#814 – Hanamikoji: Geisha’s Road [Preview]

Base price: $22.
2 players.
Play time: 20 – 30 minutes.
BGG | Board Game Atlas
Check it out on Kickstarter!
Logged plays: 2

Full disclosure: A preview copy of Hanamikoji: Geisha’s Road was provided by Taiwan Boardgame Design. Some art, gameplay, or other aspects of the game may change between this preview and the fulfillment of the Kickstarter, should it fund, as this is a preview of a currently unreleased game. That said, it seems pretty complete, so anyone’s guess.

Kickstarter goes up, Kickstarter goes down. The whims of the industry are just like that, sometimes. I originally had a review scheduled for this slot, and wouldn’t you know it? It got delayed to 2022. Maybe we’ll see it again, someday, I said, looking wistfully into the distance. But in the meantime, I got sent a bunch of stuff from our friends at Taiwan Boardgame Design / EmperorS4, and I have to talk about that ahead of the Kickstarter. This time we’re returning to Hanamikoji with a sequel: Geisha’s Road!

In Hanamikoji: Geisha’s Road, the geisha have decided to work towards teahouse ownership, and you’re going to help them get there with support (and helping them perform at other teahouses). The cyclical path of journeying out and returning boosts their experience, and should they favor you as a patron, you gain prestige, as well. You’d like to be the most prestigious person around, so try to outwit your opponent so that they can’t beat you to it. Will you be able to help these apprentices become full teahouse owners?

Contents

Setup

Have players sit across from each other. The primary play area is going to be split into two sections: the Geisha Row and the Teahouse. Let’s set up the Teahouse first. Shuffle the Teahouse Cards and place them in a circle / pentagon shape:

Place the corresponding Geisha Tokens on those Teahouse Cards:

Then, shuffle the Item Cards, placing them face-down in a stack in the center of this pentagon you created.

Set up the Geisha Row next. It’ll be a horizontal line between two players, but they can be placed in any order:

A Scoring Marker should be placed in the middle of each card:

Players then get four Action Markers in the same color:

Finally, set up the Lantern Cards. There are Light and Dark ones; make a pile of Light Lanterns that’s 3 / 3 / 4 / 4 / 4 (top to bottom) and a pile of Dark Lanterns that’s 3 / 2 / 2 / 2 (top to bottom).

Give the starting player the Starting Player Marker and you’re ready to begin!

Oh, yes, if you’re playing with The Guests, place them below their corresponding Teahouse Cards:

Gameplay

Geisha’s Road is a sequel to Hanamikoji that adds some complexity, new styles of play, and a new mini-expansion: The Guests! The core play is somewhat similar for experienced players, but the new wrinkles make it worth covering all of it.

A game is played as the best of three rounds and each round is played over a series of four turns. Each turn, players will first draw a card, then take and use one of their Action Markers to perform an action which will influence the geishas’ position and the teahouse’s potential point value. Each player may take actions in whatever order they’d like, but only one action per turn. Let’s go over each.

1: Reveal

This one’s simple. Use this Action Marker to just place a card from your hand below the Geisha Row card of its corresponding color.

2: Intrigue

This one’s a bit more complicated. For this one, you’ll play two cards. One goes face-down underneath of this Action Marker, to be revealed at the end of the round. The other is discarded face-down, never to return.

3: Gift

Here, you get to start messing with your opponent. Play three cards face-up in front of you. Your opponent chooses one to play on their side of the Geisha Row, and after they do that, you get to play the other two in whatever order you want.

4: Competition

My personal hell. For this one, you choose two pairs of two cards from your hand and reveal them. Your opponent gets to keep one and play it in any order they’d like, and after they do you take the other and play it, again in any order you’d like.

Geisha Movement

After any card is played, the corresponding Geisha token moves that many spaces clockwise around the circle. Should its movement end on its starting teahouse (the one matching its color), it gains a Lantern Card to its teahouse! If this is the first time it’s stopped there, it gains a light lantern; if it’s the second time, it instead gains a dark lantern.

End of Round

After both players have completed their four actions, the round is over! First, complete the Intrigue Action, beginning with the Start Player. Reveal your hidden card and play it, moving the Geisha Token as usual. If this completes their movement, add a lantern card, as usual.

