Hanamikoji mid game card layout

Hands on Hanamikoji

Hanamikoji contents - 7 geisha cards and 7 types of tool cards. Victory and action tokens. Rules in multiple languages

It’s hard to believe that it’s already New Year’s Eve! I had fun playing Hanamikoji a few times with my wife the other night. Taking its name from a famous street in Kyoto, it is a beautifully illustrated game about earning the favors of geisha by giving them the tools they specialize in. While a simple and fast game to play, there’s a lot of thought and reading of the other player that goes into each round.


The seven geisha cards - my wife commented that their names on the cards seemed kind of modern
The seven geisha cards – my wife commented that the geisha names on the cards seemed kind of modern

There are seven geisha cards and seven types of instrument cards. The color of the instrument corresponds to the geisha, while the number indicates as the number of charm points the geisha is worth. There are two ways to win the game– win four geisha cards or win geisha worth a total of eleven charm points.

Gameplay is divided into rounds, each with three phases: 1) preparation 2) action 3) scoring.  Most of the time is spent in phase two. Making it further than two rounds is possible, but only happened once out of the six games we played.

In phase one, six tool cards are dealt to each player.

Seven types of tool cards
Tools of the trade

In phase two, the players alternate taking turns four times. Players draw a card and performing one of four actions on their turn. The actions are: play a card secretly; discard two cards; select three cards and the opponent receives one; and finally, make two sets of two cards each, with the opponent choosing which set to receive. Each action can only be done once per turn, so deciding which cards to use for each action can be difficult. The order of actions is up to the players.

One nice detail is the number of cards used in an action is the same as the action number. For example, action three requires the player to select three cards and show them to the other player. The other player then chooses one of those cards and plays it on their side. The remaining two cards are placed on your side of the corresponding geishas.

In phase three, the winner of each geisha is checked. The player with the most number of tool cards on their side of the matching geisha wins the geisha. In the case of a draw, nobody wins the geisha. Each geisha has a victory marker that is moved towards the player that won. If the victory conditions aren’t met, all tool cards are reshuffled and the next round begins. Victory tokens do not reset, so it adds an interesting twist to the next round. A draw preserves the status quo, so it can be advantageous to just force a draw on certain geisha that you already have won and focus on other geisha.

Scoring - the victory token is moved towards the winner of each geisha. The grey tokens are the used-side of the action tokens. The cards under them were discarded as part of action two.
Scoring – the victory token is moved towards the winner of each geisha. The grey tokens are the used-side of the action tokens. The cards under them were discarded as part of action two.

Want to learn more? The English rules can be found at the English publisher’s site


The game comes with Japanese, English, and Chinese language rules. Text on the card is not needed to play thanks to matching by number and color.

Since the game comes with rules in multiple languages, I’ll skip my usual excerpts of Japanese and instead comment on something I noticed while explaining the rules to my non-gamer wife. We enjoy games like Go and Rummy together, but this was the first times playing a modern game with her. I was surprised that she didn’t know some of the transliterated English words the Japanese rules used, such as round  (ラウンド) and phase (フェーズ ), which I had taken for granted as being both an avid gamer and native English speaker.

I mentioned this to a game designer friend, who I recently interviewed, and he confirmed that those are technical terms used by games. According to him, traditional Japanese games tend to just be two players and consist of alternating actions, so nothing more than “turn” (手番) was really needed. This posed a translation problem for modern games that were imported, so they adopted the transliterated terms. He also mentioned that there was already some familiarity with round (ラウンド) from sports, since it’s used in boxing as well.

Time 15 minutes
Players 2
Ages 10+
Publisher EmperorS4
Distributor (Japan) COLON ARC
Distributor (US) Quick Simple Fun
Details Board Game Geek
Online Retailer Board Game Prices

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