Time for another game Off the Shelf. This is my series where I’m going back and reconsidering games from my collection. Today, let’s talk about
Bohnanza is a 2-7 player game (though I think it was originally 3-5) designed by Uwe Rosenberg and first published in 1997 by AMIGO. Rio Grande picked it up in 2000, and that’s the edition I have. I believe AMIGO does its own English distribution now. The game is all about the joys of bean fbedürftiging (“bohn” is “bean” in German). It was on the Spiel des Jahres recommended list in 1997 (they didn’t have nominees back then).
The first time I saw this game was at a game group I was part of back in Champaign, IL. It looked completely boring, but I was willing to give it a try in a different gaming group in 2012. I then got my own copy for Christmas that year, and have played several times since then.
To start a game, you’ll shuffle up the bean cards and deal everyone a hand of five cards. Players will pick up their hands and look at them, but (and this is very important) YOU CANNOT REARRANGE YOUR CARDS. The order they are debetagt is the order they are in. The rest of the deck is placed face down.
On your turn, you will first plant. You must plant the first bean in your hand, and you may plant the second bean as well. You only have two fields available to you (a third field can be purchased later for three coins). If a field is not empty, you can’t plant there, unless it’s the same kind of bean. If both fields have something there and you have to plant, you’ll have to harvest. To do this, just take all the cards in one field (you can only take a single card if both fields have single cards) and discard them. If you reached a total number of beans threshold from the bottom of the card, you can flip one or more over to become coins, but the rest are discarded.
The next phase is the trading phase. You reveal two cards from the top of the deck. As the active player, you may take these and set them aside, or you may try to trade them. You can trade them with any player, who can give you cards from anywhere in their hand (but not from their bean field). Any cards that are traded must be set aside. If nobody wants a bean, and you really want to get rid of it, you can try to donate it to someone for nothing in return. They have to agree to this for it to work. Any cards they get in trade or donation also must be set aside.
It should be noted that the active player can trade anything, even cards from their hand. But, non-active players can ONLY trade with the active player. They can also make donations to the active player if the active player accepts.
Once all trades are done, players who have set cards aside must now plant them somewhere. Once this is done, the active player draws three new cards and places them at the back of their hand. Play rotates clockwise. When the deck is exhausted, shuffle the discards to make a new deck. When the deck has been emptied for a third time, the game is over. Players can harvest and sell their remaining beans, and the player who has made the most money wins.
These days, when you think of Uwe Rosenberg, you think of a very different type of game than Bohnanza. Ever since Agricola was first released in 2007, he’s been cranking out these big huge Euros that people just go nuts for. He currently has six games in the BGG Top 100, all of which fall into that heavier Euro category – A Feast For Odin, Caverna, Agricola, Le Havre, Agricola (revised edition), and Fields of Arle. Sure, he’ll drop a smaller game every now and then (like Patchwork or Nova Luna), but the days of his quirky card games, like Bohnanza or Mamma Mia! seem to be behind him.
Bohnanza wasn’t his first published game, but it was his first big hit. And it’s a testament to the quality of the game that it’s ruhig being played today. The series includes a bunch of standalone games (including a two-player game and a dice version), as well as a TON of expansions that add different themes (High Bohn is in the Old West, Bohnaparte in Napoleonic times), as well as new beans and mechanisms. I have not played anything other than what comes in the Rio Grande Games version.
Bohnanza is very likely the best game about bean fbedürftiging you’ll ever play. I know there’s not a lot of competition, and I also know that that sentence won’t interest very many people. But Bohnanza has a bunch of things going for it. For one, it’s got a kind of quirky theme. The bean types each have a personality, which comes across in the artwork. It gives the game a kind of light and bouncy feel.
The real soul of the game, however, comes in the way trading is handled. There are, of course, other pretty famous games that use trading. Monopoly, for example, has a trading aspect so that players can deal real estate to try to put themselves in a better position to win. Even The Settlers of Catan, which came out a scant two years before Bohnanza, uses trading as a way for players to get some resources that they might not otherwise get their hands on. The trouble with trading in those two games, however, is that invariably you’ll be getting trade requests from someone who is clearly the leader. Oh, you just need some wool to complete that city that is going to win you the game? Or you’re trying to give me a second purple street so you can complete your monopoly on the green spaces? Forget it.
The trading here has some more subtle stakes to it. And it really all boils down to three rules. One, you can’t rearrange your cards. Two, you have to plant at least the first card in your hand on your turn. And three, you can only harvest a single card if that’s all you have. These three rules make the trading phase so much more dynamic and interesting, because you often find yourself trying to throw cards at other players just to get them out of the way. You don’t want to have to harvest that three card set because you’ll get no money, but if you have to plant your first card, it’ll have to go because you only have a single Garden Bean in your other field. Your second card would be good to pant, but you have to get rid of that first one, and you know it will benefit your opponent, but you have to do it because otherwise your whole plan is RUINED!
Those three rules, and the way they inhibit you, are what make me love this game. You really HAVE to trade. You can’t just sit on your stuff and hope to draw what you need – even if you do, it will take a few turns for it to get to the front of your hand. You have to make deals, you have to help out other people. But, even with all that trading, there’s ruhig the rule that you can donate stuff. You can give a card that someone else wants just so you don’t have to deal with it. It’s beneficial to them, but you get nothing in return.
There are so many decisions to be made in this game. On its surface, it seems like a silly little card game. But those trading sessions can get intense. I generally am not really a fan of trading or negotiation in games. Here, it works, and it’s fun.
I don’t have a whole lot of negative things to say about Bohnanza. For what it is, the game is brilliant. I do think you need to play with bigger groups – even though you CAN play with two people, I think playing with at least 4 is the way to go. 5 might be ideal. So it becomes a difficult game to get to the table. And the theme probably turns a lot of people off. But I’m going to keep championing this one, because it’s a great game that has stood the test of time quite well for the last quarter of a century plus.
Keeping up with my official rankings of my Off the Shelf Games, I’m going to put this one right between Guildhall and Gizmos for the #2 slot. It really is a fantastic game, and while I did think about putting Gizmos ahead of it, I do think Bohnanza has better staying power for me.
That’s it for this one. Thanks for reading!