Hanabi Review – Display Deduction in the Dark

Hi! In today’s blog I’ll be writing about the card game Hanabi.  Hanabi seemed like a simple little game with few components aside from a pack of cards when we first bought it, but it has much more depth than it seems and has quickly turned into a favourite game for my wife and I. I hope I can explain why below!

Hanabi is the Japanese word for fireworks, and that is the theme for this game.  The ‘story’ is that the players are trying to set up a fireworks display, but it is so dark you can’t see what you are doing. You have to work as a team to produce the best display ever, before the time runs out!

This is a co-operative game for up to four players. The cards in the game all have pictures of fireworks with numbers between 1 and 5 on them, and to score points you need to take turns playing cards into piles of the same colour in sequence from 1 to 5.  Sounds easy?  Well, it is, until you know about the unique feature of Hanabi – you hold your cards backwards, i.e. facing away from you, so you can see everyone else’s cards but can’t see what you are holding!

Hanabi 2
No Peeking!

You are not totally in the dark though, as you can be given clues on what your cards are.  On your turn you can either: Attempt to add a card to the ‘fireworks display’, tell someone a single clue (which costs a clue token), or discard one of your cards (which gives you back a clue token, but that card now can’t be used in the display).  Starting the game with 8 clue tokens seems like a lot, but you can only tell people one thing about the cards in their hand: which ones are a certain colour, or which ones are a certain number, so the clues are quickly spent.

My wife and I love logic deduction puzzles such as Sudoku and Kakuro, and I think this is why we love Hanabi so much.  In every turn you are using the information that you have – the amount of each card in the whole pack, the clues you have been given, what has already been played/discarded, and the cards of the other players that you can see – to work out the probabilities of what you are holding and make a decision about whether you are safe to try to play or discard a card, or you should tell a clue to another player.  Sometimes you’re sure of what action you need to take, but sometimes you’re forced to take a risk.  Luckily, there is a small allowance for risks.  You have three ‘lives’, i.e. three chances to play the wrong card to the display before it is game over, and there are more than one of some cards, so even if you discard the one you need, there is a chance that there is another in the pack.

This is the ‘display’ you are aiming to complete.  We’re just missing two reds here!

The game can get very tense towards the end, as you and other players may be holding crucial cards but there are no clues available, so you are forced to randomly discard to get a clue token back.  Finishing the game with a good score does give a great sense of achievement though, and it feels good having worked together to get it.  A word of warning for perfectionists like us however – it is extremely difficult to get a perfect score of 25 (i.e. all 5 coloured piles with all 5 numbers), so don’t be disappointed if you don’t manage it!

To provide a higher difficulty level and a bit more longevity for the game, Hanabi comes with an extra set of cards in rainbow colours.  These can either be used as just another colour set, or, fiendishly, as wild cards when giving clues, but not when playing.  If this doesn’t provide enough challenge for super clever players, I don’t know what would!

I can’t recommend this game enough, especially if like me you like logic puzzles.  It is relatively cheap, the box is the size of two standard packs of playing cards so can be taken anywhere, and it has provided us with hours of entertainment in the relatively short time we’ve owned it.  It also has a great balance of simple to pick up, but hard to master gameplay, with added difficulty levels there if you want it.  Another essential for anyone’s game collection!


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