Tuesday 17 October 2017

Cardboard - Hanamikoji Review

Just an ordinary Saturday night in, waving teapots at geisha and trying to be more charming than everyone else in Hanamikoji, a two-player card game that packs a big punch (mainly to your poor little brain) for such a small game. It's too pretty for a boring box-shot, so everyone pretend this is lovely cherry blossom, okay?

Shh, I was trying to be artsy...

I've bumbled on before (in my Yamatai review) about how much I love Japan-themed games and how so far I haven't come across one I didn't like. A bit like doughnuts, really. So when Esdevium Games offered me a copy of Hanamikoji to look at, I may have been ever-so-slightly excited to discover a new potential addition to the collection.

Opening the little box you're greeted by minimal components of good quality, beautiful artwork (by Maisherly Chan) and a super-slim rulebook that is clearly laid out and easy to digest, helped by the simplicity of the design. The game is made up of 7 Geisha cards, 21 Item cards, 8 action markers and 7 victory markers. (Also in my case, oddly enough, mysterious Disney Princess box lining... Recycling, perhaps? Yay!)

As the owner of a traditional restaurant on Hanamikoji Street, Kyoto, you're working to earn the favour of the seven geisha masters, attracting them to perform at your establishment and hopefully boost business. To do this you need to collect the items they need for their art, from flutes to fans to teapots. Whoever collects the most of a particular item will 'win' the associated geisha master and their associated Charm Points. Because everyone knows the more teapots you have, the more charming you are, right?

The goal of Hanamikoji is to win 4 Geisha or 11 (or more) Charm Points. Charm Points are shown on the corner of each geisha card, which also corresponds to the number of items of that type in the deck. The game is played over a series of rounds (normally only one or two, with an optional rule to limit it to three), each of which has three phases: Deal, Action and Scoring/Update.


The items cards are shuffled and one is randomly removed from the game before dealing six cards to each player to form their hand.


Players take alternating turns until both players have had four turns. On their turn a player draws a card and then performs an action. There are four available actions, each of which can only be chosen once in a given round.

These are:

  1. Secret: Choose a card from your hand, place it face-down under the Secret action marker. This card will be revealed and scored at the end of the round.
  2. Trade-off: An oddly-named action where you choose two cards to place face-down under the Trade-off action marker which will not be scored at the end of the round. Basically selecting two cards to throw away.
  3. Gift: Choose three cards from your hand and show them to your opponent. They choose one card from this set and place it next to the appropriate geisha on their side, whilst you get to keep the remaining two cards and place them next to the corresponding geisha on your side.
  4. Competition: Similar to Gift, but this time you choose four cards from your hand and place them in two sets of two cards. Your opponent gets to choose one set and you keep the other, placing them next to the relevant geisha as before.
As you take each action, flip over the corresponding action tile so you can keep track of what you've used this round.


When both players have used up all four of their actions, it's time to score. Cards under the Secret markers are revealed and placed next to the corresponding geisha. Then for each geisha, the number of item cards on each side is compared. If one side has more than the other, the Victory Marker is moved to the winning side. If both sides are equal then the marker stays in the middle of the card.

Players then count up the number of geisha that they've won and the sum of their Charm Points (shown on each geisha's card) to see if they've met the goal of four geisha or 11+ charm points. If they have, then the game ends immediately. If not, it's time to update for a new round, with everything resetting except the position of the Victory Markers from the first round. Play continues until someone wins.


Looking at the number of components in the box, I thought we might have something a bit like Love Letter on our hands: a similarly light, card-based filler but this time geared for two players. What we actually got was a lot deeper than that. Whilst the rules are really straightforward, figuring out when to use those four little actions can be pretty tricky. Trying to get into the head of your opponent, steering their decisions with your choices (or figuring out where they're trying to sneakily steer you) gives Hanamikoji just the right amount of brain-burn without causing too much of the dreaded analysis paralysis. It seems so simple, but each decision you make is important and interesting.

I love the uncertainty thrown in by the removal of one card each round and the puzzle of working out whether to go for big point geisha with their larger number of cards or play safe and go for lots of smaller ones. Once again my favourite theme hasn't let me down - this is a brilliant little two player filler game and will be in my collection for a long time to come!


Designer: Kota Nakayama
Publisher: EmperorS4
Play time: 15 mins
Players: 2
Age: 10+
Cost: RRP £16.99 [Find your friendly local brick-and-mortar retailer in Europe]

Thanks to Esdevium for sending me a copy to take a look at. If you enjoyed this post perhaps you could take a look at my Facebook page and leave a like or come and say hello on my Twitter or Instagram feeds!