Now, both players add up the total values of all the cards on their side of each card in Geisha Row — this is their influence for that particular card. (Note that this explicitly differs from Hanamikoji, where just the number of cards determined your influence.) The player with more Influence controls that color. If there’s a tie, the player with the Scoring Marker on their side of the card wins. If no player has the Scoring Marker on their side, then no one win’s that geisha’s points and the Scoring Marker stays where it is.

Otherwise, move the Scoring Marker to the winning player’s side of the card. They take any lantern cards on that Geisha Token’s teahouse as Prestige Points. Continue until all cards in Geisha Row have been decided, and the player with more Prestige Points wins the round. If there’s a tie, the player with more Scoring Markers on their side of Geisha Row wins the round. Still a tie? Start player wins.

If no player has won two of the three rounds, start a new round by repeating setup, but do not move the Scoring Markers. They stay in place from round to round. The round’s losing player chooses the next round’s starting player.

End of Game

As soon as one player wins two rounds, they win the game!

The Guests Mini-Expansion

This one is an interesting one, as it doesn’t add any new actions. Instead, it enhances scoring with a new element: Guests!

Now, Geisha can win over groups of guests as they travel, according to the following rules:

  • If a Geisha Token moves by playing a 1: Take 2 Guest Tokens from the Teahouse that the token lands on. If there are fewer than 2, take as many as you can.
  • If a Geisha Token moves by playing a 2: Take 1 Guest Token from the Teahouse that the token lands on, if possible.
  • If a Geisha Token moves by playing a 3 or 4: Do not take any Guest Tokens from the Teahouse that the token lands on.

Play continues as normal until the end of the round, when the Guests add an additional scoring wrinkle or two. Each Guest Token can belong to a group of the same color Guest Tokens or a group of different-color Guest Tokens (but not both). They score based on that:

  • Groups of 1 / 2 / 3 Guest Tokens of the same color score 0 / 1 / 4 points.
  • Groups of 1 / 2 / 3 / 4 / 5 Guest Tokens of different colors score 0 / 1 / 3 / 5 / 8 points.

As usual, the player with the most points wins the round!

Player Count Differences

None! Exclusively a two-player game.

Strategy

  • Don’t just focus on making big wins in the Geisha Row. Getting control over cards in the Geisha Row is critical, yes, but if you do that to the exclusion of all else, then you’ll control teahouses that have no value. You need to make sure that you’re moving the Geisha Tokens such that your teahouses have some value of some kind. If every card gets played, there will be a total of 10 points on that card, so it should make it back around to the teahouse.
  • If your opponent is largely going to beat you to winning a color, try playing cards such that that color is worth 0 points. This largely can be done by playing the cards in a specific order (and specifically by discarding certain cards). Any one card left out can mean that the Geisha Token doesn’t make it back to the teahouse, and therefore that teahouse doesn’t get a Lantern Card (and is worth 0 points).
  • Similarly, if you know you’re going to take a color, it may be worth waiting to play cards of that color until the early, less-valuable light lantern cards are played. The light lanterns become more valuable later in a round, whereas the dark lanterns become less valuable. Generally speaking, however, you don’t see many dark lanterns getting played each round.
  • You can also lock down one color card and potentially get 7 points, provided you play all the cards of that color in the correct order. Playing 2 + 3 and 1 + 4 will give you two sets of 5, so the corresponding Geisha Token will make two full cycles around the board and give you a light and a dark lantern. Usually, worth between 5 and 7 total points. If you play all four cards, you’re definitely winning the card, though that’s a bit wasteful. Usually, playing three of the four will suffice, and you can hopefully force your opponent to play the fourth and waste their turn.
  • Even if you lose one round, don’t worry! The Scoring Markers stay in place, so now you’ll win ties on those colors in the next round. It’s often not the worst thing to lose the first round; you can use the Scoring Markers in the next round to win ties! I wouldn’t necessarily recommend trying to tank a round to get the Scoring Markers on your side, though; in order for a player to win a round, they’ve usually taken at least two of the five Scoring Markers themselves.
  • The two cards that are ultimately removed from the game matter a great deal. Those are usually enough to break up two Geisha Tokens’ circuits (or just one, depending on how the cards are removed), and that will cause two Geisha Tokens to only score once (or potentially not score at all). If you can trick your opponent into removing a card from the game that makes their Geisha Row victories moot, then, well, you win the game that way.
  • If playing with the Guests, don’t forget about them! They can be worth a ton of points. Guests really change things up. You can’t rely on just winning Lantern Cards, anymore; we had a particularly low-scoring round with Lantern Cards and the Guests pretty much swung the round (and later the game) in my opponent’s favor. I did not do well with the Guests; I think they were just beyond my skill level.
  • Similarly, don’t undervalue your 1s and 2s, now, since that’s the primary method by which you obtain guests. These are no longer just low-value cards that you toss at your opponent or use to make sure that your Geisha Tokens complete their circuit; now, they’re a primary lever by which you can gain Guest Tokens and the points that come with them. Even worse, they’re another way that your opponent can snake points out from underneath of you, so you need to keep an eye on them for that reason, as well.
  • Order is key, here. If you and your opponent will both land on a location, you can try to take first so that there are no Guests remaining by the time they land there. Just adding more complexity to the game, but hey, it’s there if you want it. Now, the order in which you take cards matters a great deal. If I can take the Guests from a spot you’re planning to land on before you get there, suddenly you miss out on a lot, even if you potentially control that teahouse down the line. It adds another element of timing into the game, and that’s something you really need to keep your eye on.

