Hanabi Review

2-5 Players
30 Minute Playing Time

Brief Overview:
Hanabi is a co-operative team card game where players will attempt to coordinate together to build the best firework show in Japan. There are sixty card that feature six different coloured suits of fireworks that are numbered 1-5.  Most cards have a duplicate except for the 'ones' of which there are three copies, and the 'five' of every colour of which there is only one.  The ultimate goal in Hanabi is to organise your firework display with each colour of fireworks in numerical order from one to five - but the catch is that your cards can never be seen by you and must be held face out the whole game.

Depending on the number of players, each person will be dealt either 4 or 5 cards that are held so as the player cannot see his own cards, but everyone else is able to see them.  Each turn your allowed to do one of three moves: play a firework, give a hint or discard a firework.  Playing a card is how you get points but without any information, the card you play most likely won't be the correct firework in the display.  Three out of order fireworks and the whole show goes up in flames.  As a team you have eight hint tokens which are used to tell another player some information about their cards.  This can either be a number or a colour - for example you could tell another player which cards are the number 'one' in their hand currently.  It's up to that player then to remember which cards are ones, and up to them to figure out whether they can be played or not.  Likewise another hint could reveal which cards in a players hand are the red fireworks.  Each time a hint is given the team lose a token - however hints can be regained by discarding cards of which there is always a risk of throwing away a card you really need.

Every time a card is either played or discarded, another is taken from the draw pile.  Hanabi ends when the team has miss played three times, when a perfect firework show is given or most commonly when there are no more cards in the draw pile and every player has had a last turn.

My Thoughts:

For a small little box, Hanabi packs quite the challenge. I've yet to play with the sixth 'multicoloured' fireworks which is a variant to make the game harder, simply because we haven't been able to get a perfect score on the normal game.  It normally takes a game to realise how people give their hints and often you find yourself second guessing why they just gave you that hint.  Did they tell me this so I can play it? Is it a card I need to keep to not mess up the game? Or did they tell me I have this card because I'm supposed to know its safe to discard?  It's not just learning the game, its learning how the people your playing with think, so you know whenever 'player A' gives you a colour clue that means you can safely play it, but whenever player 'B' tells you - well their clues are always a bit random so it could still mean anything!

Whenever we have been able to play two or three sessions with the same people, our end scores are always improved each game which is where the addictive nature of Hanabi lies.  As challenging and as hard as it is, Hanabi never feels impossible.  Often you lose because of nonsensical hints that are easily improved on or just simple mistakes from a lack of attention.  Occasionally the game is just against you with unplayable cards, but it doesn't leave you thinking you never had a chance.  One group I played with developed a method to interpret hints all using the same formula, but it felt like borderline cheating so we rightfully decided it more fun to play based on natural instincts.

In reality, Hanabi is like a puzzle gimmick you would find on someone's coffee table.  One of those ones you can pick up for a few minutes to work out is mechanic and feel clever about yourself when you solve its goal.  The difference aside from having coloured and numbered cards - is this puzzle's mechanic is made a lot harder as it can only be solved as a team. In the end, it's the struggle for possible perfection that is Hanabi's greatest appeal, but it's simple puzzle gameplay holds it back from be any more than a filler.

My Verdict:
A tough co-op puzzle
Great in small doses