Editorial | 7/23/2013 at 10:14 AM

Tabletop Co-Op: Hanabi

Let the sparks fly!

Since I’ve been playing a lot of tabletop games recently, Marc was kind enough to let me do a guest article on Tabletop Co-Op. For this article, I’ll be giving my impressions of Hanabi, the cooperative card game.

One of the most common complaints I’ve heard about co-op tabletop games is that some feel it’s too easy for one person to take control of the entire game. While I’ve been lucky enough to not really have this problem, I can certainly see how it could happen if a gaming group contains an over-enthusiastic or competitive-at-heart player. Happily, there exist some co-op tabletop games where this is virtually impossible. One such game is Hanabi.

Hanabi (which means “firework(s)” in Japanese) can be played with 2-5 players with a recommended age of 8 . The theme of the game is that the players are trying to build fireworks together for a spectacular show at the end of the game. The small box contains 60 cards, 4 fuse tokens, and 8 clock tokens. The cards are divided into 6 suits or firework colors: blue, white, green, yellow, red, and rainbow. The rainbow cards are only used for an advanced variant. Each firework card has a number ranging from 1 to 5 with each suit possessing three 1’s, two 2’s, two 3’s, two 4’s, and one 5.


A firework is built starting with a 1 card with a 2, 3, 4, and 5 of the same color placed on top of it in order. Doesn’t sound too hard, does it? Oh, but it can be. In the beginning of the game the cards are shuffled and each player is dealt five cards (in a 2-3 player game) or four cards (in a 4-5 player game). All players must NOT look at their cards, however, and face their cards away from them so they can only see the card backs, but everyone else in the game can see their cards’ faces. On a player’s turn, they can take one (and only one) of the following actions: 1) Share a piece of information, 2) Discard a card, or 3) Play a card.

Sharing a piece of information requires the player to take one of the 8 blue clock tokens and put it in a discarded token pile. They can then pick any other player and either share information about a color OR a number in that player’s hand (e.g. “you have two blue cards in your hand” or “you have one four in your hand”). Players MUST give complete information, so if a player has multiple cards in their hand that pertain to the piece information, they must indicate ALL of the applicable cards by pointing. This action can’t be performed in there are no clock tokens available.

Discarding a card allows the player to take a clock token from the token discard pile and move it back to the available pile. They then draw a new card. Playing a card doesn’t require the player to state which firework it belongs to, just that they are attempting to play a card. If it can successfully be played (either creating a firework of a new color or continuing an existing firework) it will be placed accordingly on the table for all players to see. If there is nowhere for it to go (e.g. it does not continue a firework or successfully create a new one) the firework fizzles and two things happen: the card goes into the discard pile and a fuse token is lost. Either way, the player draws a new card.

The game ends one of two ways: the players run out of cards or they lose three fuse tokens, revealing the explosion token. At that time the players count up their points (add the values of the top card of each firework) to see their score for that game (25 being all five fireworks were completed).

Hanabi is a game that combines memory, strategy, and communication skills at the same time. The only way players are allowed to influence or help other players is by the sharing a piece of information action, making the action phase extremely tactical. Do you share information about a card that you think someone should play? Or do you tell them about the two 5’s in their hand so they don’t accidentally discard them? Or do you gamble and discard a card to bring a precious clock token back on the table? This card in the middle of your hand was a 1... or was it? What if it’s a 5?! These are the kinds of questions you’ll be asking yourself when you play a game, because there’s never enough information or time.

There isn't much more to show as far as components go, so here are some fireworks

I really can’t say enough great things about Hanabi. The box is small making it ridiculously portable and it plays in about 20-30 minutes. I’ve played it with 2 players and 4 players and it plays well with both, but differently. With 2 players memory is crucial as you end up with large amounts of information about your hand. With 4 players prioritizing which information is shared is much more of a factor and you’ll often run into an issue with not knowing enough about your hand, but being forced to either play or discard a card. Hanabi is a fun, challenging, and unique co-op experience that I think many co-op fans will enjoy.