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Game Review: Hanabi

The festival has begun, but it is what is yet to come that concerns you. The finale for the day: the fireworks. Your fireworks. Well, yours and your companions’, of course. Together, you will make a show that will be famous for ages to come. On the other hand, putting on a fireworks show is a dangerous, complicated endeavor. One mistake too many and your show might be infamous for all the wrong reasons.

Maybe you are an illustrious firework manufacturer desperate to avoid ruining your own show… Or maybe you’re playing Hanabi.

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Designed by Antoine Bauza and published by R&R Games, Hanabi is a co-operative card game for 2-5 players. In it, you play as firework manufacturers who are trying to stop a mistake from ruining their show. Your dazzling “firework” display consists of cards, numbered one to five in different colors, being laid. There can only be one pile of each color, piles can only consist of a single color, and cards have to be laid in ascending numeric order. The higher the numbers get, the better your show!

Sounds pretty simple, right? Well, it would be… If not for the twist that makes Hanabi fairly unique. Each player can see each other player’s hands of cards, but not their own. You play with your hand of cards facing out, not in. So, how do you know what to play? The game comes with eight blue clock tokens and, instead of playing a card on your turn, you can spend one of the clock tokens from the team pool to give any other player a hint of what’s in their hand. There are only two types of hints you can give, and they have to follow some rules. A hint can be telling someone what cards in their hand are a certain color or telling them what cards in their hand are a certain number. In either case, you can only indicate this information by pointing at specific cards (i.e. “You have one red card in your hand,” while pointing to the red card) and you must indicate every card to which the information applies (i.e. you cannot only point at the one number 4 card you want them to play if they have more than one number 4 card). If you run low on the clock tokens, you can also, on your turn, discard a card from your hand to get a token added to the pool. You need to be careful, of course. Discarding the wrong card could make it impossible for your team to score as high as they want.

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Think it’s easy to tell what cards are in your hand?

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How about now?

And, of course, you can’t just play willy nilly without fear of consequence. Every time you play something illegally (a number that is not the next one that should be played, or a double of something already played), you take one of three black fuses out of the game, indicating the fuse getting shorter and you running out of time. After your team makes 3 mistakes, the game is over and you have to score with what you’ve successfully played on the table. The game also ends you run out of cards from the draw pile or (and this seems rare) you successfully make it to the number 5 card on each of the suits.

Hanabi is a hard game. The hidden information mechanic tied with the limits to what hints can be given make it difficult to play anything in certainty of safety. It’s also a hard game to follow the rules of, especially for new players. Habit may force you to accidentally draw your hand facing you or to give away more information than you are supposed to. It’s hard not to grimace when a fellow player takes what you told them and makes entirely the wrong decision with the information, or announces with certainty that they have deduced what’s in their hand, and is entirely incorrect. While it’s important to try to avoid those types of mistakes, making them doesn’t break the game. If you accidentally look at your cards, shuffle them into the pile and draw replacements (without looking this time, of course). If you accidentally say something that’s you shouldn’t have, just apologize and avoid doing it again.

Mind you, you should also be sensible about what consists of someone innocently, accidentally, breaking a rule. A player might accidentally gasp a profanity or shake their head when someone says something wrong. It is far more unlikely they accidentally shout “No, you fool! That card is a red three, not a green one! How could you be so moronic as to confuse the two!”…Or something like that. Besides, that person sounds angry and mean. You probably shouldn’t play with them, anyways.

If you’re a real masochist and the game is proving too easy, you can always make use of the built-in extra challenge that comes in many versions: a sixth suit of cards, which are multicolor. Depending on how much you want to punish yourself, this suit can work as simply an extra suit or can be a suit of “wild” cards, which have to be piled individually like any other suit, but which count as every color when giving information (i.e. you’d have to indicate them no matter what colors you’re hinting about).

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For those who like a challenge, or hate winning games.

Personally, I’ve never hit a perfect score in the normal, five-suit game (heck, I’m not even sure I’ve broken 20 points), so I don’t think I’ll be adding the multicolor deck to my game anytime soon.

Difficulty aside, Hanabi is still a lot of fun. The hidden information makes it unlike any other card game I know of. It’s also really, really satisfying to play. You never really lose in Hanabi, you just don’t succeed as well as you might have, and that seems to take some of the sting out of a poor performance. It doesn’t have the same level of stress as some other co-operative games (I’m looking at you, Pandemic and Forbidden Island), so it’s a good choice if you want to work together without that tangible sense of urgency.

Done right, your fireworks show will be remembered for a lifetime… And played well, a perfect game of Hanabi might be, too.

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Posted by on June 17, 2017 in Board Games

 

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