Sunday, February 3, 2008


Ah Bohnanza. We only played it once, and that wasn't enough. Like most games, it takes a few goes to really get the hang of the play and the associated strategy.

Bohnanza is a fun card game. Each card has a picture of an anthropomorphic bean. The idea is to plant beans by placing them face-up in fields (sets) on the table in front of you, then harvest (discard) the fields to gain gold. The bigger the field, the more gold you get.

So it's a simple match making game right? Ooh boy are you wrong. There are a number of elements that make this anything but straight forward.

First and foremost, unlike any other card game I've ever played, you can't rearrange your hand. Cards must stay in the order in which they are dealt/picked up, and you must play all your cards from the same end of your hand. That is, when it is your turn to plant a bean, you must plant the card at the planting end of your hand.

Also, you can only have two fields in which to plant your beans (you can later purchase a third field for 3 gold), and you can only plant beans of the same type in each field. What this means is, as you are forced to plant beans at certain stages of the game, you will be forced to harvest fields if none of them match the bean you are planting.

The additional problem there is that you have to have a certain number of beans in each field in order to gain gold when you harvest that field. Each field can earn up to 4 gold if it is big enough, but you may have to harvest it before it gets that big. In fact, it's not uncommon to harvest a field and earn no gold from it at all as you don't have enough beans in it yet.

The bean cards themselves are very cute. We played the German version, meaning we often had to resort to describing the bean rather than using its German name. The beans include the Soy Bean (a peace-loving hippy), a Black-Eyed Bean (looking the worse for wear in a boxing ring), a Green Bean (puking in a drunken stupour while clinging to a lamp post), a Red Bean (looking all embarrassed and covering its naughty bits), and a Blue Bean (a Wild West cowboy (or should that be cowbean?)).

No two sets of cards have the same number of cards in the deck as any other. They range from a lowly 6 to an abundant 20. The trade-off is that the fewer beans of that type, the more valuable they are, and the fewer you need to plant to earn gold.

Getting to the gameplay itself, each player is dealt five cards. Each turn has four compulsory stages. Firstly, the active player (let's assume it's you) must plant either one or two beans. Remember, you can't rearrange your hand so you have no choice over which cards to plant. You must plant the card at the front of your hand - the one you drew the longest time ago. Your only choice is whether to plant a second bean or not.

If all your fields are currently planted and have beans of a different type than the one you have to plant, then you must harvest a field to make way for the new bean. Choosing which field or fields to harvest is the key and depends on what you have in your hand and whether you want to hold out for more beans in one particular field.

Having said that, there is a limitation to the harvesting process: no field with only a single bean can be harvested unless all fields have only one bean.

In stage two of your turn you draw two cards, and place them face-up, separately from your fields, for all to see. You can then trade any of these cards, or any of the cards in your hand to other players.

Trading can only be done with the active player, and can be in any arrangement (eg. 1 for 1, 1 for 2 etc.). This is very useful for players as it is the only chance you get to change the look of your hand, as you can trade a card from anywhere in your hand. If there's a card in your hand you don't want to have to plant then you can trade it to another player for a card you do want.

Any cards you receive through trading are placed face-up in front of you and not in your hand, regardless of whether you are the active player or not.

In stage three, everyone who received beans in a trade, not just the active player, has to plant those beans. If this means anyone has to harvest a field to make way for the new bean(s), then they must do so.

If no one wants to trade with you, then you're stuck with whatever two beans you drew in stage two and must plant them.

Finally, in stage four you draw three cards from the stack, and place them at the back of your hand (the opposite end to that from which you plant).

Play continues this way until the deck is exhausted. The discard pile is then reshuffled and becomes the new deck. After three times through the deck, the game is over, and whoever has the most gold is declared the winner.

I managed to finish second out of four players in our only game of Bohnanza. That, however, was a long way behind our more experienced host Marca.

I'd love to give Bohnanza another try some time. It was fun and friendly, especially with the trading aspect. 7½/10.

1 comment:

Jennifer said...

Great review! It's a great game and it definitely gets better the more times you play it. More experienced players will have the upper hand at the beginning but after a game, everyone's learned something about that person's strategy. The second game is when things start getting really interesting.

I also find that the more educated the players are, the funnier the game becomes. The Bohnanza strategies turn into a futures market whenever we play with an MBA. We also try rule variants here and there. Not sure why the box claims 45 minutes a game because we've never finished a game that early.

Have fun!