Game Review: ‘Bohnanza’

3/2/2020

BOHNANZA is a card game of trading, planting, and harvesting beans (yes, it is as ridiculous as it sounds). It was designed by Uwe Rosenberg and originally published in 1997. 

I have played it over 50 times over the past 5-10 years with varying player counts and player demographics.

What does this game have to offer?

APPEAL (audience, length)

While the game does include some unique rules (forced playing of cards, can’t change the order of cards in your hand), the structure is relatively straightforward and easy to teach. The game length is not terribly long but it can feel like it overstays its welcome with less experienced players and with higher player counts.

VARIABILITY  (re-playability, different setup/gameplay)

A game can’t get much more variable than this one – it is one large deck of cards that gets shuffled every time. You will always have a different starting hand with different cards coming out in a different order. Also, depending on the player count, you may have different beans available for planting in the game. It is safe to say that this game has a very high level of variability.

AGENCY (Player choice, strategy/luck) 

Bohnanza is far from a pure strategy game but there is a significant amount of player agency throughout the game. Trading must be used strategically in order to maximize your points. How and when you trade is a very important decision that must be made throughout depending on the beans fields you currently have planted. Choosing when to harvest your fields is also a very important decision to be made. This can make or break your point earning ability. There are a lot of opportunity cost considerations to be made – do I harvest now to make way for a more valuable bean field? Or do I wait to harvest so I can get 2 extra coins next turn but forgoing the option to plant the more valuable bean? 

ESCAPISM (theme, artwork, immersive game play)

There’s not really an immersive theme here but the negotiating, trading, and interesting decision making can really allow for a high level escapism. With the right group and the right pace, it is fairly easy to get lost in the rhythm and excitement that the game offers. 

SPECTACLE (highs/lows, victory/defeat, laughter)

This is where this game shines. Harvesting a large field, obtaining that last card you needed to reach a harvest threshold, and yelling out a trade you need that involves saying ‘stink bean’ is always hilarious. The idea of trading and planting beans is simply outlandish and always causes people to laugh throughout. When a trade comes up or a card gets flipped that you desperately need always causes reactions around the table – positive and negative. There are so many ways in Bohnanza to collectively experience highs and lows over the course of a game. 

My Thoughts

One thing to note upfront is that most people have to warm up to this game. Due to its unique rules, new players may struggle to grasp it which will not only affect their enjoyment, but also may cause the game to overstay it’s welcome. Don’t let this discourage you.

That being said, this game is really great. While it may not be my favorite game of all time, if I could only have a collection of 10 games to keep, Bohnanza would be in it. It has some of the most crossover appeal of any game I have ever played. There are interesting decisions, strategic planning, tactical adaptation, laughing, and excitement throughout each game. With all of these elements packed into a serviceable play time, relatively simple rules, and a variable player count, it’s hard to pass up.

Due to the trading element, interpersonal relationships get brought into the game play as well – do I back stab them to help my cause right now, which may result in them doing the same later? Or do I help them while they’re down in hopes that they may help me out later? The strategy informs the trading, the trading informs your relationships during the game, and those relationships inform your strategy. This dynamic feedback loop is interesting and addictive every time I play the game and keeps me coming back for more no matter the group I’m with. 

My Recommendation

Everyone is different. Who we are and who we play with has a huge effect on how much we will enjoy a game regardless of how ‘good’ it might be to any one person. For this reason, my recommendation varies depending on what type of gamer is playing. Descriptions for each type – including a quiz to figure out yours – can be found here.

WARRIORS should like it

PIONEERS should like it

FREE SPIRITS should like it

ESCAPISTS should be wary, but may like it

If you are able to, check your local game store for availability – otherwise, it can be found here for purchase online.

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