Singing the praises of Hanabi


Hanabi has been briefly mentioned in a list of tabletop games to use at work, but this brilliant little game deserves a post of its own.

Hanabi (“Fireworks”) is an award-winning card game designed by Antoine Bauza. It’s a cooperative game, meaning that all players are on the same team, playing against the game itself. It’s a nearly abstract game (the “theme” is that the players are creating the best possible firework show for the emperor) and as such relies on few simple rules that create difficult decisions.

Being a card game instead of a board game means that it’s cheap and fits on a small box (compare it to, say, Gloomhaven, which weights more than 20 pounds). It allows from 2 to 5 players and takes about 30 minutes to play once people know the rules; it can take more if there are new players.

Basic Gameplay

The goal is to lay out cards of the same color in numerical order, from one to five. Each card is a point scored; the better the score, the most epic the win.

Cards that do not fit the sequence trigger an explosion. If the team explodes three times, they immediately lose the game and score zero points.

A final state of the game might look like this:

Cards grouped by colors: yellow 1 to 3, green 1, blue 1 to 5, red 1 to 3 and whte 1 to 2. Cards are square, and all show the same night scene of Mount Fuji with different fireworks, each color with its own shape.
14 points: an “okay” result according to the game’s scoring table.

Now, you realize there’s going to be a catch and that is that the players don’t see their own cards.

One player points towards the cards the other is holding, three other people watch, smiling. Cards are laid out on the table.
Cards are held facing the other players.

Information in Hanabi is limited (as opposed to the perfect information about the state of the board in Chess, for example) and communication between players is restricted (no table talk allowed).

A player in their turn must take one of three actions:

  • Give a hint to another player and spend a hint token.
  • Play a card.
  • Discard a card and gain a hint token back.

Hints take a specific format: the player must point out every card of a certain color OR number that the receiving player has.

4 Hanabi cards: a green 3, a white 1, a yellow 1 and a yellow 2
Example hand.

Legal hints to a player holding the above cards would be:

  • First card is “Green” (player can point to the card)
  • First card is “3”
  • Second card is “White”
  • Middle cards are “1”
  • Third and last cards are “Yellow”
  • Last card is “2”

Note that if the team needs to single out the yellow 1 (in case white has already been played), they must give two hints.

At work

Software development is very much a cooperative game and I had the opportunity to experiment with several actual games at DBServer (including the one that spawned this blog). Hanabi was the one most consistently used, during employee orientation, team building exercises and hiring interviews.

A group of men and women play Hanabi
Hanabi at the office

There are plenty of cooperative games out there (BoardGameGeek lists over 7000), but Hanabi is ideal for the workplace due to a number of characteristics.

  • It’s easy to learn. Many otherwise excellent cooperative games use variable power mechanic, where each player’s role is slightly different, or have many different components.
  • It has zero setup time.
  • Even though it only goes up to 5 players, it’s cheap enough to buy extra copies.
  • It’s challenging to score really well, but it’s rare to actually lose at Hanabi. The team will be able to score at least some points. There are coops much more punishing.
  • The clear focus on communication makes it easy to relate to workplace dynamics.
  • It makes everyone participate equally. Coops with free table-talk and complete information are often dominated by one player (the alpha-player problem). In Hanabi nobody has the full picture and in the end the decision belongs to the individual.
  • It requires the team to pay attention to each other, rather than work on separate tasks for a common cause. Strategy in Hanabi is often driven by figuring out who needs help, understanding and complementing what the previous player was going for, and realizing how one’s current play is going to impact the next player.
  • It requires trust in oneself and in others.

On the other hand, some points to consider:

  • It’s not accessible to the blind
  • Some editions reportedly are less colorblind-friendly than others
  • It requires memory and logic (one could argue that for a software house that’s exactly the point, but hey, there are other skills)

The aforementioned blog post touches on some accessible games. The site Meeple Like Us has a ton of accessibility teardowns (and incidentally, really dislikes Hanabi, for a different perspective). There are also companies such as 64oz Games that sell accessibility kits for a number of games.

