Everyone knows Nintendo is the creator of Mario, one of the most beloved video game characters of all time, but not as many know that Nintendo started out as a Hanafuda card manufacturer. While not popular and rarely played in the US outside of Hawaii, Hanafuda (literally translated as flower cards) was insanely popular at a certain time in Japan and used by many gambling establishments, including the Yakuza. In 1889, Fusajiro Yamauchi founded a company, which he called Nintendo Koppai, to produce the cards which at that point in time were handcrafted and painted on mulberry tree bark.
Nintendo has come a long way from its card based beginnings, but now you can get your hands on a special piece of Nintendo history, with Club Nintendo’s Hanafuda cards. For those unfamiliar with Club Nintendo it’s a service the game company offers where you can earn coins for registering your games, taking surveys and completing other tasks on the website. As those coins add up you can gain Platinum and Gold status to get a free gift yearly, but in addition you can spend these coins for cool prizes. I’ve used the service multiple times, but I think the Hanafuda cards are one of my favorite items I’ve gotten from them, and quite high quality for something that is essentially free.
Upon receiving it in the mail you’ll notice a smooth carrier box emblazoned with Mario’s mug and upon opening that hard plastic carrier you’ll find another box with beautiful Japanese paintings adorning it’s surface. The box is perhaps not meant to be kept as it has tear tabs to get into, but it was so pretty I couldn’t part with it. Within the box you’ll find the prize itself, a full deck of Hanafuda cards with special artwork of several Mario mainstays.
Included in your new collectible item are the instructions for one of the more popular games played with the cards, Koi Koi. It could be fairly described as a cross between poker and go fish where the object is to collect sets of cards that add up to points. I tried the game with my brother and we had fun, even though it took a little to learn to play and we still have to reference the back for the various sets you can collect and how many points they are worth.
The cards themselves are quite a bit smaller than a standard playing deck here in the US, but made of a light plastic instead. You’ll receive 54 cards, many of them adorned with popular Mario characters such as Wario, Donkey Kong and the rest of the crew. Artwork is the typical, yet beautiful, artwork you would expect from a traditional Japanese painting.
All in all I was extremely impressed with the product which is a fantastic addition to anybody’s collection, but also offers a playable game that few of us are familiar with. Arguably the best of all I didn’t pay a red cent for the cards. While yes, you need to buy the games to get the coins, presumably you intended to buy the titles in the first place. At 800 coins it’s one of the most expensive items in the Club Nintendo catalog, but in this humble writer’s opinion, it’s also the best. If you want to own a special piece of Nintendo’s history start an account at Club Nintendo and get to saving your coins. Who knows how long these beauties will be available?