Posted by Doug on May 28, 2010
Before watching Summer Wars (an excellent movie, by the way), I had only a dim awareness of the traditional Japanese game of hanafuda. Well, to be honest, about all I knew about it was that three of the characters from Naruto (Shikamaru, Ino, and Chōji) were named for a particular hand in hanafuda (ino-shika-cho). But Summer Wars’ charm provoked an interest in hanafuda, and after learning one variant of the game thanks to a flash animation version I found online, I decided to buy myself a deck of hanafuda cards. For about $36 (including shipping costs), I got a set of two decks of hanafuda cards through Amazon, made in Japan and distributed by The House of Rice.
Shown above are the contents of one deck of hanafuda cards. The cards are thick, and do not bend; as one can see in the above pictures, they are about one-third the size of a Western-style playing card. These two factors combine to present an interesting challenge when trying to shuffle the deck. Riffle shuffling is nigh impossible and would likely damage the cards; an overhand shuffle works reasonably well. There are forty-eight cards, four for each of twelve suits, each suit being associated with a flower and a month of the year, some of which are designated as ribbon cards, animal cards (which don’t always depict an animal, by the way), and bright cards.
The variant of hanafuda played in the Summer Wars movie, and in the Hanafuda Flash game linked to above, goes something like this: eight cards are dealt to each player, and eight are dealt face-up in the center. On each player’s turn, they play one card from their hand. If that card matches the month to one of the cards in the center, they capture both cards; otherwise, the played card is added to the central group of cards. Then, the player draws one card from the remainder of the deck, and attempts to play it in the same fashion. The player is trying to capture certain combinations of cards, called yaku, for points.
There are variations, but the list of the yaku used in the Hanafuda Flash game are:
- Kasu (plains): ten plain cards. This yaku is worth 1 point, plus 1 extra point for each additional plains card captured. The Sake Cup (the ‘animal’ card of September) card can be regarded as a plain card as well as an animal card for the purposes of this yaku.
- Tanzaku (ribbons): five ribbon cards. This yaku is worth 1 point, plus 1 extra point for each additional ribbon card captured.
- Tane (animals or types): five of the animals cards. Like kasu and tanzaku, it is worth 1 point, plus 1 extra point for each additional animal card captured.
- Ino-Shika-Cho (boar-deer-butterfly): this yaku consists of the three specific animal cards, and is worth 5 points. This is the yaku that the characters from Naruto I mentioned above were named after.
- Akatan (red poetry ribbons): all three of the red poetry ribbons (the ones with the writing on them). This yaku is worth 6 points.
- Aotan (blue ribbons): all three of the blue ribbons (although they tend to look more purplish than blue to me). This yaku is worth 6 points.
- Sanko (three brights): any combination of three bright cards, excluding the Rain Man card. This yaku is worth 6 points.
- Ame-Shiko (Rain Man): any combination of four bright cards that includes the Rain Man card. This yaku is worth 8 points.
- Shiko (four brights): all four of the bright cards other than the Rain Man card. This yaku is worth 10 points.
- Goko (five brights): all five bright cards. This yaku is worth 15 points.
- Tsuki-fuda (monthly cards): Each round of the game has an associated month, with the first round being January, the second February, and so forth. Collecting the four cards of the round’s month constitute this special yaku that is worth 4 points.
When a player achieves a yaku, they have two choices: they can either end the round, or allow the round to continue. If they end the round, they earn the points for the yaku they have collected, and then a new round begins. If they choose to continue (preferably with an emphatic call of Koi koi!), then the round continues until another yaku is achieved by either player. If the other player achieves the yaku, and then choses to end the round, the first player does not gain the points for their yaku. If the same player gains the yaku, they can chose to end the round and earn the points for all the different yaku they have achieved. Of course, the option to continue (Koi koi!) remains, as long as the players have cards left to play.
I believe (but am not 100% certain) that multiple yaku stack: if one has five ribbon cards, of which three are the blue ribbons, they have achieved two yaku: Tanzaku and Aotan, and earned a total of 7 points.
If both players end up playing all eight of the cards in their hand without either player earning a yaku, it is called Oya-Ken (dealer’s privilege), and whoever the dealer was earns 6 points. In any case, play continues, round after round, until one player achieves a predetermined number of points (often 50).
Hanafuda seems like a fun enough game, and all that remains is for me to A) con the people I know into trying it, and B) teaching them how to play. Surely that can’t be that hard. I mean, we’re only talking about an obscure game from a foreign culture which uses small, difficult to handle cards with very esoteric imagery on it…