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How To Play Sushi Go!

Sushi Go How To Play Hand Of Cards

Have you ever been to a sushi restaurant? You sit at a bar of sorts, with a conveyor belt beyond you, at arm’s reach. Chefs create sushi, traditional Japanese rice-based dishes with seafood and vegetables. Once prepared, they place them on the conveyor belt and it passes along in front of the customers. See something you like? Grab it off the conveyor belt! You eat what you like, and pay for empty plates in front of you at the end of your meal.

Sushi Go! takes the essence of a sushi conveyor belt system, and implements it into a card game. You’re looking to grab different types of sushi in a set-collection manner. You do this by drafting cards. Sushi Go! (yes, it has an exclamation mark) is a stellar design from Gamewright Games and Phil Walker-Harding. He’s the brains behind a smörgåsbord of other family-weight games. Imhotep, Cacao, Gingerbread House, Bärenpark (and Sushi Roll, of course) are all phenomenal titles. Want a game that’s simple to teach yet has a pleasing amount of strategy? Then look no further than Sushi Go! or any Phil Walker-Harding game. Let’s learn how to play Sushi Go!

Grab It Before It Goes…

Card drafting lies at the heart of Sushi Go! There’s a big deck of cards, and 2-5 players compete to collect the most valuable sushi. Different ‘dishes’ score in a variety of ways. Everyone has a hand of cards. Everyone picks one from their hand. You all reveal said card. Then you pass your hand to your neighbour; in turn, you receive a hand of cards from your other neighbour.

You continue to do this until there are no more cards to pass. Then you add up the scores on the cards you picked. You complete this format three times, keeping tabs of your ever-accumulating scores. There’s some final end-game scoring, but who among you gets to wear the sushi crown? Setting up the game is as simple as grabbing a plate off a conveyor belt. Are you ready?

Ready, Steady, (Sushi) Go!

Sushi Go! comes with 108 cards. There are eight different types of card, but don’t panic; I’ll explain them all, later. For now, shuffle the whole deck. Top tip: 108 cards might be hard to shuffle in one go. Split the deck, hand half to someone else, and get them to shuffle it while you shuffle the other half.

Then, you deal cards out to each player according to your player count. For a two-player game, deal each player 10 cards. In a three-player game, nine cards each. Four players? Eight cards each. Five players? Seven cards each. (These numbers sit on the back of the rulebook, for a quick, at-a-glance reminder). Put the rest of the cards to one side for now. You won’t need them for this round. Keep your hand of cards secret from your opponents.

At the end of the round, you’ll need to do some scoring. Sushi Go! doesn’t come with a score pad, so make sure you have a scrap of paper and a pen close. And that’s set-up! Easy, huh? Now let's learn how to play Sushi Go!

Pick ’n’ Pass Is The Name Of This Game

The drafting in Sushi Go! is so simple to grasp. This is an excellent example of a ‘gateway game’ within the card-drafting genre. Everyone looks at their hand of cards. In a simultaneous fashion, everyone picks one card from their hand that they want to keep. Once everyone’s picked, you all reveal at the same time. Flip your card, and set it face-up in front of you. Then pass your hand of cards to the person on your left. (This means you’ll get a hand of cards from the player on your right.)

In a two-player game, you swap hands with your opponent. There is a variant on the two-player game, which I’ll touch on, later. I think it’s a big improvement. But for now, let’s stick with the standard game, assuming you have 3-5 players.

Now you have a new hand of cards. Once again, everyone picks a card from this hand that they want to keep. At this point, you might want to consider a few things. Remember, the aim of the game is to earn points by collecting sets of same-sushi types. Is there a card in this new hand that compliments the first card you drafted? In which case, should that be the one you pick?

Keep An Eye On What You Give Away

There’s another thing to consider as you learn how to play Sushi Go! Everyone’s cards sit face-up. They’re all public knowledge for the entire table to view. Can you detect what sort of card(s) your neighbour’s collecting? Do any of those cards sit within your hand right now? Remember, you’re going to pass them this hand of cards in a minute – minus one card, the one you’re keeping. Are you gifting them easy points? Should you draft that card, instead? Some call this ‘hate-drafting’. It might sound ‘mean’, but it’s a genuine strategy!

You need to recognise two things. One, that it’s no good thinking: “I’ll be nice and not hate-draft.” Because your opponents might not be quite so noble! And two: not all sushi is created equal. Some are rarer than others. Plus, the nature of a shuffled deck means not all the cards are present within this round. You need to grab cards while the going’s good! Some pay out higher points in a ratio to their rareness, of course. Deciding all this is part of what adds such delicious decisions.

You keep drafting cards and passing them on. It’s doing what it says on the tin: it’s a pick-and-pass game. Sushi Go! is all about the simple decision of picking which card to keep. It helps if you can remember which cards are in play – in lower player counts, you’ll get this hand back, again!

Towards the end of the round, you’ll pass one last card to your neighbour, and receive one card. At this point, you have no choice but to add this card to your collection. Then it’s time to add up your scores. How does the scoring work for each type of sushi, then? Let’s take a look at the eight different cards, and how they all score you points…

Snackin’ On Maki Rolls

Of the 108 cards in the deck, there’s 26 Maki Rolls. These have red backgrounds. These types of sushi have either one, two, or three Maki Rolls on them. At the end of each round, the player with the most Maki Rolls gets 6VP. The player with the second-most gets 3VP (you need to have at least one Maki Roll to claim that second spot). Everyone else gets zero.

If there’s a tie for most Maki, those players split the 6VP, with second place getting zero. If there’s a tie for second place, those players split the 3VP. Of these 26 cards, six have 1x Maki Roll on them. Twelve have 2x Maki on them, and eight have 3x Maki on them.

