi is only valuable if you draft a Nigiri after you've already played it.  After three rounds of drafting, whichever player has the most points is the winner!

My first pro for Sushi Go! is that I really enjoy the concept of Chopsticks.  Chopsticks are the only card in the game that cannot be worth points.  However, what they allow you to do is break the rules of drafting.  If I have a Chopsticks card in front of me, then whenever I choose which card to keep, I can choose to play my Chopsticks, and keep two cards.  In place of the second card, I pass the Chopsticks card.  Which means that the next player can draft it and get this same ability.  Whereas I initially thought that this was the best card in the game (I no longer think that), it is at least the best new addition to the drafting genre that Sushi Go! incorporates - in my opinion, of course.

Sushi Go card examples
Helpful information on each card
The next pro that I have for Sushi Go! is how easy it is to teach - to anybody. The prototypical drafting game, 7 Wonders, is not terribly complicated, but because of the number of icons and how different cards interact, it can be fairly overwhelming to someone when they are just learning it.  Especially if they haven't had much exposure to drafting games or strategy board games.  Sushi Go!, on the other hand, is really easy to teach to anybody.  One of the people that I played with has only dabbled in board games and had never heard of "drafting."  (Drafting is when you have a hand full of cards, and you select one while passing the rest of them.  You continue doing this until you have a pile of cards that you have selected, which consists of cards from each of the original piles on the table.)  Yet, she was able to learn Sushi Go! within a few minutes, and if she ever had a question, then the cards themselves were generally able to answer it, as all of the scoring information is printed on the cards.

One thing to be aware of when considering Sushi Go! is that it is a bit more tactical than strategic.  What I mean is this - you deal cards off the top of a single deck to make the players' hands, instead of having set cards that are dealt out.  This means that you do not know the available cards.  Therefore, when choosing a Sashimi card (which requires three copies in order to score), you are not even guaranteed that there are three copies of Sashimi available in that round.  Ultimately, this makes the drafting much more similar to a Magic: The Gathering booster draft (where you open packs and have random cards to draft from) than it is to 7 Wonders (in which there are specific cards that are always available each Age).  This isn't really a good thing or a bad thing - some people will prefer it, and some people will prefer to know what is available.

Wasabi example in Sushi Go
Salmon Nigiri on Wasabi!
The next thing that you should be aware of is that in Sushi Go!, the game doesn't really build upon itself.  What I mean is that the cards that you build in the first round do not really affect any decisions that you make in the second or third round.  This is not strictly true, as there is a card, Pudding, that only scores at the very end of the game.  (The person with the most Pudding gets points, and the player with the least Pudding loses points.)  However, there aren't prerequisites, cards don't get better, and you see the same options in round three as you did in round one.  Ultimately, if you dealt out all of the cards for each of the three rounds before starting, it doesn't matter if you grab the cards for "round one" or "round three."  There is no difference.  Whereas some people will want a deeper strategic experience where they can be planning ahead, this is the trade-off for how easy the game is to teach.

The only con that I have for Sushi Go! is that I dislike that you play every card - specifically the last card.  I prefer 7 Wonders' rule in which you discard the very last card every round.  One of the reasons that I don't like being forced to play the last card is that sometimes you can guarantee that the person you pass to will score no points (by playing your Chopsticks).  Ultimately, though, whether the last card is helpful or not feels much more like blind luck than strategic gameplay, so I'd prefer that you simply stopped at the next to last card each round.  (Granted, this con isn't a big deal, since if it really bothers you, you can easily just play how you want.)

Overall, I like Sushi Go! a lot, and I give it an 8.0/10.  It hasn't revolutionized anything for me, but I like the addition of Chopsticks, and the ease of teaching the game should help me to be able to keep getting it played.

If Sushi Go! sounds interesting, you should also check out 7 Wonders (obviously), as well as Biblios and Scallywags.

I would like to thank Gamewright for providing me with a review copy of Sushi Go!

Pack O Game Kickstarter Preview

Final art, components, and rules are subject to change.

Chris Handy is a designer I wish had more published work. I greatly enjoyed his 2009 release Long Shot, and absolutely fell in love with Cinque Terre, which came out last year.

