Sometimes you just kind of dust off a game and write a review, you know? It’s not for any particular reason, you just felt like doing it. I suppose I should do that with a few of the reviews that have been caught in my buffer for a year or so, but, they’re kind of comfortably living there, so we’ll see how I feel in another year or something. Anyways, I’ve been meaning to get to Hanamikoji for some time, and I finally had that chance! So here’s my review.
In Hanamikoji, you seek to gain the favor of the local geisha by presenting them with items essential to the various performances and rituals they do (art, music, dance, cultural, and others). Unfortunately, a rival has emerged for their attention, and they seem to have a similar set of items available to them. Uncanny. You’ll have to think fast and cooperate only somewhat if you want to come out ahead with this one. Who will succeed in this duel?
Not a ton of setup. Take one of the big cards of each color (there may be multiple of the same color, if you have promos) and set them in the center. You should have 7 cards:
Set aside the Favor Markers, or place them in the center of the big cards:
Shuffle up the Item Cards:
Deal each player 6 and remove one card from the Item Card deck from the game. Give each player their action tokens:
You should be ready to go!
Game’s also pretty simple. Your goal is to try and curry the favor of the seven geisha by presenting them with various items. How you do that, when you do that, and what your opponent does determines who ultimately wins their favor. Choose carefully, though! You only get four actions.
On your turn, you must first draw a card, then choose any of your available actions:
- Play 1 Card. You must play one of the cards in your hand face-down, secretly. At the end of the round, you’ll reveal it and add it to its corresponding geisha.
- Discard 2 Cards. You must discard two cards from your hand, face-down. These cards will not be used for scoring; they’re just out.
- Play 3, Keep 2. Play three item cards face-up. Your opponent chooses one and plays it in front of the corresponding geisha on their side of the board. You keep and play the other two.
- Play 4, Keep 2. Play four item cards face-up in pairs. Your opponent chooses and keeps one pair, playing it on their side of the board. You keep and play the other pair.
After performing your chosen action, flip that tile face-down to indicate that you cannot use it again. This means, after four turns, you will also have no cards left in your hand, which is also helpful.
Game / Round End
After both players have played their final card(s), check each geisha to see which player won her favor, if any. For each card, whichever player has more cards on their side of the card wins that card’s favor; set the Favor Token on the side of the card nearest that player. If neither player has more cards (they’re tied), do not move the Favor Marker; this will matter a bit more in subsequent rounds, if they occur.
If either player has the favor of four cards or, between the cards’ relative values, controls 11 points or more of cards, that player wins! If it’s split (one player has at least four cards, the other has at least 11 points), then the player with more points wins. If there is no winner, then shuffle up the item cards and play again, leaving the Favor Markers in their current configuration. Play until a winner is decided!
Player Count Differences
None! Purely a two-player game.
- I think the best thing you can do in a lot of circumstances is present your opponent with no good choices. There are a ton of ways this can manifest, especially in later rounds. Giving your opponent the choice between two sets of cards, both of which mean you’ll tie on a card you already control is great, for instance. You can also present them with their choice of three of the same card. That’s usually pretty good, but be careful! If you do that with the 5 or the 4 there’s a chance they’ll still tie (or potentially beat) you. Neither of those options are great, so I usually recommend doing it with the 3, if you can. Lock it down. Point-neutral actions aren’t terrible, but you’d really much rather give your opponent a specifically bad choice for them, if you can. It’s also generally easier to get three 5s than it is to get three of one of the 3s, so, that usually explains why the former situation happens more. That said, if your opponent already has the 5 secured, it’s also good if you give them cards that will only further secure the 5, for them. At that point, it’s just a waste of cards. If you’ve played all 5 5s, that’s usually terrible. Once you’ve played the third one, start giving your opponent the 5s (if you can), since they’re worthless.
- It’s usually better to burn cards than give them to your opponent, or risk your opponent getting them. I’ll do this occasionally; if I’m particularly worried about an opponent getting certain cards, I’ll burn one and bury the other. That’s usually enough to guarantee that I’m going to win that card in the split, and even better, it fuzzies the information that they have until hopefully it’s too late for them to do anything about it.
- If you end up playing another round, it’s not a bad idea to try and force ties on the cards already tilted in your favor. This is a really easy way to keep some cards tilted towards you. Naturally, your opponent is going to do their best to make sure that you either waste cards re-claiming a card you’ve already claimed or that you give up the card to them through some sloppy play. Try to avoid both, if you can.
