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Ryan Lennon
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Bohnanza is the game that drew me into the boardgaming hobby. All my non-gaming friends and family have enjoyed this game, and if you haven't played it, I hope my review will help you decide if it is a game you would enjoy.


General Game Play

Bohnanza is a card game for 3-7 players (note: the rules for 2 players are slightly different and not reviewed here). The idea of the game is that you are a bean farmer and you are planting and harvesting beans to make money. Each card represents one of the several types of beans (e.g. coffee beans, chili beans, etc.), and the more plentiful beans (i.e. more cards in the deck of that type) are worth less money than the rarer beans. For example, there are only four cocoa beans in the deck and a field with all four is worth 4 coins. At the other extreme, there are 24 coffee beans in the deck, and 12 cards are needed to yield 4 coins. The player with the most money (coins) at the end of the game is the winner.
image uploaded by heathbar


You will have two to three "fields" in front of you; a field is just a set of cards face-up of the same bean type. The more cards you have in a field, the more valuable that field becomes. Depending on the number of cards in the field, it may be worth 0 to 4 coins. All the cards have numbers and symbols telling you how many cards you need for "N" coins, as well as how many cards of that type are in the deck. At any time during the game, you may "harvest" a field.
image uploaded by greatsage

Harvesting is how you make money (the purpose of the game). Harvesting consists of picking up the cards in that field, saving as many cards as the field is worth (the cards have a picture of a coin on the back), and discarding the remaining cards in a discard pile. For example, 4 soy beans are worth 2 coins, so you would save 2 cards to your coins pile, and discard the other 2. There is one rule regarding harvesting that is sometimes overlooked - you cannot harvest a field with only one card in it unless all your fields have only one card. (This prevents players from planting and immediately harvesting a card they never wanted.)
image uploaded by Get Earthworm


Players take turns and on their turn do the following:
1) Plant the "next card" in their hand to a field. "Next card" implies one of the most important rules of the game: cards in your hand must be kept in the order in which you acquired them. If the card matches a field you have already started, then you add it to that field. If not, and you have an empty field, you can start a new one of that type. But if all fields are taken, and the next card doesn't match any of the fields, then you must harvest a field to make room for the new card.

Players also have the option of playing the second next card, as well, if they wish.

2) Draw two cards from the draw pile and set them face up for all to see. The current player has rights to these cards if they want them, but may also trade them to other players.

3) Engage in trading. The current player may solicit trades from other players for either the two face-up cards just drawn or cards in their hand. Other players may trade from cards in their hand with the player whose turn it is. Planted cards and cards just traded are not eligible for trades. This is the core of the game in my opinion. It generally results in a lot of "Go Fish" table-talk... "I'm looking for Red Beans." "I've got Stink Beans...anyone interested?" "I'm not interested in your Blue Beans, now, but we might do business later". "Two Coffees for a Garden Bean...you're kidding, right?" "Throw in a Chili Bean and you've got a deal..." Once the trading is done, all traded beans must be planted. This is also an important mechanic - you don't get to store those beans for later. They get planted immediately.

4) The current player draws 3/4 cards from the deck (the number varies according to the number of players). Next player's turn begins.

After the deck is depleted, reshuffle from the discard pile. After that deck is depleted, reshuffle again from the discard pile. Once you run out of cards on this third time through, the game is over. Count your coins to determine the winner. Most cards in hand is the tiebreaker.


What decisions will players have to make?
Bohnanza is a light game, so these decisions aren't agonizing, but this gives you an idea of what types of choices you'll have to make during the game.

Play 1 card or two at the start of your turn
At first this seems like an arbitrary rule with no purpose. But it can actually have quite an impact. If you play 2 cards as much as possible (that is, assuming you have a good reason to play the second card) you will find that your hand generally only consists of a few cards and you won't have a lot of trading power. If you tend to play 1 card only, and save the playable 2nd card as a buffer for your next turn (so you don't have to worry about being forced to plant a card you don't want to) you'll eventually grow a larger hand and you'll have more flexibility in trading. For example, you really don't want the red bean currently sitting 6th in your hand. But its not going to move to the front for a while, so you can reject low offers for it for now. However, by playing only one card at a time, your fields may grow more slowly (unless you leverage your trading power appropriately).

Buy a third bean field or don't
At any time, players may discard cards from their coin pile to buy a third bean field. The cost of the third field depends on the number of players, but its generally 2 or 3 coins. (With 3 players, all players start with a third bean field.) Some players always buy a third bean field, some never do. I think its value depends on a number of factors including-
a) Do you have time to recoup the cost of the investment?
b) How many fields are out there already? There's only about 10 different types of beans. If there are only 8 fields out there among all players, adding a third for yourself might be a good idea. If there are already 15 fields...that's a lot of competition for 10 bean types.

