Game Overview: Sushi Roll, or You’ll Die for Another Serving to Go

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by W. Eric Martin

I don’t imagine that designer Phil Walker-Harding thought he’d be connected with sushi for the rest of his life when he self-published Sushi Go! in 2013, but here we are in 2019 with Sushi Go! being a staple title in the game industry, a go-to suggestion when someone wants to gift a game to a stranger or introduce a newcomer to modern games.

Sushi Go! is appealing to many people because it’s quick and easy to play; in each of three rounds, you pick up the cards dealt to you, choose one, reveal it and see what everyone else has chosen, pass the cards left, then choose again. You get a little surprise each turn, whether it’s in the cards you’ve been given or the discovery that someone else has taken the lead from you for the endgame pudding bonus. When a round ends, you score points for the sets and individual cards you’ve collected, giving everyone a chance to evaluate who’s in the lead and what you might want to do next round — assuming the cards work in your favor, of course.

Sushi Go Party! in 2016 expanded gameplay to eight players (instead of the game maxing out at five), and it included a catalog of card options that allowed you to customize the deck each game. Set-up time increased, yes, but so did the variety of the game experience.

For 2019, Walker-Harding and publisher Gamewright have released another tweak of the game system: Sushi Roll, a 2-5 player game that places the sushi on dice instead of cards. Gameplay is similar to Sushi Go! with players drafting dice over three rounds, scoring at the end of each round, then evaluating the pudding bonus at game’s end, but the introduction of dice over cards changes a few elements of the game.

First, the game lasts fewer turns, with players starting each round with 5-8 dice (based on the number of players) drawn at random from the bag. Instead of having maki cards that depict one or more rolls, you now have a maki die that depicts 1-3 maki on its six sides; instead of a three types of nigiri cards, you have three types of nigiri on one die. All the sides of all five types of dice are helpfully presented on the menu that lies in front of each player, letting you know the odds of what might come up a die.

At the start of the round, you roll your dice, place them on your personal conveyor belt card, then draft one die from this card into your personal tray. After each player has chosen one die, you rotate the conveyor belt cards left, roll all the dice you just received, then choose one die again, and you repeat this until all the dice have been chosen. Each player starts with chopstick tokens that let you yoink a die from someone else’s conveyor belt and replace it with one of your own and re-roll tokens that let you re-roll as many dice as you want on your conveyor belt before making your choice for the turn.

With dice replacing cards, the drafting choices are now open. When I pick a purple die with a tempura symbol, I can see how many other purple dice are in the game and where they are — which is important since I want to have some idea of how many such dice might be available to me over the course of the round — but I won’t know exactly what’s available to me on those dice since I have to roll them at the start of each turn. Sushi Roll replaces the mystery of which cards are being handed to you to which faces you’ll see on the dice, while also giving you tools that allow you to manipulate fate in your favor — well, at least some of the time because you might bomb out repeatedly on rolling the sashimi you need to complete a set.

All menus, conveyor belts, and dice fit in the bag, with the tokens needing a doggy bag of their own

The other big change that comes with using dice instead of cards is that players now draft sequentially instead of simultaneously, possibly giving you a chance to respond to what someone else does. If you’re leading someone in maki, which awards 6 points to whoever has the most rolls at the end of the round, and you each have a maki die on your belt, that player knows you can retake the lead if they choose it, so they might take something else. When you take a wasabi die, you place it on your tray, then place the next nigiri die you draft on top of it, tripling the value of that die — but you and everyone else can see where those nigiri are, and someone else might use chopsticks to take what you need before you get the chance to.

You can also use chopsticks to set up future turns, perhaps by swapping a die on your tray for a die on the player to your right. You’ll get the die you want right now from that other player, then that player will ship that die back to you on the next turn, giving you another chance to roll what you need.

I’ve played Sushi Roll four times on a review copy from Gamewright, and gameplay with two seems notably different from gameplay with three and four players. You use only 16 dice at a time with two players, with each of you of seeing everything available, and the choices seem to play out in a somewhat obvious manner.

With three players you have 21 dice in play and with four players 24, so with more players you have more dice in play, with the turn order mattering (since you’re not simply handing trays back and forth as in a two-player game) and with players competing for different things. It’s not just you and me fighting for both maki and pudding and sets, but now I’m competing with Alice for maki and Bob for pudding and Cecily for sets, so you’re pulled in multiple directions, while at the same time drafting fewer dice than in a two-player game, which makes each choice feel more important.

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