Board Game Review - A Colorful Evening with Hanabi
November 06, 2013
All right, listen - I was going to talk about Lost Legends, but every time I think about that game, I get really angry, so we're going to talk about a happy game instead. Hanabi! I don't think it's possible for Hanabi to make someone angry, and that is most definitely a good thing.
So, in Hanabi you are working cooperatively with your fellow players to build a fireworks display consisting of 5 cards in 5 different colors played consecutively from 1 to 5. If you manage to get all 25 cards played in the correct order, you earn the highest honors, but getting out around 20 or so is still pretty good.
It may sound simple, but the central conceit of the game is that you can't see your own cards. You can only see the cards of the other players. So how do you play the right cards at the right time? Someone has to give you a hint about what your cards are. They can point to up to 2 cards and tell you either a number or a color. So if it's the beginning of the game, and somebody tells you you've got two 1s, then those are probably pretty safe cards to play.
But it gets tricky because there are only a certain number of hints you can give out. Once you run out of hints, you have to spend a turn discarding a card to get a hint back. And there is only one 5 of each color, so let's hope you don't discard one of those.
If you try to play a card and can't, a little fuse timer runs down. So if you do that three times, the thing goes BOOM and the game is over. The real
timer you're fighting against, though, is the deck of cards. Everybody always has to draw up to four cards if they play or discard, and once the deck runs out, everybody gets one more turn and the game is over. This is much more likely to happen than the BOOM.
So we sat down to play a game of Hanabi last night. I had played it once before with a bunch of other beginners and we ended up in the high teens - somewhat respectable. And this is where I learned that you are fighting against a hard timer and people need to be super efficient with their hints, because discarding to get more hints is a real killer.
So we started playing and tried to always point out two cards with our hints to give out the most information. Sometimes it made the information more vague and the person had to make an educated guess on what to play - like the time someone had a red 4 and 5 and needed to play them in order, but the only hint he got was that they were both red, so he only had a 50/50 shot of playing the right one first. He did, and we got a couple other vague lucky plays. We made a couple mistakes, but it was always enjoyable watching someone try and randomly decide which card to play and you can't do anything about it when he slowly takes the wrong card from his hand and puts it down on the table.
We ended up with 23 out of 25 cards played, which I thought was very respectable. The game has a little bit higher luck factor than I would like, as I am convinced that a significant amount of lucky guesses are required to get all 25, but there is still a good amount of strategy mixed in, and it plays pretty fast.
To be honest, I wasn't super keen on playing it again after the first time, but once we got into it, I had a lot more fun than I was expecting to have. I think I was just in a poor mood after that game of Lost Legends.
Double Mini Review!
Hey, you know what other game I was thinking of reviewing but never did because I'm trying to stay positive? The New Science! Let's briefly talk about both of these games against my better judgement!
Lost Legends and The New Science both suffer from the same problem: I really wanted to like them. Like, really really. A card drafting game a la 7 Wonders where, after you draft them, you take your cards into a dungeon and beat up fantasy monsters? Sign me up! A worker placement game about competing historical scientists researching and publishing important scientific advancements like heliocentricity and calculus? Hell yes!
Mind you, these games aren't terrible. They're just vastly mediocre and derivative in their execution. They are both far too random for my liking and even after one play through, I can easily point to something in each of them that, if it were to change, would significantly improve the game, which, to me, points at improper or insufficient play testing (I probably shouldn't mention that they're both Kickstarter games...). But they had so much potential to be great, that when the cracks started to show in the mechanics, it made their betrayal all the deeper, which is what brings on the bad moods.
But anyway, Hannabi is super-great. You should check it out!
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