When the nominees were announced this year for the Spiel des Jahres (German Game of the Year), I think everyone was truly surprised to see Hanabi and Qwixx on the list. After playing Hanabi and Rise of Augustus, I thought for sure that the nominations of small games was just a nod to the current “microgame” trend and that Augustus had it in the bag (… get it?). To the shock of myself and many others, Hanabi took home the prize. What makes this game worthy of such an award? Here’s a reminder of my scoring categories:
Components – Does the game look nice? Are the bits worth the money? Do they add to the game?
Accessibility – How easy is the game to teach, or to feel like you know what you are doing?
Depth – Does the gameplay allow for deeper strategies, or does the game play itself?
Theme – Does the game give a sense of immersion? Can you imagine the setting described in the game?
Fun – Is the game actually enjoyable? Do you find yourself smiling, laughing, or having some sense of satisfaction when it’s over?
Components: Hanabi is an extremely small card game, fitting into a box roughly the same size as Coloretto‘s. I should mention that I’m referring to the recent English release by R&R Games, which is licensed from Cocktail Games. It looks very similar to the recent Abacus Spiele edition released in Germany. (There was also an earlier edition in a plastic box from a different company called Hanabi & Ikebana, which many American gamers imported.) Inside the box is just a rulebook, a deck of cards, and around 12 cardboard counters. I’m actually very impressed that there’s a small insert to separate the cards into two stacks, considering how tiny this box is. The cards shuffle well although they’re maybe a little flimsy, and I don’t understand why the cardbacks are black and white. Otherwise, the full-color art on the front of the cards is a bunch of very nice pictures of fireworks, and the numbers are in each corner, so the cards can be easily read upside down. A very clear, functional, pretty design. And the MSRP for the game is around $10.95 – I bought mine for $7.50. I love cheap games, small box sizes, efficient components, and good artwork. This is an absolute home run in the components department.
Theme: The theme of the game is that you are collaborating to create a fireworks display, although you’re really playing cards of different colors in numerical rows. I guess the concept is that each person is in charge of a different area of the fireworks display, and you have to coordinate and make sure that the the fireworks go off correctly. The actions you take in the game can be matched up to fit with the theme, and the feel of the game makes sense with the theme. You would have to coordinate somewhat by gut and by picking up signals from the other firework technicians who are maybe out of earshot or hard to see, and that’s what it feels like to try to play these cards in rows with “help” from your teammates. For a small, 30-minute card game, I think the theme comes across about as well as it could.
Accessibility/Depth/Fun: You’ll see why I’m combining all these categories in a second. I've explained this game to gamers a few times, but just recently I taught three players who were completely new to gaming, including one player for whom English is a second language. Once we played a few turns, they were completely comfortable with the “rules”.
I put “rules” in quotes because some of them are quite hard to clearly delineate or enforce. Let me explain the basics of the game. The game is a cooperative one where players are trying to collectively create a fireworks display by playing numbered, colored cards in rows – five rows of numbers 1-5 in five colors each. Players are dealt a hand of cards which they cannot look at but must hold outwardly towards the other players. Each turn, you either give another player a clue (costing your team one of their 8 blue “clue chips”), discard a card from play and draw a new one (earning you back a clue chip), or you play a card to the display (hopefully knowing that it belongs). If you play a card that doesn’t fit to the display, you get a red chip – three of those and everyone has lost. Clues are given by picking a color and a number, and telling a player everything they have with that characteristic – for example, “This card and this card are both white” and you would point to those cards. You play until you have a perfect display or until the deck runs out, at which point you “win” to the extent that you get to see your high score and judge how good the fireworks actually were – 25 points for a perfect display (just add together the highest number of each colored row).
As you can already imagine from that explanation, although the concept of the game is easy to explain, “playing without cheating” is nearly impossible. Even worse, it’s very hard to clearly define cheating. Is intonation cheating? What about facial cues? Conventions gained from repeated play? The rulebook is no help either and tells you just to play however you want. People who say they play this without cheating are full of it, not just because I think it’s near impossible, but also because cheating isn't even clearly delineated. Maybe their flat tone still gave something away! Is developing a convention cheating? The only way I could see playing without cheating would be with a computer interface (maybe there’s an iOS app in the future here). This led a rather bold claim here on BoardGameGeek that (I’m paraphrasing here) the game was more of an activity than actual game, since the rules as they exist aren't even really playable by humans. I’m not sure I disagree.
The way I see it, though, is that trying to actually play by the rules, and failing, is the game. I had an absolute blast playing this game, and it wasn't because the game was such a clever brain-burner. It was because trying to even play this game is hysterical. We literally could not avoid “cheating.” I’m sure there’s some interesting deductive strategy to be had here if you could play perfectly, but, why would you? Is staring cold-faced and trying to act professional something that you find fun? For me, the real fun of the game is the difficulty of playing it. That might make it an activity instead of a game – but it was a very enjoyable activity.
If you don’t mind a game that’s a little loose with the rules and don’t take your fillers too seriously, Hanabi is an easy recommendation.
Originally posted on http://meepletown.com
- Last edited Thu Aug 28, 2014 7:14 pm (Total Number of Edits: 2)
- Posted Sat Sep 28, 2013 8:42 pm
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