Formosa Flowers, 2nd ed
- Designers: Lin Chen Yu
- Publisher: soso games
- Players: 2-4
- Age: 10+
- Time: 20-30 minutes
- Played with review copy provided by publisher and Taiwan Boardgames Design
Per the publisher: “Seasons change, and flowers blossom. The nature, sun, and wind enjoyed by visitors in the mountain are all beautiful memories of their journeys.
Formosa Flowers is adapted from (and inspired by) the traditional Japanese card game Hanafuda. Through playing flower cards of the same months, players collect required icons for card sets. In the game, the timing of scoring is very important. Obtaining high points while scoring before other players leave the round requires skill and luck.”
The original version appears to have come out in 2018 per BGG. This new version was published late 2020, but it on the SPIEL list here in 2022. It should be noted that this 2nd edition comes with the “Yaku” rules to provide more tactics and greater tension in the game.
The game is based on hanafuda, and as you would expect, there are 12 suits, one per month, with 4 flower cards in each. Each card has the number of the month in the corner as well as an icon which reminds you which scoring set the card belongs to. Further, there are 6 wild cards which have 2 numbers in the corner; it can be played for either of the months shown.
To start the game, the deck is shuffled, a starting hand is dealt out (6 cards for 4p), and then a tableau of face up cards is placed in the center of the table. The remainder of the deck is placed as a face down deck on the table. The Keep Playing tokens are placed in a pile on the table as well.
On a turn, the active player plays through two phases – the matching phase and then the scoring phase.
In the matching phase, the player first plays a card from their hand. If it matches a card in the tableau, the played card and the matched card are placed in the scoring pile of the player. If it does not match, it is placed in the tableau. Then the player draws a card from the top of the deck. If it matches a card in the tableau, the drawn card and the matched card are placed in the scoring pile of the player. Otherwise, it is placed in the tableau.
Then you move to the scoring phase. If you don’t have a scoring set, your turn simply ends and the next player goes. However, if you have a set or sets worth at least 4VP, you must choose to cash out or keep playing. If you want to keep playing, you take a Keep Playing token and stay in the round, and your turn ends. If you cash out, you score your current completed sets, and if you have any Keep Playing tokens, you generate a multiplier of 2/4/8x for 1/2/3 keep playing tokens. You are now out of the current round, but your scores are locked in.
Refer to your player aid for the different scoring sets. There are 7 different sets that can be scored; and the cards have icons on them to remind you of which sets certain cards belong to.
The game continues until all players but one have Cashed out. At this point, the round immediately ends, and that last remaining player scores nothing for the round. If someone has more than 60VP, the game ends, and the player with the most points wins. If not, play another round.
My thoughts on the game
Formosa Flowers is an interesting take on Hanafuda; a game that not many non-native Japanese players may come across. The game takes a bit of a twist with the “Keep Playing” tokens, as this adds a real element of push-your-luck and risk/reward calculation into the game.
While there is some skill and clever play in the first part of the turn – when you play a card to the board – the second part is much more luck reliant. Sure, you can try to play a card in the first part and hope to flip a matching card to capture in the second phase; but man, that’s a lot of odds going against you. I personally don’t feel like there’s a lot of decision making going on. Just crossing of fingers, praying to the Hanafuda gods, etc.
The scoring phase has a lot of interesting nuances though. Once you have collected enough cards, then you have to decide if you want to score or not. On one hand, it’s nice to score early on as you feel that you can safely take a Keep Playing token and not be shut out of the round. However, if you are collecting one of the larger sets; maybe you want to wait to get the fourth of fifth card of that particular set for the big payoff.
And regardless of when you score, you have to make the decision about continuing to play or not – remembering that no player (including yourself) can decide to cash out until they score another set. It’s not as easy as it seems to figure out how soon the other players (or yourself sometimes!) are going to be able to complete a set. Though I have not played the original version, apparently there are additional rules changes in this version (printed in red on the player aid) to give players a few other ways to score points.
The art on the cards appears to be traditional Japanese art, and it is pleasing to see. Each suit does make a nice picture when laid out next to each other. The icons under the numbers on the cards help you know which cards are used in which sets. Per my usual complaint, the cards are only single indexed, and that’s always been a beef of mine with card games.
Formosa Flowers is a quick and easy game, one that is really not too complex; yet there are still some challenging decisions to be made concerning risking higher multipliers by playing on. The penalty for misjudging this is high (you score no points); It’s a bit skewed towards the luck end of the spectrum, but for a short 10-15 minute game, it provides a pleasing little game experience.
Until your next appointment,
The Gaming Doctor