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Hanabi Review – Fireworks at Dawn

Hanabi is a fantastic little game that deserves a bit of attention. Created by Antoine Bauza, the mind behind such games as Wonders and TokaidoHanabi is a game about creating impressive fireworks to wow and please an audience. I haven’t written about it much on this blog (although I did write a blog about why Hanabi rules back in 2018) so decided that today it deserves a bit of love.

We first came across Hanabi when friends of ours actually got it thrown in to a batch of games they bought at the UKGE 2014. Since then we have played it a lot, and it has become one of our go-to filler games.

Today we are going to look at Hanabi, in all of its glory.

The Hanabi box...which contains the Hanabi rules...not currently displayed in the photo.

What is Hanabi and How Does it Play?

Hanabi  is a co-operative firework building card game designed by well known designer Antoine Bauza. It was nominated for, and won, the Spiel des Jahres (one of the biggest awards in gaming) in 2013. In it, you and your friends are dealt a number of cards (four for 4 to 5 players, five for 2 to 3) each with a coloured number on it. The numbers are either red, green, blue, yellow, white or multicoloured. Your job is to play the cards in order, into coloured stacks. Those stacks start with card number one, and go through to card number five.

The standard game goes up to 25 cards, with the multicoloured set being optional.

So, where is the difficulty? Surely, that’s really easy. It would be, dear reader, if it weren’t for a massive twist. You hold your hand backwards, so the other players can see your hand and you can see theirs, but you can’t see your own. On your turn you then have three options –

  1. Give a whole piece of information. So, you can point at someone and point out either a colour or a number in their hand. This costs a time token, of which there are only 12 at any one point. If my hand has one green card in it, for instance, you can point at it and tell me “this card is green”. If I have two green cards, you have to tell me about both by pointing and saying “these two are green”. You get the idea.
  2. You can play a card. If you play the wrong card you discard a fuse token, of which there are only four in the game. These are stacked and placed on top of one another, and when the final one is revealed the firework goes off. The game is over and you tally up your score. If you get it right, congratulations, your firework display has just got a little bit better.
  3. You can discard a card. This gains you a time token back so you can get more guesses. Be careful though, you draw up every time you play a card or discard. Once you have gone through the deck the game ends and you tally up your points. There are also only set number of each card. Number ones are most frequent, whereas there is only 1x five per colour. Once it has gone, it has gone.

The rules are simple, but they are effective. Once the game is over you tally up your score and there is a rating system in the rule book for telling how well you have done.

Hanabi Rules: A discard pile...da da daaaaaaa....

What is Hanabi like to Play?

So, what is it like to play? Well, the answer is highly cooperative and challenging.

As a group, Hanabi can be a great filler game to play. It is difficult, especially for those of us who are often distracted, and you need to find your own way of figuring out how to keep track of the cards in your own hand. This is, in my opinion, the hardest thing about the game.

There is however, a certain rhythm that you can get into as a group. Placing all the ones first, for instance, allows you to point at any twos from that moment one and say “those are twos” knowing that any of them can be played. You can then also point at the ones and say “those are ones” giving the information that they can be discarded for points.

That rhythm is really interesting, and Hanabi is one of those games that actually (like with The Mind) gets better with a meta. The fact that you can’t see your own hand is very rarely used in board games, and it makes for a really cooperative game where you are not just helping other players but are actually reliant on one another. This isn’t a game like Pandemic where, in theory, one player can ride along. Everyone needs to play.

There are actually, oddly enough, a fair few similarities in regards to actual feel between Skull and Hanabi that are worth mentioning. Where Skull is a bluffing game and is far from co-operative, both games have that moment of suspended relief. In both games you find yourself turning something over, hoping you are right, and letting relief sweep over you when you are. Alternatively, they have the same disappointment when you get it wrong. There is that gamble, although in Hanabi you can control it slightly better by keeping track of your own cards.

There is a criticism that I would say, and that is that the game is well suited for the five suits of cards. The sixth suit has been designed to add more of a challenge; however, one of the biggest strengths about Hanabi is that it plays relatively quickly. Adding in the additional suite (multicoloured) draws the game out, further than it needs to be, and after a certain point it can get repetitive.

Why Hanabi Rules

That being said, that is just my opinion and it does depend on the kind of game you want to play. Some people want to add the additional challenge to the game and, to be fair, there are a few ways that multicoloured suit can be added; however, for me the strength is that Hanabi is quick so the game doesn’t need that extra element.

The other thing to say is that you can’t really lose at Hanabi. Since the game is scored based on how you did, there isn’t really a way of losing – just a way of scoring lower. This may make it perfect for your table, or it may put some players off.

Hanabi is entertaining enough to be interesting, especially with the communicating cards to other players aspect. It is a challenge to play, and really enjoyable at that. The mechanics are really interesting as well, and not being able to see your card is a nice twist. That being said – you won’t be able to play game after game. It is fun as a filler game, but (in my opinion) should definitely be either proceeded by or preceded by a main game for a whole evening of entertainment.

TL;DR – The Good, The Bad, and The Sparkles

So, like with all reviews, we can look at Hanabi in regards to Good, Bad, and Neutral points.

The Good:

  • Hanabi is a quick game and a really good filler. It is just the right level of challenging, relying on cooperation and limited information to make the game tick.
  • The fact you are holding your hand backwards is a nice mechanic. It isn’t used in many other games and Hanabi uses that mechanic really well.
  • Hanabi is an inexpensive game. I bought it for £10.50, and the cheapest edition on Amazon UK is £9.08.
  • Hanabi is a good bonding game, and works well as a filler between two larger games.

The Neutral:

  • The multicoloured or rainbow cards can make the game longer and more challenging. Personally, I like Hanabi as a quick filler game, but that is an option if you want to draw the game out or make it more of an event.
  • The components do the job.

The Bad

  • Hanabi can get a bit repetitive if played too many times in a row. Once or twice is perfect, but I wouldn’t recommend an evening of it.

Firework building in Hanabi.

Conclusion: Hanabi Review

So what can be said to conclude this Hanabi review? Well, Hanabi is one of those great wholesome and classic games. The whole reason I bought it recently is because friends have had it for years, and we’ve played Hanabi a lot with them. Since then it made its way onto my “Board Game Essentials” Amazon wish list. It’s a game we felt we needed to have our own copy of.

We would recommend Hanabi. It is a great game and one that will be a classic in due course. It is simple, and only does a couple of things, but it does those things incredibly well.

So, there we have it – Hanabi by Antoine Bauze. Check it out if you haven’t already.

What are your thoughts? Have you played Hanabi? Do you enjoy it? Let me know in the comments below.

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