Posted by: gschloesser | July 14, 2011

Bohnanza

Design by:  Uwe Rosenberg
Published by:  Rio Grande Games & Amigo

3 – 5 Players (3-7 with expansion), 45 minutes
Review by:  Greg J. Schloesser

EDITOR’S NOTE:  This review also appeared in MOVES Magazine #103

 

Flashback:  1997.

When I first read brief descriptions of Bohnanza when it was first introduced at several of the gaming conventions, I laughed it off. I mean, really … a card game about bean farming?  Sounds like it would compete with the likes of Old Maid or Fish, games which I happily left behind a long, long time ago. And since I usually have a mental block when it comes to card games, I quickly decided to pass.

Well, the raves for this game kept pouring in. One could not read any gaming reports or tap into games newsgroups without hearing someone say how neat this little game was. Further discussions with gamers from around the world whose opinions I value convinced me (along with the very low price tag for this item … around $7) that I should at least give it a try.

So I ordered a copy and awaited its arrival.  When it finally arrived, I perused the rules and still couldn’t see what all the excitement was about.  I hesitated introducing it to my regular gaming group, fearing the mere site of the comical bean artwork would cause me to be ridiculed beyond all tolerance levels.

My first opportunity to play was on a two week vacation to Italy with my wife and then ten year old daughter.  Well, to put it mildly, I was pleasantly surprised. During the course of the vacation, we played Bohnanza seven times. Even my wife, who at the time had a notorious reputation for not enjoying games, was quickly won over. Further, the game is so well balanced, that in our seven playings, even my young daughter won two matches! 

Back to the present.

I’ve now played Bohnanza well over 50 times and still, to this day, thoroughly enjoy the experience.  In my book, the game is truly a gem that has raised the bar as far as card games are concerned.  Who would have ever thought that bean farming could be so much fun?

The basic idea in Bohnanza is that you are a bean farmer planting two fields of beans. No field can contain more than one type of bean. With eight different types of beans in the deck, each in various quantities, the game is fraught with frantic trading as players attempt to collect sets of the two types of beans they are cultivating. Each player begins with five cards in their hand. During a players turn, the following action sequence must be followed:

· Plant the top card in your hand in one of your two fields. You may plant the second bean if you so desire.  Remember, each field must contain only one type of bean.  If you cannot plant a bean, then a field must be prematurely harvested to make room for the new crop.

· Pick the top two cards from the deck and place them face up in front of you. Keep and plant these two cards or begin trade negotiations.  If you opt to keep these two cards, you cannot open a trading session. 

· All players then plant the cards they traded for that round.

· Pick the top three cards from the deck and add them to the back of your hand.

The main problem that a player faces is that cards must be planted in the order in which they appear in a player’s hand. The order of the cards in your hand cannot be changed despite all temptations to do so. With the inability to mix beans of different types in a field, trading can … and does … become frantic as players try to deal off cards which would force them to prematurely harvest beans already planted in one of their fields in order to make room for a bean which is at the top of their hand. A player can purchase a third bean field for three coins, but this strategy is somewhat risky due to its cost. If a player elects to purchase the third field, he should do so very early so as to maximize its potential.

As mentioned, the eight beans come in various quantities. The more you are able to collect of one type, the greater the dollar value you will ultimately receive when you harvest them. Beans which are scarce produce greater financial yields that beans which are plentiful.   For instance, it takes a field filled with twelve ‘blue’ beans in order to yield four coins, while the same four coins can be earned from a field of only six ‘red’ beans.

When a bean field is harvested, the cards are removed from the field and placed into a discard pile.  However, the player retains a number of cards equal to the monetary value of the harvest, which, as mentioned, is dependent upon the type of bean being harvested and the quantity which was cultivated.  The cards are double printed with a coin depicted on the reverse.  Thus, by harvesting fields, some of these ‘beans’ are converted to money and are effectively removed from the game.  This affects the remaining quantity of that type of bean available for the remainder a game, a factor which bears careful monitoring.

Players must keep a careful eye on what other players are attempting to collect and try to avoid duplicating those beans in their fields. Otherwise, those beans will be harder to obtain as more than one player will be coveting those beans.  This can result in one being forced to offer more in a trade than what would otherwise be necessary.  Not an enviable position to be in, to be sure.  Further, players must also keep an eye on which beans have already been harvested during a round and attempt to avoid beginning fields with those beans which may now be scarce in the deck.  Not until the subsequent round is the discard pile re-shuffled, once again making some of those beans available.

The game ends when the deck has been cycled through three times. However, the deck is much smaller the second and third time as players now have cards in their fields, cards in their hands, and cards acting as coins. Thus, rounds two and three tend to be extremely swift.  Once the deck expires a third time, all players may harvest any fields they currently have in cultivation.  The victor is the player who proved to be the most productive farmer, determined by the player with the greatest financial wealth.

Another highlight of the game is the artwork on the cards. There are humorous drawings of the eight beans in the game. In the Amigo edition, the names of the beans are written in German on the cards. This forces non-German speakers to make up names for the beans based on their perceptions of the illustrations. Thus, the Sau Bohne becomes the ‘Mushy Guy’ or the ‘Pig Dude’; the Brechen Bohne becomes the ‘ Dizzy Guy’ or the ‘Bourbon Street Bean’ (a reference to the famous street in my hometown of New Orleans); the Feuer Bohne becomes the ‘Chili Pepper’ or the ‘ Lung Cancer Guy’; etc. This makes for humorous and frantic trading sessions:

“I’ll give you a ‘Pig Dude’ and a ‘Banana Bean’ for the ‘Dizzy Guy'”

“Make it two ‘Pig Dudes’ and a ‘Fire Bean’ and you have a deal!”

For those not wishing to add this level of humorous chaos to the game, Bohnanza is now available in English from our friends at Rio Grande Games.  Fortunately, the delightful artwork remains unaltered.

Bohnanza has also spawned an expansion, which adds four new bean types and allows the game to be played with up to seven individuals.  Further, yet another expansion, La Isle Bohnita, introduces shipping and islands into the Bohnanza world.  Amazingly, the game’s off-the-wall theme has struck a chord with the game playing public and many other games have adopted a similar theme.  Among these are Nicht die Bohne by Horst-Reiner Rösner and Space Beans, by the author of Bohnanza, Uwe Rosenberg.

For a card game with simple rules, the game does pose lots of interesting choices for the players and has a wonderful, highly interactive trading element. It’s overall length is short — 30 to 45 minutes or so. Thus, it is perfect as a filler for those nights when the primary game ends a bit early. This is one game that forced me to re-think my bias against card games and, truthfully, changed my game playing life.  I no longer view card games with scorn.  To the contrary, I have now become quite a fan of the multitude of clever card games emanating from Germany.  Highly recommended for fun-loving gamers everywhere.

 

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Responses

  1. Bohnanza is a great party card game that gets people laughing. Although the rules are slightly convoluted, it’s fun to play, and inspiration for dozens of silly bean-based comments. (6/10)

  2. Good intro game to newbies. Collect cards and raise crops of beans. (6/10)


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