Board Game of The Week- Hanabi

  • Game Title: Hanabi
  • Release Date: 2010
  • Number of Players: 2-5
  • Average Game Time: 25 minutes
  • Game Publisher: Cocktail Games
  • Website:  http://cocktailgames.com/en/cocktailgames/produit/hanabi
  • Game Designer: Antoine Bauza
  • Expansions/Alternates: Yes
  • Available in Stores: Uncommon but Yes

Hanabi LogoCooperative board/card games have been becoming more popular over the past few years, with games such as Pandemic becoming more common for mass consumption. Cooperative games can have varying types and nuances to how they’re played, but the major theme is that rather than playing against each other, you play together against the game as a common enemy. Usually this involves completing some type of objective in order to win, while not meeting the objective will cause you to lose. Hanabi is a cooperative card game that actually goes by a different objective- work together to earn as many points as possible, with a point scale giving your group a grade at the end of the game. There aren’t any official winners or losers, but the competitive nature of the game is still tough to beat as you attempt to get a perfect score.

The games’ theme is preparing for a fireworks performance- in order to create the best fireworks display possible, the players are trying to play cards in order based on color. There are five cHanabi 1-5olors of fireworks, all with numbered cards of 1-5, and the objective is to play all five of each color before the time runs out. The big catch in this game is that instead of players looking at their own cards, they face the cards outwards so that all players can see the cards except for the person holding them. Rather than simply telling a player which card to play, the other players have to provide hints about how many of a certain color or number is in the player’s hand. A player can also choose to play one of the cards in his/her hand; if they chose a card that chronologically matches what’s already been played, the card is added to the stack of the card’s color. Otherwise, the card is discarded. You also have a certain number of clues that you can give, which can be increased by a player intentionally discarding a card. The game ends when there are no more cards to use, and then points are tallied based on what cards were played by the end of the game.

Hanabi has a surprising amount of strategy involved considering how few pieces it includes and how the game is structured. Each player has to use his/her turn wisely in order for the team to succeed, and the way clues are used will drastically effeHanabi Rowsct a player’s choice to play or discard cards. Memorization is also a key factor in the game, because you need to remember where each card is based on the clues you are given. The game is a lot of fun right off the bat as you are gathering information about your hand, and as more cards are played it is more difficult to play the cards in the correct order. There are also fewer of the higher value cards in the deck, so if you accidentally discard a 5 you can’t get a perfect score because there is only 5 card for each color available. All of this combines strategy combines into a game of subtle hints, careful decision making, and surprising amounts of tension whenever a card is played.

The biggest advantage of the game to me was that it wasn’t just a cooperative game, but individual play also was a heavy factor in success. In games like Pandemic, the most experienced player will sometimes take control of the game and tell others what to do in order to have a cohesive strategy throughout the game. The downside to this type of play is that players who are newer and aren’t a part of the strategy will be excluded and will most likely not have any fun. Hanabi doesn’t have this issue, because no matter what clues are given in the game ultimately the player who holds the cards is responsible for how they are played. A perfect combination of teamwork and individual merit, Hanabi allows for both working with others and making individual decisions in the same atmosphere. The game also has a great aesthetic appeal, as well a simple yet elegant design that is easy to travel with and use in most settings.

I didn’t find many downsides to this game, but one thing I did see a lot of was players trying to influence the game with facial expressions. A lot of the time when giving a clue, a player would talk really slowly or give a particular look in order to try and influence the other player’s actions.

Capaldeyes

YOU HAVE ONE THREE! I REPEAT: ONE. THREE!!!

I found myself doing this a lot myself, mostly because it is easy to misconstrue someone’s intent when they are giving a clue and sometimes a player will accidentally discard a card he/she should have played, or vice versa. I felt like using this advantage, while entertaining in a way, took away some of the challenge. I think that in order to get the full experience, clues should be given in a straightforward manner and the player getting the clue should interpret its meaning without outside help.

If you like card games that involve a lot of strategy, I recommend this game as a good one to add to your collection. I also think it is a good option for younger audiences as a way of building memorization and teamwork skills.

