Review of Sushi Boat, a surprisingly competitive game about eating sushi

Sushi Boat is fantastic looking game with over the top component quality and a very fun theme, that is also more unforgiving than we expected.

Japanime Games has created one of the most overproduced, but very awesome, games with Sushi Boat, a game about attending an all you can eat sushi bar and attempting to try the widest variety of things, including both sushi and side dishes.

Disclosure: Thanks to Japanime Games for giving us a review copy of Sushi Boat. Links below may be affiliate links. As an Amazon Associate, we earn from qualifying purchases.

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What is Sushi Boat all about?

The box cover for Sushi Boat from Japanime Games.

Sushi Boat was designed by Dario Massarenti and Francesco Testini, features mouthwatering artwork from Eveen Kwan, and was published by Japanime Games in 2023 after a rather successful Kickstarter.

This is an all you can eat sushi-bar inspired board game that plays two to five players with games taking anywhere from half an hour to an hour and a half depending on the player count. While the concept and mechanics here are quite simple, and the theme is silly and light, Sushi Boat has a very tight economy and can be quite unforgiving.

The very cool wooden board from the board game Sushi Boat

The goal of Sushi Boat is to eat the most different kinds of sushi you can along with earning bonus points for eating from the same coloured plates. This will be harder than you think as you can never look through your plate stack. You have to remember what you ate, and also remember to watch the plates on the board for when a wasabi challenge comes up!

In Sushi Boat, players are patrons of an all you can eat, conveyor belt style, sushi restaurant. Each turn new sushi is added to the awesome wooden conveyor board and players will, in turn, select a seat, take an action, and then eat some sushi. Actions include tipping the staff for bonuses, ordering side dishes, which can be eaten for special actions, and earning a bit of yen.

Some of the ridiculous components you get with Sushi Boat.

The first thing anyone is going to notice about Sushi Boat is the over the top production quality. This game really is top of the line and features some things we’ve never seen in a game before. This includes the wooden conveyor board, the chopstick holder style component box, an actual ceramic plate that holds the wasabi cubes, a plastic money tray for your yen, wooden pawns, plastic plates with dome like sushi stickers on them, and more.

The card quality here is great and the rulebook is one of the most clear I’ve ever read. As an added bonus there’s even a two sided menu sheet that explains what all of the different types of sushi are.

An overview of how to play Sushi Boat

All set up for a four player game of Sushi Boat from Japanime Games

You start a game of Sushi Boat by putting the wooden board out and filling it with sushi, making sure to leave the white plates out of the bag until this is done. You also take out three extra plates as the starting garbage stack. The staff tiles are randomized and tiles are placed at five of the seat locations, one on top of the board and four along the outside edge.

Next you set up the side dish deck, removing some cards based on the player count and shuffling in the four Wasabi Challenge cards (with a small stack of cards on top of this to make sure a challenge doesn’t happen until every player has taken one turn).

Each player takes a mat, the matching coloured pawn, and two yen from the supply. If using the optional Menu Card rules, each player is dealt two menus, they choose one to keep and return the other to the box. The remaining menus cards form a deck that is placed by the board.

Where you it in Sushi Boat determines whether you can use a staff member action and what sushi plate you will take.

Each turn in Sushi Boat starts with the active player flipping up the next side dish card. Each card will indicate how much sushi is added to the conveyor belt. Either just enough to fill the track or enough so that one plate goes off the end and is placed onto the garbage stack.

Next the player picks where to sit. The options available are based on the player count and if a player wants a spot that’s already taken then can pay that player one yen to take their spot.

Once seated, the player takes one action. The simplest version of this is to take one yen from the bank, or instead they can buy the face up side dish card (which costs one yen).

If they buy a side dish card, the card is placed into their hand and can be played at any time on their future turns. In addition the players who ate the most and second most side dishes will earn end game points.

The various staff tiles in Sushi Boat, a sushi eating strategy game with awesome components.

Another possible action is to spend one yen to meet with the staff. You have to be sitting at a seat next to a staff member and each one does something different. Neko lets you take a plate out of the trash (gross), Satsuki lets you take two plates from the bag and place one on the top or bottom of your plate stack, Sakura gives you one wasabi cube, etc.

