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Beginner's Guide for the Hyphen-ated Group

  • 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, see this Pastebin written by Tricky or watch my video explanation.

Table of Contents

  1. Card Layout
  2. The Basics
  3. Play Clues & Save Clues
  4. The Three Main Principles
  5. Miscellaneous
  6. Special Moves

Card Layout

In this guide, there will be some screenshots to show off the concepts introduced. Here's an example of a screenshot using the "BGA-style" card layout:

  • 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. Alice's oldest card is the blue 5 and Bob's oldest card is the red 5.
  • A card's slot referes to its position in the hand. In the above screenshot, the blue 1 is on slot 1, the blue 2 is on slot 2, the blue 3 is on slot 3, and so forth. The red 1 is on slot 1, the red 2 is on slot 2, the red 3 is on slot 3, and so forth.

  • When a card has one or more clues on it, a yellow border will appear around the card. The blue 1 and the red 1 will now have permanent yellow borders around them (until they are played or discarded).
  • The arrows indicate the specific cards that are "touched" by the last clue that was given.

The Basics

The Chop

  • The right-most unclued card is called the "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.
  • In this way, everyone discards in a predicable way.

  • In the above screenshot:
    • Alice's chop card is the red 5 (on slot 5).
    • Bob's chop card is the red 3 (on slot 5).

  • In the above screenshot:
    • Alice's chop card is the blue 4 (on slot 4).
    • Bob's chop card is the blue 4 (on slot 2).

Single Card Focus

  • In some Hanabi groups, when a bunch of cards are clued, there is no consistent definition of what you should do.
  • In our group, we don't want there to be any guesswork - we all agree on a system that specifies exactly what a clue means so that everyone is always on the same page.

The System

  • If two or more cards are touched, then the clue is only focused on a single card. (Meaning that it is either a Play Clue or a Save Clue on the focused card only.)
  • Nothing is implied about the non-focused cards (beyond that they will be useful at some point later on, which follows from Good Touch Principle).
  • So, how do you know 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 - A Basic Clue

  • If only one card is touched by a clue, then the clue is (obviously) talking about that one card.
  • In the above screenshot, Alice clues blue to Bob.
  • Thus, the focus of the clue is blue 1. This is a Play Clue on blue 1.

Example 2 - Left-most Focus

  • In the above screenshot, Alice clues blue to Bob.
  • Before this clue, Bob's hand was completely unclued. So, with this clue, two new cards were introduced - the blue card on slot 2 and the blue card on slot 4.
  • Bob knows that in this situation, the focus of the clue is the left-most of the two new cards. Thus, similar to the last example, this is a Play Clue on blue 1.
  • From Good Touch Principle, Bob can reason that his other blue card on slot 4 is either blue 2, blue 3, blue 4, or blue 5. He will hold on to the card for later.

Example 3 - Chop Focus

  • In the above screenshot, Alice clues purple to Bob (on the first turn of the game).
  • 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 purple 1. Bob should play the slot 5 card as purple 1.

Play Clues & Save Clues

  • A clue can either be:
    • a Save Clue (meaning to save the focused card for later)
    • a Play Clue (meaning to play the focused card)
  • Let's go through each in turn.

Save Clues

  • Save Clues can only be given to cards on chop. You can't give a Save Clue otherwise!
  • The team must 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.

5 Saves

  • 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 above screenshot:
    • 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.
  • 5's must be saved with a number clue instead of a color clue. (Otherwise, it will look like a Play Clue!)

2 Saves

  • Even though there are two copies of each 2, we agree that they are so important that we must save them in a manner similar to 5's.
  • In the above screenshot:
    • 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.
  • 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 it when the other copy reaches the chop).
Critical Saves

  • For the same reason that 5's need to be saved, critical cards also need to be saved. (Critical cards are defined as cards that have the other copy discarded.)
  • Players can choose to save critical cards with either a color clue or a number clue.
  • In the above screenshot:
    • The current discard pile is shown to the right of the hands.
    • Alice clues Bob yellow, which touches a card on slot 4.
    • Before this clue, the only clued card in Bob's hand was the 5 on slot 5.
    • This could be a Play Clue on the yellow 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 yellow 4 there. Thus, this could be a Save Clue on the yellow 4. So, Bob knows that for now, he has to hold on to the card.
    • Bob marks the card as either a yellow 2 or a yellow 4, so that he can keep track of it for later. Then, he discards.

