[(Not) Actual Play Review] Sushi Go (Adventureland Games) / Brass (Tree Frog Games)

Erin and Katy (former housemates and would-be roleplayers of yore) have spent New Year’s Eve at the Castle von Von. As is their custom, they brought with them games, of a variety not often seen in these hallowed halls.

I’m not a big board game person. I like the idea of board gaming a lot more than I like most board games. They tend toward the ‘too abstract for me’ (most worker-placement/commodity-management Eurogames) or the ‘too clunky for me’ (the Fantasy Flight style franchise games).

But we persevere, because I do like getting people around a table and playing something that doesn’t have the prep requirement of an RPG, and because every so often, I stumble dick-first into actually liking one of these.

So, this week I’m shamelessly ripping off Erin’s review format and posting about five board games I’ve encountered over the New Year. Deal.

Today I’m taking on the two games I didn’t actually play, but either watched played or gave up on. As with Warmachine Mark III, this is less a review of the games and more a description of why they’re not for me, so if you came here for semi-objective commentary I advise you to hang on until I do Near & Far tomorrow.

Sushi Go!

I didn’t play Sushi Go! because it was late and I was tired and I’m not the sort of person whose idea of a between-games palate cleanser is… another game.

It’s a three round card-drafting game. It’s lightning fast, it’s piss-easy to play, it’s basically a competitive simulation of a simple situation (shovelling tasty fish derivatives into your fish derivative hole at a restaurant, only you’re fighting over them instead of waiting patiently for your order to come around like a proper gentle creature), and you can still play it while you’re wasted enough to unironically anime-squeal “Sashimi!” like you’re a fuckin’ magical girl calling her attacks.

(Incidentally, Hark squealed “SALMON NAGIRI!” into my mouth at midnight on New Year’s Eve. I really, really dislike salmon. The taste makes me urge and I always associate it with a particular kind of bourgie social climbing that pushes me the rest of the way. Reminding of salmon right before kissing me is not on, not at all. I am now accepting auditions for the role of Von’s New Wife.)

I don’t see the point in it but then I don’t see the point in sushi either. However, I can see why the ladies needed it after ninety minutes of trudging through the other game on the table today:

Brass

Or, as it’s known to its friends, Capitalism Simulator 1832.

Brass is… fuck it, I’m going to break with tradition and link to its Board Game Geek page, because I do not understand Brass at all. It has locations, and things you can build in them, and resources, some of which need to be moved in a simulationist manner, some of which don’t. It has cards, and you discard or play cards to do things. It has currency, and you spend currency to make currency. It has Victory Points, which for some reason don’t co-exist with currency even though it’s a capitalism simulator and surely accumulating the highest and steadiest income is the win condition.

I don’t know, okay? I tapped out on the first turn, having just about parsed the long-ass explanation of Canal and Rail phases and how the turn sequence worked and all that, but I had no idea how to convert these cards in my hand into actual solid actions on the map. Not just ‘no idea how to play well’ but ‘no idea of what I was playing for or what a viable play might look like’. The others made it to the end of the Canal Phase and then dropped it too.

Brass is one of those high-level micro-manage-one-aspect-of-a-civilisation games that operates on an abstract plane to which I just don’t have cognitive access. I felt like one of those poor Peter Principle fools who may be damn good chalkface teachers but then get promoted to headship and adminstration and suddenly their skill set doesn’t work any more.

In its defence, the odds were not in its favour. Brass was the last game we tried out, the hardest of the games we tried out, and the only one Katy (who generally teaches the rest of us how to play these things) hadn’t played before. It’s also the most ‘pure game’ – it has a theme, something to do with industrialising Lancashire by building mills and works and canals and railways everywhere, but it has that hardcore Eurogame vibe which suggests ‘theme’ is just ‘way of deciding what the icons look like’. Finally, and this is the most damning point against it, the developer felt obliged to include a two page letter clarifying that actually it’s not as hard as you seem to be making it, here’s how it’s supposed to work, the optimal first move is this but some people have had success doing that –

Look, mate, if you have to include something like that I guarantee you have over-developed this game. Some games have complexity and some have depth and some people, including developers, get them mixed up. I can understand issuing developer’s notes as errata, or to cover corner cases, but when you have to sit people down and hold their hand through making the very first choice in the game, you’ve done something wrong. That proverbial pudding isn’t over-egged. It’s just an egg. You’ve sprinkled cocoa on it and put it in a glass of brandy, but it’s still an egg.

