How to play Hanabi two player

I suggested Hanabi in a previous post as being a really great two player game to bring couples together.

It is not, however, necessarily great from a game play point of view.

Over the years my partner and I have adapted the game as we’ve played and here is my advice for playing two player Hanabi.

Variant 1: Five cards

five card hanabi two player

Both players start with a hand of five cards.

This doesn’t give a lot of leeway.

You can only see five cards, opposed to the eight you can see in three player, so you have a lot less information making deductions much harder.

Not only that, but it’s easy to end up in a situation where one player has a ‘locked up hand’ where nothing is playable or discardable – you end up having to throw away a card even though you know it will stop you getting a high score.

This is annoying, and makes the game a lot less fun.

Variant 2: Five cards plus one


Both players start with a hand of five cards and one additional card is placed face up on the table.

Either player can play or discard the card BUT discarding it doesn’t get you a clue back.

It’s amazing how helpful just one extra card is to working out what cards you have, as well as preventing a hand from locking up.

However, it’s still not perfect. There are times when you get a run on the shared card, constantly playing or discarding from the shared card for several turns in a row.

This feels like cheating.

While perfectly allowable in the modified rules, there’s no real finesse required. It undercuts the joy of puzzling out the situation with logic.

Variant 3: Six card hand

six card hanabi two playerEach player has a hand of six cards.

This, to me, is the best option we have tried so far.

There’s no runs, so no feeling of cheating, you have the extra information and even that one extra card means you rarely ever end up with a locked out hand.

There is, instead, a different problem: it ends too quickly.

All too often, we reach the end of a two player game only to find that the remaining playable cards are in one persons hand, but there are no more turns to play them.

With the clever use of clues, you can stall to play down as much as possible, but often in two player this is impossible to do to any meaningful degree.

There is nothing more frustrating in this game than getting to the end, knowing you can get a much better score but unable to play your cards.

Variant 4: Six card hand with an extra turn

Each player has a six cards and at the end of the game they get two turns to play down cards instead of the usual one.

This is a recent addition to our repertoire.

The small bit of extra freedom can lead to several more cards being laid down, and a much more satisfying end to the game.

However, some people I’ve played with say it feels like playing on after the clock has run down.


I suggest you try the options for yourself and see what works best.

The couple that games together, stays together

My partner and I have a game we play in the bedroom ­– Hanabi.

For those not familiar with boardgames, Hanabi is a co-operative card game of logic and deduction with a twist – you can’t see your own hand.

My partner, Sam, and I often play boardgames together but I realised that the two-player ones I most enjoy playing with him are co-operative games, where we working towards a shared goal.

Though I do love a good victory, it always feels slightly tainted when I’m only playing against Sam, because it means he’s lost.

But with a co-op game, we win and lose together. We are a team in the game, as we are in life.

We look at the situation together, listen to each other’s thoughts on what to do, decide on the best course of action and make compromises when we don’t agree, working as one towards the end goal – all good skills for a relationship.

Oddly, it is the losses not the wins that are the best for our continued domestic bliss. When we lose, it would be easy to fall prey to bitterness for some ‘stupid’ move our counterpart made.

But we’ve learned not to. And being able to rise over such petty resentments has helped us long after the game has gone back in the box.

But probably the best games are the ones where we aren’t allowed to communicate freely. Games like Hanabi, which we often play, as my misleading opening line would have you believe, in bed.

Couples game hanabi 2 player

Boardgames have been an important part of our relationship since day one

In Hanabi, you have to play cards in a certain order, but you can’t see your own hand and are limited in what you can tell your fellow players.

We’ve played the game together for years. We’ve grown to understand how the other thinks.

Now when Sam gives me a clue I can see the message beyond what he said. Unspoken communication – yet another great relationship skill.

And then when he fails to notice that I’m about to throw away a vital card which will screw us monumentally? Well, I usually blame that on him being tired rather than an idiot. Usually.

We recently purchased Codenames: Duet, another game of limited communication, this time about word association. We’ve played a few games, and I’ve already learned a lot more about the way his brain works (as well as the disparities in our vocabulary…).

What will I learn about his mind with more games? I don’t know, but I’m looking forward to finding out.