So when I heard that he was designing a bunch of small card games with plans of releasing them all in a single Kickstarter campaign, I was very interested. I had also heard that the games were to be released in boxes the size of a pack of gum. When I heard that, I thought that either Chris was talking about huge packs of gum or that I was somehow misunderstanding him. But when the prototypes arrived, I saw that each of the games were, indeed, the size of a pack of Wrigley's. All of the games in this Pack O Games line is the same size, as are, obviously, the cards.

Chris was kind enough to send me 5 of his upcoming games - following are short descriptions and my thoughts on each.

First up - the dexterity game, FLY. In FLY, a game "board" is created by laying most of the cards in the box out in a grid. When the card are laying out this way, they resemble a picnic table - except it is covered in flies. Players take turns dropping a fly swatter card onto the grid. If they successfully cover (completely) any flies while doing this, they take those cards. Each fly in the game has a colored shape on it and players are trying to assemble sets of flies. At the end of the game, each fly that is a part of at least a set of 3 will be worth 1 point.

FLY is not the best dexterity game I've ever played, but it looks great on a table, and is a good time! It is super easy to explain and play - I had a good time playing it with my niece and nephew.

TKO is a boxing game of simultaneous action selection. Each player assembles a boxer made out of a couple cards, and takes an action selection card. Each round, players will secretly place their thumbs on their action selection card choosing either to punch their opponent's head or torso, or block their own head or torso. Both players will reveal simultaneously and resolve their actions. Points are scored for successful punches or blocks, and a player will win a round once she scores 5 points.

TKO is another super simple game, that is definitely more fun than I thought it would be at first glance. Once thing that really adds to the gameplay is that each boxer has a slight advantage in one category. So the decision to either go straight ahead and be a bit more obvious and push that advantage or to try to throw off your opponent and take another path is quite interesting - especially in a simultaneous action game.

HUE is the colorful game of, well - colors! All of the cards in HUE are made up of regions of colors. Players will be placing cards from their hands in order to manipulate the size of the color regions on the board. Each player will be given 6 cards to start each game, but the game will end once each player has played 5 cards. The card remaining in each player's hand will determine which colors will score for that player. Players will look at the 3 colors on their last cards, and will score a number of points equal to the biggest continuous regions of that color on the board.

The twist of having to score a card of colors that you don't get to actually play is really interesting enough, and makes for a great game. Chris did add one more wrinkle to the gameplay, though. At the beginning of each game, players are also given a card with 3 colors on it, (like the rest of the cards), but this one has a skull on the middle color. When this card is played, whatever matching region the skull touches is not counted when looking for the biggest region of a color. HUE is great. It is colorful, simple, cutthroat, and just great to play. It gives the players some control, but still keeps things random enough to prevent players from overthinking. Games are quick, nasty, and fun.

TAJ is another colorful game - this one involves voting and light negotiation. In it, each player is given a card which indicates which color carpets will score positively - as well as which colors will score negatively. The additional wrinkle here is that each carpet is made up of 3 colors - a 3 point color, a 2 point color, and a 1 point color. The rugs cards are all lined up, and a scoring card is placed above the line, over 3 of the rug cards. Each round, a player will propose switching one of the cards under the scoring card with another rug card, not under the scoring card. Players will vote on this switch, executing it if it passes, and removing one of the rugs from the game (and not making the switch) if it does not pass. Once the game ends, the players reveal their scoring cards, and add up their positive and negative points!

TAJ, just like a few of the other games I've gotten to try in this line, is a very subtle game. With its bright colors, small box, and few components, it seems like there can't be much there - but TAJ will surprise you in how strategies will emerge after a couple plays. Despite having a fair amount of think, TAJ also had my friends and I standing up and screaming at each other (all in good fun) after a few of the votes. In my book, that is the mark of a great game.

