This is part fifteen in an ongoing series of reviews that I am writing about the games that my family plays, why we love them and what you should know before making a purchase. I have three unique daughters, ages 12, 10 and 7 who love to play games with me, and a wife who sometimes likes to join in. Finding games that we all enjoy can be a challenge, so I am constantly trying to introduce more games to the family to build a collection that we can all appreciate. Today's review: Wasabi!
To get you in the mood for this review, watch this video:
Components Before I get into how the game plays, I want to talk a bit about the components. Z-Man really did a good job with this one. From the thick cardboard tiles and player "menus" to the plastic wasabi bowls and light green wasabi cubes that go in them, this game not only has excellent production value in terms of its components, but also great thematic value. Everything is top notch, with the possible exception of the 10 cards that are obtained after completing a recipe. They are fairly large cards, but are also a bit thin. I have not had any problems with my copy, but I would not be surprised to hear of others who may have accidentally bent theirs. It's probably a good idea to sleeve these.
Artwork I am a big fan of the artwork in games, but I view this separately from the game's components, so I think it deserves it's own section. The artwork in this game is very appealing. I first saw this game in action when I had my gamer training-wheels on, and it made me want to try it. I had never before seen a food-themed game produced so well, in terms of artwork, that it actually drew me in to want to play it. (I'm much more of a worker placement/resource management kind of guy.)
Price Now that this is back in stock, it can be had for around $25, which is fantastic given the production value. There are not many games of this caliber and production value that can be had for that price. Gameplay This is where a great game becomes just pretty good. The idea is awesome, but the execution is a little lacking. You and your opponents are competing to be the apprentice to the sushi master and must make ten dishes of varying difficulty before the other players, in order to become the apprentice. The problem? You and your opponents must all prepare your meals using the same pantry and in the same kitchen. When all the space in the kitchen runs out, if no player has made all ten recipes, the player who pleases the sushi master the most (gets the most points) wins.
So how does it work? Players receive three recipe cards at the beginning of the game, which they blindly choose from the 2,3,4 and 5 ingredient recipe stacks. They may choose these three recipes in any combination from the four piles, keeping in mind that they are trying to make the following: 4x two-ingredient recipes 3x three-ingredient recipes 2x four-ingredient recipes 1x five-ingredient recipe Once everyone has their starting recipes, then each player chooses a hand of three starting ingredients for the player on their left. These ingredients cannot be from the 1st or 6th row of the pantry, but may be any combination of ingredients from rows 2-5.
Now you're ready to start the game. Beginning with the start player, each player (in turn) will place an ingredient into the kitchen and draw a new one from the pantry to replace it. Players always end their turns with three ingredients. If a player manages to get all of the ingredients on one of their recipe cards adjacent to each other in a column or row on the board, then that player has completed a recipe, and receives the points for it. The ingredients may be in any order, as long as they are adjacent to one another in a row or column and the player completing the recipe is responsible for putting the last ingredient for their recipe in place. If a 3,4 or 5 ingredient recipe is completed in the exact order shown on the recipe card (forwards or backwards), then they have made it "in style" and receive the number of wasabi cubes indicated on the point chip. Every wasabi cube a player has is worth 1 extra point at the end of the game.
After completing a recipe, players take one of five different cards to help them with later recipes. The cards are as follows: Spicy! - Playing this card allows the player to play two ingredients instead of one this turn. Chop! - Playing this card allows the player to remove an item from the kitchen, put it back in the pantry and then play one of their own ingredients, or they may chop an ingredient from the board and place it in another location on the board as their ingredient for this turn. Switch! - Playing this card allows the player to switch positions of two adjacent ingredients. Stack! - Playing this card allows the player to play their ingredient for this turn on top of another ingredient already present on the board. Wasabi! - the player plays this card to the board, receiving one wasabi cube and covering four spots which may or may not have ingredients on them, rendering them unusable until a player (as a result of completing a recipe) elects to take this card from the board.
As you can imagine, these cards can drastically alter your fate in the game, so acquiring them early is paramount. Once a card is used by a player (with the exception of Wasabi!), it is returned to the general supply and may but picked up by other players later. Players may never hold more than two cards at a time, but may switch one card for another if they would be picking up a third card. Also, players may not choose to take a card that they used earlier on the same turn.
