Reviewed by Herb Levy
OHANAMI (Pandasaurus Games, 2 to 4 players, ages 8 and up, 20 minutes; $14.99)
When Cherry Blossoms bloom, their stunning color and vibrancy makes it a spectacular occasion. With that as an inspiration, Steffan Benndorf has devised a game putting players into a garden-planting competition to create the most beautiful gardens in order to become the Master Gardener in Ohanami.
Ohanami is a card game consisting of a deck of 120 cards, numbered from 1 to 120, in four colors: blue, green, gray and pink. The entire deck is shuffled and each player dealt a hand of 10 cards. From those hands, players select 2 cards which will be played to their individual displays, passing remaining cards to the right. Cards may be played together or separately in a different column to a maximum of three columns (gardens) of cards in their display. Any cards may be played but the tricky thing is this:
Once a pair of cards is placed in a column, subsequent cards may only be played above the highest number or below the lowest number in that column but not in the middle!
From the remaining 8 cards passed, another 2 are selected and played to that player’s display. This continues until all 10 cards have been chosen and played. (You do not have to play both cards. You can only play one if you wish or even discard both cards if their numbers fall outside of a comfortable “zone”.) After all 10 cards have been played or discarded, the first scoring occurs. All BLUE cards in a display earn 3 points for that player. Now, new hands of 10 cards are dealt and we do it all over again (although, this time, we pass cards to the left). When all cards have been chosen and played (or not), a second scoring occurs with blue cards scoring 3 points again but now GREEN cards scoring 4 points each.
The third round is the final round. Again, 10 cards are dealt and cards selected (passing, once again, unchosen cards to the right). But the final scoring involves all four suits. This time, not only do blue cards score (3 points each) and green cards score (4 points each) but now all four colors score with GRAY worth 7 points each and PINK scoring on a sliding scale – from 1 to 120 points (IF you have managed to plant 15 of them in your gardens). High score wins!
In a card game, card quality is important and card quality is good here. Although you might (wrongly) assume so, card numbers have no relation to the colors so runs of a number will not be of a single color. Your main concern needs to be trying to group numbered cards as closely as possible. Leaving large gaps between cards (say a 40 with a 60 on top) will leave you powerless to play cards found in the middle, severely limiting your choices. (That’s when you start a second or third column – but what if you are already at your maximum? Then you MUST discard!) You still may be forced to discard cards but only do so after carefully considering how much “wiggle room” you have between numbers. In this respect, the game may remind veteran gamers of the Milton Bradley classic Rack-O or the more recent series of 10 Days in… games designed by Alan Moon. Discarded cards score NO points; discard too many and you place yourself at a disadvantage but play cards too far apart and you will severely limit future play possibilities. An important secondary consideration is colors. Blues are the least “valuable” in that they are only worth 3 points – but they score THREE times!!! So thinking of them as unimportant is a bit deceptive. Collecting Pink cards, even if it means neglecting other colors, can be a winning strategy too! (Very soft hues are used on the cards but each suit has its own symbol making identification when scoring easy.)
Steffan Benndorf has made his mark on gaming with his The Game, a similar card game of putting together runs of numbers in a cooperative fashion. Ohanami is NOT cooperative and its competitiveness makes this design, in my view, a lot better! You are in control of your destiny as you decide which cards to choose and where to play them. While the game plays well with two, it excels with the full complement of four players since, with four players competing, the card (or cards) you need may not come to you when you need them! That luck element gives the game a tension that makes each round more and more demanding and exciting.
Ohanami is a surprisingly addictive and entertaining game of cards and colors that works wonderfully as an opener or closer for a fun filled Game Night, another example of good things coming in small packages – – – – – – – – – – -Herb Levy.
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