Review: Sushi Go!11 Oct 2016 0
Review: Sushi Go!
Released 19 Sep 2016
Card drafting is one of those traditional game mechanisms that modern designers love to borrow, right up there with, say, trick-taking. Maybe that popularity has something to do with Microsoft flooding the computer-literate world with Hearts in the 90s, but if there’s one game PT readers probably associate with drafting it’s Magic: The Gathering, for which Wizards of the Coast has been officially supporting a booster draft format since at least 1996.
In case you missed the last decade of the 20th century, though, let me explain how this style of card drafting works (also, you should check out Edward Norton’s early work). Each player starts with a hand of cards from which they select one to keep before passing the remaining cards to a neighbouring player. The process repeats until players run out of cards to pass, at which point, in the case of Magic (and Hearts), the real game begins. See, for most of card gaming history, drafting was nothing more than a more equitable (i.e. skill mediated) method of distributing cards than blindly drawing from a common pool, but Sushi Go! makes drafting the main attraction by cleverly attaching another borrowed mechanism, set collection.
This digitalization is brought to us by Lummox Labs/Michael Busheikin, a developer that worked with Button Mash Games to deliver ports of two other tabletop darlings from Gamewright Games, Forbidden Island and Forbidden Desert. As you might expect if you enjoyed either of those titles, Sushi Go! is polished to the highest degree and the interface quickly fades into the background. The minimalist menu gets you right into the action and introduces you to your unnamed cephalopod spirit guide (who I’ve affectionately deemed Lefty due to a missing tentacle). This animated itamae sets the tone for the rest of the game’s artwork, which true to the source material is pure saccharine cuteness undercut with the egodystonic unease attendant to images of smiling food.
While the portraits of each of the ten menu items you’ll be drafting from will be familiar to anyone who’s played the card game, these aren’t just recycled art assets; they’ve been liberated from their card frames and show up on a sushi conveyer belt, which is a great thematic conceit for the app. There’s also a charming and unobtrusive animation for each of the sushi items that appears when they’re selected. Click through all ten and just try to keep a straight face! Impossible unless you lack a soul or you’re really committed to veganism.
If you’re learning the game you can read a nice pared down version of the rulebook in the app or rely on the in-game prompts, but either way it won’t take you long to get up and running. Sushi Go! is drafting (or pick and pass in the parlance of the game) stripped down to its essence. The same ten cards are present in every game and each one scores in a different way. After each round (of which there are three total) you’ll gain points based on the rules for your collected sets and then discard everything to start the next round with a clean plate, the important exception being puddings, which are carried over from round to round but only score once at the end of the game (no eating dessert first in this sushi bar).
A key concept in drafting is hate drafting or counter-drafting where a player will select a card based on stymieing opponents rather than directly improving their own position, and Sushi Go! provides ample opportunities for such plays. Puddings and Maki score based on your holdings compared to other players, while Tempura and Sashimi only score if you hold a certain number of copies at the end of the round so attentive players can wreak havoc on your scoring. Wasabi is one of the most powerful cards in the game, tripling the score of the next Nigiri card you draft (which come in 1, 2 and 3 point flavors). In a game where averaging above two points per card nets you a great score, tripling a three point Squid Nigiri is a real power move (4.5 points/card). As such, a common move is to always draft a Squid Nigiri when you’re presented with one since it gives you a decent number of points and keeps a potential windfall out of another player’s hands. The scoring rules are simple, but ingeniously designed to pack in as much player interaction as possible.
Design is one thing, but to get to that nice player interaction you’re also going to need players. Fortunately, Sushi Go! launched with Game Center support so it’s very easy to get matched into a game, but at the time of writing the player base is still a bit thin and all my multiplayer games have hung up quicker than a Baltimore jury. There’s no option for pass and play support either which would be a nice viable option, especially for iPhone users. All my completed games have been against the AI, and although there aren’t multiple difficulty settings the good news is that overall it’s very competitive. In my experience the AI does better at larger player counts (4-5 players) where my puny meat brain gets overwhelmed with memorization and anticipating four moves in advance. On my iPad, the AIs’ moves are near instantaneous at every player count as well so there’s still plenty of content to enjoy while waiting for more humans to jump onboard.
One Game Center feature Lummox Labs integrated exceptionally well is the achievement system. I’ve played enough games with perfunctory achievements that I barely register those little alerts at the top of my screen, but the ones in Sushi Go! demonstrate a deep understanding of gameplay. When self-congratulation over a move is immediately validated by the achievement system it’s operating as it was intended, fulfilling the wish “Man, I wish someone saw that!” My reward centers are tingling and driving me to a completionism I haven’t desired since Binding of Isaac.
In tabletop gaming, light drafting is a competitive and crowded field, but unlike deck building games, for instance, there’s not yet much of an iOS presence (wherefore art thou, 7 Wonders?). One of Sushi Go’s main competitors even shares its name. Sushi Go Party! is a spin-off that allows for a lot of variation between games as it includes a whole buffet of menu options rather than the ten fixed selections of the original. I’m holding out hope that content from the sequel will be added to the app in the future and such a massive update would certainly warrant a re-review. For now, the achievement system adds a respectable amount of replayability to this simple family game. The physical version of Sushi Go! also includes some variants rules, including one that makes the two player game a bit more dynamic. Including these modes in a future update would also go a ways towards keeping the game fresh, always an important consideration when dealing in raw fish.