#14 – Hanabi

Hanabi 019

Base price: $11. (Another weird price point.)
2-5 Players
Play time: 30-40 minutes
BGG Link
Buy on Amazon (via What’s Eric Playing?)

Every game I’ve reviewed until now has been competitive (or, at best, loosely cooperative), so I felt like it would be a nice time to talk about a purely cooperative game. Hanabi, another game from Antoine Bauza (the designer of 7 Wonders and the recently-reviewed Tokaido), has the players become slightly inept fireworks technicians who didn’t put their supplies away very well last time. You arrive the night of the big fireworks show to find that EVERYTHING is a mess and you really aren’t sure what goes where. The crowd demands a spectacular performance, and the show must go on. Will you rise to the challenge? Or will the whole thing go up in smoke?

Contents

Setup

This one is pretty easy. There are two sets of tokens — blue Clock tokens and black Fuse tokens. Put the tokens aside, and stack the Fuse tokens in descending order (explosion on the bottom).

You’ll notice several cards of six different colors (red, yellow, blue, green, white, and rainbow), namely:

  • 1 (3 of each color)
  • 2 (2 of each color)
  • 3 (2 of each color)
  • 4 (2 of each color)
  • 5 (1 of each color)

You should set the rainbow cards aside for your first game. Shuffle the other cards up and deal 5 to each player (for 2-3 player games) or 4 to each player (for 4-5 player games). NO PLAYER SHOULD LOOK AT THEIR CARDS. 

I’ll explain why in Gameplay.

Gameplay

Remember how I said you weren’t sure what goes where? This introduces a very interesting mechanic that defines. Hanabi. You should hold the cards in your hand such that their backs face you, and their fronts face the other players.

Like so. You should see this:

Hanabi - Player View

And the other player should see this:

Hanabi - Other Player View

Make sense? This is the core of the game, here. Otherwise it would be very easy. The goal of the game is to successfully play 1-5 of each color in ascending order (starting with 1), which, given that you don’t know what cards you have, is pretty tough. Also, the other players can’t necessarily tell you exactly what’s in your hand. In order to win you have to play skillfully, and on your turn you have one of three options:

  • Give Information. You spend one of the Clock Tokens to tell a player about their hand. Note, you can only give information in one of two forms:
    • Color. You can tell someone that they have (in the above example) one red card and point to it. Note that you must be able to point, so you cannot say “You have zero rainbow cards.”
    • Number. Or, you can tell someone that they have (in the above example) three 2’s and point to them. Same rules apply; you can’t say that they have zero 3’s.
  • Discard a Card.  If you have nothing you can do, you can discard a card from your hand and gain a Clock token that was previously spent. Note that if all of one card are discarded, it makes that set impossible to finish. That’s not good, so keep an eye out.
  • Play a Card. If you choose to play a card, you say “I’m playing a card” and play it face-up on the board/table/floor/bar/wherever you play Hanabi. As long as it can be played somewhere, it’s played successfully. This means that you don’t necessarily have to know the color of the 1 in your hand if no cards have been played. However, if you try to play a blue 5 and you currently have only played the blue 1 and 2, the 5 is an invalid play. You discard the 5 and instead of gaining a Clock token, you discard a Fuse token. As you might guess, if you lose all three Fuse tokens, the fireworks blow up prematurely and you lose. That’s a bummer. Don’t do that.

So the game either ends when the last card that can be played is played or once the deck runs out. In the latter case, the last person to draw a card gets one more turn, so every player gets an additional turn once the final card is drawn. Then you score yourself (count the highest card played of each color), by a more fanciful wording of the following categories:

  • <= 5 – Terrible
  • 6-10 – Bad
  • 11-15 – Okay
  • 16-20 – Good
  • 21-24 – Great
  • 25 – Perfect

I’ll leave the exact wording a surprise for those who purchase the game. Lastly, don’t cheat. You can’t look at your cards, and you can’t tell people information without using Clock tokens. You also can’t tell people what to do on their turn. Try to keep table talk to a minimum, but honestly who cares it’s just a game.

Strategy

This is probably the most important part of the game, as poor strategy in a cooperative game can sink everyone.

