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Subject: Under the Radar's The PLAYlist: Hanamikoji (review) rss

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Austin Trunick
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Granby
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The full review, photos, and our accompanying music playlist for the game can be found here: http://www.undertheradarmag.com/blog/the_playlist_01_hanamik... Feedback is always welcome. Our reviews are intended for board gaming neophytes stumbling over to the article from our music and movie coverage, so please excuse any unnecessary-feeling explanations of common terminology or mechanics.

Hanamikoji is a card game for two (and only two) players, that comes in an admirably compact box, and plays in about 15 to 20 minutes. (Seasoned players can probably trim this down to closer to ten minutes with a few games under their belt.) Despite having the look and length of a small game, there’s a lot of potential strategy involved – in particular, if you’re the type of player who enjoys mind games, attempting to read your opponent, or planning out your moves several turns in advance.

But then, you totally don’t have to be one of those overly competitive/cerebral types of players to win. My wife is a casual gamer to a tee – if a game forces her to think much harder than an episode of Fuller House, she usually won’t want to play it – and yet she really enjoyed Hanamikoji, as it's less stress-inducing than many games of similar strategy levels. You’re almost equally as able to outmaneuver your opponent just so long as your moves are reactive and unpredictable than, say, meticulously planned out. (But, it does help to think ahead.)

Seven beautifully-illustrated, oversized cards represent seven geishas working on Hanamikoji, a historic street in Kyoto known for its teahouses. Each geisha is said to be the master at one particular craft or musical instrument, be it making tea, playing the flute, or… holding an umbrella? You win the game by winning the favor of four of these geishas; to do so, you have to offer them more of the appropriate gifts than your opponent.

These gifts are represented by smaller cards, of which there are only 21 total in the game. Each player starts with six in their hand, and draws one additional at the beginning of each turn. Each card has an image of a gift on it, such as a tea kettle, flute, or umbrella… you can eaasily guess which item goes to whom.

The thing is, you can’t just slap the card down, or place the gift over to your geisha du jour. It’s not as simple as that. These geishas are a bit eccentric, and will only accept your presents through your taking one of four specific actions on each of your turns.

The actions aren’t straight-forward, either. The simplest allows you to set aside one card, in secret, to score at the end of the round. (Ooooh, everyone loves a mystery.) Another lets you take two cards from your hand and remove them from the game entirely. (If I can’t have these, no one can!) The last two create teensy-tiny games of their own. With the first, you reveal three cards from your hand, from which your opponent chooses one and gives it to the appropriate geisha, and you keep the other two. (The other player will always choose the “best” card, but what’s best for him or her isn’t necessarily the card that’s best for your strategy.) With the final action, you reveal four cards and sort them into two piles of two; the other player picks a pile, and you keep the one remaining. (You’ll want to balance the piles’ values so that they’ll be enticed to grab the pile you don’t want.) Each of these actions requires an interesting choice to be made; in two cases, it’s not only an interesting choice for yourself, but also for your opponent.

Each player gets a set of tokens representing these actions. When one is taken, the corresponding token is flipped. If it’s flipped, you can’t do it again in this round. So, each player must take each action in a round, but it’s up to them to decide in which order.

And that’s it! After a round ends – four turns for each player – we check who gave each geisha more gifts. If a player happened to win over four or more of the ladies, they win the game. (You can also win by a different mode of scoring, but it's far more rare to pull that off.) If not, you re-shuffle the gift cards and deal out six new ones to both players, flip over your action tokens, and a second round begins. Because the players keep the geishas they scored in the prior round, there’s a different dynamic to round two – to keep hold of a geisha you’ve already scored, you can tie your opponent rather than have to beat him or her outright.

If you’ve read the last few paragraphs, you now know most everything you’ll need to play. Hanamikoji is an easy game to teach, and even easier to learn – it takes only one, short game to get the full hang of everything. I guarantee it will click after that, and any new player to whom I’ve taught the game has wanted to immediately play it again. With its quick playtime, Hanamikoji is one of those titles you’ll want to settle in best-of-three or best-of-five sessions.

If it’s not clear already, I was bowled over by Hanamikoji. It’s quickly become my favorite two-player small game, given that it’s so easy to introduce to a new player, offers numerous strategies, and never outstays its welcome. It provides a similar player-vs-player battle of wits feeling you’d get from a game of chess (highly capsulated, of course) but you can knock out an entire game in the time I’ve been known to take in a single chess turn. (I need to get a play clock one of those days.) Hanamikoji comes in a travel-size box, too, and if you get creative with the layout you could probably even play it across two fold-down tables on an airplane.

And hey, it’s a good-looking game, too!

To listen to the playlist curated for this game, please head over to UTR: http://www.undertheradarmag.com/blog/the_playlist_01_hanamik...
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Michael Frost

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Great review of an amazingly tight game that is seemingly so easy but in reality is devilishly difficult. A fun, fast delight that is easy to teach and play, but never disappoints in meaty game play.
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tom tom
United States
Springfield
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If you enjoy this game, you would also enjoy Fugitive.
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Jeffrey Nolin
Japan
Nakamachi, Hiroshima
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MPMelanchthon wrote:
Great review of an amazingly tight game that is seemingly so easy but in reality is devilishly difficult. A fun, fast delight that is easy to teach and play, but never disappoints in meaty game play.


I picked this up this week and played a couple games with my non-gamer wife. I'm going to have to up my game against my gamer friends if I hope for a chance to win. So far, the decisions (with only four actions, with five of the 20 cards out of the game and with a mystery final draw before the last action) have been tough.
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