Hanabi: A guide to successfully marketing pyromania

Pair well with: a warm (green?) tea to watch your splendid firework display on a cold night.
Traitor rating: n/a (co-op game)

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Hanabi is a test.

It’s also a co-operative game, and a pretty neat one. You have a hand of cards but, excitingly, you hold them facing backwards so that only your companions can see what you have. You, for your part, can see theirs but not your own.

The game itself is a test of memory and testing the bounds of limited information. Your goal is to use these skills to create the best fireworks display that humankind has ever seen! Failure can come in the forms of either a really shit victory (what, you wanted more than two small fizzley fireworks?) or a complete loss which comes in the form of all of the fireworks exploding. This presumably results in death, destruction and – even more significantly – shame.

You want to have a victory, obviously, but it’s really about a good victory. A spectacular victory! There’s a scoring system based on just how well you managed to firework, and you want to do well at it.

lots 311_Fotor.jpgThe cards are a range of colours numbered 1-5. Effectively, what you want to do is put down sets of the same colour, starting with 1 and ending at 5. Simple. Except, you know, that bit where you don’t know what cards you have. Your turns are a battle between putting down your own cards if you think you’ve figured out what they are (or even sometimes if you haven’t! You maverick!) and giving very limited bits of information to one of your team-mates.

What was that we were saying earlier about how Hanabi was a test?

It’s a test in being able to follow the damned rules and not accidentally give away all of the information. Similar to Codenames, in a way. In Codenames the spymaster needs to constantly fight the urge to stare obviously at the correct clues, look shocked when the spies talk about something really obviously wrong (cough cough JUNGLE JAM) and to say “that’s right!” when someone gets their clue.

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Typically you introduce someone to the game with the phrase “don’t look at your cards” and they immediately look at their cards. This gives you permission to make fun of them for the rest of the game.

In Hanabi the urge to cheat is somehow even harder to control, because you’re all working on the same team. Perhaps today we’re giving you both a review of a cardgame, and a review of our own skills as not-cheaters. (the conclusion of the latter review is going to be something like “points for effort”*).

One thing you need to try pretty hard to resist is to fish for information you’ve already been given. Because, you know, it’s kind of a memory game, amongst other things. That means you should probably be using your memory!

“Oh damn… did I already know that these two were green?”
“We can’t say!”
“Ok, but if I put in a request via the Freedom of Information Act?”
“Yes, those were green.”
“Scandal!!”

There are sneaky tricks to organising your cards. You can, for example, optimistically try to rearrange your cards without looking at them, perhaps by putting all of the 1s on the left. Which is fine, until you completely forget whether you’ve done that, and where you put the new card you drew, and what bloody number you were even trying to remember in the first place.

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What? The cards just naturally fell that way

Is it maybe bending the rules a little to completely turn your 5 cards to a 90-degree angle? We’ll let your own consciences be the judge of that. Our friend Rich’s conscience certainly had nothing to say on the matter.

 

Picture the scene of a tense game of Hanabi (whether or not you’ve played before): Each player with five firework cards in their hand, all facing away. Each trying really, really hard to psychically send messages to their teammates about which card is super-important to play to get the next firework completed. If you’re not passing on information this turn then you can choose to either discard a card or play one into your firework collection. Of course if you play it and it won’t fit, perhaps if you’re trying to play a white 1 but you’ve already got a white 1 and 2 down in front of you, then a mysterious bomb somewhere gets a little bit closer to exploding.

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Maybe finish the fireworks display BEFORE they explode

But if you discard a card, there’s a chance that it might’ve been really important. There are only two of most of the cards in the game, and only one each of the 5s, so if you accidentally discard two green 3s over the course of a game, for example, then you know you’ll never be able to complete the green part of the fireworks display.

This can lead to some very sharp intakes of breath as you see someone’s hand hover over a card to discard that you all really need. Again, bad work with the ‘accidental’ cheating, team.

Still, we’d love to be able to say that was close to the worst example of cheating in some of our games (we could, but it would be lying. Which is just another form of cheating).