Tasty Tempura Treats

There are 14 Tempura cards in among the deck of 108 and they have purple backgrounds. A single Tempura card on its own is worthless! But collect a pair of them and they’re worth 5VP. Similarly, three of them will score you 5VP. But four of them are worth 10VP, and so on.

Super-Risky Sashimi Strategy

There are also 14 Sashimi cards among the 108, and they have a bright green background. A single Sashimi card on its own scores zero. A pair of Sashimi scores zero! But collect a trio of them and they’re worth 10VP. Having four or five of them still scores you 10VP, but collect six of them and they’re worth 20VP, and so on. Collecting Sashimi is a dangerous game, but worthwhile on a points-return-per-card basis.

Delicious Dumplings

There are 14 Dumplings cards in the deck, and these have a blue background. Dumplings net you an increasing tally of points, the more you have of them at the end of the round. Having one is worth 1VP. Two are worth 3VP. Three are 6VP; four are 10VP; five are 15VP. This caps at 15VP, so if you’ve already got five, stop! Don’t take any more!

Nomming Down Nigiri

There are 20 Nigiri cards, with a yellow background. They come in three types and they’re worth straight-up points on an individual basis. Pure and simple. Egg Nigiri scores 1VP. Salmon Nigiri scores 2VP. Squid Nigiri scores 3VP. There’s five Egg Nigiri cards, ten Salmon Nigiri, and five Squid Nigiri cards, among those 20.

Wasabi Triples

(I dread to think what that cocktail would taste like…)

There are six Wasabi cards. They have yellow backgrounds, but don’t confuse them for Nigiri! They do have a relationship with the Nigiri, though. A Wasabi card scores nothing on its own. But if you draft Wasabi first, and later on place a Nigiri card on top of it, this multiplies the Nigiri’s score by three! So Egg Nigiri on Wasabi scores 3VP (instead of 1VP). Salmon scores 6VP instead of 2VP. Squid scores a whopping 9VP instead of 3VP! You can place a single Nigiri on a Wasabi card.

Cheeky Chopsticks

The rarest card is Chopsticks; there's four of them and they have a sky-blue background. Chopsticks work a little differently to the rest of the cards. They’ll never score you points. Instead, if you draft them, you can use Chopsticks in a unique way later on when you receive a hand of cards. Sometimes you’ll have a hand that’s so appealing, you'll want all the cards in this hand! If you have Chopsticks, there’s a way around this…

Pick a single card from the hand as per usual. Then, call out: “Sushi Go!” and you get to pick a second card from this hand! As a result, you place not one, but two cards face-down from this hand. You’ll reveal both cards and add them to your set(s). Then you’ll place your Chopsticks card back into that hand before passing it to your neighbour. This means they’ll still have the same number of cards to draft from as everyone else.

Chopsticks can be a wise card to draft early in the round because it offers you a lot of flexibility in a later hand. For example: let’s say the first card you draft is Chopsticks. In the second hand, you receive, there could be a Squid Nigiri and Wasabi. Together, those two cards are worth 9VP! So shout out: “Sushi Go!”, pick both cards, and then place your Chopsticks back into that hand. (Alas, you’re fresh out of luck if your final card’s Chopsticks, because there is no ‘next turn’ to use it.)

Nobody Likes Missing Out On Pudding

There are ten Pudding cards, and they have a pink background. Puddings have their own scoring method too. At the end of the round, you don’t score your Puddings. But you do keep them in front of you. Everyone places any other sushi cards they collected into a discard pile. You’ll accumulate Puddings over the three rounds. At the end of the third and final round, the player with the most Puddings scores 6VP. In a tie-break, those players split the points. Whoever has the fewest Puddings loses 6VP (again, splitting the points if there’s a tie). Everyone else scores zero. One thing’s for sure: you don’t want to get caught having the least!

Back Around The Conveyor Belt

At the end of the round, after scoring, everyone places their non-Pudding cards into a discard pile. Then you deal out cards from the remaining deck. With 108 cards, there’s more than enough cards for five players over three rounds. 3(5x7) = 105. This means you cannot guarantee that all cards will appear in a game.

The second round works the same as the first, as does round three, although there is a variant with regards to which direction you pass the cards. In round one, pass clockwise (left). In round two, pass counter-clockwise (right). Then back to clockwise (left again) in round three. Make a cumulative tally of scores across the three rounds. Don’t forget to add the Puddings at the end of round three! The winner – surprise, surprise – is the one with the most points.

Can You Beat The Dummy?

To my tastes (pun sort-of intended), Sushi Go! works best with more players. It can work at a two-player count, but Phil Walker-Harding included a variant playing it as a twosome. It features a third ‘dummy’ player. Instead of dealing out 10 cards each during set-up, deal three hands of nine cards. (As if you were dealing for a three-player game.) Place the third hand face-down between you and your opponent.

One of you controls the dummy player each turn, and this alternates. On your turn controlling the dummy, draw the top card from its deck and add it to your hand. Now you have a hand of cards one size bigger than your opponent. You pick one card for yourself, as usual. But you also have to pick one card from this hand for the dummy to play. Your opponent, meanwhile, picks one card from their hand, as per usual.

You all reveal. Then you and your opponent swap hands. The dummy player’s stack of cards does not move. Now the other player ‘controls’ the dummy. They draw the top card from the dummy’s deck and add it to their hand. They pick a card to play for themselves, and one for the dummy, and so on and so forth. You score in the same fashion at the end of each round. The pressure’s on. Now you not only have to beat your opponent… Can you outscore the dummy, too?

What Next?

Now you know how to play Sushi Go! If you haven't yet picked up a copy, you can grab one right here from Zatu Games. If you still need convincing, check out this review from one of our independent guest bloggers.