Posts Tagged ‘ Antoine Bauza ’

Hanabi (Game Review)


Hanabi (picture from BoardGame Geek)

Today we learned that Antoine Bauza’s Hanabi won the 2013 Spiel des Jahres. The Spiel is the most-followed award in the gaming industry, even though it’s focused on family games in the European market. Therefore, every year at this time we get to hear lots of confusion and anger from serious gamers who don’t care for the latest SdJ winner at all. This year, though, something strange happened: the game that won was actually great for gamers of all skill levels! (Also today, Legends of Andor won the Kennerspiel, which is for games that are more serious, but still on the light side of what I usually play. I don’t expect to play Legends of Andor again any time soon, but I have added some new thoughts to my first impressions from Origins.)

On first glance, Hanabi is a pretty simple game: Everyone at the table works together to play cards in order from 1 to 5 in each of five colors. (There are multiples of cards, giving you the chance to discard for a new one if there is nothing immediately useful in your hand.) The gimmick is that you hold your cards backwards, so that you see everyone else’s hand but not your own! As an action, you can choose to give someone a hint, but you are restricted to telling them only about a specific rank or color in their hand. If you do, you must tell them the location of each card matching that rank or color. (So, for example, if you want to let them know about the Red 2 that is playable, but they also have a Green 2 and a Red 3, there’s no way to point out just that one card.) Hints are a limited resource that must be replenished by discarding. Just remember that discarded cards are lost forever, so don’t give up the wrong one!

At first, Hanabi is a fun, silly change of pace from other games. It really is weird to hold a hand of cards that you know nothing about, while looking around the table wishing you could shout out advice to the others. But it quickly becomes tense and tricky. It’s possible to infer a lot of information from what other people say within the allowed system of hints, as well as how they act when they know your cards.

The reason for Hanabi’s wild success, winning over both the Spiel des Jahres jury and hardcore gamers, is that different groups can experience it very differently. If you’re playing with social gamers or kids, you can allow a good deal of table talk. People can groan or cheer when they see a card drawn, publicly talk about how “you really need to hint to Bob about that card he just drew”, or even put emphasis in their voice to say a little more with their hint. It’s still a fun, unusual game that will make you feel clever when you win. On the other hand, more serious gamers can outlaw all table talk, and even refuse to give reminders if someone forgets an earlier hint. Also, it’s easy to finish the game without losing outright (playing three bad cards), but difficult to complete all five colors, so in between is a scoring system that lets you decide what is a “good” or “bad” result for your group. It scales from a silly game that can make kids feel clever all the way up to a many-layered one with logic and communication conventions similar to Bridge. That’s quite a range! (And then there are extra cards to add a twist when the game gets too simple.)

If Hanabi has a flaw, though, it is that range. With most tabletop games, I can sit down at a convention or with friends of a friend, and know what I’m getting into. Here, subtle differences in players’ expectations can completely change the game experience. If you play strictly but someone shares extra information, the game is basically ruined, but if you like to laugh at silly plays and talk through tough spots, anyone who stops you is spoiling it. Regardless of whether everyone has the same approach, you still probably won’t all agree on the conventions used to legally share information. Even within my game group, there are definite disagreements about what is fair, and half of the discussions about this game on BoardGame Geek seem to be about different expectations.

I think that Hanabi is rarely going to be a go-to game for random gatherings. For a known group of friends, though, it’s an excellent experience. Unique, challenging, and fit for whatever level you want to play. Don’t let this Spiel des Jahres winner pass you by.

Grade: A-


7 Wonders: Leaders (Game Review)

7 Wonders: Leaders box

7 Wonders: Leaders

Not long after giving 7 Wonders a great review, I got sick of the game. Everything positive that I said about it is still true, but it’s a somewhat repetitive filler based largely on guessing which cards you will get later. It’s very fun for what it is, but everyone wanted to play it all the time, instead of just as a filler. Within a couple months, I’d played it as many times as I should have over the course of a year. I’m definitely in the minority here, which means that my review turned out to be more accurate for others than for me (but also means that the game keeps hitting the table, so I stay tired of it).

Fortunately, the Leaders expansion has rekindled my interest in the 7 Wonders. It’s a simple idea and doesn’t change the spirit of the game significantly, but it adds enough variety to keep it feeling fresh. It adds a new “Phase 0” in which players draft four Leader cards. Each Leader offers a unique power, and the players hold them in their hand rather than playing them immediately. Before each of the three main phases, everyone plays a single Leader. (One of your four will never get played.)