“Right, it’s my turn. So, JUST AS A RULES CLARIFICATION, you guys… we can now feel free to discard any of the 1s we have for the colours we’ve already got 1s for, right? We don’t need any of those any more? For the colours WE’VE COMPLETED?”
“Um… yep?”
“Ok. COMPLETELY UNRELATEDLY, I’m going to spend my turn giving information. Lizzy, these cards are all 1s.”

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Your  card-holding’strategy’ is getting a bit complicated there, Rich

This kind of thing sends Lizzy, who despite all her anti-establishment tendencies is a stringent rule-follower, into twitching apoplexy.**

The game is a great challenge because of the really limited information that you have at your disposal. If you use your turn to give someone information, then you can only tell them one single thing about their cards: either you can point at all of the cards which have a certain number, or all of the cards which have a certain colour. But you have to tell them ALL of the cards of that type. So if you really want to give someone some information about, say, a useful yellow firework card that they have (perhaps that Yellow 2 that you so desperately need) then you can’t sneakily just tell them that that particular card is yellow, you also have to tell them any other yellow cards they might have which may well be useless as heck to you right now.

This can occasionally lead to a person accidentally trying to inform someone of a super useful card before realising that they have a second one of that type.

“This is a … oh shit, no, nevermind.”

Definitely not cheating.

lots 307_Fotor.jpgTo make matters worse, the amount of times you’re allowed to give out information is limited by a bunch of clock-faced tokens. When you run out of those tokens then you have to either gamble and play a card, or discard a card to regain a token. As if the pressure of running out of cards and ending the game isn’t bearing down upon you enough already.

It’s a good game, and it can get surprisingly interesting in terms of strategy. And it’s really… fun. Not just in the way that working out a complex strategy can be really fun (let’s face it, we all know we’re in this hobby because we’re nerdy about that kind of thing) but also in a more general fun way. There’s laughter, there’s miscommunication, there’s failing miserably. All great qualities for a game to have. It’s a game for both dedicated games nights and for casual games down the pub, since it has the highly sought-after quality of using up not very much table space.

And there is just SO MUCH trying not to cheat.

“What? I wasn’t trying to give extra information, I was just making a general comment about how some of these games tend to pan out, that’s all…”
“Really, Rich…”

The real winner this week is board games. But also, a slightly guilty-looking team with some questionable cheating ethics.

* Except for Bob. Bob doesn’t even get points for effort. She’s even dodgy with Carcassonne.

** Her Codenames competitors sometimes refer to her as ‘The Fun Police’

7 Wonders Duel: WONDERing whether to play?

Pairs well with: Coffee and aspirin.

Brutus scale: 8/10. This is because it’s a two player game that pitches you against an opponent. As with 7 Wonders, someone may be more placid or war-y than the average.

Sunday morning has been a rather slow start for Briony. She and her punk boyfriend Pat were screamingly hungover after celebrating Gord’s (from team Misery during Essen) birthday the night before. Logically they decided that now was probably the most opportune moment to re-play through the games Briony had bought at Essen*. It had to be done. Enough time had elapsed since returning to forget what board gaming was like at a convention**, and be able to put the new purchases into a living room setting. A living room now filled with blankets, coffee, painkillers, cheese toasties, and the occasional ‘Oh god my head, why is it so fucking bright?’ became the domain of Call of Chthulu’s lesser known Ancient one: The seething mass of fleece blankets whose singular goal was to play some games.

The seething fleece mass: Evade roll (-1). If approached without coffee loose 2 sanity.
The seething fleece mass: Evade roll (-1). If approached without coffee loose 2 sanity.

The first game of the morning was 7 Wonders: Duel***. This was the first game that Briony bought during Essen. In fact she bought it probably about 23 minutes after the gates first opened. In hindsight she was utterly right, and around 66% of team Misery also ended up buying the game before the end of the convention. Bob, it should be said, is not included in this number. Bob thought it was a bit unnecessary and not particularly rewarding. She’s generally considered to be wrong, though. Shush Bob!

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7 Wonders: Duel is simply a two player version of 7 Wonders. It does what it says on the tin. The game is so good is because it actually looked at some feedback from 7 Wonders, such as ‘how the fuck does one score science without an app’, and actually addressed the problems. Consequently there is now a ‘research system’ in place for science, which means that if a player builds two science cards with the same symbol at the top they unlock a piece of research, i.e. picking a token. Tokens have a whole range of perks that span from straight up victory points, to making your wonders significantly cheaper to construct. Obtaining all 6 different symbols of the science cards straight up wins the game there and then, meaning that no other points are counted at the end. This gives science an edge that it previously didn’t have in 7 Wonders, even though it was a useful mechanic for generating a tonne of points at the end of the game.

