January 29, 2010

Bohnanza - To Bean or Not to Bean (Review)

I recently had the pleasure of playing Bohnanza with a group of friends who came over for dinner and drinks. Bohnanza is a trading card game designed by veteran game designer Uwe Rosenberg, and even though it's been around for a decade or so, it was completely new to me.

Here's the short of it: It's about beans. Trading them. Planting them. Selling them and making gold. And, dispite this silly theme - it's fun as hell to play.

I have to be honest, in todays market of slick, glossy game boxes where all that glitters is gold - the Bohnanza box had me a skeptical as soon as it was brought out I was like "Wait... there's a goofy 70's style illustration of a pissed-off bean on the box cover. What the hell is this?"

Needless to say, 45 minutes later I was not disappointed.

The game of Bohnanza plays out like a classic trading card game. Each player collects beans (cards) from a common deck, some are worth more than others, and you plant the beans (cards) onto one of two bean plots [1]. The more beans you plant, the more gold you make. The player with the most gold at the end of the game wins.

Simple, right? Well - sort of, until the strategy of the game hits you.

The fun with Bohnanza comes from a nuanced core mechanic: the value of each bean type is tied to the probability of finding that card in the common deck, yet each plot can only have one type of bean planted on it at any given time. It quickly creates a connundrum where players are trying to maximize the number of beans planted in their plots, while trading away cards they aren't have no need for from their hand.

To add to this - players must keep the cards in their hands in order. Whatever card is at the front of your hand must be played on your turn. This adds an additional layer to the game where your hand ends up being like a queue - you can see the cards coming down the pipe and are trying to either ditch or trade the cards you don't want before your turn comes up [2]. Why? The reason is that since you must plant the card at the front of your hand, even if you have two bean plots in play. Thus you can be forced to "harvest" a bean plot before it's fully maxed out and worth its top price by being forced to plant a new type of bean.

I know... it sounds silly.And it is - but its fun as hell.

At it's heart - Bohnanza is a game of economics and trading, of making deals and breaking them. The average game lasts about thirty minutes to an hour and can handle up to six players. Add some great food, heady drinks, and great company to the mix - and it makes for a friggen great evening.

Have you played Bohnanza? What's your take on this game?

[1] Each player starts out with two bean plots (fields for farming beans of the same type), but you can purchase an additional plot as the game progresses; but this is a trade off since the "winner" is decided by who has the most gold at the end of the game.
[2] Trading can pretty much happen at anytime, and there's no rules as to what's allowed save for that you can only trade with the player whose turn it is. Hence, you can basically give away cards from your hand that have no value to you before your turn comes up.

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