- 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
Cooperative 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 colors 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 effect 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.
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