We played a couple of games of Wasabi on Tuesday evening. Z-Man games recently published it and Matt as been demoing their various games. He also brought a copy of Start Player which consists of a set of cards each with a different bizarre rule used to determine the starting player of any game. Rules look like "The player wearing the most make-up is the starting player" or "The player who most recently bathed is the starting player." That was goofy and a little more campy than I like. I comes with an over-large wooden meeple to mark the starting player. I hated it immediately.
In any case, Wasabi's a kind of area control/placement game. You draw recipes and try to get your ingredients out on the board next to one another in a line. If you put them out in the order shown on the card, you get extra points. Obviously, getting the ingredients in order for the larger recipes becomes difficult as the game wears on and the board fills. There's a limited number of tiles for each ingredient and some special action cards which affect the game. Having played it, I can see a few rules changes which would be needed in order to make the game more accessible (the ability to take an action to discard a recipe you can't ever fill, being able to select from a couple of recipes when drawing, etc).
It feels like it could be a good gateway game, ala Carcassone. I enjoyed game, but not as much the play. I think there's a distinction there worth exploring. The game itself is lovely: the board is elegant, the tiles are graphically well-produced, the pieces are printed on nice and heavy cardboard, you get little sake bowls to keep scoring cubes (bright green like wasabi) in, you conceal your play area with a menu sheet that has pockets for the recipes you've drawn. All of that makes for a game which is a pleasure to look at. I think that could be an excellent lure for new gamers-- especially since they've put it at a reasonable price point (as opposed to Heads of State which they released at the same time-- I'm not paying $70 for a board game...no.)
But much of the pleasure of my experience comes from the aesthetics of the design and production. The game itself isn't a grabber for me. That's got me thinking about games that come from that direction and one's that come from the other end, bad production and design but a decent game. I know a lot of people talked about Cheapass Games as the Holy Grail of that latter kind of game. But in my experience, the games were rarely that great-- even setting aside questions of the production quality. Neuland, another from Z-Man, is a game I like but which has some horrible design decisions. The game and the choices it presents, OOH, is very strong.
I think I need to look at the games I like (or dislike) and try to measure the basis for my opinion-- how much is weighted into what areas.