With Independence Day coming up, it’s only natural to think about firework displays. And with fireworks, bigger and more explosive is always better. And it just so happens that there’s a cooperative game all about making the best firework show you can.
Hanabi is mostly a deck of cards. They come in five colors or suits and are numbered 1 through 5. There’s only one 5 of each color, but three 1s and two of everything else for a total of forty cards. At the start of the game, each player is dealt a hand of four or five, but the trick is you have to hold the cards away from you. You can see everyone else’s cards, but you can’t see your own.
The goal of the game is, as a group, to play cards of each color in order, one through five. Since you can’t see your own hand, how do you know which card to play? Well, instead of playing a card, you can give a clue to another player. If you do, you can tell them about a number or a color. For example, you might say, “You have two red cards” or “You have three 1s.” You also get to point out which cards those are.
You only have eight clues. That’s it. And if they all get used, then you can’t give any more clues. Fortunately, if a player discards a card from their hand, the group gets a clue back.
Hanabi is mind-bendingly fun. Unlike other cooperative games where discussion is paramount to the experience, here silence is key. Well, maybe not silence. Like any game it’s fine to discuss the latest Game of Thrones episode or an awesome YouTube video. But silence about what each player is holding is critical to making the game work. And that actually enhances the experience. There is no “alpha gamer” problem where one player basically takes over a cooperative game and runs the show.
Getting all the 5s down is the goal, but that goal can be maddeningly elusive. A perfect game requires almost perfect play as well as some luck in card distribution. Mostly, the game is measured by a final score of how large your firework displays ended up. You simply add up the top number on each of the five piles. Anything above 20 is a good score. Below that, and your team needs work.
Hanabi is easily explained and players can get right into the action. But learning the strategy and how to give the best clues requires a ton of practice. You slowly learn to give more information with each clue, and to make sure everything is useful. You learn to look at the other players’ hands, as well as the discards, to determine what you might be holding.
And while that perfect game, with all piles reaching five, is an elusive one, the pursuit is fantastic. The small box makes it perfect for carting along to family gatherings, and the relatively quick playtime makes it a good candidate for post BBQ enjoyment. If you like cooperative games, you should definitely take a look at Hanabi. It’ll certainly assist in my celebration of independence from the English monarchy.
What games do you plan to play this Independence Day?
All Image Credit: R&R Games