There are also a couple of special actions you can take that won’t use up your one action per turn. When using the menu rules, you can pay one yen to take two more menu cards and choose one to keep. You also always have the option of paying one yen to place a special order, which lets you place one plate onto the sushi conveyor and move everything down one.

After taking your one action you then get to eat sushi! Take the plate next to where you are sitting and add it to the growing stack on your player mat. Note you never get to look through your plates, you need to try to remember what you’ve already eaten.

Wasabi Challenge Time!

Play then passes to the next player who flips up the next side dish card. Mixed in with the side dishes are four wasabi challenge cards. When one of these comes up play stops and you play a little mini game. The conveyor board has a tunnel, under that tunnel will always be two plates no one can see.

In a wasabi challenge, players get two wasabi cubes and bet on what colour the plates currently in the tunnel are. After everyone has placed their bets, sushi is added to the conveyor until you the two hidden plates are revealed. Players who got either, or both, of their guesses correct get to keep those wasabi cubes which are worth one point each.

The game continues until a player flips over the last side dish card. At that point, they finish their turn as normal and then everyone totals their points.

A stack of plates from a two player game of Sushi Boat

Points are first awarded for your plate colours, with each player getting N-1 points where n is the number of the same plates in the same colour stacked in a row. Note that white plates don’t count towards your score here but they also don’t break a chain.

Next, everyone unstacks their plates and separates them by sushi type and everyone gets points based on the variety of sushi types they have eaten. Finally, everyone gets one point per wasabi cube they have collected.

When you are using the menu rules, players who have completed any of their menus score the points shown on them. The player with the most points wins!

Sushi Boat is not the light silly fun game we expected it to be

Playing Sushi Boat with the family

With the theme of eating as much sushi and side dishes as you can, abilities like having a cat go dumpster diving, and the entire Wasabi Challenge thing, I expected Sushi Boat to be a silly family weight game and I was wrong.

While the theme is awesome, and it can be quite fun, this is a rather unforgiving game, especially when you uses the optional menu rules. It also gets more difficult the more people you are playing with. Once you have four or five players at the table, you will find that you can’t get enough turns and won’t end up collecting nearly as many plates of sushi as you might expect.

When we first played Sushi Boat at the GAMA Expo, I thought we played a demo game, a game that had the side dish deck reduced in size so that the game would be over quicker. The main complaint of the players that took part in that game was that many of the menu goal cards we had were impossible to complete. I thought this was because it was a shortened demo game, but I now know that wasn’t the case, we played a full game with five players.

That’s not an exaggeration. There is simply no way to complete some of the menu cards are certain player counts. During that demo play at GAMA Expo, folks at the table agreed that it was because we were playing a demo and we even suggested to the person who taught us the game that they not use the menu cards in future demos because of that.

This particular menu card from Sushi Boat is rather easy to complete vs. some of the other ones.

A few weeks later, when I finally got my own copy to the table at home, we ran into the same problem again and again. Even if the menu cards you get aren’t impossible, they are pretty close. To be able to score most of them you have to play perfectly, you can’t take a single plate of the wrong colour and you can’t waste a single yen.

This is also true for when you are trying to get a full set of sushi. There are seven types of sushi and you are going to eat one a turn. In a five player game you only get six turns total, which means you are going to have to use the staff members at least once to get extra plates and your memory of what you’ve already eaten had better be right.

There is no room for errors in Sushi Boat and that’s not what I want I really want from a game with such a great theme and family friendly appeal. The thing is, this only applies at the higher player counts. With less players you get more turns and more chances to use the staff to get extra plates.

A full set of sushi from a game of Sushi Boat

In my last two player game I had collected fourteen plates by the end of the game, almost made at least two complete sets of sushi, and easily completed my menu card. My opponent, Gwen, managed to complete two out of three Menu cards and only missed out on the last one because of a memory error.

Looking into it, there seems to be something wonky that happened between when the game was initially Kickstarted and when the game was produced and I wonder if that had an impact on this.

On the Kickstarter it notes that you get two actions every turn instead of one, but eating sushi is an action. That’s a subtle change that could affect how many plates people can and will eat. I also noticed that the menu cards were a stretch goal and because of that I think they may not have been playtested as much as the rest of the game.

