27 September 2021
You’ll curse your opponent and you’ll likely curse yourself more, but it’s worth it.
There’s something special about exclusively two player games. Whether it’s through tense, tactical chess stand offs or the grand, clashing strategies of a traditional tabletop war game, these duels excel at crawling into the psyche and headspace of players in a way multiplayer games just can’t. Hanamikoji is one of those games.
This elegant and compact design has players competing for the attention of a septet of gorgeous geishas by gifting them the objects they desire. Basically, these women are the subjects of a bizarre area majority contest, although, in truth, Hanamikoji’s theme is effectively redundant, serving simply as a backdrop for array of dazzlingly beautiful full art cards.
This pastel-hued lineup of geishas acts as the calm, literal divide between the two fiercely opposed sets of eyes battling and bluffing at the table. Each turn players will eye up their hand of item cards before choosing one of four simple actions; reserve a card to play at the end of a round, discard two cards entirely from the game, and two variations on the popular ‘I cut, you choose’ mechanic.
Revealed cards are ultimately placed beneath (or above) corresponding geishas, their position indicating which player holds the majority. The value of the geishas ranges from two to five, with that number also indicating how many corresponding items reside within the deck. Once a player claims four geishas or a combined value of eleven the game will end.
It sounds so simple, but this is powerful stuff. These limitations and excruciating decisions help to draw players in with surprising intensity, and within its brief play time, tense moments of risky, clever plays become oh so satisfying.
You’ll curse your opponent and you’ll likely curse yourself more, but it’s worth it. A perfect example of head-to-head game design elegance.
PLAY IT? MUST-PLAY
Designer: Kota Nakayama
Time: 15 minutes
This article originally appeared in issue 59 of Tabletop Gaming. Pick up the latest issue of the UK's fastest-growing gaming magazine in print or digital here or subscribe to make sure you never miss another issue.
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