Friday, June 13, 2014


The hardest part of this game is that you hold the cards the wrong way around.

No. Really. That's going to be the bit that trips you up more than any other.

In Hanabi, you play technicians tasked with putting on a spectacular fireworks show, but you've made one slight error. The sequence for firing each rocket has been mixed up, and now you and your fellow technicians must correctly launch your coloured gunpowder tubes, without admitting your own fault.

Everything is backwards

Each player has a hand of cards, but holds them facing out to the rest of the table. Thus, you know what everyone else has, but no idea what you hold yourself. On your turn, you can play a card, discard a card, or give a piece of information. Information is limited, represented by eight clock tokens that get removed as information is shared, and recycled if a card is discarded.

It is up to the players to make five suits of fireworks, one in each colour, each containing five cards, numbered one to five, in ascending order. If a card is played incorrectly, either because a copy of it is already in play, or the card one lower than it is not yet in play, then the fuse shortens and the tension rises.

The game ends if all five fireworks are completed, if the draw deck empties or if three fuse tokens are discarded to the box, revealing the explosion token. At that point, the highest value card in each colour is added together to get the groups final score.

Hanabi is a fun, tense game of strategic planning, memory, deduction and a little luck. It plays fast, and supports up to five players.

We love this game at my house, and it gets a lot of playtime, most popular with four or five players, but fun with two as well. Because information is scarce, and there are restrictions on how information is given, what you chose to tell someone, and what you chose not to tell them becomes the key to victory or defeat. Also, once a piece of information has been given, it's up to that player to remember it. Other players shouldn't remind their fellow technicians what was revealed in previous rounds.

It's hilarious being able to see everyone else's hand, but not your own. Looking around at opening hands is always fun, realizing that the other players all hold all the fives, or that one player has three red ones in her hand. Co-ordinating the distribution of information with other players is easy at first, but becomes more difficult, as you can't explicitly tell the active player what to do. Trying to work out the value of being told "These two cards are RED" can be tricky, and I've often found myself discarding a valuable card or playing an inappropriate card because I misjudged something.

It can also be incredibly frustrating seeing a valuable card in another players hand, but not being able to get them that vital piece of information. But that's all part of the game.

I recently brought Hanabi into work with me and tried it out with some of the kids I teach. I was planning on just teaching the older group, but we had one seven year old in the group, and he was the first to totally get how the game works. While I was explaining the rules, he would stop and ask me a clarifying question, by way of a play example, and he was right in his assumption every time! When we played, it was clear that the group had no issues with understanding the rules, and enjoyed the tension of watching another player agonise over whether to discard or play a card inhand.

Hanabi is a wonderful game, and comes highly recommended. It's also the first of three games by designer Antoine Bauza that I'll be reviewing in upcoming posts!

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