Tag Archives: Hanabi

26th August 2014

We started the evening with a big bowl of chips, some ice-cream and a game of Hanabi.  This is a a co-operative game where everyone works together to try to achieve a common aim.  The idea is very simple:  everyone has a hand of tiles which are turned to face away, so that players can see everyone else’s tiles, but not their own.  On their turn, players then either play a tile, give a clue about the colour or number of the tiles in front of a player, or discard a tile (and recover a clue).  The aim is to lay twenty-five tiles in order within their suits.


Everyone had played the game before, but never together as a group, so we had a quick discussion of conventions.  The game can be played very strictly in complete silence with “poker faces”, but given how hard the game is, we’ve always played it in a fairly relaxed way.  Some groups have a lot of extra ways of giving clues, for example, if a player has three green tiles, they point to them in a prearranged order, say, from lowest to highest, however, within the group we’ve always felt this is a step too far.  We typically play with a conveyor-belt, where new tiles are generally placed at one end and, in the absence of other information,  should it be necessary, the oldest tiles are discarded.  This not only helps the players giving clues ensuring that tiles stick about for as long as possible and makes sure people know which tile is “in the hot seat”, but also helps the owner remember which tile is which.  In the past, we’ve also used some element of the active player talking through their thought process so that other players can learn how people think.  This is nice when learning, but does have the tendency to give away a little too much information, so this time, with more experienced players, we tried to keep that to a minimum.


We started off well with one player beginning with three ‘ones’ all of different colours, but then the trouble set in.  The absence of “twos” meant that nobody could really find any really good clues to give and before long we were forced to discard tiles which led to the inevitable consequence of throwing away both white “threes”.  Although it limited our highest possible score, it had the advantage that people could freely discard white tiles and recover clues.  Doors opened a little and we managed to play complete blue, green and red fireworks.  The total of nineteen gave us an excellent crowd pleasing display, though it would be interesting to see if the same group could do as well, or even better next time, playing a little more strictly.


Meanwhile a couple of other players arrived and, seeing that the game had some way to go, decided to start a quick game of The Little Prince:  Make Me a Planet.  This is a pretty little game based on the book, The Little Prince, by the French writer, Antoine de Saint-Exupéry.  We’ve not played it before on a Tuesday, though many of us have played it on other occasions.  The idea is that each player is trying to build a planet from a total of sixteen square tiles.  The tiles have one of four different motifs: characters, up edges, down edges and middles and when four of each are combined, they make a picture of a planet with the four corner spaces occupied by the characters.

The Little Prince:  Make Me a Planet

On their turn, the active player chooses a motif, draws one tile per player and keeps one.  They then choose another player and pass on the remaining tiles for them to select one, then pass remaining tiles on etc.   The final player gets no choice and gets to keep the last tile, but to make up for that, this player becomes the start player for the next round.  Each tile features a number of items:  lamp posts, sheep stars, strange-looking foxes, elephants, baobob trees, cobras etc. which are used for scoring.  The score for each item depends on the characters, however, and items will score highly for one planet and poorly, or even negatively for another.  The game was tight all the way through, but Purple finished ahead with a lead of seven points.

The Little Prince:  Make Me a Planet

The games came to an end and we decided to start two simultaneous games of The Speicherstadt, our “Feature Game” for the week.  This is an unusual auction card game where players compete for victory points, which come mainly from contracts (sets of resources) and special cards.  The game is set in Hamburg around 1900 where there was a unique complex of storehouses (Speicherstadt) and a network of canals and bridges forming a terminus for spices, coffee, tea and carpets from all over the world.  Players act as wholesaler at the heyday of the Speicherstadt acquiring shiploads for the storehouses and making profits selling selling them.  We played this game quite a bit a few months back, but somehow seemed to have forgotten how to play it.  After a period of staring blankly at the rules, we remembered that each player starts with three meeples which they use for bidding, and bid by placing them above their chosen card (and any meeples already there).  Once everyone has declared their interest, the first card is auctioned:  the person at the front of the queue has the first chance to buy and the price is set by the total number of meeples in the queue.  If they choose to buy at that price, they pay up and the auction is over.  If they choose not to buy (or are unable to), then they forfeit their opportunity, remove their meeple and the next person has a chance (and the cost is reduced accordingly).  The deck is stacked so that contracts mostly come out first, then “schiffs” which carry the goods used to fulfil the contracts.  There are also firemen (or feuerwehrmenn) and a smattering of other interesting and valuable cards.

