FTW Staff Picks - Hanabi

For The Win Board Game Cafe's Staff Picks is a weekly series where we take a quick look at some of the staff's favourite games, old and new. 


Genre: Cooperative

Designer: Antoine Bauza

Player Size: 3 to 5 Players

Game Length: 25 minutes

For fans of: Pandemic, The Game!

Hanabi is the Japanese word for "fireworks". And to go out with a bang for our miniseries we thought there was none better than the 2013 Spiel des Jahres winner. A cooperative game that you play blindly, Hanabi requires players to trust each other and make bold decisions. In many co-ops a singular person can drive the strategy. But in Hanabi, each player relies on others as much as themselves to reach the final goal.


In Hanabi, players are dealt a hand of cards which they will hold out, facing the other players. The deck comprises of 5 colors and 5 numbers. The numbers are unevenly distributed. There are three 1's, two 2's, 3's and 4's and one 5 of every colour. Players must play each coloured firework in sequence beginning from 1. On a given turn, each player may choose to either: give a hint, play a card or discard a card. There are 8 hint tokens, and each given hint uses a token. To get a token back, a player must discard a card. If a player decides to play a card, the card is added to the center of the table. If the card is not allowed to be played (out of sequence), it is instead discarded and the team loses a Fuse token. If all 4 Fuse tokens are lost the game is over. If the deck runs out of cards, the game is also over. Players will total the sum of the cards they were able to play successfully and that will be their final score.

Winning a perfect game in Hanabi is not impossible, but it almost feels like cheating. The first few times you play the game, it's instinct to accidentally give a few tells as players are deciding what to do. To play Hanabi correctly, there should be no table talk and players should avoid making faces that could hint at things. Obviously, it isn't easy to play this way - especially given how hard the game is to begin with. However your group decides to play the game, is how I would consider "the right way". 


Hanabi is one of my favourite games of all-time. It's one of those games where the premise and charm really shine. Because it's such a small box and because it's such a different experience, it feels like the ultimate value-proposition. There are few games that leave the kind of impact that Hanabi does on its first impression. 

Earl OliverosComment