Table Top TableTopTakes

TableTopTakes: Hanabi

When playing cards is too easy, there are games that make it a whole lot harder. The Mind and Hanabi are two of them that make it a bit trickier to play cards in order, and while I find the mind entertaining, I don’t think it’s that great a game. Hanabi, well, you’ll have to find out.

It might be a bad idea to hire a bunch of blind fireworks employees, but that’s the theory behind Hanabi, you, and everyone else you’re playing with, are trying to create the best fireworks show possible, but you can’t see your own hand of cards. In fact, they are facing away from you so that everyone else can see them. On your turn you can do one of three things, you can spend a clue token to give someone a clue about the fireworks that they have, you can either point to all the cards of a certain number of all the cards of a certain color in their hand and let them know what the number or color is. Or you can play down a card onto a firework either start a firework, playing the one card, or to continue a firework, playing the next highest number of that color. Or, finally, you can discard a card to get back a clue token. If there aren’t clue tokens, you can’t give a clue, so hopefully you know what’s safe in your hand to discard or play.

This game has a ton of fun tension to it. Does the person who is coming up know what to do, can you give them a clue that will keep them from discarding the only five of a color and maybe discard a one that has already been played. The mechanics of the game are really simple for the amount of tension that it causes. Sometimes, you think you have the perfect clue, because you want them to know that they have a blue four, but, then you realize that they have more blue cards and they have more fours, so it won’t focus them in on a single card. Or maybe you want to let them know that they can discard a card so you can get another clue back, but is that the best use of your clue to get a clue? But sometimes there might not be a better option.

Image Source: Board Game Geek

Hanabi is one of those games that the longer you play it, the better you’re going to get at it, because you’ll know what the better clues are. And, I think that is what really makes Hanabi shine as a game. Mainly because if you can remember where cards are in your hand and previous clues, clues for you can then be built upon. Maybe blue isn’t that useful and four isn’t that useful, but using both will help you get to the blue four, but hopefully will also let people know about other parts of their hand. For example, if they can see the blue five, and the blue fireworks are at a 3, they know that their other blue card isn’t needed. This, however, requires both the clues given to be good and that the person can remember, and while I think that it’s possible to do both, it’s really hard to know since, you don’t know what five cards you have in your own hand perfectly.

For me, this is one of those games that when it gets to the table, because it plays fast, 15-30 minutes depending on number of players and familiarity with the game, it generally gets played a second time, and maybe a third. Now, I can see how this might go over poorly, I’ve played with different groups and it’s gone over well, but especially for a new person into a group of experienced players, they won’t understand the full strategy of giving clues, because of inexperience. If this leads to visible frustration in the more experienced players, I can definitely see that souring the experience for the new player. And if you are a player who would get frustrated, I can understand not wanting to teach it, especially if you are going for the elusive 25 point perfect victory. But generally, this is a game that’ll get played twice and because I haven’t gotten the perfect 25 and no one I’ve played with has, we always want to try and do better the second time.

Piggy backing off of what I just said, I think that is one of the things that makes this a good cooperative game. And while not all cooperative games do this, I think that this game and Letter Jam which uses a number of similar things to Hanabi, do well is create that score that you always want to better. I assume that you could end up getting perfect scores on both and decide that you’re done with them because you can’t get better, but I think that isn’t that likely to happen or happen often that Hanabi is always going to be a challenge. And the fact that the deck is a random shuffle means that all the games are going to be different, though you’ll go through all of the cards.

Overall, you can tell that I really enjoy this game. I really like cooperative games, and I like that this one comes in a small package. Not only that, but it also does something that is different. People understand the idea of playing cards down in ascending order, but Hanabi is a twist upon that they won’t have seen. I’ve had good luck with this in several settings and player counts. I think it’s better at a higher count because you have more options of clues to give, but at two players it was fun as well. It’s been a while since I’ve played this one, but, now I want to play it again. And because of the time frame for it, it is one that I can pull out and get to the table easier.

Overall Grade: B+
Gamer Grade: B
Casual Grade: B+

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