There’s something magical about fireworks.
I still have a lot of childhood memories of going out with my family and cracking open the sunroof to watch the Independence Day fireworks. Years later as an adult, I still have that first memory whenever I watch fireworks.
The first time I heard about Hanabi I was a little shocked. First off, it won the Spiel des Jahres (Game of the Year) award in 2013. That’s not surprising in and of itself, but what is surprising is the size of the game.
The box is ridiculously small. It’s possible it’s slightly more square than a box of Love Letter but thinner.
It’s always a nice reminder that you don’t need a massive box, jam-packed full of minis and huge map tiles in order to make a compelling (and award-winning) game.
A Brief Overview of Hanabi
Race the clock…
Build the Fireworks…
Launch your Rockets…
In Hanabi, players are a group of goofball fireworks technicians that wasted too much time before the big show. There’s a storm rushing in and all of the fireworks, fuses, and powders have been mixed up in transport.
The hour is drawing near for the big fireworks display and the people want to see a show. Now it’s up to the bumbling pyrotechnicians to unscramble the mess and set everything to rights.
Versions & Expansions
There’s not a whole lot to unbox here on account of it being such a tiny game. It almost fits in the palm of your hand.
The components for such a small game are very well done. Nothing feels cheap within the box.
The tokens all come on one cardboard punch-out. They include 8 clock tokens, 3 fuse tokens, and an unused explosion token.
There are two shrinkwrapped decks of cards that are good quality. Nothing is going to start warping… unless you spill a drink on it. (It’s happened to me once or twice. I’m the worst.)
The box is a similar size to a game of Fluxx.
How to Play Hanabi
Hanabi has a very unique mechanic that few games have done well.
Players are dealt a hand of cards but they won’t be able to see their own cards. Players will need to work together to identify what cards are in their hand by hints from other players.
Starting the Game
Place all of the tokens in the center of the table.
Shuffle the deck of cards and deal a hand of cards to each player.
2-3 player game: 5 cards
4-5 player game: 4 cards
DO NOT LOOK AT YOUR CARDS!
You’re ready to start.
The Object of the Game
Players will blindly work together to play cards in the correct order. Everyone needs to work together to play cards of the same color in ascending order. For example, if a red 1 is played, the next legal card would need to be a red 2. If a different card is played it’s considered an illegal move and the card is discarded. Players will need to work together and will only know what cards they have from hints given to them from other players.
On Your Turn
Players can perform 1 of 3 actions on their turn.
1. Give a hint.
2. Discard a card.
3. Play a card.
1. Give a hint.
Giving a hint is a little more involved than it looks at first glance. You can’t simply say, “Hey, you have a green 3 in your first slot.” It’s got to be a little more subtle than that.
To give a hint, you’ll have to specifically point to the cards that the hint refers to and only 2 types of hints are legal.
You can only give one type of hint at a time.
A player can point out either all of one color or all of one number in another player’s hand as a hint. You can’t do both and you can’t do multiple numbers or colors.
For every hint given, one of the 8 clock tokens must either be flipped or shown to be removed from the pool. This means that players simply can’t go back and forth giving hints until everybody knows who has which cards.
Hints are finite resources that need to be managed very carefully for success in the game.
2. Discard a card.
Players can simply discard a card on their turn and draw another. This action refreshes one of the hint tokens. This is simultaneously both good and bad. On one hand, you get to refresh your hints but on the other, you start to burn through the cards.
There’s a finite number of each card and you can sometimes inadvertently discard the necessary cards you’ll need to win.
3. Play a card.
After a few hints, players will want to start playing cards. In order for the plays to be legal, players will need to play cards in ascending order 1-5.
The first card in any game must be a 1 of some color. For example, the first card is red 1. The next card played must be a 1 of a different color or it must be a red 2.
If you mess it up, the card is discarded, a new card is drawn, and one of the fuse tokens is flipped up. It’s baseball rules here, so 3 strikes and you’re out. Game over.
Ending the Game
Hanabi has 3 different end game scenarios.
1. 3 of the red tokens are flipped. This basically means your fireworks show was terrible and plagued with problems. Your audience may have seen a single firework during the show before they got up and walked out.
2. If the players were able to pull together and create 5 firework sets numbering 1-5, the show was a resounding success and the maximum score of 25 is awarded to the players. Pat yourselves on the back. You did it!
