The looks of it did not interest me at all. A card game that really really has an abstract presentation. A friend brought the game and proposed to play it in one of our sessions. I could judge that it plays quick and simple, based on the card game factor. But after play the game (or at least watched the game in close) I could really see the hidden gem on this one. A hidden gem from Antoine Bauza after his internationally hit card game, 7 Wonders and his newly light filler game of Tokaido.
So, what is Hanabi? I mean, literally. When you type this word into the internet and hit the search button, you’ll definitely facing millions results, but mostly refer to a Japanese word. Hanabi is the Japanese word for firework. Well, you can clearly see that from the box artwork, colorful strokes over the distant dark blue background known as night sky. The game comes in a small box like other small games you’ve got in mind (the Fluxx family, Chronicle, Fairy Tale, The Resistance, UNO cards and such). You can find a fairly amount of cards with good quality materials and some cardboard tokens. In fact there are 5 sets of cards in 5 different colors. Each set of cards has 11 cards with different number values from 1 to 5. There are also several ‘rainbow’ cards in the game, which could be used for variant purpose of the game. I think it’s used for advanced version of the game.
The goal of the game is players cooperatively collect points by playing cards. Now, the important key factor on this is the word ‘cooperatively’, yes yes… don’t give me that look. I know you dislike cooperative games as much as I do but hear me now, this one has more than you can skeptically think of. You might as well think that this game is a total failure, judging from it is a simple card game with cooperative mechanic and can be played under 30 minutes. The catch is (well there is always a catch with anything now isn’t it?) There is a unique mechanic that prevent players to solve this simple yet engaging puzzles. Player may look at other players cards but not his own. Well, ain’t that something?! So how that’s gonna work? Each player holds his cards with the back sides facing him and the front sides facing outward. This prevent the player to see his own cards and let other players to see his.
So, how all of these come along? The game ends when the deck run out or the players make three mistakes. At the start of the game, each player receives 4 or 5 cards. Starting from the first player (randomly chosen) and continue clockwise, each player take an action from the possible three. The first possible action is playing a card. To take this action, players play a card in sequence order from number 1 up to 5 each color in different column. So there would be up to maximum 5 columns in the table during the game. If a player incorrectly play a card into the table, he make a mistake and flip a thunder token. If the third thunder is flipped, the game ends immediately. Initially, the first card that can be played is cards with a value of 1 to form a new column per color.
Or beside playing a card, a player can decide to give one other player a clue. Yes, the cooperative element of this game is based on clues given by other players. These clues however have restrictions, they’re always true (not misleading or incorrect, it’s cooperative game for God’s sake) and may only contain one kind of color or one kind value. A player can give clue to one other player about what cards in his hand, either how many cards with a specific color or how many card with a specific number by pointing those cards. That player may re-arrange his hand to make it easier to remember. This action is not free, player may only give clue when there is at least one clue token face up (white side). After the clue action is done, one white clue token is flipped to the black side. If there are no white clue token, players cannot take the clue action. The last possible action is discard a card. To take this action, a player simply announce that they want to take a discard action and choose one of his cards. After taking this action, one black clue token is flipped face up back to it’s white side. There is one thing to notice though, players must be careful when discarding a card, since the distribution of the cards are different for each value. Value 1 and 2 have 3 cards each per color, while value 3 and 4 have 2 cards each per color. The important one is the card with value 5. It only has one card per color. So if this card is ever discarded, those color won’t ever be completed.
The game is full of engaging and challenging aspects fro. Beginning to end. It’s quite simple but do not let it fooled you. The timing and sequence of players actions are essentials based on the condition of cards on players’ hand. Not only players must decide who will be giving clue in one turn or who will be playing or discarding card. More to it, which player who’ll be given a clue and what the clue would be. Though statistic and probable measures are mostly common but there also mindset reading in various situation. So the experienced player with well accustomed group will be running a nice cooperative play. Though discussions and table talks are most likely can be found in this game, but I suggest the group can keep it to the minimum, since any kind of words and message from a player can be accepted as clue by other players.
This game delivers me the challenging interaction between players in cooperative games and I can be sure that this is a coop game that breaks the weaknesses of a coop game, lacks of individual decision making, poor interaction between players, and one person domination. I think the replay value of the game is quite high, which heavily rely on the group itself, this game offers various depth and feel among different players and groups.