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One Good Thing: The impish joy of the board game Sushi Go Party!

This holiday season, Sushi Go Party! may be the best solution to big gatherings or cabin fever.

The cover of Sushi Go Party!
Sushi Go Party! is a great board game that can be played with many players as easily as it can just a few.
Emily St. James was a senior correspondent for Vox, covering American identities. Before she joined Vox in 2014, she was the first TV editor of the A.V. Club.

Many board games are best when there are just four people at the table. While the instructions might say a game can be played by two people or six people, something is often lost when the game scales up or down.

Great games explicitly designed for two or three players are tricky to find, but it’s possible to do if you know what you’re looking for. Great games for five or six are harder still. And if you want to go above six, forget about it. At that point, you’re in the territory of things like Apples to Apples or Cards Against Humanity, where the fun is less in strategy and more in trying to make everybody at the table laugh.

Far be it from me to say that making all of your friends and relatives laugh is a bad goal, but I’m always on the lookout for a game that’s perfect to play with a group as large or as small as you want. For those occasions, I always turn to Sushi Go Party! The game offers just enough strategy and just enough pure luck that it will be fun for almost anyone, no matter their play style, and it’s maybe the only game I’ve consistently found to be as fun for any group size. (I recommend Party because it features special rules for small or large groups. The original Sushi Go! is best with a group of four.)

At its heart, Sushi Go Party! is a bit like gin rummy. You are trying to form combinations out of a hand of cards to score more points than the other players at the table. Some combinations are easier to attain than others, but the number of points you’ll get for those trickier combinations is much higher as well. The cards all have adorable drawings of various items on the menu at a sushi restaurant, though you might not want to think too much about, say, your sashimi having googly eyes and a winning smile the next time you order sushi.

A shot of the various cards and other pieces of the game Sushi Go Party!
Just look at how cute those little sushi guys are!

What makes the game unique, however, is that your hand is never the same hand. After you select a card and play it on the table in front of you, where everyone can see it, you pass the hand clockwise to the person next to you, then take the hand of the person on the other side. The idea is to replicate the sushi traveling around on a revolving path, like on a conveyer belt. If you don’t grab the tempura you want right now, someone else might grab it as it goes around the circle, especially if they see that you want it and that it’s vital to your point-scoring strategy.

Since the number of cards in each hand is fixed and since everybody is playing one card per turn, the number dwindles the longer the round goes on. (There are three rounds in total in a game.) So if your friend plays that nigiri card you let go a couple of turns ago in the hope it might find its way back to you, you’d better have a backup strategy for scoring points. It’s just the right combination of cute and cutthroat, so you can have fun competing with friends, but things will never get too harried.

Notably, Sushi Go Party! offers a wide variety of different kinds of play. Once you’ve got the basic rules down, the game’s instructions provide a variety of different setups for many potential experiences. One setup is ideal for just two players, and another works best with seven or eight. One is great for those who want to strategize, and another is great for those who want to score lots and lots of points.

This sheer number of potential setups is what takes the game from something enjoyable to one that I bring to almost every gathering I go to. It plays just as well if it’s just my wife and me as it does if her entire family will be joining us. Sushi Go Party! has grown beyond its humble roots as a board game mostly known to hobbyists to a place where you can purchase it in most major big-box stores. Most of the time, when a game pulls off that journey, that’s because it’s a really well-designed game and because it does something few other games out there can.

Sushi Go Party! is, yes, a very well-designed game (I’ve probably played it several dozen times, and I still enjoy it). But it’s also one of the single best games out there to break out at almost any occasion, because no matter your group, there will be a way to find a variation of this game that will fit.

Also, the little anthropomorphic sushi drawings are just unbearably cute. I can’t get enough of them.

Sushi Go Party! is available on Amazon. For more recommendations from the world of culture, check out the One Good Thing archives.

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