Critical Play: Comparative Analysis of Hanabi

Hanabi ( is a cooperative card game.


There are 50 cards, in 5 different colors (which means 10 cards each color), in each game of Hanabi. Each card can take an integer value between 1 and 5, inclusive. The purpose of the game is to have the players stack the cards of each color in the order of 1 to 5 by playing the correct card at each turn. For example, initially, cards with value 1 of each color can be played, while the cards with values greater than 1 are illegal cards, which will increase the number of strikes if played. If the strike number reaches 3, the game ends immediately.

Each player can only see other people’s cards, but cannot see their own cards. In each player’s turn, they have the choice to play, discard, or give hints to other players. The hints include giving information regarding a specific number or color to another player. Giving hints consumes hint tokens, which are replenished by discarding cards.

Critical Elements and Mechanics

Cooperative Gameplay

The game is purely cooperative, where players work together towards a common goal of stacking cards of all colors up to 5. As seen in the figure above, sharing information of one’s cards is key to victory. The game offers only penalty for people to lie and sets up so that only choosing to provide other players the most information they can is beneficial to all the players.

Mechanics of Giving Hints

Giving good hints is a very important aspect of the game. An example of the UI used for giving hints is given above. A player can select a number or color to hint another player. If a number is hinted, then all the cards that have that number will show their number to the owner of the cards. Likewise, if a color is hinted, all the cards that are of that color will show their color to the owner of the cards. This mechanic puts constraints on what hints can be given to other players, increasing the difficulty of the game because sometimes, there are multiple cards with the same number or color, and giving one hint might not be enough for the player to figure out what the hinted cards are, requiring players to have good deduction skills.

Playing and Discarding

Playing a card that currently cannot be stacked increases one strike. Discarding a card gives one hint token, which is consumed by hinting. These mechanics give players incentives to play the right card (by being as sure as possible about what the cards is), and to discard useless cards to gain back hint tokens. Players need to be keen on the consumption of hint tokens while also watching the strike number so that the game is not ended prematurely (leading to a lower final score).


The fun of the game takes form in Fellowship and Challenge. Fun comes from thinking about how other players might perceive your hint, trying to understand other players’ hints, and a sense of achievement when your deduction is correct. Believing other players, taking risks, and coming up with different ways of hinting all contribute to a great Hanabi experience.


There can be several types of abuse in this game. First, the players can agree to understand that certain hints can contain more information than what the game intends. For example, players can agree that their hinting numbers, the leftmost item is always playable. Additionally, they can agree that they always discard from the right. These types of abuse reduce the difficulty of the game but do not necessarily ruin the gaming experience.

Graphic Design

The graphic design is clean and simple. 5 distinctive colors of cards are conspicuous in a dark background, with a straightforward log of players’ past actions, and a vertical list of players and their cards. The UI for giving hints is also very easy to understand.

Connection to Our Game

Our game (project 1) is a social game that requires cooperation: all the truth-tellers need to work together to find out who the liar is. A big similarity between these two games is the incomplete information available to every player. The mechanic of giving hints in Hanabi might be useful to our game: the truth-tellers can use some hints in their stories to each other.

Business Model and Online Feature

The game is a free-to-play online cards game with no additional purchase options. is a passion project, and it is open-sourced. One important thing about this game is that it is way easier to be implemented and played online than in real life because of the gimmick of “only being able to see others’ cards, and not being able to see one’s own cards.”

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