Monday, July 5, 2021

Hanabi - since I wanted to write about fireworks

 It’s cheesy but I’ve decided that the Fourth of July would be a fun time to think about a game about fireworks. In this case, Hanabi. Which i think is actually about New Years but close enough :D

It’s actually been a while since I last played Hanabi but, for a while, it was in regular rotation as a two-player game for us. My sweet wife even made me a Hanabi-themed birthday cake one year. Hanabi won the Spiele de Jahres in 2013. And, from what I can tell, it’s remained in print and popular. So it’s doing well.

While the game is themed around fireworks, Hanabi is really about sorting cards into suites and rank order. As someone who has played a lot of different solitaire games over the last few years, I am amused at how many games have sorting cards as their base concept. 

Really, just like folks used to say you could play a four-suited Lost Cities with a regular deck of cards, you could do a hack of Hanabi with a regular deck of cards and some sort of tokens. It wouldn’t be as pretty, though, which would make it less fun for a lot of people, including me.

As most of my readers know, Hanabi is a cooperative game. The clever bit is that you hold the cards backwards so you can’t see the faces but everyone else can. You can  play a card, discard a card or give a hint on your turn. But there’s a limited number of hints in the game and, when they’re done, they are done.

The whole backward card thing is incredibly simple but it’s also incredible effective and clever.

Here’s the thing. By 2013, cooperative games had already gotten plenty of traction. (And I’m old enough to remember when Knizia’s Lord of the Rings was a bizarre oddity, even though it didn’t invent the genre. No by a long shot) At that time, folks had started complaining about Alpha Dog syndrome, when one player takes over and tells everyone else what to do. Hanabi made sure that that couldn’t happen. (And I have seen other games like SHH that have followed its example)

But, really, Hanabi stands on its own virtues, as opposed to in comparison. The game is intuitive in its play but it’s still tough to get a perfect play. It has a focus on communication and logic that will work for a lot of audiences, including non-gamers.

And I’ve just learned that, if the possibility of body language giving too much away, you can play online where limited communication is strictly enforced.

Hanabi. It’s a great game for the entire year.

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