We’re in the process of reviewing the new Sakura Wars title, which we previewed last week. During that time, we put a lot of focus on the combat and story elements, but there was one feature we didn’t mention. Koi-Koi Wars is a mini-game where players will play the Japanese Hanafuda card game, Koi-Koi. I’ve played a few games where Koi-Koi was available, including last year’s Judgment, but even playing there, I didn’t fully understand the game. Somehow, Sakura Wars made it easier to understand, and now I’m hooked.
Despite not fully understanding the game until now, I have known about Koi-Koi for a while. My first introduction to the game was in the Mamoru Hosoda animated film Summer Wars, and it looked like a lot of fun there. Sadly, for whatever reason, I didn’t quite understand the rules when I tried it in games like the Yakuza series. Since it was defeating me, losing valuable currency in the process, it ended up pushing me away. In Sakura Wars, many of the characters are available to challenge you to the game. Perhaps it’s the change of presentation, but it felt more inviting, and it prompted me to try again. After reading over the rules again, and playing a couple practice rounds, I started to get it. Honestly, the practice rounds may have been the crucial element here.
For those that don’t know, Koi-Koi is a card matching game. Players will start with eight cards in their hand, and eight cards will be on the playing field. You’ll have 12 suits of four cards each to work with, matching them as you play to collect them. When playing cards, another card will be drawn, and if it matches any other suits in the playing field, players will keep those as well. While you can simply match cards with their appropriate suit, the main goal is to go for certain sets. Each set has a specific value of the antiquated Japanese currency, mon. When a player achieves a set before running out of cards, they are given an option. They can either stop and claim their mon, or they can call Koi-Koi. This is where things get really interesting.
Calling Koi-Koi is a bit of a gamble. While you have the potential to increase your winnings, your opponent can take it away if they obtain a set themselves. The player faces the challenge of choosing when to stop for a minor win, or when to keep going when they can truly grasp victory. Playing it safe can be fine, but giving your opponent a chance to get their own sets is always a dangerous strategy. It can also end up shooting you in the foot, as calling Koi-Koi without gaining another set means your opponent wins. Like many card games, a lot of times, it comes down to luck. There are moments where you’ll simply get a bad hand, and there’s nothing you can do about it.
Sometimes, you’ll have moments where there isn’t anything in the playing field that you can match with. This creates some interesting strategies, as you don’t want to help your opponent. If you have matching suits in your hand, it may be worth playing one with the hope that you can play the other to match with on your next turn. But what if your opponent manages to match with it instead? Well, then your strategy falls apart and it ends up being a fruitless effort. It helps to keep an eye on the collection area to see what cards have already gone into play. Some of the best strategies will also come from having a solid understanding of the different sets. Recognizing seeds, ribbons, and especially the lights will be a crucial part of winning this game. You won’t be able to win if you only collect junk.
There’s honestly a lot to think about when it comes to Koi-Koi Wars, and it makes for a perfect mini-game here. With 21 opponents to challenge in Sakura Wars, you’ll definitely have plenty of time to get the hang of it. While the game itself has no effect on your trust with your allies, it does have it’s own charms. Playing with the various members of the Flower Division, or even your enemies, can add a bit to their character. Playing with Sakura made me see her competitive personality in a different way than usual, and it was quite endearing. Since this game has a dating simulation aspect, this can honestly help players choose who they want to end up in a relationship with. If you have alternate costumes for them, you can also dress them up in this mode as well.
Of course, not everyone will be available to challenge from the start. A lot of this will come as the player progresses through the story. Some will only be unlocked after meeting certain conditions as well. Either way, it brings a level of strategy to the game, which considering the tactical roots of the series, it’s a welcome addition. If you pick up Sakura Wars next week, spend some time with Koi-Koi. I promise it will be worth it. Sakura Wars will release next week on April 28th, exclusively for the PlayStation 4. We’ll have a review for the game shortly before release, so please look forward to it.