Jack’s Rating: 4/5 Stars

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Monopoly Rules- the Good, the Bad, and the Ugly

Monopoly-rules

As I said in my recent blog post In Defense of Monopoly, one of the major advantages to the game Monopoly is its malleability. There are a number of “house rules” that are used as if they are a part of the game, while other rules are ignored completely. Sometimes it seems like everywhere you look, a different set of rules is being used when playing this classic game. A lot of the rules that are added (or scrapped) add to the fun of the game, but there are also rules that can directly result in the game being drawn-out and less enjoyable overall. After having some experience playing numerous different types of Monopoly boards and implementing all sorts of different rules, I have come up with some observations on the best way to ensure your Monopoly game is played with rules that will enhance the game rather than drag it down. I’ve split the types of rules up into three sections: official rules, house rules, and new rule suggestions.

Official Rules

1) Auctioning Property- The official rules in the Monopoly rulebook state that, “Whenever you land on an unowned property you may buy that property from the Bank at its printed price… If you do not wish to buy the property, the Bank sells it at auction to the highest bidder. The high bidder pays the Bank the amount of the bid in cash and receives the Title Deed card for that property. Any player, including the one who declined the option to buy it at the printed price, may bid. Bidding may start at any time.”  I can’t tell you how often this rule gets overlooked or ignored when I’m playing with friends, but truth be told this is an extremely important rule to utilize if you want your game to start off fast. Auctions aren’t necessary to play the game, but they do drive it forward at a faster pace and they also require a significant amount of strategy. Auctions are a good way to keep the game fair too- someone could have few properties but a large amount of money, and the ability to auction will help them get back in the game. Ultimately the start of a game of Monopoly without auctioning is fairly dull and can allow a player to pull ahead early, so the ability to auction helps balance the scales and keep things moving.

2) Mortgages- Mortgaging a property can seem like a pain, but it is a good way to ensure that you are not eliminated from a game. One of the paramount strategies of Monopoly is to keep your monopolies intact to increase your odds of a big payout. But if you land on someone’s property and have to pay up, it’s difficult to keep your houses/hotels on the board in order to do some real damage. The ability to mortgage should be used when possible, but should also not be taken lightly. I’ve seen people disregard the 10% interest rule when mortgaging; ultimately that seems like a good way to keep players who got hit hard in the game, but it also gives people an opportunity to mortgage cards early for short term gains without penalties when they want to un-mortgage the property. This is one of those rules you should keep intact.

3) Buying and selling houses/hotels- As I’ve said before, building on monopolies is a big part of success in a game. However, there should also be a cost if you try to expand too quickly and it backfires. The official rules state that if you have to sell back a house or hotel, you only get half of the money you originally paid for it. This rule is extremely important to ensure that players do not spend all of their money on hotels at once- a gradual pace for hotel building is a good way to keep things more evenly matched. Selling houses and hotels should be considered a last resort, and being able to get your full money back diminishes the risks of investing in your monopolies.

House Rules

1) Free Parking Money- This is the most wildly-contested rule out there; is there supposed to be money in free parking? If so, how much? Do you add money from income taxes to the free parking “pot”? Ultimately this iFree Parkings not an official rule to Monopoly, but it’s an extremely popular one and is used in a variety of different ways. I personally believe that this is a good rule because it has the ability to provide alittle extra respite to players down on their luck. The ideal scenario in my opinion is to add $500 to the free parking pot at the beginning of the game, and then once somebody
lands on it, you refill it by that same amount. No income tax or Chance/Community chest money should go into the pot, so that it acts solely as some additional funds rather than a complete game changer.

2) Landing on Go- This rule revolves around the idea of “Passing” go and collecting $200. This is what the board and the rules say, but what happens if you land on Go? Officially, nothing would happen, because your piece has to pass the space before you receive the money. However, there is a house rule some people use to provide an extra reward for landing on Go. In this scenario, you actually receive $400 if you land on go as opposed to pass it. I have no issue with this rule, but I do recommend setting it up with a slight addendum; when you land on Go you receive $200, then get the extra $200 on the next turn after you’ve passed the space. That way a player isn’t automatically flush with $400 cash in one turn, but still gets the extra award for landing on Go.

