Interview with Australian designer, Phil Walker-Harding on his newest game, Sushi Go Party! For 2-8 players, “Sushi Go Party!, an expanded version of the best-selling card game Sushi Go!, is a party platter of mega maki, super sashimi, and endless edamame. You still earn points by picking winning sushi combos, but now you can customize each game by choosing à la carte from a menu of more than twenty delectable dishes. What’s more, up to eight players can join in on the sushi-feast. Let the good times roll!”

Phil, it has been a while since we last did an interview (which was done in 2014 on Sushi Go! and can be found on BGG) – so we are glad to be able to talk to you again. Right out the gate we have to talk this year’s Spiel Des Jahres. Last year, Cacao received a great recommendation from the committee, but this year you received a nomination for the 2016 award, for your game Imhotep. That has to feel great.  Was this a surprise to you? Did you even have a clue that Imhotep was being looked at as a nominee for this years Spiel Des Jahres?

 Yes, it really felt great to receive the nomination, especially alongside two games as excellent as Codenames and Karuba! I knew that Imhotep had been getting pretty good reviews in Germany, and I had seen a few German gaming forums talk about it as a possible nominee. But it was still a great surprise!

What are some games that are hitting your table lately?

Phil:  Lately I have been enjoying quite a few social deduction games such as Spyfall, Mascarade and of course One Night Ultimate Werewolf. I think this type of social interaction is a really fascinating design space I would love to explore. I have also been playing quite a lot of 7 Wonders Duel and Patchwork, which I think are excellent 2-player games.

Your newest game, Sushi Go Party! is finally making its way to stores. For those not familiar with the Sushi Go! games could you tell us a little bit about what type of game it is and give us an overview on how it is played?

Phil:  Sushi Go! is a very simple “pick and pass” drafting game, where hands of cards are passed around the table and the players choose one to keep each turn. There are different types of sushi cards which score in different ways such as collecting sets or having the most of a type. Sushi Go Party! has the same gameplay as the original but is greatly expanded. The game has a variable setup with 22 different card types. So every game you get to choose which cards you would like to play with. It is also playable from 2-8 players and comes with a board to keep score on!

Why did you decide to re-look at Sushi Go! and make a new version of it? Also, if we already own a copy of Sushi Go! what makes Sushi Go Party! Something that we will want to buy?

Phil:  After Sushi Go! did well, I really wanted to design something new for the game. I had 3 ideas: an expansion for up to 8 players, an expansion with more card types, and a whole new “big box” sequel. In the end I decided to combine all 3 ideas into one project! So Sushi Go Party! basically takes the gameplay structure of the original and explores and expands it in every direction.

In the game desserts have a new rule that wasn’t in the original Sushi Go!. In the original, the dessert (in that case Pudding) was just shuffled in to the deck at the start of the game like all the rest of the cards. Now in Sushi Go Party! you shuffle in a certain amount of dessert cards at the start of each round. Why the change and what does it bring to the gameplay?

Phil:  I wanted the game to be playable with up to 8, but to do this using the original rules of Sushi Go! would require a huge deck of cards! The solution to this problem was to reshuffle the scored cards back into the deck each round so they can be re-used. In order for this structure to work for desserts though, they need to be added into the deck gradually each round. This prevents the problem of most of the desserts being taken in the first round, with few left for rounds 2 and 3. In other words, it basically simulates having the dessert cards evenly distributed throughout a bigger deck.

Sushi Go Party! is coming with the all card types that were originally found in Sushi Go! along with the Soy Sauce promo. However, there are many new card types – could you share with us some of the new types?

Phil:  There are now 3 types of rolls, such as uramaki, which make the players race to collect 10 rolls.

There are 8 appetizers, such as eel, which gives you negative points if you have only 1, but scores well if you have 2 or more. There are 8 special cards, such as tea, which scores you a point per card in your biggest set of 1 colour. Finally, there are 3 desserts, such as green tea icecream, which scores big if you can collect 4 of them across the whole game.

How did you decide what new dishes were going to be in the game? And a follow up to that if I may, when making the new dishes/food cards did the theme or the mechanics come first?

Phil:  I had many ideas for cards, and really just had to find the ones which worked best through lots and lots of playtesting! In most cases, a scoring idea came to me first and then I tried to match a food type to it. However, there were a few types of food that I really wanted to be in the game, and they suggested their own scoring rules to a degree.

