Board Game Fridays: Build Fireworks and Telepathic Links With Your Friends in Hanabi!


This Friday’s board game at Pug Pharm is Hanabi (“Fireworks” in Japanese), a cooperative card game where players work together to build fireworks by laying down cards in a specific order, like playing Solitaire. But here’s the catch: you can’t see your own hand and can only give certain hints to your friends!  

Each player holds their cards so they’re facing the other players. Players work together to lay out five suits/colours in an ascending order from 1 to 5 by taking turns to either play a card, use one of 8 hint tokens to give another player some information about their cards, or discard in exchange for an extra hint token. And there are risky moves too! Because you have to put cards down in order, if the 1 and 2 from the yellow suit are not already played for example, you cannot play a yellow 3. Though sometimes you don’t have much choice, so if you do end up playing the wrong card, it will cost you a “fuse” token. But be careful—there are only 3 chances to trigger fuse tokens before the fireworks explode and end the game!  

Another mistake you could make is when you discard a card that you should’ve probably kept. For instance, there is only one 5 card for each colour, so if you discard a 5, there’s no way to finish that colour! Or if you discarded all the 3s of a particular colour, then there is no way to move forward even if you have some 4s and 5 lying around.  

What’s trickiest about Hanabi is that the hints you give to other players have to be very specific. When you use a hint token on your turn, you can only tell another player which cards they have are a specific colour or number (i.e. “Those two are red” or “This card is a 2”). But it’s not as simple as just trying to give out as much information as you can. If you do that, you’ll find yourself running out of hint tokens and might have to risk playing a wrong card or discarding a card you need!  

As such, it’s most effective to have more than one layer of meaning in a hint you’re giving. By telling your friend a card is blue when there are no blue cards on the table yet, it is probably safe to assume that the blue card is a 1 and therefore playable. But not everybody gets that! This means that when you give a “smart” hint, you can only hope that the other players will understand the underlying meaning. Despite some potential frustration, you may end up discovering a telepathic link between you and your friends!  

Hanabi fosters a very human-oriented dynamic where you’re always thinking about what other players might do and whether they will understand the hidden layer of the hints you’re giving them. On the flip side, you also find yourself constantly thinking about what the hints you’re given mean instead of taking them at face value. Thinking and decision-making are what makes a game like this so meaningful and engaging!