Anyone who knows me knows that I like to save the best for last. GEM is my favorite game of the Pack O Games that I've had the pleasure of playing. It is a game of auctions, bluffing, and borrowing that is so simple, yet so clever. In it, players use coin cards to bid on gem cards. Sounds simple enough, right? First, the auctions are "once around" so once you bid, you're done, and the last person to bid basically has the choice of either giving the card up to the current highest bid, or buying the card for one more than the highest bid (assuming she has enough money). This makes each auction really intense - especially since money is so tight in this game already. Second, during each bidding round, players aren't necessarily bidding on any particular gem - they're really bidding on the opportunity to choose one of the gems still available for themselves - so the winning bidder will pay, and then choose any of the gems still available for themselves. Lastly, each gem card has two sides: leveraged and invested. I thought of these states as similar to mortgaged and mortgaged properties in Monopoly, but it isn't really the same. Once players win some gems, they can use them to pay for future auctions. However, gems won are flipped to the leveraged side, and in order to spend the value of a gem, the value of a gem's leveraged side must be paid, to first flip it to its invested side. Sounds confusing, but trust me - it isn't.

If the auction round was over, this player could spend her coins to flip either of the two gems cards she has to the invested side. These could then be used for future auctions, or would be counted in final scoring (if the game was over).

At the end of the game, players will score points for each invested gem they have won, with big bonus points going to those who have the most of each type of gem. GEM is easily my favorite game of the ones I've played. It is just as small as the other games in the line, but really has the feel of a full game. The decisions of which gems to go for, when to deny the other player's, and what you can afford to reinvest are all sooo difficult and all soo much fun.

If these games sound like ones you  might enjoy, go back Chris' Pack O Games Kickstarter now!! He also has 3 minute how-to-play videos up on the page!

Each game is only $6 including shipping to the US - and there's a special Early Bird level that is only good for the rest of today!

Tymor Kickstarter Preview

[This post is not a review, but a preview of a game currently seeking funding on Kickstarter. Final rules, art, or components are subject to change.]

Tymor is set in a land where players are struggling to rebuild their kingdoms after the world suffered an ancient calamity that has unhinged the natural rhythm of the seasons.

This interesting storyline is reflected in game by a season track. To start off each round, the active player will roll the season die to determine which way the season counter will move. 2 out of 3 times it will move forward normally, but there is always a chance that the calamity's effects will be felt, and the season could remain the same, or even regress to the previous season.

Depending on the season, players will receive income, and will then have to pay upkeep for the units on the board - suffering a penalty for each gold they are unable to pay.

On a player's turn, she gets to activate all of the units she has on the board. There are types of units (not including buildings). These units can all perform a "basic move" which is just moving from one hex to another, as long as there are no opponent's units in the destination hex.

The game looks great on the table. And this is just the prototype!

The Merchant's special move allows him to move into hexes occupied by enemy forces. The Priest can, instead of moving, spend gold in order to build a new settlement, or upgrade an existing one. Soldiers have the ability to start combat. They can declare an attack as their action, moving into a hex with opposing units and beginning a battle.

One of the most interesting parts of Tymor is that each of these types of unit's has a unique was of scoring the player points. The Merchant scores points by being on a hex with a opponent's settlement during the income phase of the game. Not only will this Merchant give the owning player some extra cash, they will also move up the Trade Points track on the score board. Priests score points by building up the player's Empire, and Soldiers score points by eliminating the enemy in battle.

How beautiful is that artwork?

This gameplay I have outlined above would definitely work, and make a decent game. But the cards in the game add whole new layers of strategy, tactics, and bluffing to the game. These cards come in 3 varieties that match the three types of units and scoring in the game. They have abilities like allowing units to act as other units, providing boosts to the normal actions, and just gaining the player resources.

Tymor is a lot of fun to play. It is that rare game that I am always on the lookout for - great theme, euro mechanisms, with a healthy dose of dice. I really like how there are 3 different score tracks that focus on the 3 different types of units. It makes the overall structure and goal of the game very easy to grasp. A game with similar weight and complexity without this simple differentiation/structure could easily be seen as overly complex for some people - I think the designer has done a great job in this respect.

Keep away from my stuff!!

One thing I don't care for in the game is the fact that since all 3 of the different ways of scoring are almost mandatory, combat is inevitable. Now I enjoy combat games - check my review of BattleLore Second Edition if you don't believe me! But what I don't really care for is combat in games where at least part of the goal of the game is to build stuff up. I just hate the feeling I get when something that I put effort into building up comes crumbling down.

