Wednesday, July 17, 2013

2013 Spiels des Jahres Winner -- Hanabi!

Some weeks ago, I made a post in which I introduced this year's 2013 Spiels des Jahres nominees.  As you  may remember, this award given out every year in Germany is considered to be one of the most influential (if not the most influential) awards that a game can receive.  As you may remember, the aim of the Spiels des Jahres awards is to recognize excellence in game design and to promote gaming as a hobby.  As such, the Spiels has traditionally been awarded to a lighter euro game, or, more specifically to what you might call a "gateway" game.  This year, the Spiels des Jahres has been awarded to Hanabi.

Hanabi is a two to five player game, designed by Antoine Bauza and published by ABACUSPIELE Games.  It's worth noting at this juncture, that this is actually the second time Mr. Bauza has been awarded the coveted Spiels des Jahres.  In addition to this year's award, Bauza also won the 2011 Kenner Spiels des Jahres for the very popular 7 Wonders.  But what, besides its pedigree, made this year's jury take notice of Hanabi -- so much so that they awarded it their top honour?

Well to begin with, Hanabi is part of new design trend that has been taking the board game world by storm as of late -- and that new trend is to design what are called 'micro-deck' games.  As an example of this genre, AEG's Love Letter (about which I wrote in a previous post) has proven to be both a triumph of design (combing simplicity, satisfaction and speed in a game with only sixteen cards) and a phenominal best seller.  Hanabi is a game comprised of single deck of fifty cards (well, sixty if you want to amp up the difficulty) and a handful of cardboard tokens.

Hanabi is a game about putting together the perfect fireworks display and the cards represent those fireworks.  The fifty cards that comprise the base game are divided into five suits/colours of ten cards each.  Those cards are numbered as follows: 1,1,1,2,2,3,3,4,4,5.  The goal of the game is to play cards to the table so that you have one stack for each suit/colour and to stack those cards numerically from one to five.  Sounds simple right?  Draw cards play them out numerically in the correct pile -- sounds like a bad version of Skip-Bo doesn't it!  But here is the rub -- in Hanabi, when you draw your cards, you aren't allowed to look at them!  Instead, you'll need to hold your cards in such a fashion that you can only see the back of the card and so that your fellow players can see your hand.

So how are you going to play these cards out and stack them into piles?  Well, one possible action that you can take on your turn is to give one of your fellow players a clue about the cards in their hand.  The trick is that you have to give them clues that provides complete information about a colour or number of the cards in their hand.  As an example, if a player has three ones, one four and one five in their hand, I could point to the three cards that are ones and say: 'These three cards are ones'.  Or, if a player had three red cards, two blue cards and one white card, I could point to the two blue cards and say: 'These two cards are blue'.  As the game progresses, players will gain more information about the cards in their hand and, when they are confident they know the colour and number of a particular card, they can use their turn to play that card out on the board.

No problem, you say: eventually I'll know what cards I've got and we'll make this happen.  Ahh, but it's not so easy!  You see, at the beginning of the game, you'll set a number of clue tokens out on the table.  Each time you give a clue, you need to pay a clue token -- and when they're gone, they're gone.  No more clue tokens means no more clues.  The only way to get the clue tokens back is to discard a card from your hand -- but be careful, you don't want to discard critical cards that will keep you from completing a particular run of cards.  Discard a five, for instance, and that's a run you'll never finish!  On top of it all, every time that you incorrectly play a card, you'll lose one of the four fuse counters -- when they're gone the game's over and you'll score up your points and see how you did.

So, what are my thoughts on Hanabi?  Well, first of all this is a game with simple and accessible rules -- indeed, you can teach the game in about five minutes.  Despite its simple rules, however, this is a challenging game.  Giving effective clues, remembering those clues, managing the clue tokens -- there are definitely tough choices to be made.  Another positive characteristic is the quick play time -- you can easily knock out a game in twenty minutes which makes it the perfect game to open or close your regular gaming session.  I also appreciated the fact that this is co-operative game.  I would note in particular, that knowing how your fellow players think is critical -- you need to be able to interpret the clues that they give effectively and that's a really interesting social component of the game.  In terms of quality, though the components may be few, they are attractive and made from quality materials.  Finally, and most importantly, Hanabi is just fun to play -- not to mention addictive.  I found myself wanting to play it over and over in an effort to improve our score.  All this at an affordable price point -- well that's a winner in my books.  I'd highly recommend checking out Hanabi.

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