Which field to harvest?
Poor hand management or an unlucky flip of the cards in part 2 of your turn means you are sometimes forced to plant a new field you didn't want to. Which field do you rip up? The one already worth three coins and only needs two more cards to be worth a fourth, or the other one you just started that's only worth one coin, but there are lots of cards still in the deck for it?

Accept a trade
You've got a Red Bean in your hand which you have no use for. It's way at the back for now, not threating any of your current fields, which are Stink and Chili beans (much less valuable than Red Beans). Another player offers you a Stink Bean for your Red Bean. Do you take it? Do you counter-offer the Red for at least 2 Stinks or a Stink+Chili? What if one Stink is the best they can do? Whether or not you accept trades depends on more than just the face value of the cards being traded. The card that gets you to four coins for your field is more valueable to you than one that puts you between one and two coins. And if the trade is only slightly unbalanced against you, is it better to accept rather than ruin trade relations?


Where is the fun?
Bohnanza is a light negotation game. Some people categorize it as a filler, and though the rule set is about the level of a filler, it rarely plays in under 30 minutes. "Family game" is perhaps a more appropriate description. Most of the fun is in the table talk, but there is some joy in the solitaire aspect of watching your little fields grow, especially when they swell to a full four coin value. You almost always feel as though you are accomplishing something, and there is little downtime, as you are often trying to negotiate trades with the current player (or even other players when their turn comes around.)


Does it play differently with different numbers of players?
Definitely, for a number of reasons. First, more players means more cards in hand out there for trading. Somebody out there has that Green Bean you are looking for. Maybe two people do. With 6 or 7 players, it is not uncommon to have multiple offers for cards which you will have to consider. With 3 players, the trading phase goes much quicker. Also, more players means more fields in play. With 3 players, you can avoid competing for the same type of bean with another player pretty easily. With 7 players, you are more likely to have to outbid someone else to get the beans you want. A 3 player game may take half the time of a 7 player games (50 min. vs. 100 min.). I'll play with any number from 3 to 7, but I prefer 5 or more to increase the competition and table talk.


Why wouldn't you like it?
If you still aren't sure yet whether this game is for you, let me offer this caveat. Sometimes people will remark of a game "You have to have the right group to enjoy it." I don't know if I would say that about Bohnanza, but my experience with the game is only with non-gamer friends and family. Everyone is enjoying the silly artwork on the cards, snickering at the "Chili for Stink" trade, and becoming somewhat attached to their cute little fields of beans. Then a proposed trade is refused. "Oh, come on...don't take the game so seriously". "But its not even close to a fair trade!" "It's not that bad. You're just being greedy!" Trade is refused...someone takes it personally...fun is lessened...dogs and cats living together... Its not really a fault of the game, but it happens.


Final remarks
Because the boardgaming hobby is relatively new, and the choices of great games to play is constantly expanding, it seems sometimes that there is worshipping of only the latest and greatest. Bohnanza is neither a new game, nor was it ever in the BGG Top Ten, but it should not be overlooked, especially by those just entering the hobby. Its a fun, light game with simple enough rules for non-gamers to welcome another play, and enough strategy to satisfy most casual gamers.

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Andreas
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rlennon wrote:
Final remarks
Because the boardgaming hobby is relatively new, and the choices of great games to play is constantly expanding, it seems sometimes that there is worshipping of only the latest and greatest. Bohnanza is neither a new game, nor was it ever in the BGG Top Ten, but it should not be overlooked, especially by those just entering the hobby. Its a fun, light game with simple enough rules for non-gamers to welcome another play, and enough strategy to satisfy most casual gamers.



I disagree that the hobby is new. The SDJ award is in its 30th year and even before people played games. But I totally agree that Bohnanza and lots of older games are great, give fun, give pleasure and just a good time between good people. No need to be new. Thanks a lot for this review of one of the classic eurogames.
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Steven
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I love this game. Great review! And good point about how trading can sometimes turn sour. It's a delicate balance: you need people to care enough about the game that they want to trade (nothing is more boring than a player who's content to keep harvesting tiny beanfields), but if people care too much, or take the game too seriously, you get hurt feelings and recriminations all around.
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Ryan Lennon
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Xeenu wrote:

I disagree that the hobby is new. The SDJ award is in its 30th year and even before people played games.



Can't argue with you on that one, Andreas. I suppose what I am thinking is that if a new visitor to the site looks at the Top 25 rated games, they may notice that only 5 have dates prior to 2000. So they might immediately dismiss Bohnanza because it was published in 1997. The remainder of your reply captures my thoughts very well - thank you.
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Caleb Frazier
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Games that involve trading, especially open trading (not like Pit! trading), tend to get sour when one person constantly accepts only offers which give him/her a huge advantage. Monopoly trading is much like this (I'll trade you my last green if you give me your railroads, park place, two other properties, and $3000)

Games should not be played too seriously, it's not healthy!
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