Memoirs of Seven Geishas--A Double-Take Review of Hanamikoji

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Oh those fickle geishas. First they want flowers. Then they want parasols. How can a person keep up?! In Hanamikoji, two players compete for the favor of seven geishas in the most elegant tug of war you've ever seen. Is Hanamikoji a cherry blossom on the wind, or a flat note on a flute? Let's find out!

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The Components

  • 7 Geisha cards
  • 21 Item cards
  • 7 Favor tokens
  • 8 Action markers (2 identical sets of 4 markers)

Those Geisha cards have Charm Point values on them: three 2-value Geishas, two 3-value Geishas, and one each of a 4-value and 5-value. You might notice that those values add up to 21, which is the number of Item cards in the game. The Item cards each have an Item on them that corresponds to and matches one of the Geishas. There are as many of that Item as there are Charm Points on the Geisha.


The Setup

You set the Geisha cards out in a line, from lowest value to highest, and place a Favor token on the center of each card. Each player takes one of the identical sets of 4 Action markers and places them faceup in front of them. Shuffle the Item cards and set them aside. Randomly choose a starting player.


The Gameplay

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The game is played over a series of rounds. Each round has the same phases: 

  • Deal
  • Actions
  • Scoring
  • Refresh

Deal--The starting player takes the Item deck, randomly removes one card, unseen, and deals 6 cards facedown to each player, setting the remaining 8 cards as a facedown draw deck next to the geishas. 

Actions--Beginning with the start player, each player alternates drawing one Item card from the draw deck and taking one unused Action, flipping that Action to its colorless, used side. Once each player has used his or her 4 Actions, that phase is over. 

The actions are...

  • Secret: Choose a card from your hand and place it facedown under the Action marker. This card will be scored later in the round. 
  • Discard: Choose two cards from your hand and place them facedown under the Action marker. These cards will not be scored at all. 
  • Gift: Choose three cards from your hand and place them faceup on the table. Your opponent chooses one card and places it in front of the appropriate geisha on their side of the table. Then you take the remaining two cards and place them in front of the appropriate geisha on your side of the table. 
  • Competition: Choose four cards from your hand, place them faceup on the table, and divide them into two sets of two cards, however you'd like. Your opponent chooses one set and places them on his or her side of the table. You take the remaining set and do the same. 

Scoring--Both players reveal the Secret card they hid earlier and place it in front of the appropriate geisha. Now you look at the number of cards on each side of each geisha. If there are more cards on one side, you move the Charm token to that player's side of the card. If there's a tie (or there are no cards on either side), it's a draw and you don't move the Charm token. This becomes important in subsequent rounds, when a token might already be on one side or the other. It stays on that side in a draw. 

Now you check the score. If a player has influenced 4 of the 7 geishas, he or she wins. Or if a player has influenced 11 points worth of geishas, he or she wins. It's entirely possible for both of those things to happen at the end of a round. If that does happen, the player who influenced 11 points of geishas wins that tie, and thus the game. 

Refresh--If no one has won, you gather and shuffle the Item cards (including the one you set aside earlier in the round), flip Action markers faceup, and leave the Charm tokens where they are. The other player becomes the new starting player, and you play another round. 


The Verdict

Firestone--If I didn't know anything about this game, and we sat down together and played it, I would say, "Wow, that's a terrific Reiner Knizia game!" Because that's exactly what it feels like. 

Not just because it feels similar to the tug of war that is Battleline/Schotten-Totten, but because it's full of simple and tense decisions. 

Jeremiah--Totally agree. The simple fact that you basically have 2 decision each turn (which action to take, and which cards to include in that action) makes it seem like this would be an overly simple game. But it's not. The weight and tension in those decisions is perfect. 

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Firestone--My favorite aspect of Hanamikoji is that on two of the four Actions you're forced to give your opponent the first choice of cards. And sometimes they don't take what you expect, because you don't know what's in their hand. And because you've removed one card out of the game. It's crazy. In a great way. 

And the timing of your action is important, too. Because you're drawing a card each round, you're adding new data to the situation, which must be evaluated. But it NEVER feels overwhelming. 

Jeremiah--Story time: In one of my plays of Hanamikoji, at the end of a round my last available action was the Competition action, which meant I had to let my opponent choose two cards to take while keeping two for myself. After looking at the table and how the cards were played out, I was able to devise a way that would make my opponent choose how to lose to me. Those type of plays are all over the place if you can cypher them out. It's soooo cool!

Firestone--Hanamikoji is a great nongamer game. It's easy to explain. There are (at most) four things you can do at any given time. And it plays in 10 or 15 minutes. In fact, I don't have even a tiny complaint about this game. It's an excellent 2-player game, and it's definitely going into the collection. 

Jeremiah--Agreed! I loved this game before I even played it! A lot of people toss the word elegant around when describing games and game design. But here it truly fits. Hanamikoji packs an amazing amount of fun, tension, strategy and player interaction into a tiny box in a small time frame!

Now let's not forget the amazing artwork! It's perfectly suited for the gameplay and the theme. It creates a truly gorgeous setting for the game to unfold in. This game is an outstanding work of art!

Firestone--Yes, that artwork is beautiful, but also functional. I don't have to squint or wonder what a symbol on a card is. It's clear and colorful and serves the game function while retaining a lovely form. 

Firestone's Final Verdict--Hanamikoji is excellent. It's a perfect balance of simple decisions full of meaning and depth. Tense. Elegant. And all wrapped up in a small package. Buy this game. 

Jeremiah's Final Verdict--Wow. Just wow. There is so much to love about Hanamikoji from top to bottom. Artwork, theme, components, game play, player interaction, strategy and tense decisions. This game has it all! Truly elegant!

Theology of Games would like to thank Deep Water Games for providing review copies of Hanamikoji. This in no way affected our opinions of the game. 

What do you think? Have you played Hanamikoji? Let us know your thoughts in the comments. And thanks for reading!