While its name is the Japanese word for fireworks, little is known about the game, its history, or its designers. It was published in 2010 and, 6 years later, is finally starting to get the recognition it deserves.
There isn’t much to Hanabi, just a small deck of cards broken into 6 colors, each color including cards from 1 to 5, 8 clock tokens and 4 fuse tokens. The idea is to successfully lay out the five main colors in ascending order on the table. But it’s simplicity is very deceiving. The main catch is that you’re not allowed to look at the cards in your hand at all. In fact, you’re not even supposed to talk to each other much during the game, either. The only way to learn information about your cards is for another player to spend a time token to offer you hints. These hints can only consist of a single color of one or more of your cards or the number. This makes it to be one of the most difficult and exciting cooperative card games I’ve ever played.
To make it even more challenging, the game can end in three ways:
If 3 incorrect cards are played (wrong color or number in a stack). This exposes the explosion token and the game ends immediately
One round after the final card from the draw pile is taken. The cards that have been placed get totaled up for the final score.
If the entire set of all 5 fireworks (or 6, if you’re playing the advanced version) are completed, awarding the team the maximum amount of points. Although the designers don’t say you ever lose the game, this is the only way to actually win it.
This raises the stakes even higher, but for me personally, I love it.
I will say that it can be very frustrating to start out. Trying to get used to not looking at your cards and then not being able to be as obvious as I would have liked is tough, especially when someone is about to discard a card you know will end the game and there’s NOTHING you can do about it. It’s so challenging that I’ve played the game over 25 times with the same four people and have only won twice (and that was with some pretty obvious body language as to what cards were more important or not), but I LOVE the challenge.
If you’re a fan of strategy games, this should be a good one for you. Trying to frame your clues in a way so that you can convey all of the information you need to in a way that someone else will understand can be challenging and interesting, but lots of fun once everyone get into the swing of things. I suggest playing a round or two of every decision and clue being talked through so you can understand how your teammates deduce their clues or absorb information before trying to stay quiet. That’ll help give you a basis for how to interact with everyone and increase your chances of winning. My group has even gone so far as to sit in a specific order so that the strongest guessers and clue-givers can play to their strengths and help the others.
If you’d prefer a game that is simple and doesn’t require thinking and planning ahead, do NOT buy this game. You won’t have fun with it. You’ll find it frustrating and long and completely not worth it (which is totally okay! Everyone has their preferences). But if you’re a board game fan and want something to push you a little, I strongly suggest this game. Plus, at $9.78, it’s super cheap to try out.