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Subject: Hanabi: A Game of the Blind Leading the Blind (a review) rss

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David McMillan
United States
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Hanabi is like many games that I have played before yet it is unlike anything that I have ever played before. I have played many card games and many memory games. I have mastered Mastermind and I have become quite adept at solving puzzles over the years. However, I have never played a card game that didn’t allow me to look at my cards. This singular aspect of this game makes it truly unique.

Hanabi is derived from the Japanese symbol for "fireworks". Thematically, you are putting on a fireworks show, but someone has mixed up all of the colors and fuses. The show is beginning soon and you’ve only got a few minutes to get it all sorted out.


The game is comprised of 50 cards of varying colors (of which there are 5) with numbers printed on them. The goal of the game is to arrange your cards by colors and by numbers in ascending order. There can only be one of each number in a suit. Each player begins with 5 cards and they hold those cards facing away from them so that everyone else but them can see the cards that they are holding in their hands. There are several blue tokens and a few red tokens. The box top or the tin lid (depending on which version of the game you are playing) is placed face up on the table and these tokens are placed onto the table directly next to it.


Once you’re all set up, you’re ready to begin. The most colorfully dressed person goes first and then play proceeds clockwise. On each player’s turn they may perform one of three possible actions:

- Provide information
- Discard a card
- Play a card

When a player provides information, they first pick up a blue token and place it into the face up box or lid. If there is not a blue token available, then they must perform one of the other two actions. However, if they are able to place a token into the box, then there are only two kinds of information that they can provide. They can either tell another player that they have a certain number on their cards or they can tell another player that they are holding a particular color. When identifying numbers or colors, they must clearly point out each and every one of them. After I discuss the other two options, I’ll run through a sample of game play which will hopefully make everything much clearer.

If a player chooses to discard a card, then simply place that card face up into the discard pile and then draw a new card to replace it. Then they may remove one blue token from the face up box or lid and place it back onto the table. Any player may look through the discard pile at any time.

The third option is to play a card. To play a card, the player places the card that they choose to play face up in front of them. If this card cannot legally be played, then it is placed into the discard pile and a red token is placed into the face up box or lid. If the card can be legally played, then it is added to the proper fireworks display. After a player places a card (regardless of whether or not it was legal) they will draw a card to replace it.


For this sample of gameplay, I will be using three different players so that you can see how each of the actions works as well as some on the fundamental strategy involved in the game. Keep in mind that the deck of cards isn’t infinitely deep. Once you run out of cards to draw, the game effectively comes to an end after one last go around the table. To keep things simple, I will call my players Alice, Bob, and Eve. I will denote the cards first by their number, followed by a letter representing their color ( B = blue, G = green, Y = yellow, R = red, W = white). Alice will be going first followed by Bob and then Eve. Here are their opening hands:

Alice: 1Y, 1G, 5R, 3Y, 2G
Bob: 1Y, 2Y, 4W, 3B, 3R
Eve: 2W, 2W, 3R, 3G, 1B

Alice figures that the easiest way to get things started is to start getting cards onto the table. She sees that Bob has a single 1 in his hand, so she opts to let him know about it. She places a blue token into the box and tells Bob about the card.

On his turn, Bob plops the 1Y down onto the table and draws a card to replace it. He replaces it with 4G. He keeps this newest card on the left because he figures if he needs to discard later that it will probably be safest to discard the oldest cards first since nobody will have worked to get them out of his hand.

Now it is Eve’s turn. She knows literally nothing about any of her cards. Since it is early in the game. She knows that she can probably discard a card and be safe doing so. However, she, like Alice, wants to start getting cards onto the table, so she places a blue token into the box and tells Alice about her yellow cards. She is hoping that Bob can further drill it down so that Alice will realize that she has a 1Y that she can safely discard now.

The turn passes to Alice. She knows she has two yellow cards and that is about it. That’s not enough information to make an informed discard and, besides, there are still six blue tokens left. She tosses one into the box and tells Eve about her 1 card.

Bob, thankfully, sees where Eve is going with her strategy and tells Alice about her ones. In doing so, he has alerted Alice to two important pieces of information. Alice now knows which card is the 1Y and she also knows that she has another 1 that she can put down.

Eve places her 1 and draws 5W to replace it. Play passes to Alice who then discards 1Y to remove a blue token from the box. She draws 2G to replace it.

Play continues in this fashion until one of three things happens. Either the players successfully complete all of the fireworks displays OR they draw the very last card and then try to accomplish what they can with their last go around the table OR they place the last red token into the box. The final score is the values of the top card of each display added together. There is a chart included in the rule book that they can gauge their progress with.


Firstly, let me talk about the components. The cards are made of quality card stock and they look pretty good. The art work on the cards is kind of ho-hum and not very inspiring, but it doesn’t need to be. The real hero here is the game play. However, if I am going to be staring at the backs of my cards the entire time, a pretty picture to stare at would be nice.

Secondly, when the game was first described to me, I thought it would be easy for some reason. Boy was I mistaken. This game is HARD. Don’t let yourself be fooled by how small the packaging is or how short the rule book is. What this game lacks in quantity of components, it makes up for in depth. Unlike the example that I gave above, hardly any of my group drew any 1s. Our best strategy was to let each other know about the 5s and to start discarding cards to try to get some 1s into play. However, the more we did this, the smaller the deck got. Before we knew it, we’d lost horribly, but we’d had one hell of a great time! And really, isn’t that what a great game is all about?

So, to recap, if you’re looking for a quick filler type game that won’t make your brain hurt, then Hanabi isn’t it. Hanabi isn’t quick and it will certainly challenge you at every opportunity. This game takes a lot of patience and a lot of deductive reasoning and, as such, it’s the kind of game that most younger children probably won’t enjoy. But for all of you adults reading this, if you don’t already own Hanabi or have never played it, you most definitely want to change that.

Like now.

What are you waiting for? Go get Hanabi!

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