3. If the draw deck runs out, everyone gets one final round to piece together whatever they can. The final score is then tallied up by the highest number shown on each stack of fireworks. The rulebook has a chart to determine how well the show went.
The chart ranges from:
<5 = Horrible. You were booed offstage by the crowd.
25 = Legendary. Everyone left speechless with stars in their eyes.
Your First Game of Hanabi
In your first game of Hanabi, I would recommend using the base rules. There are several variants that you can throw together later that makes the game much more difficult. The game moves fairly quickly, so if you mess up any rules on your first playthrough, just roll with it.
It’s going to be difficult your first game or two.
This is one of those weird examples in board games where you can’t really talk to each other. You might let something slip about cards in other player’s hands or you might get caught up in a conversation and forget what kind of cards you have in your own hand.
Try out some different strategies. Hit the low numbers first to get started and keep an eye on everyone else’s cards. It’s easy to pick up but even to this day, it can still be a toss-up whether or not you’ll win, depending upon the cards.
If you want more of a challenge, there’s another set of rainbow-colored cards that you can use to change up the gameplay. You could make the game harder by simply adding them as an additional color. When giving hints, they technically all be colors, so you’ll point to the rainbow cards every time you give a color hint.
If it’s too hard, you can make it easier by having the rainbow deck as a set of wild cards in the deck that fit anywhere as long as the numbers are correct. I would honestly just leave them out for your first few games until you really start to get a feel for the mechanics.
Tips for Newbies
You are allowed to rearrange your cards in any which way that you want. After you get a hint, it’s 100% within the rules to rearrange your hand order to help you remember. You can flip certain cards if you know their color, start moving them around, and rearranging them by number.
That’s all legal, so use whatever system works best for you.
All players can look at what cards are discarded at any time. The discard pile isn’t hidden. Remember though, that there’s a certain number of each type of card. By process of elimination and card counting, you can get an idea of what you have or what kind of cards are left in the deck.
Pros & Cons of Hanabi
- Easy to learn
- Quick to play
- 100% Cooperative
- 100% cooperative
- Minimal social interaction
Yes, I know that I put cooperative as both a pro and a con. I know I do this a lot, but it’s still valid. I absolutely love cooperative games and there are varying degrees of cooperation. It all depends on the players. Some gamers enjoy purely cooperative games while others enjoy games with cooperative elements that still have individual scores. It all depends on the players. Hanabi is a purely cooperative experience. The scores, victory, and defeat are all shared together. There are some players in my group who I would not attempt this with simply because I know their personalities. You know your group better than I do.
Hanabi is unique in that it relies on talking and giving hints to other players to be successful, but the rules forbid any other hints given. This usually has the effect of forcing a quiet table with the only conversation being on a player’s turn. It definitely limits interaction. I’ve definitely given things away a few times on my first few playthroughs so now when we play, it’s mostly a silent affair. It’s good for the analytical mindset, but a little lacking on social interaction. The conversations usually explode from the table the second the game is over, though.
Hanabi is a Spiel des Jahres winner with a unique mechanic done right. It’s easy to learn, travel with, and play on-the-fly.
It’s a lightweight game that’s a great standalone game or as an appetizer for a larger game night.
The difficulty is still there after many playthroughs and has high-replayability that will earn its place on your gaming shelf time and time again.
The theme is minimal, but it’s aligned with the simple mechanics and design of the game.
Overall, it’s a solid game that will give you plenty of play time without taking up too much space on your shelf.
I’ve been getting into a designer kick lately and find myself analyzing a lot of games from a designer point of view.
It’s interesting to look at a board game from a design standpoint because there are games out there that are extremely popular or fun despite having poor design and there are games that are designed incredibly well that I don’t necessarily enjoy playing.
Hanabi is a game that has the best of both worlds. It’s designed incredibly well with only a few simple components and rules that work so well together that it makes for an enjoyable gaming experience.
I normally prefer games where I can get into a role or ones that have highly-thematic elements. Hanabi does not really offer any of that. As a matter of fact, it drastically limits social interaction at the table. Despite that, I always have a blast playing it.
Hanabi is very challenging and the players’ skill levels combined with the randomness of the deck always keeps the challenge high without becoming too frustrating.
Kendra and I travel a lot, and this is one of those games we can take with us to the airport that keeps us entertained for hours. I can’t tell you how many new friends I’ve made while traveling, simply by pulling a game out in an airport and inviting fellow travelers for a quick game.
Have you tried Hanabi? What do you think? Drop a comment below and let us know!