I strongly feel that you shouldn’t use the menu cards when playing with five players. Either that or that the cards should have a suggested player count on them, with a selection removed when playing with four and a further selection removed if playing with five.

Playing Sushi Boat at a local coffee shop with the family.

The other big potential concern with Sushi Boat is the memory aspect. You need to remember what you’ve eaten, you also need to keep track of which plates are under the tunnel at all time for a potential wasabi challenge. With the addition of the menu cards, you may also be trying to keep track of who has eaten the most of one or more types of sushi, etc. That’s a lot of things to try to keep in your head.

The disadvantage to of all of this remembering, is that it makes people need to focus on the game, sometimes intently, which may not be something you want for family game night.

This is not a game where players will be chatting and laughing and having fun between their turns because they can’t afford to get too distracted. Players are constantly having to watch the game and keep things in their head. I’ve found that most games of Sushi Boat we have played, the players are almost silent except when describing what they are doing and what actions they are taking. It’s only after a wasabi challenge that people loosen up and the laughter sometimes spills out.

Sushi Boat is much more enjoyable with three or less players than with a bigger group.

Now I realize I’ve been a bit harsh so far but, I think these criticisms are what people need to know if they are considering picking up Sushi Boat.

Overall, even with these potential problems, I have enjoyed playing Sushi Boat, even at the higher player counts. I just didn’t love it. It wasn’t until I tried the game with only two players that I found the game I was initially looking for.

Sushi Boat does look fantastic, and you really appreciate the deluxe components when playing. I love the tink sound as you add wasabi cubes to the ceramic bowl, the coin plate is great for passing around the table so players can take their own yen, the entire wooden boat conveyor system is pretty awesome and I love the way the plates of sushi look.

The visual nature of this game has proved to be great for public play events.

Sushi boat has been a hit at our local public play game nights.

Sushi Boat was one of the most played games at one of our Brews & Board Games event at the Walkerville Brewery. I knew it would catch people’s attention so had it set up from the start of the evening and I personally walked three groups through the game.

I really dig the overall feel of the game and the way the mechanics tie well into the theme. Sure there’s some odd stuff like swapping seats, using an action to gain a yen (what, are you going in the back and doing some dishes?), and the side dish abilities really have nothing to do with what foods on them, but the entire concept of tipping the staff for bonuses, collecting different coloured plates, trying everything you can, and even having the biggest wasabi pile, all bring to mind that feeling of being at a sushi conveyor restaurant.

The fact Sushi Boat is so thematic also makes it easy to teach. People get the concept of picking a seat, then perhaps ordering a side dish and then eating a plate of sushi. People are amused when I say “just like at a real all you can eat sushi place, it can be hard to remember what you’ve eaten” when explaining the rule about never looking through your plates.

Things like including a tuck box for the cards is what makes Sushi Boat really stand out component quality wise.

I’ve also found the rules stick in people’s heads and I think it’s because of this thematic tie in. I’ve brought the game out with my family with a month or more between games and we were all able to jump back in right away.

While Sushi Boat wasn’t quite what I wanted at first, I knew I had a solid game on my hands. It is a game that’s more difficult to play well than I expected, which can be a good thing for players who like highly competitive play. It is a game where you can outplay your opponents and feel like you earned that victory.

For groups that aren’t quite as competitive, there’s still fun to be had here, but make sure you stick to the lower player counts. Finally, for the most family friendly experience leave those menu cards out of the game.

The big thing to watch for is that Sushi Boat is not a party game, a silly family weight game, or a kids’ game. While the theme and art may make you think of light silly fun, there are a lot of hard decisions here, and the memory element really removes that lets hang out and play a frivolous game about sushi feel that I expected.

I’m glad we’ve got a copy of Sushi Boat and I expect to keep bringing it out to our local public play events. For those events, I will probably restrict the games to four players or less. I’m also going to try a few things to make the game more forgiving and fun, like taking out less side dish cards (thus giving everyone one more turn), and removing some of the harder menu cards.

Do you have any house rules for your games? What’s a game you’ve felt the need to change up, even if just a bit, to make if more fun for your group? Let me know about it in the comments!

Sushi Boat
Gorgeous and eye-catching art, and high-quality components, including with delicious looking sushi dishes and a dynamic, wooden game board that changes as sushi is eaten and added.
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