Simple Fun with Koi-Koi, Set Collection, and Hanafuda

August 1, 2022 | Sessions | 2 comments

Capture cards from the different months and race to complete a set ahead of the solo opponent with Koi-Koi.

I’m still enjoying lots of lighter and quicker games lately. Remember the days when I thought they wouldn’t make good solo games? Ha! I learned about Koi-Koi not too long ago. A fun part of my job had me testing out a solo mode and learning how to play this game with a deck of Hanafuda cards. So much to learn, indeed, and lots of solo tournaments!

Double Disclaimer

I currently work for Pencil First Games as the sales and operations manager, and this Hanafuda deck was recently part of a Kickstarter campaign. However, I had never heard of the game before this project, and wanted to approach it as a new player. Just going through the usual transparency whenever I talk about a product I’m associated with!

This deck is also a prototype copy, so some elements are subject to change. Take note of the size of the cards, too. These are what might be described as tiny. Some of the Calico Critters are larger than them!

Game Overview

Game Name: Koi-Koi (Pencil First Games Edition)
Publication Year:
Uncredited and Bruno Cathala (Solo)
Vincent Dutrait
Publisher: Pencil First Games
Solo Mode: Included in the Base Game

Each suit represents a month, and the deck consists of 48 different cards. A common area provides an area to capture cards from in order to create sets. Luck plays a role, yet there are some interesting and lightweight strategies to figure out! Keep an eye on the visitors, too…

A Very Colorful and Beautiful Hanafuda Deck for Koi-Koi

First Play

July 5, 2022



Latest Play

July 30, 2022



Setup Time

Almost None

Lifetime Plays


Play Time

5 Minutes


High Score



Game Area

20" x 16"


Low Score


A Surprise Visitor

Well, well! As I was preparing to pull everything out of the box, a tiny Calico Critter visitor stopped by. This would be a cat with the cutest ears. So adorable! I just can’t.

This should also show the scale of the cards a little better: They fit into 3 wells, all of which might be big enough to fit this kitten. What is this: A bed for tiny animals?!

One thing I had to learn how to do was shuffle these cards, for they consist of multiple layers of cardboard and paper.

Effectively, they’re almost entirely rigid or solid, so card might sound a little misleading. They’re more like tiles.

A Cute Surprise Before Playing Koi-Koi

Learning the Sets

Looking at previous decks and rules, the hardest thing for me was to understand what cards were part of which set. For that matter, the months could be hard to decipher.

Luckily, this deck includes a pair of reference sheets to show what each card can be used for! They’re double-sided, as the game is typically played with 2 players.

For the solo mode, I had the benefit of seeing everything at once. And I only struggled through my first few plays.

Identifying the months turned out to be pretty intuitive, and I only needed to learn about a few special card types.

A Fun and Interesting Way to Learn the Different Sets in Koi-Koi

Compact Play

Aside from an area to keep track of the captured cards, this was a very tiny play area! Essentially, both the solo opponent and me started out with a hand of 8 cards.

Community cards could be captured by playing a card from a matching month. This happened first with a card from hand, and then by flipping the top card of the deck.

The community area sometimes gained cards, and I had a few turns when I was stuck with no possible captures.

Yet despite the luck-based element, it was exciting to race to complete a single set… Particularly a valuable one!

A Compact Play Area to Enjoy Koi-Koi

Making a Custom Set

I memorized the rules after my first set of 12 plays, which constituted a tournament. It wasn’t about winning once, but playing well (and getting a little lucky) consistently.

After a bit of shuffling and murmuring, the rest of this Calico Critter family showed up to make a custom set!

Maybe it’s a little tricky to see, but these were the cards that matched their outfits the most. Clever! And a reminder that there are so many different variants to try.

The quick turns made these tournaments fly by, even on days when I was a little tired and only played a few times.

The Perfect Pairings of Calico Critters and Individual Cards for a New Set in Koi-Koi

Finding the Right Balance in Lighter Games

For the longest time, my go-to relaxing game at the end of the day has been Herbaceous. I’ve only slowed down because I’m nearing 2,000 lifetime solo plays, and that feels like it needs a celebration! Luckily, this one seems to also fit that space. A couple of plays at the end of the day offers up a similar feeling for me with minimal pressure.

