Sunday, June 13

Not for 2 Players: Bohnanza

The entertainment of choice around here has swung back to the tabletop, sparked by our recent hot-tub-and-board-games vacation to Newburyport, a weekend session of Battlestar Galactica, and some Amazon gift certificates. Cait and I have gotten a small handful of new games, some of which are listed as playing with two but, on closer inspection, really aren’t.

The first of these, and probably the best with two, is Bohnanza. I learned about this from the quite interesting Hobby Games: The 100 Best book, where it was described thusly by essayist Mike Selinker:
Bohnanza is the best card game ever written. And it just happens to be about bean farming.
Bohnanza is a set-collection game where your cards represent beans of various amusingly-illustrated types, which you plant and then harvest for money. (The money is tracked by coins on the backs of the cards, a dual-use mechanic that guarantees one or two points in Cait’s book.)

While the official two-player rules maintain some of the game’s distinctiveness, such as the requirement that you keep your hand in the same order you drew it, it eliminates trading between players that seems to be a core part of the game’s charm. Again, from Mike Selinker:
Bohnanza sets you up to be underwhelmed — “I’m sorry, the game’s about what now?” — and then overwhelms you with its simplicity, elegance, and lightning-fast interactivity. It’s everything that the classic Pit wanted to be when it grew up. If you liked saying “I’ve got two! Two!” as a kid, you’ll like saying “Who wants my kidney bean?” just as much as an adult.
The lack of trading is understandable for two-player rules: any trade will benefit one player more than the other (and enough information is public that it’s pretty obvious in each case), so the player getting the worse deal just won’t agree. Two-player Bohnanza tries to fill the whole with a draft to simulate getting cards you want, and an optional discard to get rid of cards you don’t, but it feels like a poor substitute.

With two players, Bohnanza offers some enjoyment, but enough is lost that it’s appeal for us stems largely from its novelty. Nevertheless, I look forward to trying it with three or more. Played as it’s meant to be played, with the wheeling and dealing that makes games like The Settlers of Catan so appealing, I think it will be a lot of fun.