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How To Play Sakura Reiner Knizia

sakura (1)

Reiner Knizia’s Sakura is a brilliant simultaneous card selection game published by Osprey Games. Your goal is to be as close to the emperor as possible as he approaches the blossoming cherry trees so you can paint the best picture. But don’t get too close otherwise you will bump into him and lose some of your points.

I have written this how to play to help keep you ahead of your competitors (but still behind the emperor).

Set Up

Place the board on the table and place the emperor on the dark grey space after the first bridge. Each player takes a painter and their 5 matching points tokens. The painters are placed at the entrance of the garden in the same shared space (this is the only time the painters can share a space). Shuffle the cards and deal each player 5 cards (which they must keep a secret from each other). Place the general points tokens in a supply next to the board. You are now ready to follow the emperor.

What Do The Cards Do

The cards of Sakura have three important pieces of information on all of them. The most important is the order number which is found on the bottom left of the card. This game is a simultaneous card game which means all players will choose one card from their hand and reveal them at the same time. Then turn order of how the cards will be dealt with starts from the lowest card order number and works its way up.

Above the order number are two instructions for the painters and emperor to walk forward, backwards, jump ahead of another painter or move forward as many spaces as there are painters ahead. When following the instructions you carry out the top one before starting the bottom one.

This game is all about timing your movement against what you think your competitors will do and trying to outsmart everyone else around the table (keep in mind you will still need some luck on your side).

Let’s Play

All players look at their hand of 5 cards and choose one to play. This is done simultaneously. The player with the lowest order number plays their card first and carries out the instructions on the card. At the beginning of the game it is important to note that none of the painters are in front or behind so neither the green or red triangle have an effect yet.

The different Sakura instructions are-

  • Yellow Box with a Number & +/- means to move the emperor forward or backwards the number of spaces
  • Green Triangle with -2 means to move the painter who is closest to the emperor backwards two spaces
  • Red Triangle with a +2 means to move the painter who is furthest from the emperor two spaces forward
  • Purple circle with a +/- 1, 2, or 3 means move your painter the number of spaces and direction
  • Purple circle with an leaping arrow means to move your painter ahead of the next painter
  • Purple circle with a +painter (pawn) means to move your painter forward the same number of spaces as there are other painters ahead of them
  • A + always means move your painter / the emperor towards the end of the garden, whereas a – means move them back towards the start of the garden.

Each space can only ever be occupied by one person or the emperor. So if your card says you must move ahead of the next player but someone already occupies that space you would move to the next available free space. In addition, any card that says to move a certain number of spaces means to move that many empty spaces.

The emperor is always in the lead and if ever a painter bumps into him (or the emperor walks backwards into a painter) that painter must lose one of their point tokens and move backwards 3 spaces due to their shame.

After all of the players have completed the instructions on their cards new ones are dealt bringing everyone’s hand of cards up to 5 and play continues. If you ever run out of cards shuffle the previously played cards into a new draw pile.

Points & Paintings

There are three blossoming cherry trees in the garden and as soon as the emperor reaches one of the allocated spaces (dark grey stone with blossom on it) he stops to admire the tree and the round immediately ends. No more movement can occur this round and all cards currently in play are discarded (therefore the painters also stop moving).

Award the player closest to the emperor in Sakura 3 points for the first two trees, then second place gets 2 points, third place gets 1 point. In a 5 or 6 player game you also award the player in fourth place 1 point. All of these points are taken from the general supply. The final tree awards 4 points for the painter closest to the emperor.

As soon as the points have been allocated at each tree move the painters so they are lined up (each on one stone each) behind the lead painter.

At the final tree you tally everyone’s points and the player with the most points wins. Ties are broken by the winning player closest to the emperor.

Special Mentions

In a game with 2, 3 or 4 players the bridges only count as 1 space and therefore only the emperor or 1 painter can be standing on a bridge at any one time. If you are playing with 5 or 6 players the bridges now accommodate 3 painters or the emperor and 2 painters.

If ever a player should go backwards but would fall off the board they must always stop at the gate (the starting location). The emperor can never be further back than the first space after the gate.

Two Player Variant

When playing with only two players you add a ‘dummy’ painter (called a court painter). Each round after both players have revealed their card you turn over the top card from the deck to represent the court painters choice. You then carry out the instructions of all of the cards in the normal way (working out turn order first) but if ever the court painter has a choice between moving themselves or the emperor forwards or backwards they always choose forwards.

Tricky Two Player Variant

Instead you can play where the player furthest from the emperor controls the court painter by playing two cards from their hand. Once again the court painter always chooses forwards if given the option. Obviously the control of court painter will change over the course of a game and whenever a player okays two cards they must draw two (instead of the usual one at the end of the turn)


I hope this has helped you to learn the rules and how Reiner Knizia’s Sakura plays. Obviously I would always recommend people use the official rule book to learn the rules in depth but this blog should give you a really good flavour of how the game flows.

I really enjoy the game and if you want to find me on twitter to discuss how brilliant Reiner Knizia’s Sakura is please do @boardgamehappy.