Hanabi – How to Play

Hanabi – How to Play

Hanabi – How to Play

Hanabi stands as a strong example of a cooperative game that does the cooperation/teamwork bits right by avoiding the issue known as the Alpha Gamer Syndrome or Quarterbacking. You know, those scenarios where one player just imposes themselves upon everyone else and orders them around like they’re a bunch of marionettes?

In addition to it being a sterling example of cooperative gaming, it’s an easy game to teach! But so with that, here’s a short primer on how to play Hanabi. You can watch the video below to get a good idea for how the game functions, but if you prefer text, read on!


In Hanabi, you and your team are working together to launch an illuminating display of fireworks with the goal of impressing the crowd with as splashiest a display as you can possibly muster. You’ll do this by starting out with a hand of 5 fireworks crates in the 2-3 player version (4 for 4-5 players) and arrange the fireworks by color and in the right numerical order, from 1 to 5.

The problem? You have no idea what fireworks crates you have and your co-workers have no idea what fireworks crates they have! But for some reason, you know what everyone else has and so, must rely on each other to shed some light upon what each person is carrying. To make it worse, you’re time-constrained and must work within that time allocation to work towards a successful launch. Hence, the problem.

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Player Actions

So how do you work together to launch those fireworks in a dazzling display? On your turn you have the option of doing one of three things. You can pick a player to provide a hint, you can trash a firework crate from your hand, or you can add a firework to the launch site!

Providing Hints!

Providing hints takes up time as you and your co-workers scramble to figure out what each person has. Hints can take 2 forms: numbers-based or colors-based.

So when you decide that a hint must be given to unveil the parts number of some fireworks crate, pick a person and pick a number. Then, point to all the fireworks crates in that person’s possession that matches that number. You cannot leave out any matching crates numbers. For example, with this player, you’d point to these crates and tell them the number on those crates is “3”.

Hanabi – How to Play

If you decide that you wanted to shed light on what color fireworks crate someone is carrying, pick a person and pick a color. Point to all of the fireworks crates in that person’s possession that matches that color. You cannot leave out any matching colors. In this instance, with this player, you’d point to these crates and tell them that those crates are all “Red”.

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Hanabi – How to Play

Each time anyone gives a hint, you use up a unit of time, removing it from the pool of available time. Run out of time and it’s time to saddle up and set up or trash fireworks crates; no one else can give hints until someone buys you more time.

Hanabi – How to Play

Buy back time by trashing cards!

And how do you get that time back? Easy: by thinning the number of fireworks crates available to sort through by trashing them! Proudly declare that you plan to trash a fireworks crate and that shrinks down the number of crates, making it faster for you to sort through the mess and buy you more time.

Be warned though! You might accidentally scuttle an important crate of fireworks, and so scuttle your team’s chances of success. Whatever happens, good or bad when you trash, you’ll have bought yourself more time! When this happens, take a time counter back and add it to your pool of available time. Also, ignore your teammates’ dirty looks if you screwed up.

Playing a card!

Feel more confident that the cards in your hand match up to what needs to be added to the launch site next and you may play a fireworks crate upon the flat plain. Remember: crates must be arranged correctly by color and in those colors, in number order. In this instance, you’d take these red crates, stack them up from 1 through 5 and be good to go. And if you’ve somehow lucked out and managed to complete a set of fireworks colors you’ll get a bonus! Feel that surge of morale and add back another time counter into your pool if there are any available.

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Hanabi – How to Play

Play an incorrect card though, and your supervisor’s fuse grows short. Mess up three times and he’ll explode in anger. When that happens, the game ends and you must launch whatever you’ve managed to set up!

Hanabi – How to Play

Other end-game conditions

But there are other ways the game ends: when you run out of fireworks crates to sort through, each person gets 1 more turn to set up the fireworks and then off you go to launch whatever you have. When you’ve been forced to launch, take the top card of each color and add them up and that’s your final score. In the lucky instance of where you manage to set up all the fireworks to perfection, your launch is successful and the spectators will gape in awe at the delightful, dazzling display. Congratulations on a job well done.