Full disclosure: A review copy of Kushi Express was provided by Mandoo Games.
We’re cranking now! I’m actually starting to get back ahead on these games, a place that I will immediately vacate as soon as the triple play of BGG.CON, Thanksgiving, and PAX Unplugged rear their heads to defeat me one final time. I’ve made my peace with that, though. In the meantime, there are plenty of games to cover, so … might as well get to that again with another game from Mandoo! They’ve been crushing it this year, so excited to see how Kushi Express plays.
In Kushi Express, you’re skewering up a storm to rapidly fill kushi (a Japanese BBQ skewer) orders as they’re coming in. Naturally, your customers are particular, but so are your opponents. People are hungry and they don’t care who feeds them, but you unfortunately want to get paid. What a shame! Will you be able to fulfill enough kushi orders to remain afloat in this competition? Or are you, too, going to end up getting skewered?
Alright, the first thing you gotta do is break out your ingredients:
Give each player a set of cubes, a skewer, and the cheese / bacon strips. Shuffle up the orders:
One of the cards says “CLOSED” on it. Deal the top five cards into a stack, shuffle the CLOSED card into that stack, and then put it on the bottom of the pile.
Set the plate in the middle of the play area:
Once you’ve done that, you’re ready to start!
So you’re gonna love this. Or maybe just I will who knows? You’re competing kushi chefs making kushi as quickly as possible, which means that you’re going to be cranking these out in real time. Slap ingredients together, put them on the plate, and score! The player with the most points by closing wins!
Every round, the player who scored last flips the top card of the stack. Players then immediately start making the matching kushi. Generally, they come in one of three kinds:
- Just ingredients: These are just ingredient cubes on the skewer. It exists.
- Split wraps: Two ingredients are split by cheese or bacon.
- Single wraps: An ingredient is completely wrapped by cheese or bacon.
As soon as you complete the kushi, place it on the plate in the center to score it! The first person to place scores.
If you flip a Touting Card (the one with the Chef on it), the first player to stand up and say / yell “KUSHI!” may take a card of their choice from one of their opponents.
Once the closing card is revealed, the game immediately ends! The player with the most points wins!
Player Count Differences
There aren’t really any. At every level, you’re competing to be first, so you don’t really care about anyone who could potentially be second, third, or fourth. You just want to be … first. The only big thing is that at two players, I remove the Touting Cards since they’re kind of just “steal the other player’s highest value card”, which seems a bit silly. Either way, scaling upwards with player count isn’t a huge deal (though there’s occasionally more violent collisions around the plate), so I’d say I don’t have a huge preference for this game at any particular play count.
- Figure out a physical strategy. It’s a very light dexterity game, so, I can’t give you a lot of advice, but many players do different things to try and enhance their overall speed. Some players try to pre-wrap some cubes (I don’t think that really works), some players keep their wrappers slightly off the table to make them easier to grab (this works a bit better). I personally keep my finger on the hole of the cube so that I can feel when the skewer is passing through the cube so that I don’t miss the hole. That and I usually have the skewer in my hand at all times for expediency. This drops a lot of time from my skewering, which is really helpful. Also, generally, I just kind of give up on the “skewer a single cube” cards. I have almost no luck getting those.
- If you get a Touting Card, take the highest-value card. I think the only thing that would work is if you’re trying to keep your closest rival down and you take their highest card. That said, I’d still usually recommend going after your highest-value card.
Pros, Mehs, and Cons
- Love the components. It’s a skewer-making game. What’s not to love? It helps that you’ve got fabric-y cheese and bacon and rubbery skewer bits. The whole thing is extremely good, component-wise. It helps that it’s really colorful, as well, so the entire game looks good.
- Very nice art. No surprise from Vincent Dutrait, but always appreciated. I’m kind of hoping they get him for a blue game next, so I have a nice collection of colorful game boxes.
- Plays super quickly. As you would expect from a real-time game, it’s not a particularly long one.
- Very silly. I mean, it’s speed skewers. Everyone laughs while they’re doing it. It’s a great game to sit around and cheer people with.
- Easy to learn. I mean, it’s pretty much just “here is a picture of a skewer. Make it.”. That’s not too bad.
- It might be nice to have a common iconography rather than just a picture of what the kushi should look like. I think that would help a lot of players not miss things like the ordering of the cubes or whether or not it’s supposed to be totally or partially wrapped.
- I frequently worry the holes are too small. I’m concerned someone’s going to rip the fabric at some point. It’s already decently stretched after 7 or so games, and I’m pretty sure the end result is that someone is going to destroy it. A bit bigger hole and more durable fabric might prevent this catastrophe from coming to pass, but, who knows.
- More structure to the Touting Cards would be nice. It’s kind of not-great to just get to steal someone’s most valuable card, but that might just be my dislike of take-that talking. The thing is, usually if there’s a player in the clear lead in a speed game, they’re probably not going to be hurt by this card. They’ll just use it to gain even more points. I usually remove them with new players.
- The insert could use some work. It would be nice to have a very obvious place to put the cards and the skewers. Currently, I’m sliding them under the insert and hoping for the best.
Overall: 8.75 / 10
Overall, I really enjoy Kushi Express. As far as dexterity games go, I’m always down for those, but adding in the real-time component really elevates it, for me. That, and the fun theme and components. I was originally going to note that if there’s a clear skill gap the game seems to be less fun, but then I played it with Bebo and got absolutely slaughtered and still loved it, so, maybe that’s less true than I thought? It was wild. I think this is a really interesting speed game because of the times you’re weaving components around each other rather than just stacking or pushing things together. That’s a different skill, in my mind, than just stacking purely. I like the balance between those a lot, and I think the speed element really puts that to the test in a fun way. Plus, kitchen games are almost always a fun time for me; I really like cooking as a theme and I wish it were part of more games. Naturally, the take-that component of the game doesn’t go over particularly well with me, to nobody’s surprise, but I do wish the insert were a bit more robust for easy storage (though it’s not bad). That and I’m scared someone’s going to tear the cheese or the bacon. Either way, I’ve really had fun with Kushi Express, and if you’re looking for a solid real-time title with some fun dexterity elements, I think you will probably enjoy it too!