Sick of Texas Hold ‘Em? Try Your Hand at Koi Koi

February 17, 2009 at 1:55 pm Leave a comment

Q: Long before Nintendo became famous for Super Mario Brothers, what was it known for?

A: Japanese playing cards.

I’ve never seen a deck quite as pretty as the Hanafuda (“flower cards”), which combines traditional Japanese games with western-style cards.

However, unlike the standard U.S. deck, which consists of four suits — Hearts, Diamonds, Spades and Clubs — Hanafuda uses 12 suits, one for each month. The pictures correspond to what’s in bloom during that time of year. Pine, cherry blossoms, plum, willow, chrysanthemum and wisteria are a few examples. There are also colorful images of ribbons, animals, and the moon; even a sake cup, which, like an Ace, counts as both a 1 and a 10. Kampai! 


Probably the most popular game to play with Hanafuda cards is Koi Koi, which comes across sort of like a combination of Go Fish, Mahjong and Blackjack (okay, maybe that last one’s a stretch…). Each card has a point value (1, 5, 10 or 20) and you win by pairing the images up and getting the most points.


Players get eight cards to start, with an additional eight face-up in the middle as the pot. To “capture” a card, you play one of yours and if it matches one of the face-up cards (meaning it’s from the same month), you keep it. If it doesn’t match any of them, you add it to the field.

For complete rules, check out this site.


Decades later, Nintendo is still manufacturing these cards. Some have a Mario Brothers theme. Of course, if you’d rather play on screen, there’s a digital version, too.

Sarah S.

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