Cardboard Children: Hanabi

Hello youse.

I’m still fiddling with Krosmaster, so I’m not quite ready to talk about it yet. I am ready to talk about something, though. Am I ready to talk about death? Not quite yet. Let’s keep pushing that one out of her heads for a bit longer. Am I ready to talk about the UK government’s war against the poor? Well, yeah. Any time. But this isn’t the place for that. The thing I’m ready to talk about is an inexpensive little card game called Hanabi. Come with.


Hanabi is the Japanese word for fireworks. I only know that’s the case because Takeshi Kitano has a film called “Hana-bi”, and it’s one of the greatest films ever made. Anyway, this isn’t a Japanese word or a Japanese film – it’s a French game.

It’s a game designed by Antoine Bauza, who designed the incredible Ghost Stories. I covered Ghost Stories right here, three years ago.

Jesus! Three years ago! Is that how long I’ve been here? How frightening. Maybe I am ready to talk about death.

Anyway, Hanabi is a co-operative card game. Every player has a hand of cards, and every player works together to fire off fireworks in an impressive display of fireworkery. The cards come in five different colours, numbered from 1 to 5. You play fireworks (those cards) onto the table and attempt to build them, from 1 up to 5 in succession. Know what I mean? You have to play out a 1- Yellow before you can play out a 2- Yellow. And you try to build all the colours up as high as you can, so that the audience goes “OOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOH!” and “AAAAAAAAAAAAAAH!”

“Wait, Robert!” This is you talking.

“Wait, Robert! You have a hand of cards, then you all just take turns playing cards out to build rows of colour? This game sounds like the easiest game ever made!”

Oh, hold on. I forgot to mention something. You know how in most card games you hold your hand in that little fan shape that allows you to see your cards and stops any other player seeing them? Well, in Hanabi, your little fan faces outwards. Yes, what I’m saying is that you can’t see your cards, but every other player can. You get me?

“I have to hold my cards like an anti-Semite?”

Well, yeah. So you sit there with your cards flipped so that everyone else can see them, and you have no fuckin’ idea what your own cards are. But you can see everyone else’s cards. You with me?

Now, there are little tokens on the table too. These are little time tokens, and there’s a limited supply of them. If you throw one back into the box, you’re allowed to give one other player one piece of information. That information can be about a colour or a number. So, for example, you can point to two of your friends cards and shout “THESE ARE BOTH RED CARDS!” I mean, you don’t have to shout it. Or you can point at three cards and scream “THESE ARE ALL FOURS!” at the top of your lungs. You can only give information about one colour or one value, so you better choose wisely.

Here’s what’s cool/terrifying about the information stuff. People will give you information about your cards, okay? So you’ll be told you have a couple of greens. Great, useful information. And then you get told you have a couple of ones. Great. Now you only have to remember those bits of information. But no – that’s not all you have to remember. You also have to remember what everyone else is remembering. Do you give information to another player about how many red cards they have? Or has someone already told them that? Will they remember that you already know about your ones, or will they forget and waste time by telling you that information AGAIN?

Time is the enemy. Once your little time tokens run out, you can’t give any more information – and you can only regain them by discarding a card. This makes you draw a new card (which you will know NOTHING about) and also runs down the deck. When the deck runs out, the game ends, and you get scored on the cards already played.

“But Robert!” This is you again. I wish you’d stop interrupting.

“But Robert! What harm is there in just playing a card without knowing what it is?”

Well, cards can only be played if they start or build upon a chain of fireworks. The first 1 of any colour is always legal, but then you better be moving onto a 2. And then a 3. If you play a Green 4 out when there is no Green 3, you are in DEEP SHIT. You can make only three mistakes like this before the fireworks explode and everyone in the display team is killed or maimed. You don’t even get to score your fireworks! You just DIE like SPOILER at the end of SPOILER.

Ah man, this is a great game. Let me detail what you’re doing during your turn.

  • 1. Trying to remember what you know about your hand of cards.
  • 2. Trying to decide what to do next.
  • 3. Trying to remember what everyone else already knows about their hand of cards.
  • 4. Trying to decide whether it’s worth spending a time token to reinforce someone’s information.
  • 5. Trying to decide whether it’s worth ditching a card to get a time token back.
  • 6. Trying to decide if it might be worth risking playing a card you THINK THINK THINK might be (if you remember correctly) a legal play at this point. I mean, if you get it right, you’re a hero. If you get it wrong, everyone will want to strangle you.
  • 7. Shaking your head at a fucking idiot who has been told about five times that a certain card is a Yellow 3 and yet THEY STILL HAVEN’T PLAYED IT WHY HAVE THEY NOT PLAYED IT YET IS THERE SOMETHING WRONG WITH THEM?!?!?
  • 8. I mean – JESUS!
  • 9. Seriously!

