Published on November 20th, 2013 | by Across the Board Games Staff
A Fireworks Tradition
Summary: A unique and fun cooperative card game that is great for the whole family.
By Kyle Smith
Hanabi, designed by Antoine Bauza of 7 Wonders fame, provides a unique twist on cooperative games. It functions as something of an adaptation of that old parable about the difference between Heaven and Hell being that those in the former feed each other. You play your hand, but you only know what’s in it when another player gives you a hint. Hanabi has won the prestigious Spiehle des Jahres award for 2013, an award given to the best family-appropriate game released in Germany in that year, as well as Fairplay Magazine’s 2013 “A la carte” award, given to the best card game of the year.
The basic game uses 50 cards – 10 each of different colors, with those being split between numbers one through five – and 12 small, round tokens as its only components (10 additional multicolored cards provide for a handful of rule variants found in the rulebook). Said components are reasonably sturdy, but the cards could perhaps have been of slightly weightier stock. The big problem of the cards’ design is that, under low-light conditions such as those in non-gaming bars, the colors look rather similar. Further complications include kanji characters used as secondary differentiation on the cards but they are too small to be used effectively in similar lighting conditions and if players are around even a slightly larger table. It’s not immediately clear why the entire card face couldn’t be the color it represents, as opposed to only coloring the thin numbers in the corners. This would have helped immeasurably while avoiding any negative impact to the game’s aesthetic.
The players’ goal is to collectively make straights of each color from one to five. This is tricky for a couple of reasons, as there is only five of each color in the entire deck, and, as stated earlier, you don’t ever get to look at your own hand. On your turn, you can spend one of eight collective clock tokens to give a hint to a friend, play a card from your hand onto one of the straights (or start a new one, of course), or discard a card to regain one of the collective clock tokens, the latter two options allowing the player to draw back up at the end of their turn. When giving a hint, you can only point out to one player either specifically which card(s) is/are of a single color, or of a single number. If you play a card to a straight but it’s not the next number in the open sequences, the error forces you to remove one of the four fuse tokens and draw back up to your hand limit. The game ends one of three ways: 1) if the deck runs out, which gives each player one last turn, 2) immediately when either three of the fuse tokens have been removed (leading to the firework factory’s explosion) or 3) when all five straights have been completed. The team score is that of the total number of cards played into the straights.
The game – which can support up to five players, but likely best with four – is a tremendous amount of fun, with a lot of team strategy and a reasonable bit of deduction. It feels strange but fun to hold your hand of cards outward so that only your friends know what you’re holding, making for a particularly unique gaming experience. The game retails for $11, and is definitely worth picking up and bringing out to the table often as it’s quick to play, taking about 20-30 minutes, making it a great “warm-up” for a game night. The rules are easy enough for younger players (8+ is the manufacturer suggestion) to pick-up as well, making Hanabi a good choice for family gatherings that might otherwise lean towards Uno.