Behind the Cards: Gambit of the Flower Cardians

Franco Ferrara

9/29/2016 11:00:00 AM
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Sometimes a new archetype catches my eye and I'm immediately enamored with it. Such was the case with the Flower Cardians. The theme's based upon one of my favorite card games, Hanafuda; it's a Japanese game where players take turns matching cards in their hands to those on the board and try to make winning combinations.

My passion for Hanafuda runs so deep that I've actually designed my own Hanafuda decks. It's a longstanding familial custom in Japanese traditions, and my great grandfather, Itaro Tsuyuki, was known for creating his own decks of Hanafuda cards to play with. Shameless plug, you can see some of them on my slowly building Patreon.

Hanafuda History
Japanese matching games are an ancient pastime originally played with painted sea shells instead of cards. It wasn't until about 400 years ago when the Portuguese landed on Japanese shores, that the concept of the “western playing card” was introduced to Japan and the matching concept was adapted to something we'd find more recognizable today.

Those spawned the creation and design of many new card games in Japan, with Hanafuda as one of the few that survives to this day. But compared to modern card games Hanafuda's somewhat different; it's one of few card games today that doesn't use numeric representations, relying entirely on imagery instead.

In 1633 Japan closed its borders to Western influence, including religion, trade and travel, and so foreign playing cards were subsequently banned. Strict gambling laws would come to be enforced, and Gamblers and card players designed new decks and new games for gambling. That trend quickly came to the attention of the Japanese government, and whenever they saw a card game had become a method of gambling – or even if a non-gambling game became popular – it was swiftly banned.

 Flower Cardian Willow with Calligrapher
$1.29
$0.29
$0.18
Flower Cardian Willow with Calligrapher121490
Set Dragons of Legend: Unleashed
Number DRL3-EN037
Level 11
Type Tuner/Effect Monster
Monster Warrior
Attribute DARK 
A / D 2000 / 2000
Rarity Ultra Rare
Card Text

Cannot be Normal Summoned/Set. Must first be Special Summoned (from your hand) by Tributing 1 Level 11 "Flower Cardian" monster, except "Flower Cardian Willow with Calligrapher". If this card is Special Summoned: Draw 1 card and reveal it, then if it is a "Flower Cardian" monster, you can Special Summon it. Otherwise, send it to the Graveyard. When using this card as a Synchro Material, you can treat this card and all the other Synchro Materials as Level 2 monsters.


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Eventually, the officials realized that no matter how many games they banned, the will to Gamble would always exist; they began to loosen their laws. Although by that point, card games had been subjugated by the law to such a degree that people's interest in them had started to wane. It was in that card game slump that Hanafuda became very popular, in part because the nature of the game meant it had very limited uses in gambling; the actual structure of the game system, combined with the sheer length of time a single game takes, made it a poor choice for gambling.

The true genius of these cards were that the use of numerical values or any relation to numerals were removed; that's one of the reasons why the cards look the way they do. The lack of numerals also let the cards survive through the banning of Western-style designs which always featured some form of numeral value. Hanafuda cards are a lot smaller than regular playing cards too, and are made of thick card stock and papers which give them their signature “clacking” sound when they're played.

Hanafuda Matching
The most important and most recognized game played with Hanafuda is Koi Koi – Japanese for “come on”. Koi Koi is what that the Flower Cardian's abilities and play-style are modelled after. It's a game of matching same suit cards and making combinations. Each Hanafuda deck has 12 suits with 4 cards per suit. The game begins with 8 cards dealt by a dealer to themselves, and up to 2 other players. 8 cards are also placed onto the field face-up.

Once cards are dealt, players take turns matching one card in their hand to one of the suit matching cards on the field and adding them to their pile. If a player can't make a match, they place a card of their choice onto the field. Regardless, the player then reveals the top card of the deck. If it matches a card on the field, that player takes both cards – they choose if multiple options exist – and adds them to their pile. If not, the card is placed onto the field. The next player does the same and so on.

The game continues that way until a player makes a combination, whereupon they choose to end the game immediately or let it continue to score more points. If they choose to continue, they declare “Koi Koi” and the game continues. If not, the game ends – a condition called “Shoubu” – and only the points for the player who ended the round are tallied. The cards are shuffled back into the deck and then dealt again, with the winner becoming the new dealer. Individual games can be very short or quite long, and this continues for 12 rounds; one game for each month of the calendar year. After 12 rounds the winner is the person with the most points gathered across the 12 “months” of play.

Each of the twelve Hanafuda suits is embellished with a flower or tree that represents one of the twelve months. Some feature an animal or object in addition to the flower, which makes them pivotal when building high scoring combinations. Aside from the “Thunder” card, cards with only flowers are generally considered “junk” cards. Some have “ribbons” (Tanzaku) which have their own set of combinations. Those “ribbons” were left out from the Flower Cardian theme, probably because of their unique nature in the Koi Koi system. While the image heavy cards are vital, collecting ten or more “junk” cards is a sneaky way to quickly end a game, even if they score very few points.

The images used on the Flower Cardian monsters are nearly identical to those found on real Hanafuda cards with the only difference being the Yu-Gi-Oh! inspired monster in their artwork.

The 5 most important Hanafuda cards with an animal/object on them are each worth 20 points:

1: Pine with Crane

2: Cherry Blossoms with Curtain

3: Zebra Grass with Moon

4: Willow with Poet

5: Paulownia with Phoenix

These were in turn leveraged into the Flower Cardian monsters with 2000 ATK, requiring a single tribute of another Flower Cardian monster with the same Level. That “same Level summoning” restriction represents the “matching” aspect of Koi Koi.