3) Trading properties- Trading properties is an essential part of Monopoly. The ability to trade for monopolies is an important way to ensure that you can advance the game, but it is not officially stated in the original rules that trades are allowed. While trading is necessary to create a more fun game, it also has the ability to cause skewed games from lopsided trades. Because of this, I have a slight alteration on the standard trading process that I recommend. Rather than trading at any point in the game, a player can only propose trades on their turn. Trades are completed before any dice are rolled, and if the trade created a Monopoly that player can’t add houses or hotels to the new monopoly until his/her next turn. Finally, if there are more than 4 players playing the game and at least 3 people consider the trade to be unfair, they can reject it (this is not something I’ve ever practiced myself, but I think it would be more likely to ensure a single player doesn’t run away with the game).

New Rule Suggestions

1) Jail- I can’t even describe how infuriating it is to watch someone get carted off to jail (metaphorically of course) right before landing in my monopoly area, and then have myself land on their property and lose everything while they sit pretty for 3 turns. Because of this, I recommend a rule variant that isn’t used by many but should be a positive change to the game. If a player is put into jail, they are then officially unable to collect payment from a player landing on their properties, and also cannot buy hoMonopoly Jailuses or hotels until they are released. The player can buy out of jail at any time in the 3 turn stint, but ultimately if the player stays in jail no players landing on his/her properties will have to pay the fees associated. This will cause players to want to leave jail earlier, which will speed up the game and make sure that each player has greater chances of landing on an opponent’s space.

2) Starting Game, Property Buying Delay- This is a rule I’ve played with my friends in the past to varying success. The concept is that you have to pass all the way around the board once before you are allowed to buy any properties. The rule is supposed to promote fairness since generally speaking the player who goes first in traditional Monopoly has a higher chance of winning properties. However, if a player lands in jail or rolls poorly during the first few turns, he/she becomes crippled by the rule and it makes it that much harder to get back into it. Ultimately there are pros and cons to this rule, so there’s no harm in trying it yourself but I would not recommend it as a must-rule to improve the game.

Ultimately these rules are about creating the best experience you can when playing Monopoly. This means that if you don’t like one of the rules, you shouldn’t use it, and instead use whatever rules you find to be the most fun. There are also rule variants out there for intentionally shortened games, so if time is the major concern there are options for fixing that. If you have any other cool ideas (I know that Past Go’s writer Geoffrey Greer was looking into a variant that could break apart an opponent’s monopolies mid-game) then send me a comment about it!

In Defense of Monopoly

Monopoly Boards

I can’t tell you how many people I know that have a burning hatred towards Monopoly. It honestly surprises me that whenever someone sees my Monopoly board collection for the first time, they almost always talk about what an annoying/long/tiresome game it is. Sure, the average game of Monopoly can definitely take longer than other board games, but it’s no longer than Risk, Axis and Allies, or even Munchkin. And yet of all of the games that are on the market today, Monopoly is one of the most successful and long-lasting but also one of the most criticized. Any time I browse the Internet I randomly see memes or pictures like this sprinkled around:

monopoly ruining friendships

Personally, I’ve been a fan of the game Monopoly ever since I was young. I played it with friends through high school and still play it with my roommates every once in a while when we’re all in the mood. I have 12 different Monopoly boards and have fond memories of playing all of them at different times in my life. So in honor of one of the most iconic games created in the 20th century, I’m going to explain why I believe that Monopoly is actually a great game to play and should always be a staple of your board game nights. Here are my top 5 reasons why Monopoly should be celebrated in the board game industry:

1) Easy to learn, but hard to master

One thing that can always be frustrating about board games is the time it takes to pick up on how to play. A game that is easy to learn quickly is one that will grab your attention faster and will be more likely to keep you playing, provided it stays interesting over time. When you look at Monopoly at first it may seem more complicated, but the concept is straightforward enough to pick up fairly quickly and not be far behind people who have played the game before. On the flipside of that, the game is actually surprisingly tough to master in certain ways. Sure, everyone can play the game without much strategy involved, but when you get into a group of competitors you start analyzing every move you make, every trade you attempt, every time you buy a hotel, to the point where you have to be very knowledgeable about the game itself to be an expert at it. The game allows for novices to play and have fun, but can also bring a significant amount of challenge to it when the setting is right.

