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Koi-Koi Doesn’t Mean Fish-Fish!

Editor's Note: This post was written before the beginning of time. The contents may no longer be relevant or accurate. Please investigate thoroughly before taking any advice or embarking on any adventures based on the information herein. 

Tired of playing janken or too afraid to dive into the mayhem of pachinko? Want to learn a new game that can impress your staff? Then Koi-koi is the game for you! Koi-koi is a game that actually isn’t played too often nowadays, but is always fun to show off your knowledge of old Japanese games to Japanese people. Koi-koi is a card game played with hanafuda, or more directly translated “flower cards”. A normal deck of hanafuda contains 48 cards which are divided into 12 different suits, denoted by a month and a corresponding Japanese flower. For example, Cherry Blossoms denote March and Irises denote May.

Typically played between two people, a dealer is chosen by whatever method you decide (for example, janken). The dealer deals 8 cards face down in front of the opponent, 8 cards face-up in the middle, and then finally 8 cards face-down in front of him, placing the remaining card pile next to the face up cards. There are many ways to play Koi-koi, but here is a simple way to play koi-koi. On a player’s turn, he may match by suit any card he is holding with another face up card on the table. If a pair can be made, the player takes both cards and puts it into his point pile. If a match cannot be made, the player must discard a card face up and add it to the other face up cards. After matching or discarding a card, the player must draw the top card from the draw pile and if that card matches another card on the table, the player takes both cards and puts it into his point pile. If the drawn card cannot be paired up, it is added to the other face up cards, thus ending this player’s turn.

After a player’s turn ends, if a yaku (also known as a combination) has been made (see here for types of combinations), the player can either cash in and take the earned points from the combination(s) to add to his total score or choose to continue to play (by firmly saying “koi-koi!”) in hopes of gaining more points. Be warned though, if your opponent makes a combination during their turn, they also have the choice of cashing in on what they have accumulated or continuing the game with “koi-koi”. Unfortunately, if your opponent decides to stop the game and cash in his points, you don’t receive any points from the combinations you have created thus far. If neither player can create any combination, the game goes in favor of the dealer. If neither player can create a combination AND can stop the game at the end of his turn before running out of cards, no points are given to either player. The game is usually played for 12 hands (in correlation to the number of months), but varies. For a more in depth description of card names, possible point pile combinations and their names, as well as a chance to play a free flash version online, please check out this site. “Koi-koi” away!

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2 thoughts on “Koi-Koi Doesn’t Mean Fish-Fish!

  1. For those who are interested, Daiso sells “Trump” decks (normal cards) with hanafuda cards printed on them. The cards correspond with the month (matsu on the ace, ume on the 2, up till the kiri on the queen (12)<- king has some random prints because there is no 13th month)
    They're good because if you get confused by the pictures, you can check if the numbers match, and if you want to switch games, you just add the kings back and you have a regular deck of cards. Theyre also easier to hold than traditional hanafuda cards (which are smaller and thicker) and it's only 100 yen.

    Since I'm already at it here's a bit of strategy and a sidenote about the rules:
    The wiki is a little more concise about the rules, (a lot of the hands kind of have a story behind them so knowing what certain actually are is helpful (eg. the kiku /chrysanthemum/september's Earth card is called the wildcard (it has a cup of sake on it <- makes it really easy to remember 2 winning combos:
    If you have it with the January light card (the moon = tsukimi) or the march light card (sakura <- hanami)) and it's a win because, Tsukimi (moon viewing) and Hanami (cherry blossom viewing)

    The risk of Koi koi (koi = 'come on'. It is the some one as 'kakatte koi' = Come at me/come get some) is that if your opponent gets a winning hand after you've koi koi'd they get double the points of what the hand is worth. (and you get nothing). The reason why you'd do it is to get certain hands like the gokou (5 lights) Which is extremely difficult to do without koi koi-ing.

    The other reason is that if you get 7 points or more when you win, your point score is doubled, so you might want to koi koi after a 5 point hand to try to get 2 more points (and go from 5 points to 14 points).

    Playing is the best way to learn/get better, so find a friend, print out a cheat-sheet with the hands and rules and get gangster (because apparently it's a gangster game)

    Fun fact: Nintendo printed hanafuda cards before they got into video games. Nintendo Hanafuda cards are really nice and run around 1200 yen, you can find them at most toy stores.

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