Earlier this week, the mystical lizard creatures came down from their hidden cave on Fireball Island and announced the winner of this year’s Spiel des Jahres, the German game of the year. It has been ten years since Alhambra bought the SdJ tile with exact change, twenty years since Liar’s Dice called everyone’s bluff and took home the trophy, and thirty years since Scotland Yard caught the SdJ red-handed in 1983 by being in the right place at the right time. The winner of the 2013 Spiel des Jahres was… Hanabi!
Hanabi is a cooperative card game for 2 – 5 players from the designer of Seven Wonders, Antoine Bauza. Hanabi can be played in about 30 minutes and requires players old enough to have a poker face. Seriously. Hanabi retails for less than the price of a dinner order of fish and chips at Red Robin, and is published domestically by R&R Games.
Hanabi packs a lot of game in a small card box. You get 60 cards in six different suits, represented by a color of firework display. The cards range in value from 1 to 5 with multiple copies of the 1 – 4 cards but only one 5 per color type. You also get a set of 12 tokens. Eight of the tokens are clock tokens that are used to keep track of clues, and four of the tokens are fuse tokens that are used to keep track of how often players get conFUSED. See what I did there? Yessir, I’m stupid.
The goal of the game is to play cards from your hand in a way so that there is a card from each suit in ascending order from one to five. Sounds easy, right? Normally yes, but in Hanabi, you get to see everyone’s cards except your own. You hold the cards in your hand up facing away from you. On your turn you may:
- play a card
- discard a card
- give a fellow player a single piece of information about the cards in their hand.
For example, you can tell them that there are two green cards and you can point to which of the cards are green. You are only allowed to tell them one piece of information. You can tell them give them information about a specific color or a specific value, but not both. The information must also apply to cards you can see, so you can’t tell a player that they have no red cards or no threes.
Each time you choose to use your turn to give information to another player, you must flip a clock token face down. If you are out of face up clock tokens, then you must either play a card or discard a card. Each time you discard a card, you get to flip clock token face up. You can also flip a clock token if you complete a suit. You replace played or discarded cards from the draw pile at the end of your turn.
If you play a card out of sequence, then you flip a fuse token. If you play three cards out of sequence then the game is over. The game is also over once the last card is drawn from the draw pile and each player has had one final play. You then add up your score by counting the number of cards you were able to play in each suit.
This probably sounds frustrating, but remember this is a cooperative game. My favorite moments of the game are when people try to communicate with their eyes and you have to try to figure out what the heck they are trying to tell you. It’s up to each group of players to determine how much table talk will be allowed. You don’t want to cheat, but it’s really fun to walk that fine line. I do think it’s important that if you say you are going to do something, especially if you are going to play a card or discard a card, then you need to follow through with that decision; otherwise, you can say that you are going to discard a card and then look around at the faces of your fellow players, hoping to see if that’s a good move. This is why poker faces are important. I think you also have to keep this game moving along. It can drag, like any game can, if someone spends too long agonizing over what they are going to do on their turn.
I highly recommend you pick up a copy of this one. You can find a copy at your friendly local game store or the somewhat indifferent online retailer of your choice.
This is part of my Spiel des Jahres winner series. If you would like to comment on the 2013 winner, Hanabi, then please do so on this post. If you would like to discuss or comment on the Spiel des Jahres award in general, please do so on the Spiel des Jahres series post.