Before I introduce you to another board game, I wanted to give a little insight into contemporary games and their fans. After reading my reviews, you may be starting to think, “Hey! What’s wrong with the classics? I love my box of Monopoly!”
The answer is that there’s nothing inherently wrong with those games, but put it in the context of history. At the time these games were first published (1935 for Monopoly), they had some spark about them that caught the public’s imagination and they took off. Some may have found a new way to feature an old game mechanic, and others just matched the times. Monopoly, for example, came out in the midst of the Great Depression, when the idea of being able to buy and sell real estate freely had a certain appeal.
But the main drawback or complaint that “serious gamers” have with these games is generally about the game’s mechanics, often that they rely too much on luck and don’t require much (if any) skill. I mean, Chutes and Ladders is nice for kids, but it’s really just a game about rolling a die. Contemporary games on the other hand generally feature a host of choices for the player, putting an emphasis on skill. It’s this freedom of choice that attracts so many fervent fans of the European-style games.
So for today’s game let’s talk about one that offers a good amount of choice with a small dose of luck thrown in, building on the classic mechanic of games like Connect Four. It’s called Wasabi!
In this game you are a sushi chef, and your goal is to make a set number of recipes as quickly and accurately as possible. Recipes require between 2 and 5 ingredients, and you’ll need to do a mix of those to win the game, or achieve the best score when the sushi mat is filled.
The gameplay involves selecting and placing tiles that feature the various ingredients – everything from shrimp and salmon to rice and blowfish. There are a few rare items (like octopus) which appear only once each, and are all featured only in the 5-ingredient recipes. On your turn you place a tile and then select a new one to add back to your hand. Along the way you attempt to complete 1 or more of the 3 recipe cards in your “menu.” Once you complete one, you get to score it, take a new recipe, and select a bonus card.
To complete a recipe, you need to get all the ingredients in your recipe in one row (horizontal or vertical) on the board. You can build off of what other players have put down, but the last tile placed to complete a recipe must be your own. Scoring is simple, with smaller recipes earning less points. But if you are able to get the ingredients in the same order as they appear on your card, you have completed the recipe “with style” and get to take a number of green wasabi cubes to add to your cute little dish; each cube is worth 1 point. If a player completes all his required recipes first, he automatically wins. But if the game ends by the board being filled, the player with the most points (between recipes and wasabi cubes) wins.
The complications arise with those bonus cards, which offer you extra actions to take on your turn. You can either go with Spicy (play 2 tiles), Switch (switch 2 adjacent tiles), Stack (place one tile on another), or Chop (remove the top tile from a stack, or a solo tile). This layering and moving around of tiles is what keeps things interesting, as you must plan ahead – you get just one action with a bonus card, and then must return it, and can’t hold more than 2 bonus cards at any time. There is also the dreaded Wasabi card, which is placed on the board to cover up 4 spaces. That can either be used offensively to block your opponents from playing in key areas, or perhaps to accelerate the game towards its end if you think you’re winning.
And that’s it! It’s a simple game that’s easily learned and doesn’t take long to play. It offers enough variety and skill to please “serious gamers” but is accessible enough that anyone (even kids!) can enjoy it. My only concern with the game is that everyone’s score is displayed on the table, so there’s not much mystery as to who is winning. A new house rule we’ve instituted is that you hide your wasabi cubes behind your menu, thus keeping at least that much a secret.
Wasabi! is a good match for players at all levels of experience in gaming. It is designed for 2-4 players and works well with all those sizes. This is a short game, which should take only 45 – 60 minutes. Wasabi! is published by Z-Man Games.
I hope you’re enjoying these game reviews, because I’m having fun writing them. And I’ve got a lot more games to trot out in front of you (hooray for Christmas and my birthday!). Good gaming to you!