2-5 players, 25 minutes
Hello, dear readers! I’m back from a rather lengthy hiatus, and in the spirit of catching up, I’m going to review the winner of the Spiel des Jahres… from last year.
For those of you who don’t know, the Spiel des Jahres is the German “Game of the Year” award. It’s a big deal—a nomination can generate hundred if not thousands of sales for the nominee, and winning the award can net hundreds of thousands of new sales. I’ve been told that the winning game will even be found in supermarkets across Germany, and to this day I have no idea if those people were joking.
It’s one of the most respected board game awards around, but before you think that means it’s a “greatest hits” list from 1978 to the present, keep in mind that it favors lighter, European-style games. That generally means a focus on game mechanisms, an abstracted theme, and indirect player interaction. Moreover, the award is generally given to lighter, more family-friendly games.
Last year, the award went to Hanabi, a small card game by designer Antoine Bauza. In Hanabi, the players take on the role of technicians trying to pull off a fireworks display. To do so, they must take turns playing cards from their hands, and each of five colored piles must be built, in order, from one through five. You all lose the game if three mistakes are made. Otherwise, the game ends one full round after the draw pile runs out of cards. Then, you tally up the highest valued card in each pile to get a score.
What makes it tricky is that you play with your cards facing away from you. You get to see everyone else’s cards, but not your own. Players can give hints to one another, but only in very restricted ways. I think this is downright brilliant because, more than any other game I’ve played, it makes the players want to cheat. Let me explain.