I’m not predisposed towards games like Brass, but I suspect it’s not a well designed game even for people who are. What makes it all the more galling is that the same fella designed Discworld: Ankh-Morpork, which is a blinder of a game (and, now that I think about it, is better at being Lords of Waterdeep than Lords of Waterdeep is, probably because it gives you one static-state victory condition and doesn’t fuck around randomising everything else). I don’t know what he was on with this one.

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WHAT THE FUCK IS GOING ON HERE? (also thanks to Erin for the photo)
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Author: Jon

Sententious, mercurial, and British as a bilious lord. Recovering Goth, lifelong spod. Former teacher and amateur machine politician, now freelance writer and early-career researcher.

5 thoughts on “[(Not) Actual Play Review] Sushi Go (Adventureland Games) / Brass (Tree Frog Games)”

  1. Like you, I don’t like the idea of a light game between heavy games.

    It’s funny – for a few years there I was a hardcore gamer, but now we have this ludic culture and I have loads of friends and family who clearly actually enjoy playing games way more than I do, by temperament. An accident of upbringing had me playing D&D and Warhammer when I was ten, which let me into the gaming revolution early. Given the choice though, I’d rather read a book than play a game, and am totally happy painting up miniatures and never actually playing games with them.

    What I’m trying to say here is, thanks for the warning about Brass. If anyone ever breaks it our near me I actually will sit on the couch and read a book while the other people play it. I’ve done it before (two games of Catan in a row is enough for me thanks).

    1. I think when we talk about a ludic culture we risk blending a bunch of different pastimes with different levels and routes of engagement together, because they all happen to involve playing games in some capacity.

      The hobby you and I spend so much time banging on about has a whole array of activities which supplement actually playing the game, or are kind of tangential to it, and can even replace it entirely. ‘Gaming’ is only one of those four pillars GW likes to bang on about, after all. I own RPGs which I’ve read extensively and theorycrafted for but never actually played and probably never will, so I get you. There are people out there for whom the Forgotten Realms are a setting for (crap) fantasy novels, and they vaguely know something about a game, somewhere?

      When we look at board gaming, and some genres of video gaming, we see something that’s a lot more purist – it’s playable out of the box, and it’s its own entire sum. That tangential activity isn’t there. I can’t really imagine a Settlers of Catan tie-in novel, you know? The people in that culture are much more game-oriented than (most) Warhammer folks, although there are Warhammer folks who are a bit like them. They are not False Games and neither are they False Gamers, but to pretend that their pastime has cultural equivalence with something like Warhammer is pushing the proverbial boat a bit too far.

      Two games of anything is about my limit, if I’m honest. Spoiler for tomorrow’s post: I really like Near & Far, but I still wouldn’t want to blast through a whole four maps in a day. Oddly enough, it’s only PC games that really do that to me, and I think that’s the introverted streak in my character coming out. It’s not escapism so much as an opportunity to recharge and refocus, away from people and the myriad distractions of my otherwise wrecked attention span.

  2. “I think when we talk about a ludic culture we risk blending a bunch of different pastimes with different levels and routes of engagement together, because they all happen to involve playing games in some capacity.”

    That’s right. I mean they do all have a family resemblance – they’re all games. But I guess I was trying to say it’s interesting that someone like me would have been considered a “true gamer” a few years ago because I played these big intensive hobby games. And a few years before that just because I played video games at all and was an adult. Yet I think the people who are into board games are, as you pointed out, game purists who actually really like the part I can take or leave – the puzzling out, the competition, the actual game. In no way did I mean to say that board gamers are not real gamers. Quite the opposite I think. If anyone’s not a “real gamer” it’s me, playing Skyrim for an hour once a year, knocking out a few hours of D&D every now and then, and grudgingly joining in people’s Christmas Catan and Isle of Skye games when it’s no longer socially acceptable for me to sit on the couch and read or draw while they play.

    Eh, if I had a point it’s gone now. Maybe I was just making an observation about community attitudes towards games and gaming and how they change.

    1. Interestingly though, the board gamers I know who have never played an RPG or a TT war-game treat me as if I’m some sort of hardcore “real gamer” because I have/do play those things.

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