- Don’t forget that one card is left out each round. This can negatively impact your card counting, if you’re not careful! Last thing you want is to be surprised by a card you need not being in play.
- You kind of have to make headway on multiple fronts; focusing too much on points might strand you on getting enough cards to tilt your way. This is what I mentioned earlier about going all-in. If the only cards you secure are the 5 and the 4, you’re likely going to lose, especially if you didn’t tie on any of the other cards. Having high-point cards is useful, but high points alone won’t win you the game; you also need some strategy.
Pros, Mehs, and Cons
- Maisherly, as always, has done some really great work on the art, here. It’s very colorful, which I appreciate a lot. Each of the cards has sort of a dominant color to it, and it makes the aesthetic of the game look really good. I generally like games with strong color choices, though; I think it works better with my photography style, as well.
- I appreciate the elegance of the design. It’s a very quick and simple game with some tough choices and a solid amount of luck. It feels very polished when you play, even though I’m not the biggest fan of half of it being I-cut-you-choose. Simple things like the action numbers corresponding to the number of cards used just feels more elegant, though.
- I also appreciate the simplicity of it. Not very hard to learn. You play cards and perform actions. If you have more cards on your side of the bigger card, it tilts toward you. Get the most to win. It’s a very quick game to learn, but a tough game to really master.
- Pretty portable. It’s only a few cards and some tokens; you could even ignore the tokens if you didn’t want to take them with you. The box isn’t terribly large, either, so it can all be moved pretty quickly.
- Plays pretty quickly, as well. You can get through a full game in under 20 minutes, I’d say.
- Some nice promo cards available, as well. One of them has art from Nolan Nasser, and it looks really nice. Plays well with his art style, as well. Alternate art is always fun.
- I wish the geisha cards fit in the box better. They’re slightly too long to fit in when they’re rotated, so they have to awkwardly sit on top of the divider’s center bit. It’s fine, but I wouldn’t call it an optimal arrangement. I’m always worried they’ll get bent.
- Some rounds I feel like I’ve lost due to a poor draw of cards. It’s likely due to a few misplays, but it feels like especially strategically, there are draws that benefit you more or less as a player. For instance, being able to play four 5s in the two-and-two action is an incredibly useful move.
- I think this might still be in my “I don’t really like I-cut-you-choose games” problem area. I really like the fighting for card control aspect of it, but I think 7th Night does that better for the kind of game I like. It’s more abstract, whereas this is more the I-cut-you-choose mechanic, which I do just generally like a lot less. I’ve tried a bunch, unfortunately, and I continually arrive at the same place regarding them.
Overall: 7 / 10
Overall, I think Hanamikoji is fun, but it’s definitely not my personal favorite kind of game. That always strikes me as odd, since I see it frequently on Top Ten Two-Player Games lists, and, as a reviewer that loves two-player games, I thought I would love it! But I didn’t. I liked it, but I wasn’t blown away to the level I thought I would be. I suspect most of that is due to the core mechanic. I’ve tried, a bunch, and I really haven’t found an I-cut-you-choose game that I’ve genuinely loved. Most of the ones I’ve played I’ve liked-to-found-it-mediocre, but generally speaking, none of them have “clicked”. I haven’t felt that I-cut-you-choose spark, you know? Trial of the Temples was close, but even then wasn’t it. That’s okay, of course; not every game type is for everyone. I don’t really like social deduction games anymore, either. I’m mostly just bummed because I wanted to like this one more. I don’t really have that many problems with it, mechanically. It’s quick, light, and colorful, and those are all great things for a short two-player game to be. I think if you like I-cut-you-choose, this is definitely a game to check out. Not sure why it didn’t land as well as I’d wanted for me, otherwise. Maybe it’s 7th Night’s fault? I can’t help but note the similarities. I think that might be it. Oh well. That probably knocks out Jinxia Academy as well. Either way, I’m starting to ramble, so I’ll get to the point. I liked Hanamikoji; didn’t love it. The reason I didn’t love it was mostly mechanical; beyond that, I thought it was a particularly elegantly-designed game with great colors and good portability. If that appeals to you and you like I-cut-you-choose, you’ll probably love Hanamikoji!