2) Quick changes to the “Leader Board”

Sometimes when you play a board game, a single person will start off strong and you just won’t be able to keep up. That’s not the case when you play Monopoly- in fact, lead changes are fairly frequent once you get into the later stages of the game. Generally speaking there is a point of Monopoly where everyone has one or two monopolies and is working to build houses/hotels on them. One bad move or bad roll during this time can completely change the dynamic of the game. Someone with houses littered across the board will suddenly have to sell them all back, and maybe even mortgage or trade properties to stay afloat. Fortune can change in the blink of an eye, and while it’s true that if a player gets very unlucky and has to mortgage most of their properties he/she will most likely be stuck in that hole, the truth is that there is a lot more variety in the game standings than people give it credit for.

3) Ability to make custom rules

If you were to take out any board game you’ve played before right now, odds are high that you would know a majority of the rules of said game and you would stick to them no matter what. That’s not the case with Monopoly. Monopoly is a game with more “house-rules” than I’ve ever seen. Maybe it’s because of how long its in production, but it seems like every time I play with different people I have to be prepared for a different set of rules. Rules like free parking, mortgaging, auctioning spaces, landing on Go, and many more are all up for debate, and so before the game is started you may have to suddenly adjust to the new rules that your friends/family have put in place.

4) Teaches kids basic business lessons

I remember playing Monopoly Junior when I was a kid, and spending a lot of time counting up my money and making sure I had enough to buy a hotel or a new property. Learning the value of trading,monopoly money understanding basic math and business, and figuring out when and when not to invest are just a few of the business skills you learn from playing Monopoly. Obviously in no way does Monopoly dir
ectly translate to the business world (if it did I would be rich by now) but you can’t discount its uses in teaching youth the value of fake pink colored money.

5) Different types of boards/games

When a game has been around for over 100 years, odds are high that gaming publishers will take advantage of its popularity by creating different versions of the game. While some people find this unnecessary, I find it one of the best parts about older games. You can find a Monopoly board with pretty much any theme you can think of: Doctor Who, Legend of Zelda, Family Guy, Disney Villains, even Elvis-Opoly is a thing. For these types of games the rules don’t vary much, but the properties, cards, and pieces are all based around the theme. The aesthetics are the important part, which makes having multiple boards unnecessary but ultimately a lot of fun. In addition to the Hasbro Monopoly alternative, there are some non-affiliated third party companies that created Monopoly-esque games with similar themes but slightly different rules and procedures. Games like Wine-opoly, Princess Bride-opoly, and even Create-your-own-Opoly fit into this mold.

So the next time someone invites you to play a game with them, I hope you consider the classic business game as a potential option. Monopoly has stuck around for a reason, and that’s because it’s a fun game that people enjoy playing no matter how many jokes are made at its expense. The next few articles I’ll be writing this week are all going to be Monopoly-based, so I hope you enjoyed this one and will enjoy the others too!

Monopoly Week

 

Board Game of the Week – Bananagrams

Bananagrams 1

Game Title: Bananagrams

Release Date: 2006

Number of Players: 2-8

Average Game Time: 15 minutes

Game Publisher: Bananagrams, KOSMOS, Vennered Forlag AS

Website: http://www.bananagrams.com/

Game Designer: Rena & Abe Nathanson

Expansions/Alternates: None

Available in Stores: Yes

To round out my few weeks of games that aren’t confined to a board, I pulled a game off my shelf that I haven’t played in a while called Bananagrams. Basically a fast-paced Scrabble with no limitations on space, Bananagrams is a fun game for families that involves thinking and acting quickly.

