Games & memory – my experience with Hanabi.

I’ve been doing some catching up on podcasts today as I work, and was listening to episode #339 of the Dice Tower, a board gaming podcast. About 55 minutes in, there’s a segment with regular contributor & game designer Geoff Engelstein – he talks about memory and games. Specifically about people taking notes where remembering things can either help you quite a bit with, or is essential to gameplay. He discussed the idea of fairness with note-taking for people to help their memory – is it fair that someone keeps track of how many resources are being taken by other players (for example), or that someone could take notes in a game of Memory?

It’s kind of a slippery slope if you think of it that way. I personally haven’t ever seen anyone note-taking like this before. Geoff comes to the conclusion that if a game includes a notepad – like Clue, for example – you should be encouraged to take notes, but if it doesn’t then just stick with playing the game as the designer intended. This hit me kinda personally, for one particular reason – let me explain why.

Hanabi cards

The game of Hanabi (last year’s German game of the year, I’ve spoken about it before) is a cooperative card game that relies on the clue-giving and memory skills of its players. When other players give you clues regarding what the cards are in front of you, you’ve got to remember that to be able to play or discard them appropriately without having ever seen what they actually are. With some great clue-giving this can not be so bad. But here’s where it is tough for me – I could be given a particularly fantastic clue and by the time it comes around to being my turn, I will forget the details of it, or which card it was referring to. This will essentially help me lose the game for everyone or at least cripple our chances of winning quite severely.

My short term memory usually isn’t quite so terrible – I can remember conversations, plans made, etc. with a high success rate. Even when playing some kind of Memory game I can visualize better what I’ve seen because the structure of cards stays the same – and I’ve actually seen the faces of the cards I’ve flipped over. In Hanabi, as you play cards out of your hand, they’re replaced by new ones – and there can often be a bit of rearranging or grouping of cards for memory’s sake that can change throughout the game also.  You never see the front of the cards until you play them – I think that, combined with the shifting nature of the cards – makes it hard for my visual-groping brain to lock down and remember stuff about my cards while I’m playing.

So, when I play Hanabi, I take notes. I am usually playing with people I know, and explain to them why I’m doing it and it hasn’t been an issue so far. I do remember someone saying once “Why bother playing at all if you’re going to play that way?” My answer is: well, I won’t (or really, can’t) play it if I don’t; if I play without note taking I’m miserable and ruin the game with mis-plays and mis-discards. So, if I never want to play Hanabi again then that’s that. But I really love the game and I can’t recall a time where my note taking has been an issue re: fairness or anything like that for the game. If it weren’t a cooperative game, then it might be different. If we were all taking notes, it might be different. But this means that with my weird brain function & this particular game, I can still play & enjoy the clue-giving & deduction/excitement aspects of the game without failing my fellow players at the same time.

I think I’m still with Geoff on his general conclusion that keeping notes in a game to track what resources people are taking, etc, is taking it too far. But I think I’m justified in my choice for Hanabi. And all this thinking has me hankering to sit down with some fellow fireworks artists to see what kinda show we can put on soon..

What are your thoughts on games, memory & keeping notes?

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