“Welcome to the most well-known geisha street in the old capital, Hanamikoji. Geisha, the graceful women elegantly mastering in art, music, dance, and a variety of artistic performances after years of training, are greatly respected and adored.”
In Hanamikoji, two players compete to earn the favors of the seven geisha masters by collecting the performance items with which they excel. With careful speculation and sometimes a few bold moves, you may earn the essential items by giving away the less critical ones. Can you outsmart your opponent and win the most favors of the Geisha?
Today I thought I would take a new game that I have really been enjoying, a game that there is a very good chance you haven’t played yet, and review it. Hanamikoji is an excellent two-player game, on par with games like Patchwork, Jaipur and Hive. It is small, easy to travel with, sets up in 30 seconds and plays in 10-15 minutes. On the other hand, players generally play several games in a row and I it is not uncommon to see couples in the Café play this game for hours straight; Gene and I have been one of those couples. We picked it up at GenCon and played it more than any other game we brought back, mostly because of how easy it is to jump in and jump out of. You always have time for a quick game of Hanamikoji, and if you are like me, you will always want to. Carry this game around in your backpack, handbag or purse, and you will be glad you did.
I looked it up, and Hanamikoji is a well-known Geisha district in Kyoto; many people visit Hanamikoji to see Geisha in the streets or perhaps interact with them at an event or in a tea house. Geisha are well respected women of the arts, often hired entertainers – but not ladies of the night, as some may think. I lived in Japan for half-a-year and I have a great fondness for how odd and interesting Japanese culture is to me. The first thing you will notice about Hanamikoji is that it has a beautiful theme, art-style and presentation. The box, the cards and the tokens are all beautiful and enhance the game experience greatly.
Open the box and place the seven oversized Geisha cards on the table between the two players in ascending or descending order according to the single large number in the corner of each Geisha card. There are seven Geishas (see pics) three “2”s, two “3”s, one “4” and one “5”. Those numbers represent both how many points that Geisha is worth and how many of that Geisha’s item cards appear in the main deck of cards, the items deck.
Each player receives a single set of four unique square tokens with numbers 1-4 respectively, and places them face up in front of themselves. These are the four actions you can and must take during our four turns. You must take each action and therefore may only take each individual action once, so that you will end up taking each action before the round ends.
Take the items deck, the only other thing in the box at this point, and shuffle the whole thing. Then, without looking at it, “burn” or remove one card from the game face-down. Deal six cards to each player.
Determine who plays first. That player draws a card and takes their first action. Draw one card at the beginning of each turn and take only one action during each turn.
The four actions involve you playing cards, often offering combinations of cards to your opponent, they choose to take a certain number of those cards and leave you with the rest. In this way you will fight over, give away, win and lose cards. When you win cards you put them on one side of the appropriate Geisha and if you have a majority at the end of the round you win that Geisha. This is a trick-taking game, if you can win four Geishas or eleven points you win the game. If, at the end of the round, no one has four Geishas or eleven points, the game continues, a new round begins, however, players retain the Geishas they have already won, and a token in the middle of the Geishas cards slides toward the player who won that Geisha as a visual reminder of who has earned which Geisha card. Generally, if the game does not end in the first round, one player heads into round two with a small advantage, as defending a Geisha is easier than acquiring one.
For anyone interested, the four actions are as follows: (1) Place one card face down, it now belongs to you but won’t be revealed until the end of the round. (2) Place two cards face down, they are removed from the game and no one may win them. (3) Place three cards face up, your opponent takes one and you take the other two. (4) Place four cards face up, separate them into two piles, your opponent takes one pile and you take the remainder.
That is all. Win, not just the most cards, but the RIGHT cards. Give away cards that you don’t necessarily need to get the ones that you absolutely do – but which ones are those? Bluff about which cards are face-down, calculate which cards still remain in the deck to be drawn, determine the correct path to victory and out-negotiate your opponent. Four quick simple actions but this game will bend your brain and force you to think in new ways.
If I had to point out any thing wrong with Hanamikoji it would be difficult to do so. Perhaps that it is only two players, or that despite it’s gorgeous theme, the game is a little too quick and simple to really impress it’s theme upon the player’s experience. It feels like an excellent, tight, elegant card game with a great theme slapped on it rather than a game where theme comes first and you feel immersed in its theme. But that is the limitation of a tight, 15 minute two player game and not a design flaw. I believe this game is truly elegant and belongs on the top of the list of great two player table-top games. I think we will see this game talked about among the all-time great two player games, unless of course it is sadly missed somehow, which would be a small tragedy indeed.