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
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
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.