When we played Hanabi during orientation, folks often reacted with some unease at the news that they were going to play an unknown game. Yet, consistently, everyone was into it by the second round. In addition, hardly anyone had been familiar with the concept of a cooperative game, let alone played one. Thus Hanabi provided us with a paradigm-shifting experience.

Agile Brazil 2019

No útimo dia de Agile Brazil em Belo Horizonte, a Ana palestrou sobre jogos e inclusão, terminando com uma partida de Corações da Lila. Teve muita interação com os participantes, que nos deram um ótimo feedback! Nosso muito obrigada também aos voluntários do evento e à Joyce, que virou acessora de mídias.

Slides da apresentação: CoracoesDaLila_AB2019-final

Kit do jogo sobre a sacola do evento. A sacola é bege, na parte superior há um logo com o contorno da bandeira do Brazil e o texto "Agile Brazil 2019", e na parte inferior o contorno ondulado da Igreja da Pampulha
Dois grupos de quatro pessoas jogando em uma mesa redonda
Jogador, com a camiseta laranja de voluntário, analisando suas cartas e anotando o resultado em um post-it
Visão da mesa por cima do ombro de um jogador, um homem de óculos que apoia o rosto em uma das mãos, focando nas cartas que ocupam grande parte da mesa. Em toda a volta as mãos dos demais jogadores movimentam as cartas.
Post-it de feedback "As palestras sobre inclusão foram fantásticas - Samuel Joyce Ana - As que assisti". Post-it acima (não relacionado) diz "Códido de contuda favorece aceitação!"

TDC 2018 – Cultura de Jogos no Trabalho

Sexta-feira tivemos a oportunidade de apresentar a palestra “A Cultura de Jogos no Ambiente de Trabalho” na trilha II de Gestão Ágil e Management 3.0 no TDC de Porto Alegre. Para encerrar, fizemos algumas rodadas de Cards Against Agility, um jogo bem divertido que pode ser usado como  quebra-gelo para grupos grandes.

PDF da apresentação

Palestrante conversando com duas pessoas na plateia, com projeção do slide de agradecimento atrás

Numa sala de aula, um grupo pequeno em primeiro plano e um grupo de 10 pessoas ao fundo. Janelas deixam entrar a luz.

Duas mulheres de um grupo em primeiro plano, algumas carteiras vazias, e um grupo grande sentado em círculo ao fundo

Visão mais ampla da sala, mostrando 3 de 4 grupos jogando, e uma pessoa da organização do evento de pé

Translating and localizing Lila’s Hearts

I’d love to have Lila fully available in languages other than Portuguese, but it’s quite text-heavy and requires a certain amount of research, what with the giving advice and all. So if you’re interested in helping speed things along, please get in touch! Email us at, post here or through social media (links on side bar).

Lila’s Hearts

Lila’s Hearts is a free print&play card game for 2 to 6 players that teaches issues related to accessibility and disabilities. It takes 20 to 30 minutes to set up and play.

LILA is the acronym in Portuguese for Read Comprehend Remember Act. The first two steps happen during play and facilitate the latter in real life situations.

Although the theme of the game is disability (and currently only available in Portuguese), its structure can be used to reinforce other kinds of knowledge (CC license at the bottom of this post). For this you need to organize your content into 5 specific categories, 1 generic category and 5 types. Lila’s Hearts is organized like this:

  • Specific categories
    • Visual disability
    • Hearing disability
    • Physical disability
    • Intellectual disability
    • Autism spectrum
    • Each of these is further sub-divided into 5 types:
      • 1 Definition card
      • 2 Information cards
      • 4 Action cards
      • 1 Person card
      • 1 Movie card
  • Generic category
    • Content that applies to all of the above
    • This is further sub-divided into 2 types:
      • 5 Information cards
      • 4 Action cards

Basically, six decks of nine cards each. It’s important to note that the Action cards are worth more points in the game, because actions speak louder than words. 🙂

Game card with blue arrows pointing out its elements
Sample card with its elements: Action type, worth 2 points, cost of 1 big heart plus 1 small heart, a reminder that this card allows a bonus and the URL where we got the text from. The text explains that crutches should be kept close to the person with a physical disability.

