Header AD

Hanamikoji Review

Quick Look: Hanamikoji

Designer: Kota Nakayama (中山 宏太)
Artists: Maisherly Chan
Publisher: Deep Water Games (North America), EmerorS4, Colon Arc
Year Published: 2013
No. of Players: 2
Ages: 7+
Playing Time: 15 minutes

Find more info on BoardGameGeek.com


Hanamikoji Board Game Art Artwork Japanese Geisha Cards

Hanamikoji was released in 2013, but hasn't been readily available in North America until this year (2018) when Deep Water Games brought it over. Deep Water Games has been dipping their fingers into foreign ponds to bring games over to this side of the world, and without them, who knows how long it would have taken me to play Hanamikoji? Personally, I'm grateful for their services, because Hanamikoji is a wonderful game, and it deserves worldwide attention.

I play a lot of games with my wife, so I’m always on the hunt for good two-player games. I didn’t know much about Hanamikoji before I reviewed it (other than what was on Board Game Geek), but after playing it, I’m more than pleased. In fact, it’s grown on me with every subsequent play.

At first I was worried this would be another game that was fun the first few times, but then got old due to lack of options upon repeated plays. I am happy to admit that I was quite wrong in that assumption. In fact, the more I played, the deeper the strategy got, and the more I enjoyed it.

The first thing that really caught me (besides the amazing artwork) was the mechanics. In particular, the mechanic of having to give cards to your opponent in order to play cards yourself. That may not seem like such a dastardly thing to make a player do, but when both players need every card in order to gain the favor of the Geishas, it can be a painful process when deciding which cards should be given up as an offering.

Of course, your opponent does the same thing, and must give up a number of cards to you as well. With only four actions per round (two of which involve giving cards to the other player, one involves trashing two cards, and the last involves saving a secret card to use for end-game scoring)—and one card being removed from the deck each round—hand management is a thought-provoking puzzle.

It’s wonderful.

There’s a lot of deep thought that goes into each and every action, and that includes which action to take at what time, along with which cards to play with each action. Trying to outthink your opponent is beautifully challenging, and even a well-played ruse can backfire if you’re not careful.

Some games end after the first round. Most (in my experience), however, go two, three, and sometimes more rounds. Each Geisha won by a player in a previous round stays won during the next round. Ties for most Item cards played on a Geisha go to whoever controlled (for lack of a better word) the Geisha at the end of the last round. This creates some interesting—and tense, if you can believe it—moments, as players are trying to gain control of other Geishas while retaining control of the ones they already have. Hanamikoji gives players a chance to dance on the edge of a razor-sharp blade, each action taken and card played tipping the scale one way or the other.

Another thing I found appealing was the timeframe it took to play. Even if the game goes on for a number of rounds, there’s still lots of time to get another game in (and another, and another…). I found it to be rather addicting. No matter if I won or lost a game, I was always eager to play another one. That right there, fair readers, is the sign of a good game.

Now, I know you have a lot of questions about Hanamikoji, so let’s dive into the minutia of the game itself. Continue reading for how to set up, the gameplay, some discussion about art and components, and more.


Hanamikoji Review Board Game Deep Water Games Setup

Another beautiful aspect of Hanamikoji is the ease of getting started. Lay out the seven Geisha cards (number two’s on the left, number five on the right, and all others in sequential order), and place a Favor Marker on the middle of each card.

Each player takes four Action Markers in their color. These start with the color side facing up.

Shuffle the deck of Item Cards, remove one from the game (without looking at it), and deal each player six cards. Place the Item deck near the Geisha cards to be used as the draw pile.

Let’s play.


Hanamikoji Board Game by Deep Water Games Review Geisha

Play starts with the youngest player (or however you want to go about it). This player draws a card, then chooses an action. Once that action is complete, that player flips over the appropriate Action Marker (ex. Player #1 discards two cards, therefore Action Marker #2 is flipped over). Turns alternate between players, each one taking an action after the other player takes one. The round ends once all actions have been taken by both players (all cards—except the one that was removed from the game—will have been played by this point).

Scoring now happens by moving the Favor Tokens on each Geisha toward the player who has the most cards played on that particular Geisha (ex. If player #2 has two #4 Item Cards played on the #4 Geisha, and player #1 has just one #4 Item Card on that Geisha, then Player #2 wins the favor of that Geisha).

If any player gains the favor of at least four Geisha, or 11 or more Charm points (the number on the upper left corner of the Geisha cards), the game ends and that player wins (assuming there is no tie). In the event of a tie (meaning one player has won four Geishas and the other has 11 or more Charm points), the tie breaker the player who has the most Charm points wins.


Hanamikoji Board Game Geisha Action markers

Let’s talk about the actions for a moment. Knowing what each action does will help you get a better feel for what all that gameplay stuff means. Each player’s action markers are the same, so each player will end up doing the same thing as their opponent. However, the order in which it done will depend greatly on what you have in your hand, as well as what your opponent has already done.

Action Marker #1: Secret

Hanamikoji Board Game Review Geisha Action marker 1 Secret

When using this action, choose one card from your hand and place it facedown underneath this Action Marker. Once the round ends, this card is played next to its corresponding Geisha card. This is a great way to bluff your opponent and/or stash a much-needed card that will ensure a Geisha’s favor.

