Beginner's Guide

  • Are you looking to start playing Hanabi with the Hyphen-ated Group? Fantastic - we are always looking to welcome new players. Take 15 minutes and go over this guide so that you can get up to speed with the basics.
  • Alternatively, are you looking to learn some solid fundamental strategies to use to play Hanabi with your own group of friends? Feel free to adopt these strategies.
  • Is a 15 minute briefing really necessary? Well, yes and no. If you try to play with our group and don't understand what basic clues mean, it is going to be analogous to a group of people trying to find each other in a dark room by running around with their arms flailing.
  • This guide assumes that you are already familiar with the basic rules of Hanabi. If you need to brush up on them, either read them here or watch this video.

Card Layout#

In this guide, there will be some images to show off the concepts introduced.

AliceSlot 1Slot 2Slot 3Slot 4Slot 5BobSlot 1Slot 2Slot 3Slot 4Slot 5
  • The five play stacks are on the left.
  • The player hands are on the right.
  • Alice is always player 1. (She will always go first.)
  • Bob is always player 2. (He will always go second.)
  • Cards are drawn and added to the left side to each hand.
    • Thus, Alice's newest card is the blue 1 and Bob's newest card is the red 1.
  • Conversely, the oldest card is the right-most card.
    • Thus, Alice's oldest card is the blue 5 and Bob's oldest card is the red 5.
  • A card's slot refers to its position in the hand, from left to right.
    • Thus, the blue 1 is on slot 1, the blue 2 is on slot 2, etc.
AliceClue GiverClue GiverBob11
  • Arrows indicate that a card was "touched" by the last clue that was given.
  • Clued cards will have permanent yellow borders around them.

The Chop#

  • In Hanabi, players discard when they have nothing to do (or when the team is out of clues).
  • The right-most unclued card in a player's hand is called their "chop" card. (This is a metaphor of a card being "on the chopping block".)
  • When a player needs to discard, they should discard their chop card. This way, everyone discards in a predicable way.
  • In the example below:
    • Alice's chop card is the red 5 (on slot 5).
    • Bob's chop card is the red 3 (on slot 5).
AliceChopBobChop
  • In the example below:
    • Alice's chop card is the blue 4 (on slot 4), because slot 5 is already clued.
    • Bob's chop card is the blue 3 (on slot 2), because slot 3, slot 4, and slot 5 are already clued.
AliceChopBobChop

A Basic Clue#

  • In Hanabi, some clues will only "touch" one card.
  • In this case, the clue is (obviously) delivering a message about that one specific card.
  • In the example below, Alice clues red to Bob.
  • The "focus" of the clue is the red card. This must be a Play Clue on a red 1.
AliceClue GiverClue GiverBob(1)

Single Card Focus#

  • It is also possible to give a clue that "touches" two or more cards.
  • In our group, we agree that these kinds of clues are only focused on a single card. In other words, these kinds of clues deliver a message about the focused card only.
  • Nothing is implied about non-focused cards (beyond that they will be useful at some point later on).

Determining the Focus#

  • So, when two or more cards are touched by a clue, which card is focused?
  • The focus is always on the card that did not have any clues on it already. (We refer to this as the "brand new card introduced".)
  • If there are multiple "new" cards, then:
    • If the chop card is a "new" card, then the focus is on the chop.
    • Otherwise, the focus is on the left-most card.

Example 1: Left-Most Focus#

  • In the example below, Alice clues red to Bob.
  • Before this clue, Bob's hand was completely unclued. So, with this clue, two new cards were introduced - the red card on slot 2 and the red card on slot 4.
  • Bob knows that in this situation, the focus of the clue is the left-most of the two new cards. This must be a Play Clue on a red 1.
  • Since the other red card in his hand must be useful, Bob can reason that it is either red 2, red 3, red 4, or red 5. He will hold on to the card for later.
AliceClue GiverClue GiverBobFocus(1)

Example 2: Chop-Focus#

  • In the example below, Alice clues red to Bob.
  • Before this clue, Bob's hand was completely unclued. So, with this clue, three new cards were introduced - slot 1, slot 2, and slot 5.
  • Before this clue, Bob's chop was slot 5. So, since the clue touched his chop and Chop-Focus has priority, this must be a Chop-Focus Play Clue on a red 1.
AliceClue GiverClue GiverBobFocus(1)

The Two Types of Clues#

  • Clues always have a specific meaning.
  • You are only allowed to give two types of clues:
    • a Save Clue (meaning to save the focused card for later)
    • a Play Clue (meaning to play the focused card)
  • If players cannot give a valid Save Clue or a valid Play Clue, then they must discard.
  • Let's go through Save Clues and Play Clues individually.

