Hanabi Review


For the last two or three years, I’ve been fascinated by cooperative games like Hanabi. I’m not absolutely sure why this is, but there are some good reasons. My elder daughter is old enough to play complex games, but would rather play with Daddy than against them. My day job involves a lot of work on aggressively competitive games, so cooperative games are a nice change of place. And the simple fact is that games like Hanabi are a lot of fun.

Hanabi is a card game with a paper-thin theme. In theory, you’re spending an evening planning the perfect set of fireworks. In practice, you’re assembling numbers in a sequence and trying not to make too many mistakes. The theme is pleasant, and the cards are pretty, but the theme has nothing to do with the gimmick that makes the game interesting.

In most card games, you know what cards you have and make the best plays you can against your opponents’ unknown hands. Hanabi turns this idea around — literally. You hold your cards so that your fellow players can see them, but you can’t. To make the best plays, you have to depend on the clues that your fellow players give you.

The clues are tightly controlled, and you can only tell another player one of two things:

  1. How many cards the player has of a number, or
  2. How many cards the player has of a color.

Based on this information, each player must make deductions about which cards to play and which to discard. Play cards in the right sequence, and your score improves. Play the wrong card and you use up one of your three fuses that mark the end of the game. DIscard the right card and you gain more opportunities to share clues with your fellow players; discard the wrong card and you can block yourself from ever finishing a sequence of cards.

The game is full of tension as you try to deduce what’s in your hand and figure out what information your fellow players need from you. Hanabi is a brain-burner, and some players are not going to like this kind of puzzle. If you’re looking for a fast-playing mental challenge, though, you’ll like this game.

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