One of my favorite parts of Tymor is the way that scoring works. I've already talked about how I like the segmented scoring system in Tymor, which is great. But another aspect of scoring in Tymor is that each of the separate scoring categories works a bit like a race. The most points a player can get in any of the categories in 10 points - the top space on each track. However, at the end of each round, players check to see if anyone has made it to the top of any of the tracks. If they have, that track is considered "closed" and while other players can still score points on that track, no one else may enter the top space. And since the players' positions on these tracks are very much public, this dynamic can create some very interesting interactions and motivations for the players on the board. Additionally, the tracks also act as a timer - since the game will end once all 3 tracks have been closed.

Tymor is a wonderful little game. It takes a few mechanisms we've seen before, throws in some really interesting new ideas, and is good solid fun. It isn't too complex, but it's also far from a filler. If you think you'd like a get a copy of Tymor for yourself, go check out the Kickstarter going on right now! The campaign is almost half way funded with plenty of time to go!

Valley of the Kings

Guys, just because its Egyptian themed doesn't mean triangles become pyramids. Its a triangle.

Valley of the Kings is a small box game from AEG's Pocket line of games that includes Cheaty Mages and Sail to India. It is a deck building game set in ancient Egypt. A mechanism and theme that the board game hobby has certainly seen a lot of. Does Valley of the Kings deserve your attention anyway?

One of the starting cards - unlike "copper" it remains useful until the end of the game.

Valley of the Kings does a lot of things that we're seen in previous deck builders. Players buy cards from a pool of available cards, and put them into a discard pile, which will be shuffled into their personal deck later in the game. The available cards in Valley of the Kings are set up in a triangle, and are cycled in a way that is reminiscent of Ascension, but here only half of the cards that are face up are available for purchase, which adds a bit to that formula.

The game also adds two bigger innovations to deck building. First, each card can be used to execute 1 of 3 actions.
     1. The card can be played for money in order to buy cards in the center.
     2. The card can be played for its action.
     3. The card can be buried (permanently removed from their deck) in a player's tomb, for its victory point value.

In Valley of the Kings, any cards left in a player's deck are worthless at the end of the game. Only those cards which have been purged from each player's deck and placed into their tombs are counted as points. This is the essence of what Valley of the Kings brings to the genre - and the main reason the game is so much fun.

As one might expect, cards which have strong abilities are also worth a lot of points. So just like in Dominion - where there is a point where players have to decide to stop buying action cards and start buying point cards - players in Valley of the Kings have to choose how long they want to keep playing that valuable action card, and when they want to bury it in their tomb to ensure it gets counted as points at game end.

One of my favorite things about any deck building game is trying to thin out my deck to make it as efficient as possible. Valley of the Kings really lets me play around with this idea because players are allowed to get rid of any card in their hand once per turn. I like this both because it gives me a lot of control over my deck, and also because there isn't a safety net. I think it would be possible in this game to buy the wrong cards, thin too much, and simply be out of the game. I'm not saying this is likely, or that this game is especially punishing, but I like being treated like I know what I'm doing by a game and its designer.

Valley of the Kings also plays with deck composition by having a fair number of cards in the deck whose actions involved getting cards out of one's own deck, and putting them into the deck of another player. This action would be interesting in any deck building game - but is even more interesting here, as even the weakest/least exciting cards in the game (your starting deck) are worth victory points. So yes, by using one of these cards and then burying another card a player could potentially thin 2 cards from her deck in a single turn, but will the other player bury the card I just sent? Is making my deck a few cards stronger worth the victory point cost? In a two-player game, even a card that is just worth a single victory point could result in a 2 point swing if the shunned card ends up in the other player's tomb.

Deck building is one of my favorite mechanisms in games. Despite this, there aren't many deck building games that I have fallen in love with. Ascension, Trains, and Star Realms are some of my favorites - but with so many mediocre deck builders out there, its hard to keep playing all of them and being disappointed over and over again. That is part of why I think Valley of the Kings has been such a hit for me. The game keeps enough about the genre the same, while putting its own interesting twists on the formula.

I would definitely recommend Valley of the Kings to fans of deck building, and even to those who might feel like deck building doesn't have anything new or fun to explore. I'd rate it a solid 8.0.