The Speicherstadt

In the first game, Blue failed to acquire any firemen and was duly punished by losing a total of ten points during the game.  Because Orange and Red had not played before, they had neglected contracts in the early stages, which meant goods were plentiful and were mostly sold.  Blue picked up the most contracts, but it was nowhere near enough.   On the other hand, Orange took all ten points, so the question was whether the contracts and Counting Houses held by Red were enough.  It came right down to the wire and the game finished with just one point in it, in Red’s favour, by just two points.  Meanwhile, the second game was playing in a completely different way.  In contrast to the first where contracts had gone unclaimed and all the “schiffs” were bought and goods sold, in the second game, most of the contracts had been snapped up, but with a shortage of money, some of the ships had not been bought.  In the second game, Green had picked up most of the firemen points and finished thirteen points clear of Black, his nearest challenger.

The Speicherstatd

A couple of people left early and those remaining played decided to play Montego Bay.  This is a game we’ve played a few times before, that features simultaneous card selection, which are then played in a predefined order.  Cards are numbered one to five and each player chooses two to move their big docker and their little docker round a circular track.  If they land on a space that is already occupied, then the piece that was there, moves to the other side of the track if that space is available.  If that space is also occupied, then the active piece moves as far as it can and then stops.  Each space corresponds to a cellar that contains some number of barrels which players then take it in turns to load into boats.   When a boat is full (or if it is the first boat in line at the end of the round), it sails and players score points for having the most barrels in boats when they go.  Beware the broken barrels though, if a player lands on a cellar with some of these they must remove the corresponding number of barrels from the boats rendering the best laid plan in tatters.

Montego Bay

Black started off really well with excellent timing on a couple of boats and catching lots of points as a result.  Then Purple joined in before Green took a commanding lead.   Blue made some in-roads, but proved her own worst enemy when she landed her big man on a cellar with broken barrels and then, to add insult to injury, landed her little man on the same space, moving the big man to the other side where there were even more broken barrels waiting for her.  Green ran out the winner with forty-four points to Blue’s thirty-eight in second place.

Montego Bay

Learning Outcome:  If fire is inevitable, ignore it at your peril.

Spiel des Jahres Nominations – 2014

Every year the a jury of German-speaking board game critics (from Germany, Austria, Switzerland), review games released in Germany in the preceding twelve months and award the best the German Game of the Year, or Spiel des Jahres.  The criteria used include:

  • game concept (originality, playability, game value),
  • design (functionality, workmanship),
  • layout (box, board, rules),
  • rule structure (composition, clearness, comprehensibility).

Last year, the winner was Hanabi, and previous winners include, favourites like Ticket to Ride: Europe, Niagara, Zooloretto, Alhambra, and Carcassonne.  The nominees for this year have just been announced and include (amongst others) Splendor, which we played last time we met.

Spiel des Jahres

5th November 2013

We were relocated once again, so we had six people for the second week running.  Since we are still meeting in private houses, splitting into two games of three was not really an option due to restricted table space, and this limited what we could play somewhat.  For this reason, we started out with one of our old favourites that we’ve played before, Bohnanza.  This is a fairly simple trading game, where players exchange and plant beans to maximise their harvest.  The game was very tight, ending with joint winners on twelve and third and fourth places on eleven and ten respectively.


