Playing cards provide the means for many classic casual games, from Poker and Spades to Solitaire. The classic deck of 52 cards consisting of 4 suits of 13 cards each has been around in one form or another for several hundred years. But not all decks were composed of similar cards and quantity.
In Japan, during the 1800's, a new game was created to circumvent laws banning playing cards due to gambling and it is still played to this day. It is called Hanafuda and it uses a deck of cards similar to Western-style playing cards, except that instead of 4 suits there are 12, and instead of 13 cards to a suit, there are only 4. Hanafuda is a relatively simple game of match and capture, in which learning to recognize the cards will be the largest hurdle. Once that is done, however, the game is a lot of fun to play.
And while there are many variations of the game of Hanafuda, one of the most popular of them is called Koi Koi.
Recently, after becoming absorbed with Nintendo's own implementation of Koi Koi in its wifi-enabled casual game collection, Clubhouse Games, a brilliant young developer created his own Flash implementation of the game running on his own multiplayer server.
Bryon Vandiver's Multiplayer Koi Koi combines the same classic Hanafuda deck with a unique ranking system to bring the excitement of this Japanese card game to casual gamers around the world, and all within the convenience of your favorite browser. (Registration required.)
Update: Unfortunately, this game is no longer available to play.
I won't go into all of the cards or the rules of Koi Koi here, as there is too much to cover, and the information is already explained at those links just provided. Instead, I'll go over the rudimentary basics and explain what is unique about this implementation.
In a Hanafuda deck of cards, there is one suit to represent each month of the year and four cards per suit. Of these cards, there are 5 "light" cards, 9 "animal" cards, 10 "poetry scroll" cards, and 24 "dregs" cards. Each month/suit generally consists of 1 light or animal card, 1 poetry scroll, and 2 dregs (though there are exceptions). The objective of the game is to collect sets of cards by matching the cards in your hand with cards on the board. Only cards of the same suit match with each other. It's just that simple.
Play begins by shuffling the deck, dealing 8 cards to each player, turning over 8 cards on the board, and the remaining cards left face-down on the table. Each turn consists of taking a card from your hand and matching it with a card on the board, and thus capturing both cards and setting them in front of you. If you place a card on the board of a suit different than all others on the board, the card stays on the board. Your turn ends by taking the next card from the remaining face-down cards on the table and placing it on the board. If it matches any one of the cards already on the board, you capture those two cards as well.
The hand ends when a player's captured cards contain one or more complete sets (sets are shown here). The winning player has the option to call "Koi Koi" thus extending the hand to acquire additional sets. Calling Koi Koi can be important to achieve much larger point totals since hand totals greater than 7 receive a double bonus; however, it is also a risky move. If one player calls Koi Koi and the other player is next to complete a set, that player receives a double bonus multiplier in addition to any point bonus multiplier, for a potential quadruple bonus score. In this implementation, there is no limit to the number of times a player can call Koi Koi, short of running out of cards. If all cards are exhausted following a call of Koi Koi and no additional points are earned, all previously earned points are forfeited.
Each hand takes takes only a few minutes to play, and the player that wins the hand gets to go first on the following hand, and there is an advantage to going first.
Scoring in this implementation follows similar rules to Nintendo's DS implementation with one important difference: there is no limit to the number of hands you can play with an opponent. Your score, and thus your rank, is determined by the number of points you have won from your opponents. Therefore, you may begin a game against an opponent with a huge point differential. This keeps the focus on winning hands instead of games, which increases the appeal of this being a quick casual game that be picked up for a quick hand or two at any time.
A quick and painless email registration gets you a free account and password with which to play. Don't let the initial learning curve of becoming familiar with these unusual cards deter you from the enjoyment of this unique card game from Japan. Click.
For trivia fans, Nintendo was founded in 1889 with the purpose of manufacturing and selling decks of Hanafuda cards. A practice the company has continued to this day.