Save Clues#

  • Save Clues can only be given to cards on chop.
    • So, if a clue is focused on a non-chop card, then it must be a Play Clue instead.
  • The team must save the following cards (and are only allowed to save the following cards):
    • All 5's
    • Unique 2's (meaning that only one copy is currently visible)
    • Critical cards (meaning that the other copy is discarded)
  • Sometimes, a Chop-Focus clue could be either a Save Clue or a Play Clue. When this happens, the receiving player must consider both possibilities and hold on to the card until they know for sure.
  • The three kinds of Save Clues are listed below.

The 5 Save#

  • Since there is only one copy of each 5, all of the 5's need to be saved so that they won't be discarded.
  • In the example below:
    • Alice clues Bob number 5, which touches a single 5 on slot 5.
    • Before this clue, Bob did not have any clued cards in his hand.
    • Since the clue was focused on his chop, Bob knows that this must be a 5 Save on the 5. It can be any 5 in the game.
AliceClue GiverClue GiverBob5
  • 5's must be saved with a number clue instead of a color clue. (Otherwise, it will look like a Play Clue!)

The 2 Save#

  • Even though there are two copies of each 2, we agree that 2's are so important that we need to save them in a manner similar to 5's.
  • In the example below:
    • Alice clues Bob number 2, which touches a 2 on slot 3 and slot 5.
    • Before this clue, Bob did not have any clued cards in his hand.
    • Since the clue was focused on his chop, Bob knows that this must be a 2 Save on the 2. It can be any 2 in the game.
AliceClue GiverClue GiverBob22
  • Similar to 5's, 2's must be saved with a number clue instead of a color clue.
  • You can think of the 2 Save as a last resort to save a 2. Thus, players are not allowed to perform a 2 Save on a 2 if that same 2 is visible in someone else's hand (because the team does not actually need to save that 2 quite yet - they can 2 Save the other copy later on).

The Critical Save#

  • Critical cards are defined as cards that have the other copy discarded.
  • For the same reason that 5's need to be saved, critical cards also need to be saved.
  • Players can choose to save critical cards with either a color clue or a number clue.
    • Note that this also applies to 2's in the rare case that a copy of that 2 ends up in the discard pile.
  • In the example below:
    • Alice clues Bob blue, which touches a card on slot 4.
    • Before this clue, the only clued card in Bob's hand was the 5 on slot 5.
    • Bob's first instinct is that this could be a Play Clue on the blue 2. However, since the clue was focused on his chop, this could also be a Save Clue.
    • Bob looks through the discard pile and finds that there is a blue 4 there. Thus, this could be a Save Clue on the blue 4. So, Bob knows that for now, he has to hold on to the card.
    • Bob marks the card as either a blue 2 or a blue 4, so that he can keep track of it for later. Then, he discards.
AliceClue GiverClue GiverBob

Play Clues#


Normal Play Clues#

  • We are very strict with what we clue - we don't just randomly clue cards in the hand.
  • So, if the focus of the clue is not on chop, then that card must be playable!
  • Or, if the focus of the clue is on chop, but the clue does not meet the above saving criteria, then it cannot be a Save Clue and must be a Play Clue!