Our youngest player left, leaving us with five players for our Feature Game, Hanabi.  “Hanabi” is the Japanese word for “fireworks” (consisting of the ideograms “Flower” and “Fire”) and given the date we felt it was entirely appropriate.  Last time we played, we used the original card version of the game, however, this time we used the new tile version that was released at Essen a couple of weeks ago.   The idea of the game is very simple:  as a group, players must try to lay a total of twenty-five tiles, in number order within their colour suits, thus the red “one”, must be played before the red “two”, and so on.  The snag is that everyone turns their hand back to front so they can see everyone elses tiles, but not their own.  So, on their turn, players can do one of three things:  play a card, give a clue to another player or discard a tile.  If the wrong tile is played, the team lose one of their three lives and there are only eight clues available; although each discarded tile is also worth an extra clue some tiles don’t have any duplicates…


We enjoyed the first game so much that we ended up playing it twice.  The first time a lot of “ones” came out on the first deal, so we had to decide how to guide people to play the correct tiles.  We finished up with three completed fireworks and a total of twenty points.  Any hope that we could improve on our score quickly evaporated when the second game started with no “ones” at all and it took us ages to get started by which time we had run out of clues.  One player was left with the choice of playing or discarding and chose the wrong option and that really set the tone for the rest of the game.  All things considered, it was a bit of a miracle that we finished two fireworks successfully and the game ended with a total of eighteen – not quite as bad as it had looked earlier.


Learning Outcome:  Sometimes “feelings” can be very misleading and you can be doing much better (or worse) than you thought.

6th August 2013

We decided to save our “Feature Game” (Guillotine) for an occasion when there’s a more appreciative audience and went straight into a much longer, deeper, and very highly regarded game called Puerto Rico.  Although we had all played it before, for some of us it was a long time ago, so we had a quick recap of the rules before we started.

Puerto Rico

In this game players are plantation owners in seventeenth century Puerto Rico growing up to five different kind of crops: corn, indigo, sugar, tobacco, and coffee.  Each plantation owner must try to run their business more efficiently than their competitors.  First they must grow their crops then they must store them efficiently.  Finally, players must sell their crops at the right time or ship their goods back to Europe for maximum benefit.  In order to do this most effectively, the plantation owners must make optimal use of the arriving colonists and develop the capital city, San Juan, building useful amenities.  In each round, players take it in turns to choose a role, but no role can be selected twice in the same round.  Each player gets the opportunity to carry out each action, however, there is a privilege that goes to the player who chose to do it.  For example, if one player chooses to build, everyone can build if they want, however, it is cheaper for the person who chose to do it.  Ultimately, the player who selects the best roles to advance their position during the game will win.  There are two small expansions, but after some discussion, we decided not to use either in the end as we didn’t feel we needed the variety for this game, but maybe next time.

Puerto Rico

Green decided to start building a couple of quarries and then expanded the indigo plantation that he started the game with, and added sugar (as nobody else seemed to be planting sugarcane).  Meanwhile, Blue started out with some corn, built a quarry, then dabbled briefly in tobacco, before going all out for coffee sales.  Red, on the other hand, started out with one indigo plantation and added a tobacco plantation.  When that didn’t really provide what he wanted, he tried coffee as well for good measure before deciding that what he REALLY wanted was a factory!  Red then went into the coffee market which messed with Blue’s plans, so she started shipping corn and coffee which screwed up Green.  Towards the end of the game, everyone made a mad dash for big buildings, but the damage had already been done by the efficient factory which gave Red the win with fifty-three points.

Puerto Rico

We only had time for one other game, and decided on Hanabi.  This is a really clever and unusual cooperative game which has just been awarded the Spiel des Jahres.  Hanabi is the Japanese word for “fireworks” and the idea is that you are collectively trying make the perfect firework display.  To do this, all you have to do is play cards, in order from one to five, in their colour suits.  The snag is that you hold your hand of cards back to front so that you can’t see the cards you are going to play, although you can see everyone else’s.  Thus, on your turn you can give a hint to someone to tell them something about their cards or you can play or discard a card.  Hints are restricted though and you can only point point out all the cards of a specific, common number or colour.  You also only have eight hints, although you get extras for every card you discard.  You also only have three lives and lose one each time you play a card that has already been played or if you play a card before all the lower numbers of that colour have been played.  One of the reasons Hanabi is so unusual is that although players are working towards a common goal, they can’t really help each other.  In this game, we made a mistake quite early on when someone discarded the second yellow four and it all went downhill from there, ending with a total of eighteen (out of a possible maximum of twenty-five).


Leaning Outcome:  If you teach people too well, sometimes they end up winning!