 Flower Cardian Pine with Crane
$1.23
$0.24
$0.12
Flower Cardian Pine with Crane121488
Set Dragons of Legend: Unleashed
Number DRL3-EN035
Level 1
Type Effect Monster
Monster Warrior
Attribute DARK 
A / D 2000 / 2000
Rarity Ultra Rare
Card Text

Cannot be Normal Summoned/Set. Must first be Special Summoned (from your hand) by Tributing 1 Level 1 "Flower Cardian" monster, except "Flower Cardian Pine with Crane". If this card is Special Summoned: Draw 1 card, and if you do, show it, then you can Special Summon it if it is a "Flower Cardian" monster. Otherwise, send it to the Graveyard. At the end of the Battle Phase, if this card battled: Draw 1 card.


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When those monsters are summoned, they reveal the top card of your deck and, if it's another Flower Cardian monster, you get the choice of keeping it or summoning it. That mechanic represents the end of the Koi Koi player's turn when the top card of the deck is revealed. The Flower Cardians really do Hanafuda justice with their attention to detail.

1: Flower Cardian Pine with Crane (Crane Crane)

2: Flower Cardian Cherry Blossoms with Curtain (Curtain of the Dark Ones)

3: Flower Cardian Zebra Grass with Moon (The Wicked Avatar)

4: Flower Cardian Willow with Calligrapher (Flower Cardian Lightshower)

5: Flower Cardian Paulownia with Phoenix (Fenghuang)

There are a total of ten 10 point cards in Hanafuda. Of these, only three were turned into Flower Cardian monsters to be released in Invasion: Vengeance in November. Those three cards each have an ATK and DEF of of 10 multiplied by 100, equaling 1000. They're very important to the deck, and will actually make the theme function, but that's for another day.

These 10-point cards feature the maple with deer, clover with boar and peony with butterfly images, and they're special in that they don't require a card of the same Level to be summoned. In the animated series, those monsters had only a single card for their respective suits unlike the rest of the monsters in the theme.

The Flower Cardian monsters depicting the “junk” cards have stats of 1 multiplied by 100, equaling just 100 ATK or DEF. Flower Cardian Willow, Flower Cardian Zebra Grass and Flower Cardian Paulownia are unique in that they feature a spell and monster in their art respectively. I'll explain the significance of that below.

Flower Cardian Combination
Each of the Synchro monsters in the Flower Cardian theme is based upon the scoring combinations made in Koi Koi. The theme's only Synchro for the moment is Flower Cardian Lightshower, based on the “Ameshikou” Hanafuda combination.

In Hanafuda, when you acquire the “Willow with Poet” and “Pine with Crane” cards, along with “Paulownia with Phoenix” and “Moon with Zebra Grass”, you'll score a whopping 8 points. The same thing happens in Yu-Gi-Oh! with our Flower Cardians. When you have the Flower Cardian Tuner, Flower Cardian Willow with Calligrapher plus 3 other monsters, you can Synchro Summon Flower Cardian Lightshower.

 Flower Cardian Lightshower
$7.95
$4.11
$1.79
Flower Cardian Lightshower121492
Set Dragons of Legend: Unleashed
Number DRL3-EN039
Level 8
Type Synchro/Effect Monster
Monster Warrior
Attribute DARK 
A / D 3000 / 3000
Rarity Secret Rare
Card Text

1 Tuner + 3 non-Tuner monsters Your opponent cannot target "Flower Cardian" monsters you control with card effects, also those monsters cannot be destroyed by card effects. During your opponent's Draw Phase, if they draw a card(s) for their normal draw: Inflict 1500 damage to your opponent. Once per turn, during your opponent's End Phase: Activate 1 of these effects;
- Skip the Draw Phase of your next turn.
- This card has its other effects negated until your opponent's next Standby Phase.


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So by making the same combination in Yu-Gi-Oh! you'll have created the Ameshikou combination of Koi Koi. Flower Cardian Lightshower's name is a direct translation of the Hanafuda combination "Ameshikou" – effectively a play on a sun shower and light amount of rain.

Two more Synchro monsters exist in the theme, one of which will be released in November in Invasion: Vengeance. The other, a 5000 ATK monster that negates spell cards and was exclusive to the animated series hasn't been announced and might never be released at this point.

The Junk Cards
The “junk” cards of Paulownia, Flower Cardian Paulownia, features the monster Tentacle Plant. In Hanafuda, the suit of Paulownia has 3 junk cards: 2 of them literally have the copyright and manufacturing information printed on them. That probably explains why there's a monster on a card which otherwise shouldn't have an image on it. These cards still score only 1 point.

The “junk” card of Willow, Flower Cardian Willow, features “Giant Trunade”. In Hanafuda, the Flower Cardian counterpart to this card is known as the “thunder” card. It usually only scores for 1 point like most “junk” cards, but in some games it can be considered a wild card. Finally, Flower Cardian Zebra Grass shows Naturia Cosmobeet. This card has three flowers protruding from its head which makes me wonder if it was supposed to be the 10-point card in the Hanafuda suit of Zebra Grass, Zebra Grass with Geese.

I hope you enjoyed today's article. We'll be back soon (this time I promise) with a new article based on the deck I brought to YCS Toronto, where I cosplayed as the main monster of the theme! See you all soon!

-Franco Ferrara


Franco Ferrara is from Toronto, that's in Canada, and is a licensed gemologist, a sometimes jeweler and a decent artist. Beyond that, he dabbles in a wide range of eclectic hobbies and interests from fortune telling, studying the occult, cosplaying whenever possible, cooking and baking, and enjoying the best restaurants Toronto has to offer. He loves to cosplay at events even if he has the figure of an eggplant. He's a Swiss army knife of knowledge and abilities. He's also obsessed with Jem and the Holograms and Yokai, and you can find his Patreon page here.


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