Full disclosure: A review copy of Ohanami was provided by Pandasaurus Games.
Alright, we’ve got more from Pandasaurus! I’ve been really pleased with the games I’ve gotten to check out from them in the last couple years. My personal favorite, so far, has probably been Sonora, as its combination of dexterity and the roll-and-write genre is pretty sublime. It’s a challenging game, but definitely a fun one. Now we turn our attention to something a bit smaller-scale in Ohanami! It’s a small box, so, who knows what we’ll find inside?
In Ohanami, you’re just … building a garden. You like gardening. Love it, even? Maybe? Who’s to say? You’re very particular, though. Everything has to be … just so. The right place. Almost the right value, even? Unfortunately, your opponents are aware of your gardening and share your … predilection for precision. You’re going to have to share your gardening supplies and see if you can get the right ingredients for the perfect garden before they do. For an otherwise relaxing activity, this sounds like a stressful time. Whose garden will be the best?
Basically nothing to set up. Give each player 10 cards, after shuffling the deck:
Set aside the scoresheet:
You should be good to start!
A game of Ohanami isn’t too rough. It’s played over three rounds, as each player builds up to three different gardens by playing cards. Let’s talk about each round, then scoring!
To start a round, each player draws 10 cards (or starts with them). Now, players take two and place them face-down in front of them. Pass the remaining cards to your left in the first and third round, and to your right in the second round.
Players then reveal the cards and assign them to one of three possible columns, or discard one or both cards. When assigning a card, the color doesn’t matter, but it must now be the highest value or lowest value card in the column. If you cannot or do not want to place a card, you discard it.
Continue doing this until all cards in players’ hands have been played or discarded, and then score!
- Round 1: Blue cards score (3 points per blue card).
- Round 2: Blue cards score (again) and green cards score (4 points per green card).
- Round 3: Blue cards and green cards score (again!) and gray cards score (7 points per gray card).
- End of Game: Score pink cards (pyramid scoring: 1 for 1, 3 for 2, 6 for 3, etc).
The player with the most points wins!
Player Count Differences
I think, unlike most drafting games, I probably like this one best at lower player counts. While it’s nice to get a wider variety of options (and, consequently, a likely higher-scoring game) at 3+, I think there’s something to the memory challenge and mild hate-drafting at two. You can really bury a card that your opponent wants or give them the perfectly wrong card for them if you manage to get lucky, and it’s a lot easier to maintain a mental model of about 16 cards or so as you pass them back and forth than it is to try and remember all four of the sets of cards you see in a four-player game. You can plan a bit more and strategize a bit more, all the while being a bit less sure since you have fewer cards total, in play. I like that! The unknown is a bit more exciting, as a result. I think it makes for a more cerebral game at lower player counts, since you can also focus a bit more on your opponent and what you’re giving them. I enjoyed it at higher player counts, sure, but I’d more strongly recommend Ohanami at 2.
- Don’t shut any one column off too quickly. When I say “shut off”, here, I mean play cards that make it difficult for you to play any more cards. So playing a 1 or a 120 would completely shut off one end of a column; playing both would close it entirely. Even then, anything below 20 or above 100 early in the game is probably tough. I usually try to use a mild heuristic and, unless I started that column super high or super low, not play anything above 100 or below 20 in Round 1, above 110 or below 10 in Round 2, and anything goes in Round 3. That said, with three columns, you can afford to be a bit more flexible than that. I’ll usually burn one end of one column by the time Round 3 starts, especially if I’m trying to go hard on pink or gray cards.
- If you can, try to remember what cards you’ve seen. After a few drafts, you’ve seen every card that you will see for the round, so knowing what your options are can prevent the Classic Ohanami Problem of playing a 55 increasing only to immediately get a 54 in the next part of the draft. It’s annoying when it happens. Being able to plan a bit more ahead can really help you get a bit better synergy with your columns.
- Prioritizing certain cards in certain rounds can benefit you, but only to a certain degree. Sure, if you get 10 blue cards in Round 1, you’ll get 90 points for it over the course of the game. First thing, that’s not going to happen, and second, it’s … really not going to happen, honestly. You may get 4 – 6 blue cards in Round 1, and the differential between 4 blue cards and 3 blue cards is only slightly more than what one gray card gets you in Round 3. It may not be worth it. That said, if you’re going hard on pink cards, that’s definitely worth it, up to 15. After 15, stop.
- If you see one player trying to take all the pink cards, maybe … don’t let them? There’s only so much you can do to block someone, especially late in the game, but trying to give them less helpful cards or making them work for the pink cards is usually not a bad idea. You really don’t want to see someone with 10+ pink cards going into Round 3; that means you’re very likely in for an entire world of hurt before the end of the game.
- It does help to keep an eye on what the player you’re passing to needs, or more importantly, what they can’t play. Nothing better than passing your opponent two cards they can’t play to finish out the round, but in order for that to work, you have to know what cards are already in their columns. So, just kinda … sneak a peek every few drafts. Don’t be that person who spends time looking at their columns, counting their cards and slowing the game down. That’s disrespectful. Do a quick skim periodically so you’re aware of what the options are.
- Also keep in mind what round you’re in when passing cards. Giving your opponent a hand full of blue cards is great in Round 3, when those are less valuable than gray or pink cards (depending on how many pink cards you have, of course). It may help them a bit more if you’re passing them green cards ahead of Round 2. That shouldn’t totally influence what cards you take, but it should at least be part of your thought process.
