Buzzworthiness: Bohnanza

Heppy Reviewsday!  Today’s review is of

Bohn
image by BGG user yayforme

Bohnanza was first published in 1997, designed by Uwe Rosenberg.  The game was originally published in German by AMIGO, with Rio Grande releasing it in the US.  Bohnanza is a 2-7 player game (originally 3-5) that takes around 45 minutes to play.  Bohn means bean in German, and the game is all about bean farming.  Now, before you click to another website, I promise this game is more interesting than it sounds.

image by BGG user Mystah Softi
image by BGG user Mystah Softi

Bohnanza comes with 154 bean cards and 7 third field cards.  Not all cards will be used in every game, it depends on the number of players.  Each player is dealt an initial hand of five cards, and the most important thing to remember is that you MAY NOT rearrange them.  Your first impulse is going to be to organize the cards.  Don’t do it.

On your turn, you first must plant the first card in your hand (the one in the front – this is why you can’t reorganize).  You have two available “fields” in front of you, which basically means you can have two types of beans planted at a time.  If you are planting a new type, you’ll first have to harvest one field to make room (in other words, discard the cards and take any money you earned).  So your first card must be planted, then the second card may be planted.  After planting, you draw the first two cards of the deck and reveal them to everyone.  You may then either take the cards, planting them in your fields, or try to trade them away.  Other players may offer you cards from their hands to try to get the available beans.  Cards from your hand are also up for grabs if you want to trade them – this is how you get cards you don’t need out of the way.  Any cards you trade for go straight into your fields, so you may need to harvest to plant them.  At the end of your turn, you draw three cards, putting them in order in the back of your hand.

Every time a bean is harvested, you compare the total number of beans to the chart on the card.  This tells you how many are needed to make certain amounts of money.  For example, you need 3 green beans to make one coin, 5 for 2, 6 for 3, and 7 for 4.  Each bean has a different exchange rate – the wax bean is 4 for 1, 7 for 2, 9 for 3, and 11 for 4, just to give an example.  Coins are collected by flipping over some of the beans to reveal the coin side, and keeping them in a score pile.  At some point, you may want to spend three coins for a third bean field, but you don’t have to.  When you have gone through the deck three times, the game is over.  Everyone does one final harvest, and the player with the most coins wins.

COMPONENTS: Bohnanza is a pure card game, with no other components.  Art is very silly and cartoony, and all cards are well labeled so you know exactly what each is.  The chart on the bottom of each bean card is helpful in gauging how much you’re going to get for a harvest.  I think the best part of the cards is that the back of each one is a coin, and they can easily be flipped to count as your currency.  This is useful in avoiding the necessity of tokens, and probably helps keep the cost down.  Overall, the game has very functional, though not spectacular, components.

THEME: The theme of this game is the weakest part.  It’s a game about bean farming!  Over the course of the game, you’ll plant beans, trade beans, and harvest beans for money.  Not exciting at all.  In fact, I avoided it for years, mostly because of the theme.  The art on the cards is helpful in conveying a sense of fun, and the silliness of the pictures helps to keep the game from being terribly dry.  But try describing the theme to someone who doesn’t know it and see if they’re intrigued.

MECHANICS: The main point of Bohnanza is set collection.  You are trying to plant as many beans of a single type as you can in order to make the most money.  From that point, you also get trading.  Trading in this game is essential to your strategy, otherwise you’ll be harvesting fields that aren’t ready yet throughout the game.

One of the most unique aspects of the game is the inability to organize your cards.  By keeping the order fixed within your hand, Rosenberg has introduced an element of tension as you try to manipulate the cards you have in order to get to what you need.  Let’s say you’re collecting wax beans, and you have two, but they’re the third and fourth cards in your hand.  If you have to plant the first beans, you’ll lose your wax beans and those cards will become useless.  So you need to trade them away before it’s your turn.  You can also give them away if people will take them.  You have to be clever, and probably a bit shrewd, in order to manage your hand.

The mechanisms of Bohnanza work very well, and you’ll find yourself itching to get rid of cards that are blocking your moves.  Since you must plant the first card in your hand, you may find yourself making suboptimal trades to get yourself in a better position.  It’s a balancing act, and it works very well.

STRATEGY LEVEL: You’d think that there would be a lot of luck in Bohnanza – you really need cards to come out at the right time in order to be successful.  However, by introducing a trading mechanism, the game becomes much more a battle of wills.  A lot of the strategy is figuring out the best way to manipulate the cards in your hand to make the most money.  That means getting rid of stuff you don’t need in order to move up the cards you do need.  And a lot of times, that means that you need to do some shrewd dealing.  You have to weigh the costs of helping others in order to help yourself, and you can even play hardball from time to time.  There’s a lot of psychological manipulation going on, especially if you find yourself in a bidding war.  You also have to weigh the cost of buying a third field – it looks very attractive, but it costs three hard earned coins.  I will say that I’ve never played a game of Bohnanza where the winner bought a third field.

ACCESSIBILITY: Bohnanza is essentially a gateway level game.  The most difficult thing to get your head around is the concept of not rearranging your hand.  Once you get past that, the game is fairly simple – build up your sets to make the most money possible, and trade with others to accomplish your objectives.  There’s a lot of interaction, and that helps make the game more accessible.

REPLAYABILITY: This game is very replayable.  There are expansions (the Rio Grande version comes with one included), but honestly, you can get many plays of this game right out of the box.  This is helped by different playing styles of different players.

SCALABILITY: Bohnanza plays really well with multiple people.  I wouldn’t really want to play with fewer than four players, and I think it is probably best with 5 or 6.

IS IT BUZZWORTHY? Yes.  It is very deserving of its reputation as a great gateway game.  If you’ve avoided it as I did because of the theme, please give it a try.  It’s much more fun than you’d think it was.  If you haven’t played in a while, I’d encourage you to pull it out again.  Good stuff, and one that I rate very highly.  Thanks for reading!

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