Pros, Mehs, and Cons

Pros

  • There’s a lot of interesting new strategy to this game and I’m really enjoying that. Where the Hanamikoji mini-expansions can flip the game around a few times, this completely turns Hanamikoji on its head, for me. I think that’s pretty cool! It’s definitely familiar, but the lingering familiarity is about all there is to it. It’s no longer just about controlling the row, but also managing the movement around the Teahouses on top of that, and that’s super interesting! It’s definitely the next step, complexity-wise.
  • The Teahouse and Geisha Row art is pleasant. It fits in nicely and thematically, and the whole game looks pleasant. Not surprised, given the art talent working on the game, but I appreciate the production and the game looks nice on the table.
  • I like the push-and-pull of not knowing who will end up scoring a color that you have made increasingly valuable. Usually by the time you’ve gotten a Geisha Token around the circle twice, you should know who’s going to take those points, but the buildup to it
  • There’s a nice spin on the classic Hanamikoji formula, now that the card values matter for control, rather than just the number of cards. I think there’s some growing pains inherent to that, just that folks who are extremely experienced with Hanamikoji will potentially trip up a bit as they learn how this new game works, but I also think that they’re going to be into that. There’s just more to think about!
  • I also like that the new box art panoramas nicely with the previous Hanamikoji art. I like box panoramas a lot. They’re not really useful in any particular way, just because I don’t store my games like that, but it’s the kind of thing you pull out at a game night and are like, “Look! The boxes! They match up!” and the person you’re talking to responds with “ooh, nice” and that’s kind of the extent of it. But I like that interaction!
  • I usually gripe about games that are three rounds just for the purpose of extending the game, but keeping the Scoring Markers in their final positions between rounds is a great way to add some complexity and danger to subsequent rounds of the same game. The core issue for me is that a lot of games are just “play best of three” with no state saved between rounds, so there’s no real point to playing three rounds as opposed to five, seven, nineteen, or however many you feel like you need to determine a “winner”. Here, the state is preserved across rounds, as the Scoring Markers are only moved when a player takes control in Geisha’s Row. That can be critical to winning subsequent rounds, as those potential ties now break in your favor (and your opponent needs to avoid that, or vice-versa).
  • While the strategy element of the game is still a lot to wrap my head around, I do find this game fairly easy to learn. The actual “what do I do on my turn?” remains relatively easy, since the only new element is moving the Geisha Tokens around and potentially adding some Lantern Cards based on the resulting location. While the game is simple, the strategy is not, and that’s definitely been a fun part of the game to dig in more with.
  • I think the Guests mini-expansion is super interesting; it can really change up what you’re valuing since you can win in Geisha’s Row and lose out because you weren’t paying attention to Guests. This happened to me once! I did well in Geisha’s Row and got the Lantern Cards I wanted and then still lost because I wasn’t keeping track of Guests on top of everything else. I think that this is a nice additional layer of complexity for folks looking for that.