  • DO NOT DISCARD OR PLAY RANDOMLY. This is pretty critical. For the most part, you should know something about the cards in your hand, so discarding randomly hurts everyone and worse, playing randomly can lose you the game. Instead:
  • Have a system for how you play and discard cards. My tech lead at work taught me this one, but the way she plays is that you always discard your oldest if you have no information and always play your newest, if you’ve recently been given information. This is because you have had many chances to get information about your oldest card, but almost none about your newest card. This also means there’s an orderly progression to how your cards are gained and discarded, so if nobody gives you information you can likely just discard your oldest card.
  • Try to think about WHY someone’s telling you information. Remember that you can see everyone else’s cards except for yours, so if someone’s telling you that you have a 3 and the next person to play has a 2 that they’re going to play, they probably are telling you that that 3 is the same color as their 2 so you can play one after the other. Or if someone’s telling you that you have a 4 and there’s a green 4 in the discard, maybe you should hold on to the one you have.
  • Use your turn to suggest actions other people should take. Is there only one Clock token left, and the next player has a 5 that they’re mistakenly planning to discard? Maybe YOU should discard instead, so that way they have another Clock token to use and they can give information.
  • Try to make your information as useful as possible. While you can give information to another player about what cards they should discard, you should try to only do so if you’re getting at least 2-3 discarded cards out of the deal. That way, you get a return on the Clock token you invested. This is usually great late-game when someone has a lot of 1’s still in their hand.
  • Do not have any Clock tokens left when the game ends. When the last card is drawn, every player gets one additional turn. You can delay that somewhat by giving information and using up all your clock tokens, but you should try to set up as well as possible so that every one of the remaining turns someone is playing a card. This will maximize your score.

Pros, Mehs, Cons

Pros

  • Beautiful game. Say what you will, but Antoine Bauza knows how to make a beautiful game. It’s colorful, bright, and just fantastic in that regard.
  • Short. Doesn’t take long to play, which is my kind of game. Usually can play two games in an hour if you’re playing quickly.
  • Simple. There are only three possible actions per turn. Shouldn’t take that much deciding.
  • Tense. It’s fun when players have to make cooperative decisions with different amounts and types of information, and it adds a nice layer of stress to the game.
  • Solid mechanics. It’s just a fun game overall that doesn’t really require a ton of effort to get into.
  • Highly transportable. It’s a game you can slide into a jacket pocket or slip in a backpack or purse to take somewhere, and it usually plays with enough people that it’s a great game to carry for travel. It also works pretty well on car trips.

Mehs

  • “Tense” can be too stressful for some players. This game can stress new players out a bit, or worse.
  • Not amazingly replayable. After you hit 25, you might not see much of a point in playing again. It’s still fun, but part of the replay value at that point is playing with different people or trying to see if you can get 25 in fewer turns. It’s still fun.

Cons

  • Single point of failure is usually one player. Usually if something “bad” happens, there’s one player that’s to blame. This can make the game really stressful for new players, which is a bit of a problem. If a new player is playing with experienced players, they might want to be a bit more encouraging because otherwise it’s going to be a tough game.
  • Somewhat luck-based. If all of your 1’s are on the bottom of the deck, there is no way for you to get a perfect score. This is a tiny bit of a bummer. Other things like that can be problematic — we had someone’s first hand be three 4’s and two 5’s.

Overall: 7.5 / 10

Hanabi 017Yeah, this seems about right for Hanabi. I like it enough that I’ll occasionally suggest it, but I personally prefer Pandemic when it comes to coop games. I think one of my favorite parts of it is just how easy it is to take places, so it usually ends up as a game in my travel pack (along with like Coup, Lost Legacy, or a slightly-trimmed-down Splendor. It’s also cheap enough that it makes a great gift for an avid gamer who is looking for a less competitive experience, so it ends up being my Secret Santa contribution pretty frequently.

However, if you find it’s a bit too easy, then perhaps you can shuffle in those rainbow cards I mentioned earlier…

Hanabi Rainbow Cards

If you’d like to play the easy way, they can just be an extra suit (you have two rainbows, etc.) but if you want to make it more difficult, make them an extra suit, but they count as any color. This means that if you are letting someone know they have green cards, you have to point to the rainbow cards as well. This makes the game significantly harder, but hey, if you’ve already gotten 25, why not?

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