Are fireworks, parades, barbecues, fairs, picnics, baseball games, and family reunions not enough for your 4th of July celebration? How about we toss in some tabletop gaming? Hanabi is a game named after the Japanese word for “fireworks”. I know what you are thinking, “celebrate Independence Day with a foreign game? HERESY!” Well, try and move past that, Hanabi is a wonderful game—and really its just a name.
Players assume the role of blundering pyrotechnics experts who accidentally mixed up the materials for a large fireworks display. Your goal, as a member of the pyrotechnics team, is to help rebuild 5 different fireworks before the impending show becomes a catastrophe.
The game is comprised of cards and a handful of tokens. The cards show illustrations for fireworks (black, red, blue, yellow, green) all with increasing values (1, 2, 3, 4, 5) on each color. The gameplay itself is cooperative, meaning everyone loses or everyone wins, so turns revolve around helping each other achieve a common goal. Starting with the person wearing the most colorful clothing (I love when games have weird start player rules) each player spends their turn performing one of three actions: give information to another player, discard a card, or play a card. Your motivation is to play cards in the correct order 1–5 and to group cards with colors of their kin. Right now you are saying “So far it sounds like a crappy version of Go Fish, Rummy, or Solitaire” well, it gets better.
The unique thing about Hanabi is that you play the game while holding your cards facing out so that only other players can see what is in your hand. During your turn you can choose to give hints to other players to help them understand their hand or hint at what they can do on their turn to progress in the game. There are only two types of hints you can give, color and value. For example, you can say, “You have two green cards, here and here.” Another hint might be, “You have three 1’s, here, here, and here.” Players can only give 8 hints (represented by blue tokens) before they need to successfully discard a useless card to regain a blue token and, in turn, more hints.
It might sound like a gimmick at first but playing without knowing your hand and knowing everyone else’s really adds so much strategy to what would otherwise be a traditional card game. This mechanic in and of itself is most likely the reason why Hanabi won the 2013 Spiel des Jahres (Game of the Year), the most prestigious award for board and card games, which is awarded annually by a jury of German game critics.
The true test comes when you decide to play or discard a card. If you play the right card, for example a red 3 when the last red card played was a 2, then the game keeps churning along. If you play the wrong card, like a white 5 when the last white card played was a 1, then the pressure is on. Any given color only has so many of each number. There are three 1’s, two 2’s, two 3’s, two 4’s, and one 5. Misplay a 5 and all the sudden its impossible to complete one of the colors. Misplay a 3 and you know you’ll only have one chance left to play the right 3. When a player plays a card that can’t be played, you lose a red token. The game ends when either the players complete all five colors with a value of 5 or the third and final red token is lost.
This game is wonderful in a few different ways. Interesting mechanics aside, as a co-op game with simple rules and a sub $15 price point, Hanabi hits on a lot of cylinders. I won’t hesitate to keep this game in my car in case of a random casual gaming opportunity.
The difficulty level of the gameplay sounds pretty light but can be challenging depending on the players and the environment in which you play. It is surprisingly easy to get mixed up and show how terrible your memory is when your turn comes around. If you’re playing with a group of friends while snacking, enjoying your favorite beverage, or just catching up, Hanabi‘s difficulty level skyrockets because focus is everything. Some of the most challenging aspects of this game include trying your hardest not to tip off the other players on what to do with the look on your face. Terrible poker faces will crash this game and quickly start to feel like cheating. Interestingly enough, trying really hard not to cheat turns out to be one of the most fun aspects of this game.
Hanabi is a great game for all ages and level of gamers. When 4th of July rolls around and you are looking for a great way to enjoy fireworks without the chance of blowing off your fingers, shuffle up Hanabi and see where the night takes you.