Hanabi is superb, can be carried in a pocket, can play with 2-5 people and is under a tenner.




Krosmaster! And that’s a promise. And a look at Super Dungeon Explore expansions!

Love you!


  1. gp says:

    eagerly awaiting indignation from rps’ more conservative readers

  2. Jams O'Donnell says:

    Thank you for bringing up Hana Bi in your opening — It means I don’t have to. Oh.

    • President Weasel says:

      I think of that film every time I see this game (which a friend has on his shelf). Great film, perfect for Takeshi Kitano’s stone face.
      This game is not like the film at all then? It sounds good, next time I am round there perhaps we can take it off the shelf and play it.

    • fabbe680 says:

      great movie but personally i think “sonatine” is kitano’s best.

  3. MisterMumbles says:

    While I typically just pass these articles by – although I did quite appreciate reading about Trains not too long ago – I had some good laughs out of this one. Well done. It very much sounds like something I’d like to play.

    Sidenote: Mel may be mad, but I love that Mavericks movie!

  4. Sheng-ji says:

    Holy hell, I’ve owned Ghost Stories for 3 years and have only beat it once or twice except on the novice level. And it gets played all the time!

  5. Screwie says:

    I miss SPOILER. :(

    • Premium User Badge

      Bluerps says:

      … for a short moment I thought that there actually is a movie called “Spoiler” that is about a character named “Spoiler” who dies at the end. I think I need to go home.

      • BooleanBob says:

        What really bothers me is that Rab managed to avoid naming SPOILER the first time, but then completely forgot when he got to bullet point eight.

      • Baines says:

        Yes, Spoiler died in Batman #633, not a book under her own name.

  6. Scurra says:

    You forgot to mention that it won the biggest award in board gaming this year (despite having technically been out for a couple of years now), the Spiel des Jahres, although presumably because the biggest award in board gaming is given in Germany that information is somewhat irrelevant to those of us who speak a civilised language, or French.
    At least you did mention that it is basically designed to make your head explode. Like the pretty fireworks.

  7. Enkinan says:

    Entertaining article, game sounds fun.

  8. Morph says:

    Hanabi is indeed great, recommended if you like games of puzzles and co-operation, though sometimes it gets a bit difficult not to hide your obvious disappointment when someone clearly has not understood your perfectly logical information and plays a 3 and you lose a life and goddammit!!!!

  9. elevown says:

    I dont see how you can claim it isnt a Japanese word when it clearly IS. Its not some coincidence- its got fireworks on the box. The game is all about fireworks. Therefore it is called hanabi because it means fireworks in japanese. The fact its a french game is irrelevant – french people cant know japanese?

    • airmikee99 says:


      Hanabi is the Japanese word for fireworks. I only know that’s the case because Takeshi Kitano has a film called “Hana-bi”, and it’s one of the greatest films ever made. Anyway, this isn’t a Japanese word or a Japanese film – it’s a French game.”

      Reads to me like, “This isn’t an article about the Japanese word, it’s an article about a French game.” Considering he clearly says, “Hanabi is the Japanese word for fireworks.”

    • Berzee says:

      I suffered a similar initial confusion, but I arrived at the same conclusion as airmikee99 (that 99th but certainly not least airmikee). What I read now in this article is good ol’ Bob Florence saying, “Hanabi is the Japanese word for fireworks but when I say Hanabi throughout the rest of this article, am I going to be talking about the word? No sir, NO. When *I* say Hanabi, I am talking about a box a’ cards and I’ll fight any man wot says otherwise. With fireworks. Like in Mulan when she made that avalanche.”

  10. Haphaz77 says:

    Brilliant set up on the Mel Gibson joke. These articles always entice me to want to try the games, so thanks!

  11. Warduke says:

    I miss “stay dicey” :(

    • Harlander says:

      Wouldn’t work with this game, though, would it?

      It’d have to be.. “stay cardy”, which sounds like someone with a poor grasp of English advising you to keep your wooly top on because it’s chilly outside.

      • X_kot says:

        Maybe “stay sharp,” as in cardsharp? Um…that’s kinda reaching, isn’t it? Hmm. “Stay cardinal”? Maybe if it were an avian game.

        • Ericston says:

          Cardinals also refers to counting words and this game is arguably about numbers!

  12. Tams80 says:

    I’ve been considering getting this game for a while. I guess I have no choice now. I should probably get Tokaido and String Railway while I’m at it.

    Also, thanks for the film suggestion!

  13. ruthj240 says:

    My Uncle got black Mercedes-Benz CLA-Class Sedan just by parttime work from a laptop… ………. http://WWW.JOBS60.COM