Communication challenge sets off fireworks

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.