Welcome to The Game Shelf!

After getting into the board game hobby at the end of 2014, we've decided to share our thoughts on the games we're collecting on our shelves. The collection has certainly expanded over the last few years and we've been making up for lost time!

Sometimes our opinions differ, so Amy will be posting reviews every Tuesday and Fi will post on Thursdays. We hope you enjoy reading some of our opinions on board games - especially those for two players.

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Thursday 3 September 2015

Thoughts from the Yellow Meeple :- Hanabi

Game Title: Hanabi

Designer: Antoine Bauza

Manufacturer: R&R Games

Year: 2010

Hanabi is another game that I was first introduced to by my housemate before we really got into the board gaming hobby. We watched her and her boyfriend play a game and didn’t really understand it. We played our first game two-player and Amy wasn’t really sold because of the pressure on the heavy memory aspect. I, however, was quite taken with the unique concept and on a visit to Thirsty Meeples board game cafe in Oxford its low price point drew me in.

Hanabi is a small co-operative card game for 2-5 players. The aim of the game is to produce an impressive firework display. This is achieved by playing the five numbered cards in each of the five or six colours in consecutive order. The trick of this game is that you have to play your cards without ever having seen them.
Each player starts the game with 5 cards in their hand. They can only see the identical card backs, whilst they can see the front of their team-mates’ cards. The remaining cards are in a draw pile in the centre of the table, along with the series of clock tokens and fuse tokens. Each clock token represents one clue that you can give to one player on your turn. Once these have all been used, no more clues can be given. These clue tokens are refreshed either by discarding a card or by completing a firework. The 4 fuse tokens represent your 3 lives which are your limited number of chances to play the wrong card eg. playing a white ‘3’, when only the white ‘1’ has been played so far in the game.

On your turn you must choose whether to give a clue to one other player (if there are any clock tokens remaining in play) which must be one piece of information, either number or colour, about the cards in their hand eg. “these 3 cards are yellow”. You must point out all of the cards that match the information given. Your other options on your turn are either to play a card which you think comes next in a sequence already played, or to discard a card that you think is no longer useful because a copy has already been played or you have ruined your chances of succeeding in building a particular firework. 

The decisions are often really tense and sometimes frustrating and sometimes there are situations where there are no clue tokens left and you know nothing about your hand, so you just have to make a choice whether to play or discard. This is when unwritten etiquette between you and other players can come into play, for example “I’ve had this card for 4 rounds, there were clues available during that time and no-one told me about it, so it must be useless”. Because of the different multiples of each card in the deck, it’s also more important to tell people about some cards than others. There’s only one of each colour 5, so we always make a point to tell people as soon as they have fives. There are two of each 4, so once one has been discarded, then the 4s become just as critical.

In this game, the blue firework will never be finished because the blue 5 has been discarded in error. It is still worth trying to build the blue firework as one point is scored for every correct card played, but you won't get a perfect 25.
My main issue with the game is that the end is often anti-climactic. There is no win or lose, just a point score at the end of the game. Twenty-five points is the maximum you can obtain for completing all 5 fireworks, but if you don’t achieve this (which has so far proved impossible for us after 10-15 plays) then you’ve not lost the game, you’ve just put on a slightly less impressive firework display.

I’ve also had mixed experiences with different groups and their interpretation of the rules. When we play this game two player, we’ve settled on an interpretation of the rules. It’s pretty strict compared to what I’ve seen allowed in other games. Given the vagueness of the points scoring system, I only see merit in playing with the same rule set and trying to get better, otherwise it becomes somewhat of a pointless activity.

All of the above sounds negative, but I actually do enjoy this game quite a bit with just the two of us playing. It travels with us to many places, can be played on a plane or a train and is great value for money for the amount of play we get. As in most co-ops, luck of the draw has a big part to play in whether you succeed, but this game also rewards practice and communication skills with regular plays.

Hanabi is one of our go-to games when travelling and is slipped into the bag for most gaming meet-ups. I really enjoy it and, at least to my knowledge and in our collection, it is unique. I rate it 7.5/10 for us as a 2-player game, which is how we play 90% of the time, although I’d probably rate it lower when we share the game with larger groups.

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