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    Review: Hanabi

    May 24, 2015

    Disaster has struck on the eve of a grand fireworks show and it’s up to you to save the day! Will your show be that of legend, leaving everyone in the audience speechless with stars in their eyes, or will everything fizzle out horribly? Hanabi is a cooperative card game that challenges the players to work as a team to sort out a mixed-up mess of rockets, powders, and fuses that was supposed to facilitate a beautiful display of fireworks.

    The object of Hanabi is to put together five fireworks of five different colors by making five series of numbered cards. Cards in the game have both a color that designates their firework series and a number displaying the order in which it must be played within the series. The five different colors of fireworks to make are white, red, yellow, blue, and green, and each firework series must display numbers ascending in order from 1 to 5 to be complete. Blue clock tokens set the game’s time limit and black fuse tokens are penalties. Players start with five cards (2-3 players) or four cards (4-5 players), and play begins with whomever is wearing the most colorful clothing.

    At first, Hanabi appears to be a really simple game: everyone takes turns playing the numbered cards in ascending order to collectively complete all five fireworks. But there’s a pretty huge catch – players are not allowed to see their own hands! Cards are dealt face-down and must be held so only the backs are visible to the owner. Naturally, the front of the cards instead face the other players. The only way to figure out which cards to play and which cards to discard, therefore, is through clear communication with your fellow pyrotechnicians!

    During a turn, each player can do one of three things. They may either offer one piece of information about another player’s cards (which costs a blue clock token), discard a card from their hand (which adds a blue clock token back into the pool), or attempt to play a card to help assemble the fireworks. Cards that are discarded are lost for good and playing a card out of order results in a black fuse token penalty. If the players accrue three black fuse tokens, the game ends with no winners.

    The type of information that players can offer when choosing the first action is limited to one of two characteristics, either information about one specific color or about one specific value (number). For instance, you can give a hint that a player has two green cards or a single 5-card in his hand. Cards that are noted in this way must always be pointed to, which will help the card’s owner know what they are holding and where. Because there is a finite number of hints you can give, as well as limited token resources, the game revolves around deciding what is the best information to give the other players while interpreting the information given to you.

    The game ends either by blowing things up with the accrual of three black fuse tokens (bad), taking the last card from the pile and therefore having no more cards to draw (good), or by completing all five fireworks before the cards run out (great!). Total completion earns the players 25 points and a stunning victory. Drawing the last card gives each player one more turn before counting up the highest number in each stack of the five firework series and adding them together to provide a total score. The closer the score is to 25 points, the grander and more legendary the fireworks display!
    Hanabi is the quintessential cooperative game because it relies solely on the ability of the players to communicate efficiently and clearly to each other with only limited dialogue. In this way, it is really a game of purely collective deduction. It’s very simple to teach and understand, but amazingly deep when trying to achieve a high score. The game can be played with 2-5 players and takes about 30 minutes. Hanabi has won many awards for its design and gameplay, and there’s a gorgeous deluxe edition available that replaces the fireworks cards with lovely acrylic tiles. If you enjoy deduction, memory, and cooperative games, then Hanabi is perfect for you. Good luck to you and your team of pyrotechnicians on creating that elusive legendary fireworks display!


    If you like: Love Letter, Hedbanz, Mysterium
    You’d definitely enjoy: Hanabi
    MRP: $10.95
    Designer: Antoine Bauza
    Produced by: R&R Games