Board Game Review — Hanabi


Quick Facts

Genre: Cooperative, hidden information
Players: 2-5
Time: 20-30 minutes

BOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOM. A firework explodes in the air. Or maybe it does, maybe it doesn’t. It’s dark, you can’t see the fireworks, and you’re trying to work together to create the best fireworks display you can. In Hanabi, 2-5 players work together to place cards in order from 1-5 by color. Except only your partners can see your hand. That’s right, you have no idea which fireworks you’re holding. Can you work together to create an excellent, crowd-pleasing fireworks show, or will it blow up in your face?


Hanabi is a card game that introduces the mechanic where you know what’s in everyone’s hand but your own.  There is a deck comprised of firework cards in five different colors — blue, green, red, white, and yellow — in values ranging from 1 to 5.  There is a specific distribution of numbers, as well:  three 1s, two 2s, 3s, and 4s, and only one 5 of each color.  This distribution is important to keep in mind, because, for instance, if both 3s of a color are discarded, you will not be able to advance further in that color.  The other components include eight blue time tokens which represent the clues that can be given to other players, and four black fuse tokens that are used to track mistakes, which we’ll cover more later.


To begin the game, shuffle up the deck and deal cards to each player.  For 2 or 3 players, everyone will get five cards in their hand, but with 4 or 5, everyone will only get four cards in hand.  Next, pick up your cards so that they face away from you — this is one of the harder steps for gamers as its such a force of habit to pick up cards facing yourself.  But so long as everyone correctly picked up their cards facing away from themselves, you’re ready to play, starting with the person wearing the most colorful clothing.


On each player’s turn, he or she must do one of three things.  You can give a clue, play a card, or discard a card.  When giving a clue, you tell one other player something about their hand relating to either the color or number values of cards therein.  You would indicate to that person all of the cards that fit that clue.  For example, “You have two red cards, here and here,” or “You have three 1s, here, here, and here.”  You must inform about all matching cards in their hand — you can’t just say “This card is blue” when they have a specific card you want them to play and they have multiple blue cards in hand.  Also, all information must pertain to cards in their hand; you can’t give a clue like “You have no blue cards.”  In addition, when giving a clue, you must return one of the blue clue tokens to the box to indicate that it’s been used.  Remember that you only start with eight of these, so if you use them all up, no more clues can be given.

Fortunately, there is a way to get clue tokens back.  A player on his or her turn can choose to discard a card from their hand, gaining back one spent clue token.  This is where knowing the aforementioned distribution of cards, as well as some information about your hand, comes in handy.  If there’s already a yellow 4 in the discard pile and you know that one of your cards is yellow, or a 4, it might be dangerous to discard that card.  On the flipside, once all of a certain number or color of a card have been played, you know that any other cards of that number/color are safe to discard to get more clue tokens back.  Whenever you discard (or play) a card, you the draw another card from the deck (remember, keep it facing away from you!) to replace it.


The final, and perhaps most important thing a player can do on his or her turn is to play a card.  Cards in each color must be played in order, i.e. the 1 first, followed by the 2, and so on.  When you try to play a card, it must be able to be legally played, or else the team is penalized, though that doesn’t mean you can’t guess whether a card is playable based on only some knowledge about your hand.  However, if you do try to play a card that can’t be played (for example, trying to play a green 3 when only the green 1 has been played), the following things happen:  the card is discarded without regaining a clue token, and one of the black fuse tokens is discarded back into the box.  If three of the fuse tokens get discarded during the game, the explosion token is revealed and the game ends immediately with a score of 0.  In other words, three strikes and you’re out!

Play in Hanabi continues until the deck runs out.  At that point, each player, including the one to draw the last card, gets one final turn.  However, the game can also end early if you run out of fuse tokens as described above, or if you successfully play all 5 cards in each color.  Once the game is over, you count up your score by adding the highest valued card played in each color to get a score ranging from 0-25.  The instruction booklet will give a ranking based on that score, from horrible (booed by the crowd…) to legendary (everyone left speechless, stars in their eyes!).

Amber’s Review

Gameplay/Mechanics: 8
Theme & Integration: 6
Components & Artwork: 6
Scalability: 7
Fun Factor: 7

Overall: 6.8/10

This is a game I have a really hard time playing with anyone that isn’t Ethan.  Not that I don’t absolutely love this game (it’s one of my most highly rated games in our collection), but other people just don’t get how to play.  It’s no one’s fault really.  When we first started playing this game, we were introduced on Board Game Arena (BGA); very quickly we learned there is a very strategic way to play that will typically score you very highly.  This is pretty effective, however, the game almost becomes mechanical, which I can imagine can be very un-fun for some people.  However, I like to win and score highly, so the methodology behind the strategy works very well for me.  Some tips on how to play?  Draw to your right, discard from the left.  Never move the order of your cards, just turn them over so they are marked.  Don’t double clue, think of why a person may be giving you that clue.

  • Pros:
    • Multiple ways to play, to prevent  getting boring
    • Easy to teach
  • Cons
    • Certain way to play can be tricky for new players
    • No table talking (that’s hard for some of us!)

Score: 9/10

Ethan’s Review

Gameplay/Mechanics: 8
Theme & Integration: 7
Components & Artwork: 8
Scalability: 7
Fun Factor: 8

Overall: 7.6/10

Just like Amber, Hanabi is one of my favorite games — I’ve played around 25 times in person and at least that many online.  I really like the main mechanic of the game where everyone but you knows what’s in your hand, and this is (to my knowledge) one of the first board/card games to do that, Indian poker notwithstanding.  I really like the ability to pick up on subtle clues and deduce what’s in my hand (These two cards are white, which means the 5 I have is not white, and since Amber has the red 5 it’s not red either… hmm…).  In addition, I like to think that I have a fairly good memory, so a game that tests that is all good in my book.  On the flipside, if you’re someone who doesn’t like to try to remember things, this may not be the best game.  In addition, while I really like playing with two players (especially with just Amber), and I think three is not too bad, I don’t like this game as well at four or five (though I will still play with those counts).  The cards and clues are spread a bit too thin around the table, and it’s honestly a bit harder to coordinate clue giving with so many people when table talk is verboten — you can’t exactly tell someone what clue to give someone else.  At the same time, this aspect of the game is a plus in one regard — it really cuts down on the alpha gamer/quarterbacking problem that often shows up in co-op games.  Since nobody can see what’s in their own hand, and since they can only give clues to other players, it’s pretty darn hard to run the whole game by oneself.  Altogether though, I really like Hanabi, and its small box means I almost always have it with me for game nights or other situations where games may be played.  It’s the bomb!

  • Pros:
    • Unique mechanism of knowing everyone’s hand but your own
    • Solves the alpha gamer problem common in co-op games by giving everyone incomplete information/
  • Cons
    • Doesn’t necessarily scale well to the higher player counts
    • Requires memory, and rewards a certain degree of experience

Hanabi on BGG

Buy Hanabi on CoolStuffInc for $9.99

One thought on “Board Game Review — Hanabi

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s