Hanabi is a different sort of cooperative game. Although you are working together to put on a firework display, the information you are allowed to share on a turn is limited.
Each player draws five cards and holds them facing away from them. Therefore they do not know the content of their own hand but can see everyone elses’ hands. When you first start playing it is very easy to accidentally draw your cards facing you and so have to restart the game. On your turn you have three choices – give a hint to a fellow player on the content of their hand, play a firework card or discard a card.
For giving a hint you may either tell a player which cards are of one particular colour or which are a specific number. Choosing what hint to give is difficult, you may want them to play a particular card but you may only say which cards correspond to one number or colour. For example in the above image you could give the hint two cards are blue and point to them, or two cards are number 4s and point to them, but you couldn’t say this is a blue four and point to it. When you give a hint you must spend a hint counter and there is a limited supply.
If you choose to play a firework card it needs to be played in ascending order in sets of a colour. So a red three can only be played on a red two which must have previously been played on a red one. Also only one set of each colour is allowed to be played. If you play a card that has no place to go, you gain a lightning counter – if you gain three of these it’s game over.
Finally you can discard a card to regain a hint counter (there are only eight hint counters to use). The only other way to regain a hint counter is to successfully play a five. However discarding a card may mean you can no longer complete firework sets as there is only one of each coloured five in the deck.
One major advantage of Hanabi is that it avoids one player dominating play and dictating what other players should do. Quite simply they can’t do this as you are only allowed to give hints on your turn to other players that fit within the rules and you don’t know the content of your own hand.
Although we think that this game is clever – there is a lot to think about and it is certainly different to any other cooperative game we have played – we don’t really enjoy playing it. There is a large memory element both of what hints you have been given about your own cards and what hints have already been given to others. It is also easy to get frustrated when others don’t take the actions you were trying to hint at. Finally the theme is lacking, it doesn’t feel like you are putting on a firework display. When you run out of cards or suffer three lightning storms you simply count up the score and see how well you did. We much prefer games where you can discuss what to do together to come up with the best course of action and then work together to beat the game.
Included in the box are even ways to make the game harder by the addition of a rainbow suit. When giving hints this suit is given as whatever colour you are hinting at, e.g. a rainbow card would be included when saying which cards are red, and also when saying which cards are green etc. We have never tried this though, the game is frustrating enough already.
Overall, although we can see why this game appeals to many people, it really isn’t for us. We find it leads to us getting frustrated with each other and so it isn’t an enjoyable experience. However if you want a quick cooperative game with no risk of a player taking over and dictating play this may be for you.