Designer: Antoine Bauza
Artist: Antoine Bauza, Gérald Guerlais & Albertine Ralenti
Publisher: R&R Games (English editions)
Number of Players: 2-5
Duration: 25 mins
In this game, named for the Japanese word for fireworks, a group of players work cooperatively to create the perfect fireworks show by placing cards in the table in the correct order. Winner of the coveted Spiel Des Jahres in 2013, Hanabi is a simple game that is easy to learn but involves a sophisticated level of strategy that rewards observant players who can think outside the box.
Players are all dealt a hand of cards (the number of cards differs based on how many players are in the game) and are not allowed to look at their own hand. All players hold their cards face out so everyone except the person holding them can see them. The cards consist of five different colors of fireworks and numerals from 1–5. In each color there are three 1s, two 2s, two 3s, two 4s and one five in the deck. The goal is to lay down each color of firework in sequential order with the ultimate goal of getting a perfect score of 25 (playing all cards up to five in each color).
On each player’s turn, they are allowed to do one of three things. Play a card, give a clue to another player, or discard a card from the game. If a player chooses to play a card and it is playable, it is added to the fireworks display. If the card doesn’t fit into the sequence of any of the colors on the board, it is removed from the game and the group loses a fuse token. If the three fuse tokens are removed from the game, they reveal the explosion token and the game ends.
When a player chooses to give a clue to another player, he must spend one of eight clue tokens by placing it in the lid of the box. You can only give a clue to one player at a time, and the clue must be complete information about either a single number or a single color in a player’s hand.
For instance, if a player had a blue 2, a red 1, a yellow 4, a blue 1, and a green 5 in their hand, at the beginning of the game a helpful clue to give this player would be to point out the second and fourth card and say that they are both 1 value cards. It is then up to that player to remember this information to use on future turns.
When a player discards a card, it is removed permanently from the game and the group earns back one of their spent clue tokens. Discarding is a necessary evil that can be scary because it might prevent a perfect score if the wrong cards are discarded.
Play continues until the fireworks explode or the deck runs out of cards. The final score is tallied using the highest number played on each color.
There is a sixth “rainbow” colored firework that can be added in to make the game more challenging. It should be noted that each color of firework has a unique shape/design, making the game color-blind friendly.
I have to admit that I was a bit surprised to hear that a Spiel Des Jahres winner fit in a box not much bigger than a standard deck of cards. That little box makes this game incredibly portable (which I am always a fan of). While it is awkward to hold a hand of cards backwards and to draw cards in a manner in which you can’t see them (which goes against years of card-drawing muscle memory from just about every other game involving cards), the hidden hand aspect of this game is what makes Hanabi unique and interesting to play. Since players can see everyone else’s hand and are allowed to look through the discarded cards at any time, you often find yourself giving clues to one another that rely on the ability to look at the other cards in play and use that information along with given clues to determine what to do.
Table talk (aside from the clue giving) is not allowed, as it is too easy to accidentally give away information that would make the game easier. This is somewhat difficult to stick to, even for the most dedicated rule-followers. For instance, a person in a game I played recently was asked what he knew about his hand to assess what clues would benefit him. He stated with 100% assuredness that the card at one end of his hand was yellow. It was actually white and he had forgotten that he had already played the yellow card from his hand. The rest of us had to hold our tongues and not give away the fact that his knowledge was incorrect.
There are often moments of wonderfully genuine frustration where you can’t decide what would be the most beneficial to the group. Do you discard a card you have no knowledge about? Should you give someone a clue that is only partially helpful in hopes that someone else will give them another clue to add to the information they already have?
If you have short-term memory issues, this likely isn’t the game for you. Being able to remember and piece together information is essential to succeeding at this game. Of course, we all make mistakes and that’s what makes this game difficult and incredibly fun all at the same time. It isn’t uncommon to give someone a clue thinking that they’ll take it one way, and then seeing them do the opposite of what you were hoping because they interpreted your clue a different way.
Playing this game multiple times with the same group of people is advantageous because you begin to learn how everyone thinks and can alter your clues to fit what you know they might do. Of course, there’s a lot of fun to be had in playing with an entirely new group of people and letting the lack of knowledge about their gameplay add to the difficulty of the game.
On a scale of 1-100 I’m rating this game a 82 because it is easy to learn, lots of fun to play, tiny and portable, turns simple situations into brain-burning exercises and is accessible to players of nearly any age.