Bohnanza is a game invented by the legendary German game designer Uwe Rosenberg in 1997. On paper, this is technically a card game that involves managing the cards in your hand to collect valuable sets in order to win the game. It requires careful strategic planning, perfect timing and skilled negotiation to achieve a smashing victory.
In reality, Bohnanza is all about beans and how fun could be planting and harvesting them while making jokes about them. The first joke is actually in the game name that is made up by the German word “bohne” (yes, it means “bean”) and bonanza (to stress that there are a LOT of them). The quirkiness of this game and how much fun it could pack in such a small box are two of the reasons this game is still on the market after 25 years. It is also a very well thought yet simple strategic game but that is a plus.
Before we look more into the game, I would like to point out that this review is related to game version published by Amigo. The previous version published by Rio Grande is now almost completely out of print but you may also want to check out the review of Bohnanza the 25th anniversary Edition that has been recently released.
Bohnanza is not one of those big fancy games that come with massive amount of components. In fact, the game box is pretty small and can be easily carried around. Inside the box, you will find 110 cards, 5 cardboard player field mats and the instruction. The deck of cards is made up of 8 different type of beans, each of them represented in a different amount of copies ranging from 6 to 24.
The cards are of course the main component of the game and they are wonderful. First, the artwork of the cards is very funny and all the different beans are designed to make the game colourful and silly. Unfortunately, some of the jokes are based on German words thus not all will make sense when playing it in English.
Moreover, the design used is also very clever as all the information you need are shown directly on the cards using nice and language-independent icons. The first edition I played for example was in Czech and I had no issues in using it for years. Furthermore, I love the idea that each card has a coin on their back so they could be used to keep track of your bean-money and victory points.
The quality of all the cards, finally, is quite high ensuring the game will resist intensive playing. This is quite an important aspect as you WILL play it a lot once you get it.
How Your Beans Will Make Your Day
In Bohnanza, players take turns to draft bean cards from a face down deck and to stack them from their hand in any of their field. This last action is called “planting” the beans.
The two key aspects of the game are:
1) The order of the cards in your hand is very important as you can only plant the first and, eventually, the second card every turn. Cards then leave your hand from one end and newly drafted cards are only added to the other end every turn.
2) Players can only plant beans on an empty field or in one with the same type of beans already in it. If a player can not plant a bean, they are forced to retrieve all bean cards from one of their field (“harvest” the beans).
The strategic aspect of the game lies in what players do between turns. As I mentioned above, players need to mandatory plant the first bean in their hand but they may not have any of those already in their fields. In Bohnanza, the more beans you have in a field, the more money you score therefore players need to avoid to harvest a field unless they plan to.
Here is where other players come in handy as the active player can trade the card they may have to plant next (the next one in their hand) to avoid to plant it. Players could even donate beans to other players if this suits their strategy and prevent them to harvest a field too early. If you are playing for fun or with young kids, you can obviously play it nice and help out players. Of course, you can also play it the hard way by driving hard bargains or by leaving a player to plant a bean they don’t want and disrupt their strategy. Personally, I like to play it fair and mix a bit of both to keep the game relaxed but still engaging for everyone.
When players harvest a field, they collect coins depending on how many beans that they had in the field. Some of the harvested bean cards are then turned face down to show the coins on the back and set aside by the players; all other bean cards are moved to the discard pile that will be shuffled again to make a new drafting deck.
This is another interesting mechanic as the frequency of the bean cards change during the game as some of them leave for good once turned into coin. As the game continues until the drafting deck has been exhausted three times, remembering which beans have been harvested the most becomes important to plan your strategy.
Is The Game Worth Buying? Final Thoughts
In a nutshell, “YES, you really don’t have it yet ?!?” Bohnanza is really a fantastic game and it should be in everyone’s collection. As a minimum, you should buy this game as it is so small in size (and price) that it’s an ideal choice for holidays and trips. Moreover, Bohnanza is suitable for all ages and type of players and can be played up to five players making it a great choice for families.
In addition to the above, I really like how this game requires a certain level of strategic thinking while still looking nice and funny. This balance ensures all types of players can stay engaged during the game. Bohnanza can also be a nice way for kids to learn the basis of more complex strategic card games. The negotiating/trading phase of the game is also quite good to growth role playing and player interaction skills.