Game Night Blog Carnival: What Bohnanza has taught me.

Here's my entry in Roving Band of Misfits' very first Game Night Blog Carnival. I tripped across it on the last Tuesday of May, when articles are due, and signed up immediately. If you're interested in reviewing non-RPG games on the last Tuesday of every month, click on through and join us!

Bohnanza GameOne of my favorite card games, Bohnanza fulfills the dreams of vegetarian gamers everywhere. Players assume the role of bean farmers and try to make as much money as possible by planting and selling beans. And right now you're absolutely riveted, teetering on the edge of your seat, I can tell. But this game brushes up your trading skills and provides the most fun you can have giving away stuff short of the philanthropic stylings of The Gates Foundation.

The Deck
Each card contains a picture of a bean and a number telling you how many beans of that type are in the deck. I have a German copy of the game, which very few of my friends speak. We made up names for our beans based solely on the art: barfy beans, fire beans, hippie beans, etc. Yes, they have actual names in English, but we prefer our colloquialisms thank you very much.

The number on each card indicates a card's rarity. There are 4 cocoa beans on the rare end, all the way up to 24 coffee beans on the common end. The rarity of the bean determines how many beans you need to plant to get gold coins. You earn 1-4 coins depending on how many beans you have in a field when you cash in. Cocoa beans can be cashed in for one gold each, but you need to plant at least 2. On the other end of the spectrum, you need 4 coffee beans to get 1 gold and 12 to get 4 gold.

Game Play
Each player is dealt a hand of cards to start the game. Cards in your hand must remain in order - no sorting by bean type or manual reordering of your hand is allowed, but cards can be traded away to make room and cue up cards you want to plant. This motivates you to trade with other players, and when desperation sets in you actually throw beans at people for free.

On your turn, you plant one or two beans from the "top" of your hand into your two bean fields. Only one bean type at a time can exist in a field so if you've got a new bean type that needs to be planted, you need to burn one of your already-planted fields even if that means you get no gold for it. We call this situation A Bad Thing, so pay attention to your hand and trade your face off.

After planting, you turn up 2 cards from the deck for trading stock. Anything you don't trade must be planted immediately, so trade wisely and give away that which will cause A Bad Thing. All trades must happen with the person whose turn it is, but anyone can make offers. Any bean that gets traded must be planted immediately. Some trading sessions can get rowdy - this makes the game that much more fun as the bidding wars mount and people start offering intangibles like "a return favor at a future time" or "my undying love". We usually see a handful of beans flying across the table for free in the unofficial "dumping crap" phase tacked onto the end of trading.

After trades are settled and any untraded beans left on the table get planted, draw 3 cards and add them to the "bottom" of your hand. Congratulations, you have more cards to trade. Play passes to the next player. You can also buy a third bean field for three gold at any time if you want, but most times it's better to save your gold and stick with two fields.

Once you run out of cards to draw, reshuffle the discard pile and start a new deck. Once you've depleted the deck after the second shuffle, you're done. Sell all your fields and count your gold. The person with the most gold wins.

Game Tips
You can analyze the hell out of trades if you want. I wouldn't be surprised if someone has studied how well the trading mechanic models the stock market as part of a thesis hidden somewhere in Academia. Sometimes people plant a type of bean simply because nobody else at the table has any fire beans. You can see supply and demand in action at your game table. Awesome!

But here's the thing: if you analyze the game you will make it drag both pacing-wise and fun-wise. Personally I have no memory of who won any game of Bohnanza ever, and I have never cared who wins. But I remember the negotiations and the trading. Scoring invariably comes down to a difference of one gold which floors me every time just on the cool factor, but I'm more interested in shuffling the deck and getting started with the next game to get on with the wheeling and dealing. Both Bohnanza and RPGs have this in common: they provide fun through playing rather than through "winning".

What has playing Bohnanza taught me?
Play from the gut. Don't be afraid to let personal preference cloud your judgement on which trade to accept, even if you know you're shooting yourself in the foot gold-wise. Make the game fun for everyone and you'll have more fun. Petty vendettas make trading ten times more fun for everyone at the table. Just playing the game and letting yourself get into trading will blow the rust off of your social skills and turn you into a wheeler-dealer in no time.

If you're looking for a fun trading game to play with a fair-sized group of friends, choose Bohnanza and prepare to laugh your fool head off. I heartily recommend it.

TL;DR - Executive Summary
  • Bohnanza is a massively fun card game built entirely around trading with other players. 
  • Play Bohnanza as a party game. You can play strategically, but play slows and overall fun withers.
  • It officially supports 2-7 players. I've played with 10-12, but the sweet spot is 5 to 7 players.
  • It takes 45-90 minutes to play a single game. Game play takes longer with more players. It can seem to take forever with overly-analytical players.
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