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‘This is the third research token you’ve got… are you researching how to be an asshole opponent?’

‘My major is how to be a dick, minoring in winning this game. You should turn up to class more often. Burrrrrrn.’

DSC_0496Moreover on the topic of addressing the weaknesses of 7 Wonders there is now no longer a war at the end of each era. Instead, there is a war meter which rises or falls when a player plays a military card. The meter is split into several stages which rack up victory points for the player pushing it up and negative consequences for the opponent. In a similar way to science, military domination now has the ability to straight up win the game if the marker is pushed to the end of your opponent’s side of the meter.

DSC_0493The special Essen edition of this game came with a pewter war meter marker which Briony lost while wandering around the convention centre in a haze of excitement. Fortunately the lovely people at Repos Games gave her another free of charge without even correcting her terrible broken German.

As the game is now two player the trading mechanic has had to change a little bit. Instead of being able to pay adjacent players for their resources, you instead pay the bank (which stocks everything apparently). If your opponent already has the resource you need you must pay the bank even more to be able to use that resource. It’s sort of reminiscent of the current European banking crisis. It turns out that the banker’s ridiculous money bonuses may have roots in hoarding all of the brown resource cards…

The final big change that Duel has compared to vanilla 7 Wonders is that each player has the ability to build up to four wonders each. Four whole wonders! That’s a lot of wonders. In reality most civilisations thought ‘eh, that’s probably enough wonder’ after one or two, but in this game you don’t have to let reality hold back your dreams.

The answer is always 'more wonders'.
The answer is always ‘more wonders’.

The great thing about this is you get to choose which wonders you’d like the opportunity to build at the very beginning of the game. Obviously you select in turn order so that one player doesn’t get all of the wonders they really want, but does offer a lot more flexibility from the original selection of races/civilisations in 7 Wonders. In addition to the pewter war marker, the special edition version of Duel from Essen also came with an extra playable card: the Messe****. The modern building has been painted as if it were 100BC making it a lovely addition to the selection.

As ever all of the artwork is stunning – this is one of the best things about 7 Wonders, and we’re all exceptionally happy that they decided to continue with it. Team Misery played a couple of drawing games while in Essen*****, and it’s safe to say that we absolutely could not be trusted to design anything as lovely as the 7 Wonders and Duel artwork.

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Finally, there are three eras to the game, as in 7 Wonders. Each era has a different card layout where each player takes turns in selecting unlocked (face up) cards. Once a card is taken it may unlock a card underneath it and it is turned face up. This brings some new Brutus mechanics to the game where you could discard something in your turn that you know your opponent wants or needs. Pat inflicted this on Briony several times during their Sunday morning play-through as she came close to winning with science twice. Briony preferred to imagine this as a disappointing part of history where the feared and trade-incompetent Pat the Lesser was forced to burn all of the books in the empire.

DSC_0498If you liked 7 Wonders then give this game a go. It’s extremely close to the original game, sticking to all of the bits that you know and love, while being much faster to play. It irons out the (admittedly minor) kinks from the original game, and brings some subtle but novel expansion to the theme and mechanics. Even Briony and Pat, hungover and annoyed at being dicked over by one another, still really enjoyed the second play-through.

*And sneakily on Amazon while in Essen. Always compare prices.

**Hot, sweaty, and always in a rush to find the next game.

*** Yes, we know Shut Up and Sit Down JUST reviewed this. They’re always one step ahead of us, the sneaky bastards. What can we say, they have a much higher budget. http://www.shutupandsitdown.com/blog/post/review-7-wonders-duel/

****This is the name of the convention centre that Essen Spiel is held in.

*****We highly recommend ‘A Fake Artist Goes to New York’, winner of the Misery Farm’s distinguished ‘Why the hell did anyone pay £20 for what is essentially a pad of paper and some tiny pens…. Oh wait that’s why, this is hilarious’ award 2015. Play it in the pub.