In Praise of Bohnanza


I’m spending some time up in Massachusetts consulting for HitPoint Studios, and one of the many things I like about the company is its game night. They get together every other week to share new games and old favorites, which gave me a great excuse to introduce them to Bohnanza.

Bohnanza is best described as “the game Uwe Rosenberg was famous for before he got famous for Agricola.” First published in 1997, it’s representative of most of the games he was designing at the time. It’s a mall game that plays quickly, combining a strong social element with an tricky way of manipulating cards.

Bohnanza throws conventional card players for a loop by denying them one of their most beloved habits: the ritual of rearranging the cards in your hand. The order of your hand is important in this game, because it determines the order in which you can plant your bean cards in the field.

(Did I mention you’re bean farmers? It’s a goofy little theme but it works, keeping the tone light and helping to explain the complexities of the game. You also get to look at cute cards with bad bean-related puns on them, which is always a plus.)

The fixed order of cards also makes hand management important, because you have to get the cards you don’t want out of your hand before you have to plant them! This is where the social element of Bohnanza comes into play. Most of your gains will come from trading cards with your fellow players, which means you have to find a series of deals where both players benefit and you benefit just a little bit more.

The game gets raucous fast, especially as players realize they can bribe each other to refuse deals and send unwanted cards into opponents’ bean fields. The simple rules can be taught in five minutes, but the trading is so fluid that the game never feels repetitious. It doesn’t hurt that you can play a full game in less than an hour, either. Try doing THAT with Agricola or Caverna!

Bohnanza has stayed in print and spawned a host of sequels, but is now eclipsed by Rosenberg’s worker placement games. That’s too bad, because there are not many games that pack so much fun into such a short playing time.

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