16 March 2015

Board Game Review: Hanabi

I've been keeping an eye on my site traffic, and something I've noticed is that the entries that are getting the most views are my Board Game Reviews. Apparently, those entries are generating some international traffic, which I think is excellent! I've been getting visitors from India, Germany, Australia, even the Ukraine!

I'm a little disappointed that people don't seem to be reading the other entries as much. But I suppose I shouldn't look a gift horse in the proverbial mouth, should I?

So with that in mind, I think it's high time I wrote another board game review. Although to be fair, this one will really be a card game review, as the game I'm reviewing this week is played entirely with cards, aside from a handful of tokens. That's right, it's time to review Hanabi!

Let's look at the ratings, and the system:
Strategy and Randomness are rated from 0 to 6. A 0 means the rated aspect plays no part in determining the game's outcome; and a 6 means that it is the only factor that determines the game's outcome. Complexity is also rated from 0 to 6; a 0 means that it's so simple a six-year-old can play it, a 3 means any adult should have no trouble playing, and a 6 means that you'll need to refer to the rulebook frequently. Humour can be rated as 'None,' meaning the game is not meant to be funny, or it may have one or more of the following: Derivative (meaning the humour is based on an outside source, such as a game based on a comedy film), Implicit (meaning that the game's components are funny, such as humourous card text), or Inherent (meaning that the actions the players take are funny). Attractiveness has nine possible ratings. Ideal: the game is beautiful and makes game play easier. Pretty: The design is beautiful and neither eases nor impedes game play. Nice: The design is beautiful but makes game play harder than necessary. Useful: The design is neither beautiful nor ugly, but eases gameplay. Average: The design is neither beautiful nor ugly, and neither eases nor impedes gameplay. Useless: The design is neither beautiful nor ugly, but makes gameplay harder than it needs to be. Utilitarian: The design is ugly, but eases gameplay. Ugly: The design is ugly, and neither eases nor impedes gameplay. Worthless: The design is ugly, andmakes gameplay harder than it needs to be. Average Length of Game Play describes how long an average game will probably last, give or take.
Strategy: 3
Randomness: 3
Complexity: 2
Humour: None
Attractiveness: Pretty
Expected Length of Game Play: 30 minutes

I mentioned Hanabi a few weeks ago in my entry on Co-operative Board Games. This card game pits players against the game itself, and all players win or lose together. Players take on the role of master fireworks craftsmen trying to put on an excellent fireworks show with a minimum of effort.

The game consists of a deck of cards, each representing a number from one to five, in five different colours (blue, yellow, red, green, and white). There are also twelve clock tokens and four fuse tokens. Players set the clock tokens in a communal pool in the centre of the table, and stack the fuse tokens sequentially nearby. The fuse tokens show a lit fuse, each token's fuse being shorter than the one on top, to indicate the increasing closeness of a disastrous explosion. The players then draw a hand of five cards each.

Here's the thing, though: you don't see your own cards. You hold your cards facing away from you, so that the other players know what cards you have, but you don't. On your turn, if you choose to play a card, you must select one without knowing what card it is.

This is where the co-operative aspect of the game comes in. There are three actions that you may take on your turn:
  1. Play a card from your hand.
  2. Discard a card.
  3. Give another player a hint about what cards he holds.
Playing a card is straightforward: you choose a card from your hand to play onto the tableau. The object of the game is to have five columns, one in each colour, starting with a 1 on the bottom and rising to 5 on the top. So when you choose a card, you look to see which card you have chosen. If it is card that can legally be played (i.e., you are playing a 1 in a colour that does not yet have any cards played, or a 2 for a colour that currently has only a 1, or a 3 in a colour that currently has a 1 and a 2, etc), then you add that card to the appropriate colour's stack. If, however, you have chosen a card that cannot be legally played (the number you have chosen is already in the column for that colour, or you play a card that is not the next sequential number in that colour), then you must remove the top counter from the stack of fuse tokens.

If you remove the third fuse token, revealing the fourth and final fuse token (which displays an explosion), then the game ends. In other words, three illegal card plays triggers the end of the game. The game also ends when the last card is drawn from the deck, or when you successfully complete all five cards in all five colours on the tableau.

Once you have played a card, then you draw a new one to replace it and turn passes to the left.

The second action, discarding a card, allows you to return a clock token to the communal pool in the centre of the table. This is useful not only for getting rid of cards you don't need (i.e., if you know you have a White 1 card when there's already a White 1 on the tableau), but because the clock tokens are essential for the third action: giving hints to your players. After discarding, draw a new card to replace what you've discarded, and play passes to the left.

The third action is in many ways the most important. First, you take a clock token from the communal pool in the centre of the table. If there are no more clock tokens available, you may not take this action. You must either play a card or discard a card.

Then, you give one of the other players a hint about the cards he holds in his hand. You may tell him which cards he holds of a certain colour (i.e., point to the three green cards in his hand and say 'All three of these cards are green'), or of a certain number (i.e., point to the three 4s in his hand and say 'these three cards are 4s'). You must indicate clearly which cards you are pointing to, and you cannot point to only some of the cards; you must tell him all of the cards of that particular colour or number. You cannot point out more than one colour, nor more than one number. And you cannot indicate both colour and number; you must choose to tell him about one or the other.

Thus, based on the hints you have received from the other players, you attempt to decide which cards are safe to play on your turn.

Once the game ends, you count up the number of cards that you successfully played to the tableau. The closer that number is to 25, the better your rank (the rules lists what rank you achieve based on the number of cards you've played).

I personally think that this game is a lot of fun. It requires a lot of trust on the part of your fellow players, as well as a little bit of deductive reasoning (if they just told me that this one card is yellow, then they must be trying to hint that it's the yellow 3, which is the next card that needs to be played on the yellow stack!). It can be pretty tense, as you watch the other players try to puzzle out which card to play based on the clues you've given them, and as you hesitantly play the card from your own hand that you're pretty sure might be the right card to play without causing an explosion...

If you're a fan of co-operative games, and a little bit of suspense in the game's action is appealing to you, then I highly recommend you give Hanabi a try. You can even play it online! Until next week,

Game on!

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