Hanbai is based on a very simple idea: what if you held your hand of cards backwards, where everyone else but you could see them? Sounds very simple, and it is but, it is the simple ideas that sometimes have the most interesting effects.

Hanabi is a cooperative card game all about good and timely communication. As mentioned above, all players hold their cards facing outward. You know the contents of every hand but your own. The goal is to simply create sets of cards 1-5 of each color – as a group. On your turn, you can either play a card from your hand to the table (remember, you can’t see your cards) or give another player information about the cards in their hand. You can’t just tell them exactly what is in their hand. You have to point out all the cards in their hand of a certain number or of a certain color. “These three cards (pointing to them) are blue” or “These two cards are the number 1”. You must remember what others have told you so that you can play the correct card from your hand at the correct time. You only have a certain number of misses before the game ends and you tally up your points to see how well your group did that game.


Designer: Antoine Bauza

Players: 2-5

Playtime: 25 min


Easy to teach and learn, Hanabi is a winner for me.


Not only is Hanabi based on a simple idea, it is also a simple game to look at. It is not overproduced in any way. The cards are of good quality as are the few tokens that come with the game. The art is simple and stays out of the way. The rulebook wants you to think that there is a theme here, but it has no impact on game play.



The interesting part of Hanabi comes through the interactions between players as they choose how best to use their turn. You are looking at everyone else’s hand of cards and deciding if you have enough information about your own to play one, or does the next person in line desperately need to know a vital piece of information about theirs. That tension is a big part of the fun. The thing is, you are limited to the number of times you can give information and the only way to get these back is to discard cards from your hand; cards you hope are not needed.

The other very interesting part of Hanabi is in its flexibility in communication rules. Some groups may prefer the challenge of strictly adhering to the rules. Other groups may find it fun to bend them slightly. The groups I have typically played Hanabi with like to have a bit of fun with it, getting clever with word usage or not quite holding back a facial expression. Either way presents its own kind of fun and it’s nice that it can work with both play styles.

Most cooperative games pit you against the game itself. While you are working against the game’s constraints in Hanabi, really you are just competing against yourselves. Can you score better than you did last time?

Also, in most cooperative games, if you lose, it comes as a hard stop. Something happened that kept you from finishing the game. In Hanabi, I always feel like I complete the game, even if we did not get a perfect score. This means a sense of satisfaction whether you get a perfect score or not.


You will notice that there are no “dislikes” here. This seems like the kind of game that, if you like it, you play it and enjoy it. If you don’t like it, you avoid it. I like this game. So let me try to come at it from the other side briefly. If you just can’t like light, cooperative games with no theme of consequence this might not be for you. However, it is a great game to get out with a more casual group. Easy to teach and learn, Hanabi is a winner for me. Sure, if given the opportunity to play a more in-depth game, I will. But there are plenty of opportunities to get out Hanabi as well and I will continue to.

Try this game if you like:

  • The Grizzled
  • Sushi Go
  • Red 7
  • Forbidden Island