And that’s also a benefit of many lighter games: Randomness can play an important role without creating frustration. If I can play and reset in a matter of minutes, there’s nothing really lost. The high-scoring set can be something I chase time and time again. If that’s ruined by a lucky card draw by the solo opponent, I find it’s a reason to laugh!

That’s in stark contrast to randomness in games that can take hours to play. In those cases, I’m building something and working on a careful plan. If all that can be spoiled by the luck of the draw, I often feel like I’ve wasted that time. Once again, another positive for lighter games! Their quick playing times make luck less of a major factor.

Making a Valuable Set

One of the rarest sets was the one for all of the red scrolls with writing. There were only 3 cards in the entire deck, but I pulled off this exciting set at one point!

This was also the moment when I could settle for the points, or push my luck to keep on going. The risk there was that the solo opponent could easily win instead.

I added more red scrolls, thereby improving my set and leading to a score that was doubled. Very nice!

This has been around for hundreds of years, yet I had a great time making the sets and hoping for the right cards!

Collecting Lots of Cards with Scrolls in Koi-Koi

Admiring the Artwork

I had to stop to admire the artwork many times. Not only was it simply gorgeous, but it was visually informative.

Never did I mix up cards with the wrong months. The only learning curve was in understanding what was a bright, seed, or dreg, and that came with a little practice.

Even at this tiny size, every card looked like a little masterpiece. I couldn’t even pick a favorite! But this kitten looked like the December bright was exactly right.

Keep in mind, too, that this deck was how I learned about the cards, and I found it pretty easy without any icons.

Sitting Back to Admire the Artwork in Koi-Koi

Session Overview

Play Number: 1-60
Solo Mode: Included in the Base Game
Outcome: 36-67, 94-29, 13-61, 78-29, 33-31 (3 W, 2 L)

There were a lot of interesting moments throughout all of these tournaments! I had some great luck with some sets, and then there was the time the solo opponent managed to score a whopping 50 points at once. Ouch! Yet I picked up on how to manage things better, especially once I found out that a 1-point win was worth it. Everything played out quickly and smoothly. Now I have another relaxing little set collection game to play practically anywhere!

Watching Out for the Visitor Cards in the Solo Mode for Koi-Koi


60 Plays


Price & Value



Challenges & Mechanics



Design & Theme



Components & Rules



Achievement & Enjoyment



Distinctness & Randomness


+ Pros (Positives)

  • There is a very lightweight and relaxing experience tucked away in a simple set of rules focused on set collection.
  • This edition is easy-to-understand for someone new to the game with helpful examples and visual examples.
  • Bright colors and clear elements make for a beautiful play area and a functional deck that’s easy to use.
  • Individual victories can help, yet the main focus is on making optimal moves over a 12-play tournament.
  • Gameplay is very quick and while shuffling the small cards takes a little practice, setup takes little time.
  • Just playing with the standard solo mode is enjoyable, but there are also many possible variants to try out.

– Cons (Negatives)

  • Gameplay relies heavily on the luck of the draw for at least half of each play, which can feel a little deterministic.
  • Understanding the months and sets takes a few plays to fully memorize outside of just reading the rules.
  • The sequence of play is easy to follow, but is also very repetitive with limited decisions to make each turn.
  • Keeping track of each set requires a little extra space and may also require some extra counting between turns.

More Koi-Koi

Explore related posts about Koi-Koi!

Victory Conditions

Score the Most Points Over 12 Plays

  • Overall Goal Progress 67% 67%

Goals and Milestones


Win 1 game after calling "Koi-koi!"


Win a 12-play solo tournament by at least 10 points.


Win every game in a 12-play solo tournament.

Continue the Conversation

Have you played Koi-Koi? Are there any other solo Hanafuda games you enjoy? I was certainly spoiled with this deck, yet I hope that the game continues to shine. Simple set collection and risk-taking work nicely together, and being able to come out victorious in a 12-play tournament is worth it! This will certainly be rolled into my normal rotation!


  1. Very interesting overview. Thanks. I saw Suzanne mention this and looked at some of the photos. They did a great job on the production.

    • Thanks for taking a look! To be clear, I work for the publisher and did some of the rulebook editing. The whole team was amazing. Vincent Dutrait’s artwork here really is absolutely stunning in-person!


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