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Game Preview: Sushi Draft! (Chopsticks Not Included)

W. Eric Martin
United States
North Carolina
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Takahiro's Sushi Draft! from Japanese publisher KogeKogeDo is, believe it or not, one of two sushi-drafting card games to be released in the recent past, the other one being Sushi Go! from Australian designer Phil Walker-Harding and his Adventureland Games. No sense letting a passing coincidence go to waste, so I'll preemptively declare 2015 to be the year that sushi-drafting card games flood the market, with titles like Sushi Pass!, Sushi Susan!, Sushi Round the Table!, Sushi Hand It Over! and Sushi Distribute in an Equitable Manner! coming out from practically every North American and European publisher. Can't wait.

Sushi Draft! includes a deck of 32 sushi cards (8 ikura, 7 ebi, 6 maguro, 5 tamago, 4 kappa and 2 "wild" triples) and 18 point tokens (three each for the five types of sushi and three for dessert); the point tokens range in value from 1-5, with the more plentiful sushi dishes generally being worth more points. (Ikura tokens are worth 3-5 points, for example, while kappa is worth 1-3.)

The game plays out over three rounds, with players passing the cards left/right/left as in Magic: The Gathering booster drafts and 7 Wonders. At the start of each round, players shuffle the cards and receive a hand of six cards. Players simultaneously draft a card from their hand and reveal it, placing it on the table. They then keep one card, pass the remainder to a neighbor, and draft and play again. Once everyone has five cards in front of them, whoever has the most sushi of each type draws a point token of that type at random; if players tie for the most of a type, however, then the player with the secondmost of that type draws the token instead. If all players are tied, then no one scores for that type of sushi. The player with the most types of sushi scores a dessert token at random; if two players tie for the most types, then the player with the secondmost types eats dessert instead.

The wild sushi is played a bit differently than the normal cards. It can't be played on its own, but must instead be laid on top of a type of sushi that you've already played, after which it counts solely as that type of sushi. (Thus, you can't play a wild on the first turn since you can't lay it on anything.) In the advanced rules, the wilds count as only .5 of a sushi type, possibly giving you an edge to break ties, but also allowing someone else to scoop you for most by playing an honest nigirizushi instead of your pretend one.

After three rounds, players tally their tokens and whoever has the most points wins.

I've played Sushi Draft! three times — once each with three, four and five players — but I must confess to playing it wrong each time, messing up two rules that both made the game harder for players to play well. We chose our hand card before passing cards to the neighbor, thereby locking in our card choice before seeing what everyone else played. On top of that, I thought that if players tied for having the most sushi, then no one scored for it. Ouch! No wonder our games had such low scores! (I'm normally loath to create house rules, preferring to challenge myself to learn to play as the designer or publisher intended, but in this case I created house rules without even knowing it.)

That said, the game proved to be a fun, fast-playing, set-collection game. You look at what others are collecting, try to gauge what's being passed to you and what others are picking out of what you passed, then you soon forget everything because you've seen too many cards. With only five dishes in play and two cards from which to choose at the end of each round, sometimes you're left with a 50-50 chance of slamming down the right dish, so you wing it and hope for the best.

I look forward to playing Sushi Draft! again with the proper rules and trying to live down the shame of teaching this game incorrectly...

(Thanks to Japon Brand, which will have copies of Sushi Draft! available at Spiel 2013, for providing a review copy of this game.)

Baran sushi grass is included!
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