The original Bananagrams 2of the fruit-based games created by Rena and Abe Nathanson, Bananagrams focuses on quick real-time action where you work to use up all of your tiles and create a makeshift Scrabble “grid”. You start with 21 tiles and once you use them all, you yell, “Peel” and everyone has to take one more tile. The process continues until there are no tiles left, and then the person to use up his or her last tiles wins… assuming he or she spelled every word correctly. If there are misspelled words, that player is disqualified and all other players resume play until someone else finishes.

The game has a lot of similarities to Scrabble; by the end of the game it even looks like there are multiple small Scrabble boards on the table. The number of letter tiles and the frequency of how many tiles each letter has are also very similar. However, there are some major differences as well. The letters you draw don’t have any specific value to them; playing a Z as opposed to an A doesn’t have any inherent differBananagrams 3ence. There’s also not as much of an advantage of playing large and complex words, though more words means less extra tiles and an easier time playing off of them in your connected grid. Being able to play two-letter words is just as important as playing seven-letter words. Speed is the priority, and the ability to change your grid when necessary to accommodate the new tiles you draw.

The pros of the game are that it is engaging, fast-paced and constantly evolving. It’s tough to get the nuances of how to play each tile effectively, but once you get the hang of it it’s a great game to play on game night. Another advantage is that the bettBananagrams 4er you do at the beginning of the game, the easier it is to stay in the lead since you only have one tile to work with. This challenges your opponents to use an ever-increasing set of tiles while you work to grow your lead. Finally, he variety of each game is also a plus because there are plenty of tiles and you will always draw different combinations and have to use different words.

The cons of the game are in the one-sided nature of pulling the tiles randomly. There are times when you get three Qs and no vowels and you’re stuck no matter how much you change around your grid. You do have the ability to exchange tiles for new ones, but it sets your game back and makes it difficult to keep up with others who drew well. That and the fact that your grid can go all over the table in every direction, and sometimes you have to shift it (which can take a while), mean that the game can be very frustrating at times.

Ultimately the pros of the game outweigh the cons and it’s definitely worth playing if you like word puzzles and brainteasers. It’s cheap and easy to transport, so it’s also good for family trips.

Jack’s rating: 3.5/5 stars

Top 10 Card Games for Parties/Large Groups

I can’t emphasize enough that one of the best things about board games is the social aspect. A vast majority of board games have at least 3-4 players; interacting with friends and family is a big part of the tabletop game. Card games tend to amplify this effect, with many card games exceeding the 3-4 player average and allowing for large numbers of people to enjoy. Because of this, card games have more appeal for parties and large groups. The most obvious examples of this are the games Apples to Apples/Cards Against Humanity, both of which are extremely popular at large gatherings because they are easy to transport and can be played by almost an unlimited number of players.

Whether the group is there for a party where you play games over a few cocktails or a family reunion where cousins and grandparents gather to catch up and have some fun, card games are good at bringing large groups together. So what are the best card games for these kinds of events? Obviously you need games that allow for large numbers of players or the ability to play in teams. In addition, you’ll want a game that you can play but also talk and be sociable, meaning the game should be relatively simple to play. There are plenty of games that meet these requirements and a lot of them are engaging and entertaining. Below are my top ten card games that you should play in group settings:

Cards Against Humanity

  • Published 2009
  • # of players 4-30

The most obvious choice for a party game, Cards Against Humanity is extremely popular due to its clever/vulgar humor and ease of play. As strange as it sounds, the fact that the game allows you to be obscene and dirty-minded somehow adds to its charm. The game itself is simple enough; you have a judge that draws a fill-in-the-blank card that each player anonymously answers with his or her own card. The judge then picks the best/funniest response, and the person who played that card wins the round. Best to be brought out when the kids are in bed, the game is a mainstay for young adult parties and group nights (which may or may not contain alcohol).

Deck Around

  • Published 2014Deck Around
  • # of players 3-20

One of the newer games out there, Deck Around takes Urban Dictionary and turns it into a card game (for those of you who don’t know what Urban Dictionary is… you probably don’t want to). The object of the game is to take a word or phrase on a card and make up a definition that you anonymously provide to the rest of the group, along with the real definition. Everyone then chooses what he/she thinks the correct definition is and if your definition is picked you win the points. This game is another great option for the dirty-minded who want to make some less-than-PG jokes. Enjoy learning all about what a Boston Blowfish is!