What is your favorite new card to play?

Phil:  I think my favourite new card is spoon. It is a special card that allows you to take a card from any hand around the table. It really opens up the decision space in the round, and can also let you pull off some of the really hard combos!

In the game, we see Green Tea make an appearance as a card type. Was that influenced at all by your brother, David (game designer and publisher behind Grail Games) – who is such a big tea fan that he has designed two tea games – Elevenses and Matcha?

Phil:  Actually both the tea card and green tea ice cream are names that Gamewright came up with! I originally themed these cards differently.

Sushi Go Party! Is really all about customization – do you have a favorite card set-up to play?

Phil:  In the rules, we have included some pre-set menu combinations for players to try out. These are the ones that I found to be most enjoyable. It really depends on player count, but one of my favourites would be “master menu” which includes temaki, onigiri, tofu, sashimi, spoon, takeout box and fruit.

This is your second time working with Gamewright (who is publishing the game), what has been your favorite part of working with them?

Phil:  I love working with Gamewright because I think we share a similar gaming philosophy. We both love to make games that are accessible, colourful and fun for wide ranges of people to play together.

When you were still prototyping Sushi Go Party!, what was the best piece of feedback you received from a playtester?

Phil:  Playtesting Sushi Go Party! was all about watching the players to see which cards they got excited about playing, and which cards they more or less ignored. For example, when I saw how happy players were when they got to shout out “spoon!” and take a card to complete their sashimi set, I knew that the spoon card was working. On the other hand, quite a few desserts that I tried left players disinterested. If a player ever said “I just didn’t bother going after that card”, I knew it had to be reconsidered.

What was your favorite part of designing Sushi Go Party?

Phil:  About halfway through designing new cards I realised that what I was doing was coming up with something like an encyclopedia of scoring rules! It was almost like a theoretical game design challenge – what are all the possible ways that simple cards can be used to score points? Set collection, majorities, triangular scoring, collecting unique cards, I tried to get it all in! Working out all the different permutations was lots of fun and also led me to revisit and explore many games I love from other designers.

What was the most challenging part of designing it?

Phil:  Definitely it was coming up with new types of rolls and desserts. Rolls cards score by comparing something to all the other players. Coming up with new and interesting scoring rules was really tricky here. Desserts are longer term scoring cards which are collected across the whole game. I thought these would be easy to design, but they posed a real challenge to get right. It was all about finding cards that are both new and interesting, but also create a sense of urgency. They had to seem desirable in comparison to all the cards that score immediately.

What is one thing we haven’t covered today that you think fans of Sushi Go Party! would find interesting?

Phil:  There is a great sushi restaurant near where I live here in Sydney. Two cards in the game were inspired by my experiences eating there. First, my wife Meredith loves to order edamame as a starter to share with the table. This gave me the idea for a card which scores based on how many other players have collected it. Second, I think when tofu is cooked well it is really tasty. But often I find that by the end of a meal if it is starting to get cold I like it a lot less. This gave me the idea for a card which scores zero if you have 3 or more!

Speaking of edamame. Both the edamame and spoon cards cannot be played in the 2-player game. Do you think in the future, you would release a promo or expansion that included a card type that can only be used with 2-players? 

Phil:  It is possible, but I think the 2 player game is probably better served by rules variants. The rules for the original game included a 2 player variant with a dummy hand, and a few more variants have been suggested on BoardGameGeek. These can help the 2 player game feel a bit more surprising and competitive.

Will we be seeing any other Sushi Go! games in the future – maybe something other than cards –perhaps tiles or dice or dexterity element?

Phil:  Yes, there is more sushi on the way! I have designed another Sushi Go! spin-off, but I can’t say too much about it yet. I also have more cards designed for Sushi Go Party! should an opportunity for more content come up there.

Do you have any other games releasing in 2016 that we should be on the lookout for?

Phil:  The first expansion to Cacao will be released in English later in the year. My other new game is Imhotep, which has also just been released in English by Kosmos. No other announcements to report just yet!

As we wrap this up, is there anything else you would like to add?

Phil:  Thanks to everyone who has played Sushi Go! and shared it with their friends and family. It is wonderful to hear about people playing it all around the world!

Thanks Phil for taking the time to do this interview with us.