Hanabi Review


Twelfth century Japan, the new emperor has been named and the celebrations have been happening all day. Your Master has been chosen to end the ceremony with a ‘bang’, but the time has come and only you and your fellow hapless apprentices are in the shop.  Your Master is nowhere to be found whilst the emperor stands outside and announces in a large commanding voice ‘Hanabi.’ Will you and your band of hapless apprentices shine and bring honour to your Master House, or will you fizzle out and bring shame?

Hanabi (the Japanese word for ‘fireworks’) is a cooperative game in which players try to create the perfect fireworks by placing the cards on the table in the right order. The card deck consists of five different colours of cards, numbered 1–5 in each colour. For each colour, the players try to place a row in the correct order from 1–5. Sounds easy, right? Well not quite, as in the game you hold your cards so they’re visible only to other players. To assist other players in playing a card, you must give them hints regarding the number or the colour of the card.

The game play is delightfully simple. The fifty cards are shuffled together and each player is dealt a hand of five. The goal is for players to correctly play their cards in an ascending, numerical sequence and also according to colour. Choose a player to go first, taking turns in a clockwise manner. Players have several things they can do during their turn, they may:

Give a clue:  Players start with eight clock tokens. By spending one of these, they may give a clue to one of their fellow players about the cards they hold. All clues must be something that you can point to i.e. you have one red card or you have four 3’s.

Discard a card: Once the players have used up all eight of their clue tokens, the only way to get one back is by discarding a card. A player then draws a replacement card.

Play a card: A player chooses a card from their hand and plays it to the table. If the card is a legal play, it goes into the corresponding pile. If there is nowhere to play the card then it is discarded and the player loses a fuse token. If they make three such mistakes, the game ends and the players have lost.

The game continues in this manner until either the players have successfully played all five colours of cards up to the number five. Or more likely the players run out of cards in the draw pile. At that point the players each get one more turn and the game is over. They total up the highest played card in each pile and this gives them their total score. There is a little chart included in the game to rate how they did up to a perfect score of twenty-five points.

Points Quality of the Presentation

0-5           Horrible! The crowd is booing!
6-10         Poor. Barely any applause.
11-15        Honourable, but nobody will remember it.
16-20      Excellent! Charms the crowd.
21-24      Extraordinary! Engraved in the crowd’s memories.
25            Legendary! The crowd is speechless with stars in their eyes!

Hanabi hasn’t tried to reinvent the wheel by having complex rules, and like ‘Uno’ it has that instant classic feel to it due largely to its simplicity and player friendliness. This is a great family game or quick palate cleanser after an in depth RPG or long Euro game.

Holding your cards away from yourself is unnatural and gives it complexity and it was a stroke of genius to add this simple mechanic to the game. This takes the game from just another card game to something special. Not to mention, every time I’ve played Hanabi people walking past the table will normally stop to watch and inquire about the game.

I love competition but due to my love for RPG I miss playing as a team to accomplish a common goal. I personally play games to have fun with my friends rather than win. However, I am certainly not against winning as it can be extraordinarily rewarding. A cooperative game where every player shares a unified goal is nice and creates a friendly atmosphere among players.

Hanabi gameplay is beautiful, but can sometimes be a little easy especially if you are playing with a few close friends with great memories. You can do simple things to make the game hard by playing with less fuses or clocks. I played several games with some old bartender friends of mine. We started to win quite regularly (played about thirty games in a row) so decided that all clues had to be in reference to alcohols or cocktails. Little house rules like this can change the difficulty level of the game and give it a refreshing spin. This is not necessary however, as this game is beautifully designed and well balanced.


The one issue I have is the artwork. Anyone that has read any of my past pieces knows I’m drawn to games because of their visual appeal and artwork.  There is much more they could have done with this game, so much beautiful imagery and amazing culture to draw from. The fireworks along with use of cherry blossoms and the Asian characters is exactly the way I would have headed with the design of Hanabi. Yet the fact that it looks like it has been drawn in Microsoft Paint is frustrating and a letdown.

Some positives are the replay value, the ease of adding house rules, and removing tokens to change the difficulty of the game.  Not to mention you can play Hanabi as a palate cleanser between games around the table with the family or an ice breaker at the start of a games day. Even though I’m not a massive fan of the artwork, that doesn’t detract from the gameplay. Perhaps this is why Hanabi won the prestigious industry award for best board game of the year at the Spiel des Jahres in 2013. Hanabi is a must have game and an instant classic that will be a hit with all that play!

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  1. June 1, 2016 | Reply
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