Boxed Worlds: Hanabi


(First published at

Can board games make you a better person?

There are plenty of games that can hone your strategic thinking skills or stretch your creativity. Just as often, though, games turn you into a manipulative, scheming sociopath, even if it’s only for a half-hour at a time.

Are those skills transferable? Absolutely. But I wouldn’t necessarily recommend it.

Hanabi seems a little too unassuming to stake a claim at genuine life improvement. After all, the only thing in the box is a deck of cards with numbers and fireworks on them, and your objective is to put the cards into piles, sorted by colour and by number. Well, technically your goal is to put together a fireworks show that will blow the minds of an imaginary audience, but you do that by putting the cards in order.

No one’s even trying to stop you. Hanabi is co-operative, so everyone is working together to essentially just count to five. Which doesn’t sound particularly hard, until you find out that you aren’t allowed to look at your cards. You can see everyone else’s, but you only find out about your own through a limited number of hints from your teammates, or by just going for broke and playing one.

Which makes communication very important.

Officially, your hints are only allowed to give one piece of information. You can point out all the cards of one colour in someone’s hand, or all the cards that have the same number, but not both — if I wanted to tell you that one of the cards in your hand was a blue three, that’d use up at least two hints. Go through hints at that rate and your fireworks display won’t even reach “mediocre.”

The trick, then, is to make sure that your hints are always saying more than they seem. If you point out a card in someone’s hand, it’s either because they should be using it, or they should be getting rid of it. It’s a game where the implicit messages are just as important as the explicit ones, and if you can’t master the subtext, you’ll go down in a blaze of something-less-than-glory.

So, back to that question: will it make you a better person?

After a few games, it does start to make you feel like a better communicator, although the first attempt mostly makes you feel like an idiot. It’s like a team-building exercise that’s actually fun — which admittedly sounds like a backhanded compliment, but really isn’t.

As far as resolutions go, “playing more Hanabi” probably won’t make as big of a difference as exercising more or giving up smoking, but it’s also a heck of a lot easier to stick to.

One Response to “Boxed Worlds: Hanabi”
  1. German Girl says:

    They can make you a better person. Most definitely. The first example that comes to my mind is chess. It helps to develop your problem-solving and math skills. We had a chess club in junior high. Memories…

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