Mehs

  • Setting up each round is a bit more of a pain, since there are a bunch of cards that need reset. You need to reset all the Lantern Cards and they have a particular order to them, instead of the original Hanamikoji, where you could just shuffle the Item Cards and then be ready to go again. You have to do that too in Geisha’s Road, but them’s the breaks when you have two separate areas.
  • The game also takes up significantly more space than Hanamikoji. As mentioned above, you have two distinct areas of play in Geisha’s Road, which means that the game takes up about twice as much space as Hanamikoji. It’s certainly not as easy to play in various places, though the box is the same size as Hanamikoji, so it retains some elements of portability.
  • I also worry that calling it Hanamikoji: Geisha’s Road (its BGG title) will make people think that it is an expansion for the base game rather than a standalone title. Everything on the box really says “Geisha’s Road” to me, but it’s called Hanamikoji: Geisha’s Road on BGG. Geisha’s Road: A Hanamikoji Game probably would have made that distinction more clear? I remember that being a reason why Oceans is called Oceans, instead of Evolution: Oceans (since the latter could be interpreted as a title of an expansion, rather than an entirely new game).
  • The Guests can also steal a bit of focus from the main game, at times. I recommend really only breaking them out when everyone’s gotten pretty experienced with the flow of the main game. Adding another new scoring element to the game can just add a bunch more noise that may not be helpful when you’re still trying to learn.

Cons

  • For me, the moderate increase in strategy and entertainment isn’t necessarily justified by the increase in complexity. This actually made me end up liking Hanamikoji more than I did in my initial review (that, and the seven mini-expansions have really been cultivating my taste for it). I wouldn’t say that Geisha’s Road is inelegant or that the complexity increase isn’t justified; I just think that the game is targeted for gamers looking for a more complex experience than Hanamikoji is, and I’m not in that audience. I’m more interested in trying to re-explore the base game now that I have again, seven distinct mini-expansions to mess around with. As of writing, I’ve only gotten to even try four! I still don’t have a review plan for them!

Overall: 7.5 / 10

Overall, I think Hanamikoji: Geisha’s Road is fun! I’ve been a bit spoiled, lately, since I’ve also been going through the 7 Hanamikoji mini-expansions, which are causing me to warm up a bit on the base Hanamikoji game. They all kind of play in conversation with each other. For a lot of folks, Hanamikoji is their go-to two-player game. They’ve learned it, internalized it, and are ready to move onto something more complex. And this game is 1000% for those folks. Geisha’s Road adds some new tricks to a formula that solidly works, while maintaining the tone and quality art style of the series (and really, of EmperorS4 as a brand and Maisherly as an artist). It’s rare to see a sequel to a game do that, even if I’m not 100% at the point right now where this is exactly what I’m looking for. I think, ironically, this game is probably a bit “better” than I’m going to rate it as a result, but I should be a bit more precise with my language. I think this game has a pretty clear target audience, it makes no apologies for being for that audience, and it does a great job of hitting its target audience right where they’re looking to be. I rate games for me (and I’m still somewhat new to Hanamikoji), but I think there are going to be a lot of players who are well past where I’m at with Hanamikoji, and frankly, it’s a great time to be a fan of the game. The mini-expansions for the original game are pretty awesome, and this sequel is a real treat, in it of itself. It makes me appreciate the simplicity and elegance of Hanamikoji a bit more, even if I find the extra complexity challenging. I’m not sure I’ve 100% figured out the strategy of this game yet, but I’m certainly trying. Once I do, The Guests will mix it all up again, so, looking forward to more of that, as well. If you’ve loved Hanamikoji, you’re looking for what lies beyond, and you’re not afraid of a little bump in complexity, I think you’ll likely love Hanamikoji: Geisha’s Road! Even as someone who’s a bit newer to Hanamikoji, I thought it was solidly fun.


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