Monday 14 September 2015

Cardboard - Hanabi card game

The sky is dark, the party is underway, but somebody forgot to set up the fireworks display... Time for 2-5 people to save the day (in around 25 minutes)!

Hanabi card game
Hanabi - a co-operative fireworks card game

In my quest for shiny new portable pub games I recently picked up a copy of Hanabi, a co-operative card game by Antoine Bauza (who seems to be becoming my new favourite designer with previous games like the fabulous 7 Wonders, Tokaido and Rampage/Terror in Meeple City).

My very basic knowledge of Japanese translates the title as 'Fireworks', and the aim of the game is to build a fireworks display by laying cards in the correct order. The cards are divided into five coloured sets and numbered 1-5. To complete the game the group needs to lay each set on the table in order from 1 to 5, which sounds really simple until you find out that you can't see what cards you're holding!

Each player holds their hand of cards facing away from them, so that everyone else can see it. On your turn you can choose from one of three actions. You can choose to tell someone a piece of information about their cards at the cost of one of the group's 'time' tokens - there are only eight of these. The only information you can give another player is to point at all their cards of a certain colour, or all their cards with a certain number value - so the ambiguous 'you have three 4s' rather than the more helpful 'that card is a yellow 4' is all that's allowed. Your other options are to lay a card (using your powers of deductive reasoning to figure out what on earth your friends have been trying to get you to do...) or discard a card, which will earn back one of your spent time tokens.

You have to keep a balance in the group between giving information and discarding enough cards to get your time tokens back. All too often you find you've run low on time tokens at exactly the wrong time, when you really needed to indicate to someone that they have the next card but instead have to discard one of your cards - which is invariably something that would have been useful - and helplessly watch them take their turn.

Like all good co-op games, Hanabi makes success as difficult as possible. Actions are limited by the number of time tokens, as mentioned above. If someone makes a mistake and lays a card out of order, the group loses a 'fuse' token - lose three of these, and BOOM (game over). Run out of cards in the draw pile and - you guessed it - game over (after one last round of play to scrape some final points).

If you want to make things even harder for yourself, the game comes with an extra sixth suit of cards and rule variants to use them.  I don't think I'm ready for this yet!

Hanabi card game
Creating a beautiful fireworks display, scary fuse tokens and precious time tokens

When the game is over you count up the points scored on however much of the display you've managed to complete.  This can then be compared to the 'Artisan League of Fireworks Technicians reference scale' provided in the rules to see how disappointed/exuberant the crowd are.

Despite being super-tough, after our very first game (read: crushing defeat) we were shuffling the cards straight away for another try and I can't wait to break this out again! Hanabi won the Spiel de Jahres (Game of the Year) award in 2013 and I can definitely see why.

If you like other co-operative games like Pandemic or Forbidden Island/Forbidden Desert I think you'd definitely like this. So simple in principle but challenging to accomplish, the game is incredibly frustrating but fun at the same time. It leaves you with a 'just one more game' feeling that I can't remember having since playing 7 Wonders for the first time.

Hanabi also avoids the problem common to a lot of co-op games have where people can get left out or take over all the decisions - each person takes their own turn without the possibility of talking it over or being over-ruled.

It fits in a handbag, is quick to explain, great fun to play and costs less than £10... Buy it immediately!