Action Marker #2: Discard
For this action, simply place two cards from your hand facedown underneath this Action Marker. These two cards will not be used for scoring. If you’ve already lost or won a Geisha card and have more of that numbered Item Card in your hand, this is a good way to get rid of them. It’s also a good way to keep any cards from your opponent.

Action Marker #3: Gift
This is where things start getting tricky (not that choosing which cards to discard or keep secret is easy, but I digress). With this action, you select three cards from your hand and lay them out on the table face up. Your opponent chooses one of those cards (and immediately plays it next to the appropriate Geisha), and you take the other two, immediately playing them to their corresponding Geishas as well. At least with this action, you’re only giving your opponent one card out of three. However, it’s never ideal to give up cards, so this is where strategy gets all kinds of interesting.

Action marker #4: Competition
If the Gift action made things tricky, the Competition action can be even more frightening (and devious). In this action, you present four Item cards from your hand, face up, onto the table. Then, separate these four cards into two piles with two cards each. Your opponent chooses which pile to take first (and then plays them immediately next to their corresponding Geishas), and then you take the leftovers. Determining which cards to play can be a brain burner, especially if both you and your opponent have similar cards already played. It’s a wonderful action that can either see you to victory or defeat.

Theme and Mechanics:

Hanamikoji Board Game Card Game Deep Water Games Geisha Review Cards Art

In Hanamikoji, players vie for the favor of various Geishas, who are essentially elegant and graceful women, skilled in art, music, dance, and other ceremonies and performances. Geishas are greatly respected, and it is your job to likewise gain their respect.

The theme is strong in Hanamikoji’s artwork. The beautiful illustrations could practically be framed on your wall, they’re that good.

The mechanics also do their part to promote the theme, although it could be argued that any old theme could be slapped on here with the same effect. That said, a different theme would require different art, and that I will not have.

The names of the mechanics imply what each player is doing: giving gifts, engaging in friendly competition, etc., all to win the favor of the Geishas. It’s an interesting theme, and the mechanics are even more fascinating. You see, the fact that the majority of cards played come about by giving cards to the other player, there’s a lot of thought that goes into each action. I love this aspect of the game, as it’s something that tickles my brain and makes me delve into the mind of my opponent (which can sometimes be quite traumatizing). After my first game, I didn’t think there was much to it. Obviously I hadn’t gotten the hang of it yet, because even my second game was much more intricately played, and for games after that, my thought process and strategy deepened, making me feel like some really really smart guy (so smart, in fact, that I can’t come up with a smart guy’s name. Way to go, Einstein…).

To sum up, the mechanics are brilliant and I love them. 

Artwork and Components:

Hanamikoji Card Game Geisha Cards Art Artwork

As mentioned above, the artwork is fabulous. I mean, just take a look for yourself. ’Nuff said.

The components are your average cards and cardboard tokens. Nothing to write home about, but they’re certainly the quality I would expect.

The Good:
  • Brilliant mechanics
  • Gorgeous artwork
  • Easy to learn
  • Quick to play
  • Lots of replayability (even with the same opponent!)
  • It came with a baggie for the cards and tokens, so thumbs up to that
  • High player interaction

The Bad:
There is a fair amount of luck, due to the drawing of cards, but I found that was countered nicely by the way the mechanics encourages certain strategies in any given situation.

Alright, so this isn’t bad, per se, but something that may need clarifying, due to some potential confusion as to what “Geisha” means. Although the term Geisha is completely harmless in the realm of this game, some prostitutes in Japan have taken upon them the name of Geisha for whatever reason (you be the judge). “Geisha,” in its traditional (and current) sense, essentially means “artist.” The use of the term “Geisha” in this game is that of the well-respected artists, not the other, more taboo version also mentioned. Just thought I’d throw that out there, since my wife was one of more-than-a-few (most likely) who thought Geisha had that particular connotation. After a quick Google-safe search (one can never be too careful), I discovered that there is nothing shady about Hanamikoji. I don’t mention this to cast shade at the game, but rather to hush any fears that may arise from the term, as brought forward by my wife (for which I am grateful). 

Final Thoughts:
Look, I’m obviously a big fan of Hanamikoji. From the artwork to the mechanics, it’s a solid two-player game that has enough going for it that I would be happy playing this over and over again. I’m not sure what else to say other than it’s wonderful and I certainly recommend it.

Players Who Like:
Do you like gorgeous art? Hanamikoji is for you. Do you like pure, undiluted two-player games with high player interaction? Check out Hanamikoji. Do you like interesting mechanics that make each decision vital to your success or failure? Give Hanamikoji a go.

Check out Hanamikoji on:


About the Author:

Benjamin Kocher hails from Canada but now lives in Utah with his wife and kids. He's a freelance writer and editor, as well as a budding game designer. An avid writer of science fiction and fantasy, it comes as no surprise that his favorite board games are those with rich, engaging themes. When he’s not writing or playing games, Benjamin loves to play ultimate Frisbee, watch and play rugby, and read the most epic fantasy books available. Follow him on Twitter @BenjaminKocher and read his board game-inspired fiction at BenjaminKocher.com.

Check out Benjamin's reviews here.

Hanamikoji Review Hanamikoji Review Reviewed by Benjamin Kocher on August 03, 2018 Rating: 5

No comments