Play Clues

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

Delayed Play Clues

  • When you receive a Play Clue, it does not necessarily mean that you can play that card immediately. Look around the table for other already clued cards that might be related to the card that you got the Play Clue on. If there are any, you must wait for them to be played.
  • For example, if Alice was clued about a bunch of 1's and then Bob is given a Play Clue on an unknown 2, Bob must wait for Alice to play all of her 1's first before playing the 2.
  • In other words, treat all Play Clues as potential Delayed Play Clues.

Clue Logic Flowchart


The Three Main Principles

  • So far, we have covered:
    • how to discard (e.g. the chop)
    • how to tell what the focus of a clue is (e.g. Chop Focus or left-most)
    • how to tell what a clue means (e.g. 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 best solve each individual situation. (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.

1 - Good Touch Principle

  • When a clue is given, the cards that are "touched" by the clue are highlighted by arrows.
  • When cluing cards, we follow Good Touch Principle - this means that we only want to touch cards that will eventually be played. So, if someone touches a card that is already played on the stacks or a card that is already clued in someone else's hand, then that would be a Bad Touch.
  • 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 all of the clued cards in their hand!

  • In the above screenshot:
    • Alice wants to give a Play Clue to the yellow 2.
    • Alice has a choice between cluing yellow and cluing number 2.
    • If she clues number 2, it would uniquely touch the yellow 2 on slot 1.
    • If she clues yellow, then it would touch slot 1, slot 2, and slot 3. This clue would violate Good Touch Principle, as the yellow 4's would be duplicated in Bob's hand.
    • Thus, the correct clue for Alice to give is number 2.

  • In the above screenshot:
    • Alice has an unknown purple card in her hand.
    • Bob's hand is not important, so it is blacked out.
    • 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 be 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.

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 this is okay.

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.
  • Tempo Clues are quite inefficient (as 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 they 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 brand new 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, a 5 Stall is only done in the Early Game. However, you might see someone give 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.
  • Most of the time, players will use one clue to get one card played. But is it possible to do better?
  • There are two special "moves" that players can do in order to get multiple cards played by only using 1 clue, which is very efficient.

The Prompt

  • In the above screenshot:
    • Alice's hand is blacked out because it does not matter.
    • 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.
  • In this way, clues can deliver messages to an entirely different player than the person who actually received the clue.
  • 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.

  • 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 above screenshot:
    • Bob is Prompted for a red 3 in the exact same way as the previous example.
    • Bob has three different cards clued as red in slots 2, 3, and 4.
    • Since all 3 cards are equally likely to be red 3, Bob should choose to play the slot 2 card as red 3 since it is the left-most.

  • In the above screenshot:
    • 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 match and be a blue 4.

  • The Prompt is a promise that the player has the connecting card. A Prompt cannot be a lie!
  • In the above screenshot:
    • Bob has three separate unknown 3's in his hand.
    • Alice clues red to Cathy, which touches the red 4. This is a Play Clue on the red 4.
    • Bob must have the red 3, so 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).
    • On his next turn, Bob tries to play his slot 3 card as 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 red 3 (on slot 4).
    • On his next turn, Bob plays his slot 4 card, and it is red 3. Bob now knows that Alice did a Triple Prompt.

The Finesse

  • In the above screenshot:
    • Alice's hand is blacked out because it does not matter.
    • Bob has no clued cards in his hand.
    • Alice clues a 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. Thus, 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 his has the red 3.
    • But where is it? Bob knows that this is the Finesse convention, and 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, red 4.
    • Cathy plays the red 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 above 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 synced up throughout the team.)
  • For this reason, blind-playing a card into a Finesse is very important - by doing so, it resyncronizes 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. Notice that a player's Finesse Position can move around, and if it does, it is still possible to Finesse them.
  • In the above screenshot:
    • Alice clues Cathy red, which touches two red cards on slot 1 and slot 2.
    • Cathy assumes that the slot 1 card is red 1.
    • Next, Bob clues Donald blue, which touches a blue 2.
    • Cathy assumes that this is a Finesse and that she must have a blue 1.
    • Now, it is Cathy's turn. Blind-playing the blue 1 is more important than playing the red 1.
    • Normally, the Finesse Position would be the left-most card. However, since Cathy's slot 1 and slot 2 card are already clued, Cathy's Finesse Position card has shifted down to her slot 3. Thus, she must blind-play the blue 1 from slot 3.
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