I'm a 38-year-old Dutch guy with a 38-year-old Polish girlfriend. She indulges me by playing games together, and we do not shy away from confrontation at the table. Also, away from the table
There’s some kind of theme in Hanamikoji, about restaurant owners trying to lure geishas into their establishment. I'm not an expert on Japanese cuisine or tradition (most of my little knowledge on the subject comes from playing the Phoenix Wright games and the Lego Ninjago movie) but I hope it's about the chopsticks in their hair and that I'm not about to find a bloody fan in my ramen noodles.
In Hanamikoji you try to get into the geishas’ favor by providing them with their favorite items: banjos and umbrellas and tea kettles and such (the same way I wooed my girlfriend). You try to achieve this by performing four different actions each round. The first player to influence four different geishas or any number of geishas with a total value of eleven or more wins. The game is super easy to learn. You start with six cards in hand, you draw one more at the start of your turn, you choose one of your four actions. After your opponent has finished his or her turn, do the same, choosing one of the three remaining actions and repeat this until all four actions have been taken by both players. The actions lead to cards being played on both sides of the geishas. You then check who has majorities on each geisha and if no one has won yet, you play again - but you keep the influences currently on the geishas. So next round you'll be trying to keep the geishas you already have while trying to get one or two more.
These are our impressions:
The components... well, it depends on which version you get. Before buying our German Kosmos edition, I had played the Romanian edition, borrowed from a friend. The Romanian edition comes out ahead here: the cards in the middle are thicker tiles instead of the bigger cards from Kosmos. We vastly preferred the tiles - after about 10 play sessions, the Kosmos cards were already showing some wear on the corners. Which is weird, as you don't shuffle those, they're just in the middle of the table. 5/5 for the Romanian, 3/5 for the German version.
The theme is truly pasted on. The graphic design is great, the cards are really beautiful, but you could play this with 2 decks or regular playing cards really. At no time did we have the feeling that the gameplay matches the theme.
Our bickering faction was surprisingly low. The game is in the four actions you can take. They are all interesting: you’re giving information about your cards and plans to your opponent, or are making a hidden decision based on little to no knowledge. You don't want to choose any of the actions as your first. Nor as your last. Winning or losing was, for the first couple of game, always more about (mis)managing your own actions and the choices you make than about what the other player did. Later on, as we got to know the game better, some bluffing became involved: trying to trick the other into taking or leaving certain cards. When a plan like this succeeded (giggling from behind a fan), it was met with an approving or impressed nod.
This is not a laugh-out-out, jumping from your seat, exciting game. It’s a subdued game, a thinky game. I prefer this to Battleline/Schotten Totten (similar games, fighting over control of cards) because it’s slightly faster and fewer cards to take into account. The fact that you keep your influence over different rounds means you have to shift focus and change tactics.
My girlfriend still prefers Schotten Totten, as she finds it easier to see what’s happening and where you should put your focus as the game goes on.
The action in Hanamikoji takes place in your head, the action in Schotten Totten is on the table (ancient Japanese proverb)
All in all, another heartily recommended game.