Instant Game Night Reviews: Hanabi
Updated: Jan 21
“Is Hanabi a good game to bring to game night?”
Year Published 2010
Designer Antoine Bauza
Artists Antoine Bauza, Gérald Guerlais, Albertine Ralenti
Publisher R&R Games (various others)
Age Range 8+
Playing Time 25 Minutes
Hanabi (Japanese word for "fireworks") is a cooperative card game where players take on the roles of pyrotechnicians trying to put on the best possible fireworks show for their crowd. To do this, they will need to arrange the five different colored fireworks cards in ascending order, from 1 to 5.
If this seems simple, it's because I haven't mentioned the twist yet - players cannot look at their own cards! When a player takes their starting cards into their hands, they must hold the cards with the backs facing them and the front facing the other players.
Below you will find a brief summary of the game play along with our thoughts on whether or not Hanabi is a good game to bring to your next game night get-together.
Please note: We do not intend this review to be a thorough explanation of the rules of a game or how to play. Rather, our reviews are aimed to provide you a basic overview of the game play along with our thoughts on how suitable a particular game is to bring to a game night with family or friends. If this is your first time reading an Instant Game Night review, please click here to read about our review format and rating system.
Once the appropriate number of cards have been dealt, players take turns in clockwise order. Each turn, a player must perform exactly one of three possible actions:
1.) Give a hint: In order to give a hint, a player must "spend" one of the blue clock tokens by placing it in the box lid. When no clock tokens remain, this option is not available to the player, who must choose one of the other available actions. When giving a hint, there are a number of rules to follow:
A hint can be related to the color of a card or the number, but not both.
Examples of valid hints include: "These cards are yellow" or "This card is a 4".
You may also give hints for colors or numbers that a player has none of. For example "You have no red cards" or "you have no 5's"
Only one hint per turn can be given and the hint can only be targeted to one other player.
A player must clearly identify the card or cards their hint refers to by pointing to or touching the appropriate cards in a player's hand.
When giving a hint, if multiple cards match your hint, you must identify those cards as well. For instance, if a player has a blue 2 and a green 2, you must point to both cards and say "these cards are 2's". So, you cannot point only to one card if other cards match your hint as well.
After the hint is given, the target of the hint is able to rearrange the cards in their hands in any way they like, provided they do not look at the front of the cards.
2.) Discard a card: When discarding a card, the player gets to move one of the blue clock tokens from the box lid back to the table. This clock token is now back in play and can be used in future rounds to give a hint. If no clock tokens are in the box lid, this action cannot be taken.
When taking this action, a player simply chooses a card from their hand and discards it to the discard pile face down without looking at the front of the card. The player then draws a new card and places it in their hand, again while not looking at the front of the cards.
3.) Play a card: This final action allows a player to place a card from their hand face up on the table. Players can have up to 5 fireworks rows on the table, one for each color. A row must always begin with the 1 card and continue in ascending order until reaching 5. Once 5 is reached in one of the rows, players are awarded a bonus, which allows them to return one blue clock token from the box lid back in play on the table (if applicable). That color has then been successfully completed and players can now focus on the other uncompleted colors.
When playing a card to the table, there are two possible outcomes:
The card can be played into a row: In this case, the player places the card into the appropriate row and draws a new card into their hand.
The card cannot be played into a row: The played card is discarded to the discard pile and players must flip over one of the fuse tokens. The player then draws a new card into their hand and play continues.
Hanabi ends in one of three ways:
All 4 fuse tokens have been revealed, in which case the players lose the game.
Players complete all 5 rows of fireworks, winning the game and scoring the highest possible score of 25 points.
The draw deck is depleted. In this case, all players get one final turn and then the game ends. Points are scored based on the highest played card in each fireworks row. Players can compare their score to the chart in the rulebook to see how they faired.
Hanabi is a card game unlike any other card game we have ever experienced. The first time you draw cards into your hand facing away from you, you feel like you've entered an alternate dimension. It feels so unnatural and we can almost guarantee that someone will mess up and look at their own cards the first time you play. I think someone different in our group did this our first three plays through!!
This is a really simple rule change but one that is fresh and innovative. It really "flips" the idea of hidden information on its head. When we first heard about this game, we thought it sounded easy. We couldn't have been more wrong!!
Hanabi is a wonderfully simple yet challenging puzzle where player communication is the most important aspect of the game. Choosing how and when to give a particular clue feels almost like an art form. You have to be careful not to give a clue that will cause a player to make assumptions and then play an invalid card. Some times hints build up over several rounds until finally a player understands what the person was trying to say. It is always a big "aha" moment when that happens with our group.
We have found it is just as important to give hints based on what a player doesn't have as it is to hint what they do have. This helps eliminate options in a player's mind and helps avoid rogue card plays.