Delayed Play Clues#

  • Play Clues are different than Delayed Play Clues:
    • If the card will successfully play on the stacks right now, then the clue was a Play Clue.
    • If the card will successfully play on the stacks after other people have played cards of the same suit, then the clue was a Delayed Play Clue that was through other cards.
  • We treat all Play Clues as potential Delayed Play Clues.
  • For example, in a 3-player game:
    • Alice clues Bob number 2, which is a Play Clue on a 2.
    • Now, it is Bob's turn. If his 2 is the red 2, then he can play it right now.
    • However, Bob also knows that this could be a Delayed Play Clue through the yellow 1, the green 1, or the blue 1. So, Bob must wait for Cathy to play all of her 1's first before he can try to play the 2.
    • Bob discards.
AliceClue GiverClue GiverBob2Cathy

A Clue Logic Flowchart#


The Three Main Principles#

  • So far, we have covered:
    • how to discard (i.e. the chop)
    • how to tell what the focus of a clue is (i.e. Chop-Focus or left-most)
    • how to tell what a clue means (i.e. a Play Clue or a Save Clue)
  • But that doesn't really tell you much about the strategy involved to play the game. How do players find the best move for a certain situation?
  • Hanabi is very complicated, so it is impossible to write a guide on how to make the best move. (And that's a good thing, because the game continues to be interesting to play, even after thousands of games!)
  • Luckily, beginners can focus on internalizing just three main principles. Nearly all of the special moves and strategies naturally flow from these principles.

Principle 1 - Good Touch Principle#

  • When cluing cards, we follow Good Touch Principle - we only touch cards that will eventually be played.
    • It would be a Bad Touch if someone touches a card that is already played on the stacks or a card that is already clued in someone else's hand.
  • Good Touch Principle is a powerful building block for logic and reasoning. If everyone only touches good cards, then players can greatly narrow down the possibilities for the clued cards in their hand!
  • In the below image:
    • Alice wants to give a Play Clue to the red 2.
    • Alice has a choice between cluing red and cluing number 2.
    • If she clues number 2, it would uniquely touch the red 2 on slot 1.
    • If she clues red, then it would touch slot 1, slot 2, and slot 3. This clue would violate Good Touch Principle, since the red 4's would be duplicated in Bob's hand.
    • Thus, the correct clue for Alice to give is number 2.
AliceBob
  • In the example below:
    • Alice has an unknown purple card in her hand.
    • Alice can see that the purple stack is played up to purple 4. The only other useful purple card left is the purple 5.
    • Alice also knows that according to Good Touch Principle, every clued card will eventually be played.
    • Thus, by process of elimination, she can reason that the unknown purple card in her hand must be purple 5, and she can immediately play it.
AliceBob
  • In the example below:
    • In the middle of a game, Alice clues yellow to Bob, touching slot 2 and slot 3.
    • The focus of the clue is on slot 2. This must be a Play Clue, so Bob marks his slot 2 card as a yellow 2.
    • Slot 3 was also touched by the clue, but it was not the focus. From Good Touch Principle, Bob knows that it must be playable in the future.
    • Therefore, Bob marks his slot 3 card as either yellow 3, yellow 4, or yellow 5.
AliceClue GiverClue GiverBobFocus(2)

Principle 2 - Save Principle#

  • The Save Clue section above explains that the team must save certain types of cards.
  • But above and beyond this, we also agree that we must "get" all of the playable cards. In order words, we don't let each other discard playable cards!
  • So, the full list of what the team must not let get discarded is the following:
    • All 5's
    • Unique 2's (meaning that only one copy is currently visible)
    • Critical cards (meaning that the other copy is discarded)
    • Unique playable cards (meaning that only one copy is currently visible)
  • This is called Save Principle and it is the most important principle of them all. You are allowed to break any other principle or rule in order to prevent a card in this list from being discarded! In fact, often times you will have to violate Good Touch Principle in order to save a specific card, and that is okay.

Principle 3 - Minimum Clue Value Principle (and Tempo Clues)#

  • Usually, players only discard when they have nothing to do. But don't take this the wrong way.
  • In order to avoid discarding, you are not allowed to just clue any card. You are only allowed to give Save Clues to the specific cards outlined in the Save Principle section. And you are only allowed to give Play Clues to actual playable cards.
  • Furthermore, you might be tempted to clue a card again that already has a clue on it in order to make it play right now. We call this kind of clue a Tempo Clue. A Tempo Clue is a Play Clue that does not "get" any brand new cards.
  • Tempo Clues are quite inefficient - the team is using two clues to get one card. Since Tempo Clues are so bad, we say that players are only allowed to perform Tempo Clues in certain special situations, like when a player is forced to give a clue.
  • So, if your only option is between giving a Tempo Clue and discarding, then you must discard.
  • We formally express this concept as Minimum Clue Value Principle: all clues must get at least one previously unclued card saved or played. In other words, as a group, we hold ourselves to a high standard, and we don't give inefficient clues.