- Discarding a card your opponent really needs isn’t the worst idea, but it does have diminishing returns as player count increases. You can’t keep everything from everyone, and as with any game at four, it often makes more sense to benefit yourself than it does to try and punish another player. If you invest too much time in blocking someone in a four-player game, you just make sure that neither of you will win. Instead, you’d be better off playing almost every card you can get and hoping you just outscored them.
- Don’t be afraid to make big jumps towards the end of the game. You’re not going to play that many more cards, so making some strategically questionable plays is good. Just watch out! This may leave you vulnerable to a nasty opponent passing you cards that you can’t use. It’s still good to be somewhat flexible, but especially in the last couple turns, you’re going to still have some options, even if you torch a column or two.
Pros, Mehs, and Cons
- The art is quite nice! It’s relaxing and pleasant. The game’s a bit abstract, given the columns, but it’s very pleasant to look at, and that goes a long way with me, honestly. I also like the contrast of the four main colors chosen. It just has an overall soothing look to it, which makes sense given the theme. All in all, a good choice, art-wise.
- You know, I was just writing a review the other day that I didn’t love competitive variants of cooperative games, but this feels like a competitive version of The Game and I actually … prefer it. I think I found The Game a little frustrating, at times, but I really like how this one benefits from just messing with someone else rather than having bad random draw luck mess with you. I think it makes me feel less stupid, and The Game often makes me feel like I should have known the exact randomized configuration of the deck before I play. Oh well. Some light competition is good, sometimes, especially if it feels like it synergizes well with the game.
- I like that the scoring is similar to Castles of Tuscany, where early-game points can lead to big end-game points. Technically it just kinda rewards early blues and early greens, but that still can lead to a big overall payoff. The issue is just that it’s hard to get enough blues or greens early for that payoff to be massive; it may just be nontrivial.
- Each color has its own strengths, and that’s pretty cool. Blues are worth progressively less, grays are a great way to make a late-game splash, and pinks can really tilt the game if you let one player get too many. I like that you have to think about them differently and prioritize them differently as the game progresses. It’s a good tension.
- I worried it was possible to really screw yourself over in this game, but having three columns makes it very difficult to do too much damage unintentionally, especially because you have the option to discard. I think it’s still very possible to screw yourself over by giving too many pink cards to one player, but that’s a strategic mistake and not just, like, forgetting how numbers work and digging yourself into a math hole. The latter is very frustrating, and fortunately, unlike The Game, it doesn’t really happen that much, here. I think having the third column is the ticket. You don’t necessarily need it, but it’s essentially a dumping ground for truly problematic cards or a way to really divide enough of the range up that you can always place something.
- It’s very portable. It’s a small-box card game. It’s hard to store (my shelves are too deep!), but very easy to put in a Quiver, you know, when people can go places again. Right now its portability is kind of useless to me, but I hope that will change before the end of 2021.
- Also very easy to set up! Just some cards to shuffle. I do like that there are a lot of games that are just one big deck of cards. It saves me a lot of time with setup, and I’ve been playing a lot of setup-intensive games, to be frank. Having a mental break is nice, sometimes, and it’s much easier to do photography for this one.
- It’s not really a complaint about the game, but it does still manage to capture that perfect “ugh I just played a card that makes this play impossible” feeling that you could get in The Game, and while it feels terrible, it’s also … good? It’s only a Meh because it feels bad in the moment but is a satisfying overall gameplay experience. I can’t really quantify it as a good feeling, but it’s the thing you look back on after you win or lose and recall as distinctly satisfying.
- I worry a bit about games with a large memory aspect to them, and memory is pretty critical in this one. It’s at least pretty critical at lower player counts; you won’t see that many cycles of hands in a four-player game. But if you have a good memory for cards and you remember what was in the hand you gave your opponent, you may be able to set up some pretty good combos that they won’t be able to stop unless they remember what they gave you. Having a strong memory helps in Ohanami, but I wouldn’t say it’s required.
- Having to shift large stacks of cards is a huge pain, also. Thankfully, it doesn’t come up that much if you place your columns well, but if you start too close to another player or to the edge of the table, get ready for some complex card-shifting. Or just hope that it never comes to that. It’s particularly awkward if your column starts approaching another player’s column, so just … make sure you have plenty of room when you start the game.
- Scoring can be a tiny bit of a pain. It’s just that as you add more cards to your stack, you need to be able to quickly identify the blue and green cards (which look a bit similar) and get them on your scoresheet. I’d just recommend double-checking your counts, each round, otherwise you may skip a card by mistake.
Overall: 8 / 10
Overall, I think Ohanami is quite fun! I’ll probably keep it around mostly as a two-player drafting game, but I really like the combination of drafting and sorta column-building that it’s got going on. I enjoyed it at higher player counts, but I really do think at two it can become this rapid, tense back-and-forth where you’re trying to remember the cards you had and the cards you’re giving away and that has been extremely fun. I do like how your card scores keep growing over the course of the game, as well, to do a good job of incentivizing different cards at different times. It’s a good move and it works very well here, even when other players are trying to shoot the moon with pink cards. It can work, and I’ve seen it work pretty well, twice, but I’m going to try to be a bit smarter in my next plays and prevent that from going completely off the rails. In the meantime, though, I’ll be keeping this one around. I do kind of wish scoring were a bit easier than counting a bunch of cards, yes, and I would like it if there were a better way to manage the space hog that is a tall column of cards, but these things, while annoying, don’t particularly detract from the fun of the game. And that’s good! I was looking for something quick and light. If you’re in the same boat, you’d like another pretty game, or you just want to do a little bit more drafting in your day-to-day, though, I’d recommend checking out Ohanami! I quite enjoyed it.