Tuesday, 20 January 2015

Let's play Hanafuda!

In the months leading up to the end of 2014 I discovered that Nintendo (yes, of Super Mario fame) used to manufacture playing cards known as Hanafuda at the end of the 19th century in Japan. Until then I had never even heard of Hanafuda cards and as it turns out, no one that I'd spoken to about it had ever come across it either...

In attempt to amend this I feel compelled to write a post about this very visually beautiful and well constructed game so that hopefully it will attract the worthy attention it deserves and be enjoyed by those yet to discover it!
Maple (October), Pine (January), Plum blossom (February)

For Christmas I was fortunate to be given a deck of the cards themselves and have since learnt that the game and deck for Hanafuda is one of Japan's oldest card games, originating in the ninth century and translates into English, as 'flower cards' (I am genuinely surprised that a game that has been around for so long remains so unheard of). The deck consisting of 48 individually illustrated cards is divided into 12 suits of 4 cards representing each month of the year and depict various flowers and animals. It is similar to the Portuguese Hombre deck which also consists of 48 individual cards. In the sixteenth century 'prior to the arrival of the first European traders, the Japanese used playing cards almost exclusively for recreation, but the gambling card games preferred by the Portuguese visitors quickly gained popularity among the natives' and saw the cards eventually banned for a time due to an increase in public gambling.  

Hanafuda card box

 Once you've learnt the deck (which believe me takes some getting used to) Hanafuda is also fun to play and can take between two and seven players depending on the variant of the game played. In Hawaii the game is incredibly popular and known more widely as 'Koi Koi'. 

"The object of virtually all Hanafuda games is to get more points than the other players. To do this players must capture and accumulate cards of the same suit or of a special combination by matching them based on their flower, or month."  

There are two basic games; 'Matching Flower' which is the easier of the two and 'Koi Koi' gambling aspect comes into play if players get a 'Yaku' (set of matching or point scoring cards) at which point they can choose to cash in the points total of their cards or they can declare 'Koi Koi' and continue playing for more points at the gamble of potentially allowing the other player to also gain a 'Yaku' and win the game.

The 48 cards of the Hanafuda deck. What cannot be seen in these photos is that the size and thickness of the cards are much smaller and thicker than our familiar deck of Westernised playing cards.

 And, yes of course to those who know me, I'll happily teach you!

For full rules and more detailed info on the game visit: http://www.hanafuda.com/

And if you fancy playing it yourself then click on the link at the top of that page to play online against the computer (although please note unless you read the rules it is a little hard to follow what is going on)

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