Some examples of Leader cardsSo without significantly increasing the playing time or adding new cards to the main rounds of gameplay, everyone is now in a different position. One player may receive extra symbols to support a Science strategy, while another can build Military cards more cheaply, and still another will receive points for playing certain combinations of card types. There are also cards that give immediate bonuses, or reward unusual things like having the card that lets you build a later one for free. Leaders cost different amounts of coins to play, which means money management also becomes slightly more important.

Does Leaders solve the fundamental issues I have with 7 Wonders? Mostly not. The winner will still be the person who got the most synergistic cards passed to them, which is something that skill can only partially mitigate. The Leaders arguably add another way for some people to get a much luckier combination than others. However, they also give you a new strategy at the start of each game, and make each player’s set-up much more distinct than the Wonder boards alone do. (Ignoring your Wonder is a perfectly valid strategic choice at times, but it means that your playing position is indistinguishable from anyone else’s. Ignoring your Leader cards is almost always a bad idea.)

I’m still being careful not to play 7 Wonders: Leaders too often, because I expect that it could become boring in the same way that the base game did. When just played from time to time, though, I’m happy to hear someone suggest it. I assume that for people who aren’t tired of 7 Wonders (which is most of the gaming community), the new life that Leaders adds is even more exciting. This is an excellent example of how an expansion can add something fundamental to a game without changing the elements that its fans love.

Grade: B

(Images above from Board Game Geek. Follow the links for the original and photographer credit.)

7 Wonders (Game Review)

7 Wonders BoxIn some ways, a game that works for more than five people is the Holy Grail of the industry. In my opinion, even going past four people causes long delays between turns, and introduces too many factors that feel outside of a single player’s direct control. But when a group of friends gets together, it’s easy to end up with too many people to comfortably play one game, but not enough to split into two groups.

7 Wonders’ claim to fame is that it works for up to seven players at once. More importantly, though, it keeps everyone consistently engaged through its breezy twenty- to thirty-minute playing time. Its mechanics make this so simple that after one game, it seems amazing that no one has tried this approach before. Basically, there is no downtime because every player is making their choice simultaneously every turn. Choose one card to play, and pass the rest of your hand to the player next to you. Sure, other games have used this card drafting technique before, but 7 Wonders also addresses the other source of slowdowns in games with too many players: All your interactions are with the people to your immediate left and right, so you don’t need to get bogged down keeping track of more than two other players.

The game itself is a fairly straightforward entry in the “civilization light” genre. Each card gives you resource production, points, or abilities. There are too many resources to personally cover all of them, but you can buy the ones you need from your neighbors. Just keep track of what they are producing so you don’t duplicate their efforts, and so that you can build the ones that they’ll want to buy from you! Also watch their military strength, because at the end of each of the three rounds, your comparative power will gain or lose you points.

7 Wonders Play7 Wonders offers a decent amount of choices. You can earn points through cards, advancing your personal “great wonder” track, matching symbols, getting money, or having a stronger military than your neighbors. The “Guild” cards that appear at the end of the game even let you score points for how advanced your neighbors are in various categories! It’s impossible to excel in every area, but they are well-balanced enough that you can ignore any of those and still win the game.

It feels surprisingly meaty for a twenty-minute game, but there is a lot of chance hidden behind the mechanics. Drawing the right cards, especially when those big Guilds are dealt out at the end, makes a big difference. And while it may be fun to ignore the player on the other side of the table, it can be frustrating to learn you’ve lost to someone you weren’t even able to interact with. For that reason, I suspect that these mechanics wouldn’t work in a much longer game, as much as I wish they could. It’s not too frustrating to lose a filler game by chance, but it would be a deal-breaker if two hours of planning fall apart through no fault of your own.

The game also becomes a little repetitive before long. Despite the many paths to victory points, and the different “Wonder” boards that each player is dealt, the various strategies don’t really feel that different after several plays. They’re all based on getting resources, playing cards, and watching to make sure you bury any card that your neighbor desperately needs. There are already expansions on the horizon that promise to add more variety, but I’m not sure how well they’ll succeed. 7 Wonders feels like it has as many elements as its short playtime can support. Anything different enough to actually increase the replayability would probably be too overwhelming. On the other hand, designer Antoine Bauza has already made one near-impossible task look simple. If 7 Wonders could keep me interested through a seven-player game, then I suppose that the expansions could hold more surprises of their own.

Even after the initial rush of newness wears off, I don’t expect this game to stop being fun. And because it fills a niche that nothing else in my collection does, I’m sure it will remain in use for a long time. Looking for a filler to play as your friends are arriving, or when you’re winding down for the night? This works no matter how many people are there with you, and it feels heavier than just about anything else that plays so quickly. 7 Wonders not only has an original design, but is going to keep hitting my table long-term.

Grade: A-