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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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Game Review: Forbidden Island

The water is rising. The Earth Stone is safe in your backpack, and the Ocean’s Chalice is within grasp, if only you can make it to the Coral Palace before the marsh your wading through floods entirely. You’ll have to trust your team-mate’s to have succeeding in their tasks, getting the other treasure’s. You’re all due back at the helicopter soon, because the water is rising, and this island will soon be lost to the ocean… Along with anyone still on it.

Maybe you should invest in some scuba gear… Or maybe you’re playing Forbidden Island.

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Forbidden Island is a co-operative adventure game designed by Matt Leacock and published by Gamewright. For 2 to 4 players, the game has players explore a constantly-flooding island through an action point allowance system, with the players trying to collect all four of the island’s treasures and escape before it is lost below the water. Through unique player powers and item cards, players can take some steps to slow the sinking of the island, but in the end they’re in a race against time for treasure… And survival.

Like many co-operative games, Forbidden Island has a single victory goal and several ways to lose. Tiles containing the treasure you need sink? You lose. The helicopter pad you need to escape sinks? You lose. Water gets to high? Lose. Player dies? Definitely lose.

You can only win if you and your team get all the treasure, then you all make it back to the helicopter pad, and you all escape with a helicopter lift card. With so many things that can go wrong, Forbidden Island can be a stressful game. Interestingly, though, I think it’s actually a lot harder to lose than it sounds. Yes, there’s lots of ways you can lose, but there’s also lots of steps you can take to mitigate those risks. In all the times I’ve played, I’ve only ever lost by the water level rising too high, which is the only thing you can’t directly prevent through abilities or cards… And even that I’ve only seen once or twice. So while it can be stressful, it’s not necessarily a hard game to win. And the adrenaline-fueled feeling when you push through the stress and reach victory is a rush.

I really like the board mechanics and physical parts of this game. The tiles comprising the island are sturdy, beautifully drawn, and seem like the kind of thing you’d find in adventure books like Treasure Island. The Crimson Forest, The Coral Palace, The Cliffs of Abandon… The tile names are just fun, and the way they are shuffled and laid out at the start of the game means the board is different every time you play. The inclusion of plastic figurines for each of the four treasures is also neat. Mechanically, “claiming” the treasures could have been accomplished with cards or even just a check list, but the three-dimensional figurines somehow make it seem more of an accomplishment.

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You need to claim all four treasures and escape alive to win.

The only complaints I have about Forbidden Island are small ones. As I said above, the game seems easier than some other co-operative games I’ve played, to the point where – as long as you don’t make any serious mistakes and don’t get very unlucky – it’s rare to lose. Now, the game does allow the difficulty to be adjusted by changing how high the water is at the start of the game, allowing it room to rise 9 times at the easiest, and only 6 at the hardest. Since, in my experience, the water rising is one of the most likely causes for defeat, and the higher it starts the faster it goes, this changes the game from fairly easy to quite difficult very quickly. The step from the “normal” setting to the next difficulty up can make the game harder and more stress-filled to the point of not being fun anymore for some players, so you’ll need to try it out to find what starting point is most fun for you. My other problem comes in the six unique character roles players are randomly assigned. Each role grants a unique ability… But some just seem more useful than others. More than once, I’ve heard (and given) sighs of disappointment at an assigned role.

Those small complaints aside, though, Forbidden Island is a fun game, and it’s co-operative nature makes it a nice break from more competitive games. The immanent threat of the rising water makes for an interesting sense of stress, of the need to win, without (usually) getting too frustrating. It’s also fairly quick to learn and easy to teach, which is good…

After all, it’s really a matter of sink or swim on the Forbidden Island.

 

 
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Posted by on May 20, 2017 in Board Games

 

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