Miscellaneous#


The Early Game#

  • We define the Early Game as the period of time before someone discards for the first time. When they do, they initiate the Mid-Game.
  • The general goal of the Early Game is to extend it for as long as reasonably possible. Thus, everyone agrees that they must "extinguish" all of the available Play Clues and Save Clues before discarding. (There are no cards in the discard pile yet, but Save Clues still need to be given to all of the 5's on chop and all of the 2's on chop that are not present in someone else's hand.)
  • In the Early Game, you can do a special move called a 5 Stall; see below.

The 5 Stall (Cluing Off-Chop 5's)#

  • Normally, you are only allowed to give a Save Clue to a 5 if it is on chop. So if you use number 5 to clue a 5 that is not on chop, then it will typically look like a Play Clue on that 5 (or some other advanced strategy).
  • As a special rule, in the Early Game, you are allowed to clue number 5 as a Save Clue to off-chop 5's. Doing this is just interpreted as a "stall" clue and that you are trying to extend the Early Game for a little bit longer.
  • However, you are only allowed to do this if there is nothing else to do, meaning that all of the "normal" Play Clues and Save Clues have been extinguished.
  • Normally, 5 Stalls are only performed in the Early Game. However, you might see someone do a 5 Stall in the Mid-Game if they are in a special situation where they are not allowed to discard.

Other General Strategy#

  • In general, the first thing you should do on your turn is to look at the chop cards of everyone on the team. Are there any cards on chop that need to be saved (or Play Clued)? If so, do you have to do it, or can someone else do it?
    • If no-one else can do it, then you need to give the Save Clue (or Play Clue), even if you have a card to play.
    • If someone else can do it, would it be better for you to save the card, or for them? If they have a card to play and you do not have a card to play, then it is better teamwork for you to save the card.
  • In general, Play Clues should be given over Save Clues. There's no need to give a Save Clue to someone if you can preoccupy them with playing a card!
  • In general, if you have a choice, color clues should be given over number clues. Color clues are usually more specific, telling the player the exact identity of the card. (But of course, don't be afraid to use number clues if it helps to "fill in" other cards in the hand.)
  • In general, don't be afraid of discarding. If you discard something important, it won't be your fault - it is your teammates' responsibility to save any important cards.

Special Moves#

  • Hanabi is a game of trying to be as efficient as possible, since there is a limited number of clues.
  • Thus, it is ideal to get two or more cards to play from one clue.
  • Players can use two special "moves" to do this: Prompts and Finesses.