Once a recipe is completed, the player gets her points, grabs a card, gets a new ingredient (or two if spicy was just played) and then takes a new recipe of their choosing. It is then the next player's turn.
Play continues in this fashion until one player completes all her recipes or until the board has been filled up.
So what's so great about this game? The components are really top-notch, and very appealing to the eye. They definitely help you get into the theme of the game if you are a big theme gamer. It's cheap! Seriously! You can get this for the same cost as a junky mass-produced game from Wal-Mart. It's a food-themed game, shown to be the most accessible theme for all types of gamers and non-gamers. Ya gotta eat, right? It's very visually appealing, and will often generate questions such as "What's that you're playing? It looks like fun!" Who knew making sushi could be fun? The limited play space and ability to mess with your opponents can make this game a lot of fun for people who don't mind a little conflict. It plays great as a 2-player game (so says my wife ). There seems to be a shortage of good games that play well with two players. This fits the category well, and experienced players can knock out a game in 20-30 minutes. This could also be a fun game to play with another couple that you have over for dinner. It's accessible for almost anyone, kids and adults. The concept is pretty easy to get right off the bat, but the execution and frustration that goes with it take a little more time to adapt to. It's a winner with the family (mostly). I had this game for a while, then gave it away because I didn't think my family seemed all that interested in playing it. Then, I got all kinds of grief for giving it away. I had to wait until the reprint for it to be cheap enough to pick up again. Most of my girls like this game, including my wife, who has a pretty narrow range of games that she enjoys. It's in print again, so it's not hard to find.
So what's not so great about this game? The end can feel pretty anti-climactic. I love theme games, but I mostly enjoy the ones where I feel like I accomplished something at the end. In that respect, this game leaves me just a little flat. I feel more accomplishment in getting the wasabi cubes than I do the base points. If you're going to play this one, you might want to plan on playing a couple games in a row. There are a lot of tiles and cards to get put in the right place and shuffled. Putting it all back in the box isn't much fun either, but then I try to put everything back such that set-up isn't as big of a hassle next time. This game is a 7 hiding in 9's clothing. The look of the game made me expect more than this game can deliver. It's good in it's own right, but I just wanted a little something more. It maxes out at four players, so I can never play this with my whole family in one sitting. It still doesn't make me want to eat sushi. The game can look as attractive as it wants, but I'm still not eating raw fish! Beka's (12) Opinion: This game is just okay. It's not my favorite, and I get a little bored of it. Beka's rating: 6.5. Lindsay's (10) Opinion: I love this game! It's a lot of fun, and I like making sushi even though I don't want to eat it! Lindsay's rating: 8.5. Abby's (7) Opinion: This game is a lot of fun at first, but it's still a little long for me. (I was in the process of writing this review when Abby asked me to play with her. Unfortunately, she's easily distracted, so this one just didn't have a chance after we hit the 30 minute mark). Abby's rating: 7.5 Kristin's Opinion: I like playing this one two player, but feels a bit long with four. (My wife likes games that take 10-20 minutes) Kristin's rating: 8 My Opinion: Unfortunately, all the looks and awesome components in the world cannot make a good game great. I really wanted to love this game, but as it is, I just like it. I don't want to play this all the time, but occasionally I will request it. My rating: 7.
Final Opinion: We like this game for different reasons, but four out of five of us enjoy it enough to have it in the family rotation. Beka will play occasionally, but it more to do something with us than it is because she likes the game. I have found this game to be something that a lot of people love, a lot of people hate, and a lot of people feel indifferent about. You should probably try this before you buy it so you can evaluate it for yourself. Final rating: 7.5
Thanks for the review... still on the fence about whether to pick this up or not. Definitely sounds like a try-before-you-buy kind of thing.
It still doesn't make me want to eat sushi. The game can look as attractive as it wants, but I'm still not eating raw fish!
You're insane. Sushi is great. In fact I personally prefer sashimi, which for the uninitiated is just the raw fish part without all the rice and other accoutrements. Salmon, wasabi & soy sauce. Go try it!