くみこ と かつひさ (Kumiko and Katsuhisa)

Designer: M. Aoki (A(四日市))
Publisher: Yokkaichi Indoor Union (四日市インドア同盟)
Players: 2
Playing Time: 15-20 minutes
Times Played: 4 on a gratis copy from the designer

Kumiko and Katsuhisa is a two-player trick-taking game where one player takes on the role of the Chairman of a publicly-traded furniture store company who has left the reins of President to his daughter, but is now questioning some of her decisions, and they engage in a proxy fight over certain shareholder blocks, trying to win them over with their proposals….that is based on a true story.

Katsuhisa said many things about the job his daughter was doing that are unconscionably callous: calling her a “bad child”, describing how difficult her birth was during a shareholding meeting, pointing to his appointment of her as CEO as his only mistake, and accusing her of a coup d’etat.  His daughter.

There’s much more to the story.

Kumiko and Katsuhisa, the game, fits into the family of trick-taking games where the players choose the conditions of the hand each time. There are other games that do this – Steichmeister and On the Cards being among the most well known, but there are also others that let the players collectively draft the conditions, like Nyet.  In a sense, these are an extension of games that have you bid for a trump suit; you’re only setting one condition there, and the draft is more of an auction, but I think it’s on the same spectrum, even if it couldn’t have been foreseen at the time.

The game will take place over a number of rounds which each represent the shareholder blocks (such as institutional investors or the central bank).  These blocks are each worth a certain number of points, and while the game lists a number of victory conditions, in practice, you play until one player has won a majority of the votes.  In keeping with the theme, Katsuhisa begins with a large block, roughly 30% of the necessary victory points, that represents his family holdings.

In exchange, Kumiko begins with more proposal cards.  The proposal cards will change the conditions of the hand, like setting the trump suit, adjusting the point value of certain ranks, or specifying points that will be granted if no cards of a given suit are taken.  (The shareholder card will also affect the round’s conditions in similar ways.)

Now I’ve made the same mistake I do when I teach the game, so let me back up and explain “points” more clearly.  You need a majority of the shareholder votes (which I may accidentally call points) to win.  Each hand of the game is played to determine who a shareholder will vote for, and that is the player who earned more points (used properly there) in a hand.

At the start of the hand, nothing is (generally) worth points: not taking tricks, not a certain suit, not certain ranks. Kumiko will win ties on tricks, so there’s an onus on Katsuhisa to play some proposals which increase the stakes. (I say “generally” because certain shareholder cards will give the hand some base points.)  However, this is also where we run into the most challenging choice in the design: the opponent can simply replace your proposal.  We’re going to explore that some more, but let’s go over the structure a bit first.

Hands are a svelte 2 to 4 tricks.  That’s it!  Players will each have 2 more cards to choose from than the number of tricks (and hold the remainder until the next hand), but from a standard deck of 52 cards….that’s quite a few cards unseen. (The game typically lasts just shy of one time through a deck.) The number of tricks, and several other things, are determined by the shareholder being fought over this turn; the shareholders are worth 20-40% of the votes you need, and the specific number will determine how many tricks a hand is, how many additional cards the players are dealt to play, and how many slots are available for proposal cards.

When the shareholder is revealed, a number of cards are flipped from the deck, face up.  These determine the “follow” suit for each trick, and are taken by the winner of the trick.  This is one of the rare trick-taking games where the card played by the lead player does not determine the suit that is to be followed.  It is a “must follow game”, but with the limited hand sizes, not following suit can be common.

Some of the conditions for the hand are immutable: the shareholder card has one condition and one proposal card will be revealed at random which cannot be overwritten.  For the proposals presented by the players, they have a number of slots equal to the shareholder card (minus the 1 which was chosen randomly). They alternate turns playing additional proposals or passing.  When playing a new one, they may occupy an empty slot or replace a previous player proposal.  The trick-play only begins once the proposal-play has ended.

This makes proffering a proposal a questionable proposition. Each hand, the players only draw one additional proposal card, so they are also a scarce commodity.  There’s a certain bluffing element there around: do you really want the proposal you played enacted, or do you know that they know that you know…and you really do not want it to happen.

A hand plays out, points are awarded, and votes are earned.  If a player has received the majority of votes, they win; otherwise, woo the next shareholding block. 

I don’t think I love this game, but I am enamored of its conceit and execution. I am compelled to keep exploring it. There is a bit of hand management that is unusual for a trick-taking game; holistically you’re trying to analyze what proposal cards and playing cards may be best used to fight for this shareholder, and which should be saved for a different group, but you’re also looking at this specific situation and what proposals you can risk laying on the table.  What suits do you need to follow this hand – what suits could your opponent not follow last hand, and what are the odds they drew into them? 

After initial giggles about the theme and the game’s foundation in reality, it’s hard for all further discussion of Kumiko & Katsuhisa to not come down to the ease at which your opponent can replace your proposals. It can cause the game to feel moot and mean. It can also be a cautious and clever fencing duel.  The sheer amount of cards out of circulation in a given hand is also driving this dance, as it causes you to question the odds that your opponent has the cards in their hand to win.

Between shareholder and proposal cards, there are 28 possible conditions that will shape a hand, and each trick will have a minimum of 2. As we’ve talked about, most of these deal with the banalities of setting the trump suit or making cards of rank 8/9/10 worth negative points. Katsuhisa has the advantage of starting with 30% of the necessary victory points, but loses ties on points in a hand, so when the shareholder and initial proposal card look like a hand may be headed for a tie, you’ve got more reason to wonder what your opponent has planned and why they’ve done (or not done) what they’ve done (or not done).

Which leaves the best card.

While most of those 28 cards fall in the realm of expectation and predictableness, there are 3 outliers, and I want to touch on one of them.  (This could probably apply to any of the 3, but in practice, I forget about the other two, and it is the spectre of “Reversal of Fortune” that hangs over the proposal dance.)

One proposal card says that after the proposal phase is finished, the players swap hands of playing cards.

So whatever you’ve been building towards, you may need an out – you could be building it for your opponent’s hand. (I’ve also been in a position where my best bet was to build the least optimal set of proposals for myself, and then swap hands into mystery meat – assuming my opponent couldn’t have a worse hand than I did; you can guess how that turned out.)

These sort of bluffing and double-think games are not usually my jam (and I think I’m over-accentuating their presence), but I like them here.  The same sort of whimsy and unexpected twists that happen in explaining the theme of the game also happen in the game play.  The tone and the theme and the gameplay cohere in a pleasing way. 


Thoughts from the Opinionated Gamers

Dale Y: (one play, with JN) – Well, I loved the explanation of the theme of this game.  And, I must say that I have a 100% record at this game.  There is an interesting back and forth here, with the obligate variability in the game as the proposal cards change things up.  Though I generally am not a fan of 2-player trick taking games, this one offers enough interesting facets (like Jekyll and Hyde and Fox and the Forest Duet) that I’m starting up a small niche for games such as this in my game collection.

Ratings from the Opinionated Gamers

  • I love it! 
  • I like it.  James Nathan, Dale Y
  • Neutral. 
  • Not for me…
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