Mad Gab

  • Published 1996
  • # of players 2-12 (can be played in groups)

A wordplay game where you work in groups, Mad Gab takes a well-known phrase and changes itMad Grab to a string of unrelated words that, when said aloud, sound similar to the original phrase. The object is to read through the sentence until the team guesses the correct phrase. The entertainment comes in people almost saying the phrase, and the other team that knows the phrase laughing at the difficulty of it. Great for families and friends, you can either play with a timer of just go back and forth between teams trying to guess. You’ll have a great time either way.

Pit

  • Published 1903
  • # of players 3-8

A fast-paced and loud game, be careful when and where you decide to play Pit. Each player is dealt a hand of commodity cards (wheat, barley, etc.) and the objective is to trade resources until you corner the market of one resource. You can’t show the cards that you’re trading, so instead you try and trade with someone based on the number of cards. This normally devolves into everyone yelling the number of cards they want to trade (Trade 2! Trade 3! Trade 4!) and then when you have all of the cards you slam the middle of the table and call “corner on _______!” Your voice will be hoarse by the end of the game, but it’s definitely worth it.

Say Anything

  • Published 2008
  • # of players 3-8 (can be played in groups)

Say Anything focuses on a series of questions where each person writes down his or her answer and a judge decides which answer is best. To add to the competition, each player (or team) has chips that they can wager on any answer, including their own, and if the judge chooses that answer they will win points as well. You can play your tokens on multiple phrases, or you can bet it all on one. The game helps start a lot of dialogue and is a good way to start a party with a group of friends.

Set

  • Published 1988
  • # of players 1-20

One of my favorite games when I was a kid, Set is all about finding sets of 3 cards that either have the same or opposite characteristics (all the same shape or all different shapes, the same number of shapSet cardes or 1 2 and 3 of each shape, etc.) and then call “Set!” as soon as possible. After you find a set, new cards are added and the process continues. The person with the most sets by the end of the game wins. This game is one that makes you think and is great for younger kids to learn patterns and think quickly.

Taboo

  • Published 1989
  • # of players 4-10

One of the most well known games from the 90’s, Taboo is a group game all about hinting at keywords which the rest of your team has to guess. There are also Taboo words that you can’t say when you try and get other players to guess. The more keywords guessed, the more points you receive. A simple concept with a fun twist, Taboo is an entertaining game that is good at getting a larger group engaged in conversation.

The Game of Things…

  • Published 2002
  • # of players 4-15

The game Things… focuses on specific phrases such as Things… you shouldn’t put in your mouth, or questions similar to that (yes, a lot of them can be interpreted as dirty). One person acts as judge, and everyone else answers the phrase anonymously. Rather than voting on your favorite answer, the Judge chooses who they think answered the question. If he/she gets it right, they continue to guess until they get one wrong, and then the person to the judge’s left guesses until all phrases have been correctly guessed. This game is better the more players there are, so make sure you have a big group when you play.Things...cards

Uno

  • Published 1971
  • # of players 2-10

Another classic card game, Uno is one of those games that you will always enjoy playing even if you didn’t necessarily think of it first when you go to your game pile. A casual game that you can sit and play with any group, Uno is one of the universal party games that has been in households for years.

Utter Nonsense!

  • Published 2015
  • # of players 4-20

Utter Nonsense is a newer card game based on saying odd phrases in funny accents. Another “adult” game, Utter Nonsense has a silly humor about it that shows it doesn’t take itself too seriously. Similar to Cards Against Humanity, there is a different judge each round that draws an “accent” card to start off the round. Each other player then chooses one of his or her phrase cards and says the phrase in the accent that was played. These accents vary from normal ones like “Irish” to silly ones like “Valley Girl”. A bit hit or miss when it comes to the phrases, this is one of the games I encourage after you’ve had a few drinks (but it’s plenty of fun without drinks to).