Another key is giving hints that will help a player decide what cards to discard. Discarding is very important, as it allows you to put clock tokens back in play. However, discarding the wrong card can be just as bad for the group as playing a card that doesn't fit. If the last blue 5 is discarded, you have guaranteed that you won't be able to complete that row.
There are a number of variants that have been developed for Hanabi, including a set of multicolor "wild" fireworks which are included in the box. We haven't played any of these variants so we can't speak to them. However, the base game of Hanabi has proven to be a fun and challenging filler game with a very high level of player interaction and enough of a twist to make it intriguing for first time players and veterans alike. We highly recommend having this game in your collection, both for game nights as well as for casual gaming with your immediate family or friend group.
Few games provoke such a tense feeling of not wanting to let the group down with a poor clue or by discarding the wrong card. Hanabi truly feels like an experience that players have together, and it is this feeling of a shared journey that makes Hanabi a wonderful little card game that will always be in our collection!
Our rating system:
G rabs your attention
E asy to play & teach
N ewbie friendly
G ood rulebook
H olds attention
! our experience
Hanabi Rating Breakdown
Grabs Your Attention
Hanabi is a lot of things, but an attention grabber, it is not. Being a simple card game means there is basically no table presence and very little to catch your guest's attention. The cards are very colorful though, and who doesn't like fireworks? For that, we will give Hanabi half credit in this category.
It would be a challenge to find a game more agile than Hanabi. From set up and tear down to explanation and game play, Hanabi is a smooth, streamlined experience that doesn't overstay its welcome. Turns can sometimes suffer from analysis paralysis but this is rare and typically limited to only once or twice per game, as players generally are thinking up their hints ahead of time.
There is no doubt that what makes Hanabi unique and draws players in is the fact that you aren't allowed to look at your own cards. While there are certainly other card games out there that have done this previously, there is something about the way that Hanabi implemented this mechanic along with the limited hint options that add up to make this a memorable experience, no doubt. We would be willing to bet you will have guests come back to your next game night asking to play "that fireworks card game where you can't look at your hand".
Easy to Teach and Play
Hanabi is incredibly easy to teach and play. With limited options available to a player each turn along with the simple goal players are trying to achieve, we are rarely asked questions about the game beyond the first turn. There are sometimes questions about what hints can be given and what cannot, but overall we rate Hanabi a very easy teach.
Nearly everyone in the world has played some type of card game at some point in their lives. And most people are very familiar with the concept of playing cards accordingly to a color/suit and in numerical order. These very basic concepts form the foundation for Hanabi and lend it to being very newbie friendly. The most difficult concept to explain will be the hint-giving system, however, we find even this to be a breeze to explain to anyone and everyone.
Player communication and cooperation is of the utmost importance in Hanabi. As such, this game is highly interactive with players observing each other's hands and paying close attention to each hint that is given. There is a shared joy when a player chooses the right card to discard and shared agony whenever an invalid card is played on the table. Hanabi is incredibly effective at drawing the group in and encouraging constant interaction.
Good Rule Book
The rule book for Hanabi is very short and to the point. It is highly effective at explaining the basic actions and how each action works. It is also very good at separating how an action works depending upon the type of clue being given or whether or not the played card was valid. We find the rulebook to be without flaw. We also appreciate that it leaves the amount of "table talking" allowed up to the individual group to decide, stipulating that having fun should be the first priority. We couldn't agree more!!
As I mentioned in the interactive section, Hanabi really creates an anthracite experience that draws all player into the game and keeps them focused on the end goal. This, combined with how quickly the game plays, virtually ensures that players' attention won't stray during the course of the game.
Sigh. We appreciate the fact that Hanabi tried to incorporate a theme into the game. We really do. But for us the theme just falls totally flat. We like fireworks as much as anyone, but there really is no logic to tie the theme and mechanisms together in this game. We do appreciate the colorful artwork on the fireworks cards, but that is about where the theme ends for us. All that being said, whenever I think of Hanabi I do immediately think of fireworks. So if nothing else the theme has succeeded in helping make the game memorable. But thematic immersion you will not find in Hanabi. While this can often to to the detriment of a game, it actually doesn't negatively impact Hanabi as much as it would a bigger, longer game.
Finally it's time to tell you about our personal experiences with Hanabi. We have played this game countless times at every player count from 2 to 5. In our experience, the game scales very well, however, the difficulty scales up considerably with player count due to more hands to keep tabs on and more hints being given. That said, it is an enjoyable experience at all player counts and one that we cannot wait to introduce to new players and watch their minds get blown when we show them how to hold their cards.
If we had one complaint it would be that replayability can be a bit low. This isn't a game you would want to play every single week with the same gaming group, as we feel it would get a bit repetitive. But pulling this tiny box out at a few game nights a year is sure to create a memorable experience.
This is a highly enjoyable filler game that would be a great choice for almost any game night you might throw!