Tuesday, February 21, 2023

Squid Games: Koi-Koi

For Christmas, my wife got me a deck of hanafuda, a style of Japanese playing cards which are also used in Korea, Micronesia and Hawaii.  I readily admit, despite my time in Japan, I'd never heard of hanafuda.  The deck I have is produced by Nintendo, the video game company which evidently got its start in 1889 as a hanafuda producer.

The deck came with instructions for Koi-Koi, the most popular Japanese game played with hanafuda.  The objective of this two-player game is to create sets of cards called yaku.  Figuring out the yuka is challenging for novices like us - not unlike the challenge of learning all the winning combinations in mahjong.  A few examples:


Blossom Viewing

Five Lights

Unlike western playing cards, hanafuda are not numerical.  They do have suits in a sense, the cards being grouped into each of the twelve months.  Within each month, the four cards have different values, though the values are not printed on the cards.  Some cards have scrolls.  Some have animals on them.  Some have celestial objects.  Only one has a human.  

I can see how the game would be fun after a lot of practice with visual guides.  The cards are small - maybe 1/3 the size of typical western cards - and very pretty.  Our first attempt was rather frustrating but I think Koi-Koi has promise once we learn our way around the deck itself.  

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