The Prompt#

  • In the example below:
    • Bob has a clued red card in his hand, but the full identity of the card is still unknown to him. In this situation, he knows he is supposed to just keep the card in his hand and continue to discard unclued cards.
    • Alice clues red to Cathy, which touches a red 4. This must be a Play Clue on the red 4.
    • Bob sees that red 4 is currently unplayable, since the red 3 is not played yet. Thus, this clue implies that someone has the red 3.
    • Bob does not see a red 3 clued in anyone else's hand. So, Alice must be promising him that his unknown red card is red 3 and that he can safely play it.
AliceClue GiverClue GiverBobCathy(4)
  • We call this move a Prompt because it is "prompting" a player to play a card that they would have otherwise held on to for a while longer.
  • In this way, clues can deliver messages to a different player than the person who actually received the clue.
  • If a player is Prompted and there are multiple cards in the hand that the Prompt could apply to, they should play the left-most.
  • In the example below:
    • Bob is Prompted for a red 3 in the exact same way as the previous example.
    • Bob has two different cards clued as red in slot 4 and slot 5.
    • Since both cards are unknown to Bob, Bob should choose to play the slot 4 card since it is the left-most.
AliceClue GiverClue GiverBobCathy(4)
  • In the example below:
    • Bob has an unknown 3 in his hand.
    • Alice clues number 4 to Bob, which touches a 4. It must be a Play Clue on the 4.
    • There is no 4 that could possibly be playable right now. Thus, this must be a Self-Prompt, meaning that Bob's 3 must be either blue 3 or green 3.
    • Bob plays his 3, and it is blue 3. Thus, he knows that the 4 must connect and be a blue 4.
AliceClue GiverClue GiverBob4
  • The Prompt is a promise that the player has the connecting card. Therefore, if the left-most card is not the correct one, the player should continue to play his clued cards (left to right) until the expected card is found. (It is the responsibility of the player giving the clue to ensure that all those previous cards will play successfully.)
  • In the example below:
    • Bob has three separate unknown 3's in his hand.
    • Alice clues red to Cathy, which touches a red 4. This is a Play Clue on the red 4.
    • Bob knows that he must have the red 3 and this is a Prompt. Bob plays his left-most 3 from slot 2.
    • However, after playing it, Bob sees that it is not the red 3 - it was the blue 3 (which played successfully). Bob now knows that the next-left-most 3 must be the red 3 (on slot 3).
    • Cathy can see the clued red 3 in Bob's hand. Thus, she knows from the Good Touch Principle that her red card must be the red 4.
    • Cathy does something unrelated.
    • On his next turn, Bob tries to play his slot 3 card as the red 3. However, after playing it, Bob sees that it was not the red 3 - it was the green 3 (which played successfully). Bob now knows that his final 3 must be the red 3 (on slot 4).
    • On his next turn, Bob plays his slot 4 card, and it is red 3.
    • Cathy can now finally play her red 4.
AliceClue GiverClue GiverBob(B)(G)(R)Cathy(4)

The Finesse#

  • Normally, players will only play cards that have been clued by someone else on the team.
  • However, it is also possible to tell a player to blind-play a card without any clues on it at all.
  • In the example below:
    • Bob has no clued cards in his hand.
    • Alice clues red to Cathy, touching a red 4. This must be a Play Clue on the red 4.
    • Bob sees that the red 4 is currently unplayable. Assuming Alice is not making a mistake, this clue implies that someone has the red 3.
    • Bob does not see a red 3 clued in anyone else's hand. So, Alice must be promising him that he has a red 3.
    • Normally, Bob knows that this would be a Prompt. But Bob does not have any red cards and Bob does not have any 3's. So where is the red 3?
    • Bob knows that this must be a Finesse - he is promised that his left-most unclued card is the red 3.
    • Bob blind-plays his slot 1 card, and it is the red 3.
    • Cathy sees the blind-play happen immediately after this red clue, so she knows that she must have the connecting red card, the red 4.
    • Cathy plays the red 4.
AliceClue GiverClue GiverBobRed 3Cathy(4)
  • Note that Prompts take precedence over Finesses. Players should never blind-play a card if the situation can apply to the clued cards in their hand.
  • When a Finesse occurs, it causes temporary information desynchronization. (In the previous example, if Bob did nothing, Cathy would go on to think that she had the red 3, but she really doesn't have the red 3, which means that information is not synchronized throughout the team.)
  • For this reason, blind-playing a card into a Finesse is very important - by doing so, it resynchronizes all of the information. So, if a player is Finessed, they should usually blind-play the card immediately, even if they have other important cards to play or some good clue to give.
  • We define the Finesse Position as the slot that a player's left-most unclued card is in. A player's Finesse Position can move around, and if it does, it is still possible to Finesse them.
  • In the example below:
    • Alice clues Cathy red, which touches two red cards on slot 1 and slot 2.
    • Cathy assumes that the slot 1 card is a red 1.
    • Next, Bob clues Donald blue, which touches a blue 2.
    • Now, it is Cathy's turn. Cathy knows that she must have the blue 1 and that Bob is trying to perform a Finesse.
    • Blind-playing the blue 1 is more important than playing the red 1.
    • Normally, Cathy's Finesse Position would be her left-most card. However, since Cathy's slot 1 and slot 2 card are already clued, her Finesse Position card has shifted down to her slot 3. Thus, Cathy must blind-play the blue 1 from slot 3.
AliceBobCathy(1)Blue 1Donald(2)

Next Steps#

  • Once you've read the beginner's guide, you are ready to play some games.
  • Don't read anything else on the website until you have played a bunch of games with the group.
  • Next, find out how to join a game with us.