Another key aspect of the game is tying the categories to goal cards. Goals give extra points provided that the player acquires the appropriate cards, which means the text on them has to be read carefully in order to buy the best option. For example, Lila’s Hearts goals are:

  • 1 point for each card of [Visual/Hearing/Physical/Intellectual/Autism] category
  • 3 points for the most cards of [Visual/Hearing/Physical/Intellectual/Autism] category
  • 1 point for each card
  • 3 points for the most variety of categories
  • 2 points for having a Movie card
  • 2 points for having an Information card


Setup for 2 to 6 players (if more players are needed, add extra hearts)

  • Separate hearts by size and bonus
  • Distribute 2 small hearts (not bonus) to each person
  • Shuffle the 54 cards, draw 6 face up on the common buying area and make a drawing pile with the rest
  • Shuffle the 14 goal cards and make another drawing pile
  • Separate the action and info bonuses
  • Shuffle the 6 starting cards and pick one to determine who begins the game. Proceed clockwise.

Photo of the game after setup
Layout of the common buying area after game setup.

Victory: Whoever has more points at the end, wins. Points are obtained through cards and goals.

Categories: The cards are divided in Visual, Hearing, Intellectual, Physical, Autism and Generic.

Types: The cards are divided in Definition, Information, Person, Movie, and Action.

Wildcards: Generic category cards are wildcards. They count towards the goals and do not give bonuses.

Bonus Hearts: Normal hearts are returned to the common area after buying something. Bonus hearts stay with the player. They may be obtained when buying an Information or Action card that is marked with a bonus symbol.

Bonus Attempt: Shuffle the 6 Action Bonus or 3 Information Bonus cards and choose one randomly. Place the corresponding heart in the player area, if it comes out. (This can be replaced with throwing a die).

Ending: When someone reaches 8 points on the cards, the players who haven’t completed their turn yet play once more. Goals points are scored after the end. If the player has any wildcards, they decide which category gives them the better advantage in scoring.

In their turn the player can choose ONE ACTION below:

  • Buy hearts:
    • pick up 2 small hearts or 1 big heart if you haven’t reached the limit of 5 hearts of any kind.
    • Place them in front of you.
  • Buy card:
    • buy 1 card for the number/size hearts indicated in it (note that 1 big heart is not equivalent to 2 small ones).
    • Return the hearts to the common buying area, except the bonuses. Place the card face up in front of you. If the card has a bonus, attempt it and place any resulting hearts in front of you. Draw another card to fill the common buying area.
  • Buy goal:
    • draw a goal for 1 small heart or draw 2 goals and choose one of them for 1 big heart.
    • Place the goal face up in front of you. Return the hearts to the common buying area, except the bonuses. If you drew two, shuffle the other goal back in the pile.

Bonus Alternative

If you prefer to replace the bonus cards with dice throws:

  • Action bonus:
    • if you get a 1 or 2, win a small bonus heart
    • if you get a 3, win a big bonus heart
    • if you get a 4 or 5, nothing happens
    • if you get a 6, lose a bonus heart, if you have one, or a normal heart if not. You decide the size.
  • Information bonus:
    • if you get a 1 or 2, win a small bonus heart
    • if you get a 3, 4, 5 or 6, nothing happens.


54 cards
12 small hearts
7 big hearts
12 small bonus hearts
7 big bonus hearts
14 goal cards
6 starting cards
6 action bonus cards
3 info bonus cards

License Information
Creative Commons License Lila’s Hearts by A.C. Hermann, Bruna Descovi da Silva, Isadora Giongo Brandalise, Larissa Yasin Gonçalves Galuschka is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 4.0 International License.
Icon used on cards by Paomedia