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The Ultimate Guide To Hand Management Board Games

Hand Management Feature

Hello reader. This is the fifth entry in my countdown series themed around my favourite gameplay mechanics. In each article I will discuss one mechanic, explain what it is and why I like it. I will also shine a light on five games I particularly enjoy that utilise the mechanic in an interesting way. For this article I've selected Hand Management.

The rest of this series consists of Tile Placement, Worker Placement, Deck Bag and Pool Building and Momentum! Be sure to check them out.

What Is Hand Management

Hand Management applies to games with cards which reward players for playing said cards in optimum groups or sequences. The 'optimum' is a variable. Cards held by the play, those played by opponents, and the board state all affect the optimum. Hand management is the process in which players decide to play their cards. The aim is to get the most value of a card, given the current position of the game.

Why Do I Like It In A Game

I like it because it's a mechanic that fully engages you with the game. It also gives you control over your gaming experience, and your strategy. Whilst an element of luck will be present, the decisions you make have a considerably greater impact on the game.  Many of my stand out favourite games feature this mechanic as a core element of gameplay.

Games That Utilise Hand Management

Many great games feature the Hand Management mechanic in some way. Smash Up, Great Western Trail, Everdell, and Flamme Rouge stand out as some of my favourites. Great Western Trail and Flamme Rouge in particular, use the mechanic to drive gameplay in really interesting ways. Had they not been included in my recent countdown articles, they are sure to have featured here! 7 Wonders is another good example of the mechanic, which is central to driving the game.


Player Count: 2 | Complexity Low | Released: 2009

First up, a compact trading game that combines Hand Management, Set Collection, and Card Drafting. You play Jaipur in a best of three (rounds) format, resetting the game between rounds. Your aim is to collect sets of goods (Leather, Spice, Cloth, Silver, Gold, and Diamond), to trade in for points tokens. The bigger the set traded, the more tokens you pick up. You can also collect camels, which is fun. Camels can't be traded, but they are useful!

Unsurprisingly, given the nature of this article, Hand Management is key. Players each begin with five randomly drawn cards, and can hold up to seven in hand. Camels do not count towards this limit, instead, they are played to the table and stand ready for action. On a turn, you will take one action. You can take one card from the shared market. You can exchange multiple cards in the market, with an equal number of cards from your hand and/or your camels. Or, you can sell a set of goods, for points. Selling a set of three or more will grant you a bonus points token.

Depleting three of the six piles of goods tokens triggers round end. Players immediately stop and tally their points. The player with the most points wins the round; win two of the three rounds and victory is assured. I really like Jaipur as a two player experience. The game itself is straightforward, but it can become tactical as players attempt to manipulate the market with unwanted goods and/or camels. The player with the most camels at the end of the round scores five points. But they are much more valuable in clogging up the market for your opponent. If you're in the market for a light two player game, Jaipur is one to consider.

Lost Cities

Player Count: 2 | Complexity Low | Released: 1999 & 2019

Lost Cities is a game in which Hand Management and Set Collection are core factors that drive gameplay. Thematically, it;s a game of exploration, played over any number of rounds. In a round, players each commit to expeditions in any, or all, of five regions: Mountain, Rainforest, Desert, Volcano, and Ocean. This is done by playing cards of increasing values to the regions, representing the progress of each expedition.

The game is played with a deck of sixty cards: Fifteen investment cards (three for each region), and forty-five expedition cards. There are nine expedition cards, numbered two to ten, for each of the five regions. Eight cards are randomly dealt to both players, to form starting hands. Play then proceeds with players taking turns to play a card and draw a replacement.

When playing a card, it can be added to an expedition, to further progress, or discarded, face-up, to the relevant region. When drawing a replacement card, players can take a card from the draw pile or any of the discard piles.

The round ends immediately when the draw pile is empty. Players calculate their score for each region, by adding together the value expedition cards and then subtracting twenty. If investment cards are present, the player applies a multiplier to the score. Thematically, the subtracted points represent the cost of the expedition.

Investment cards are the key to scoring big. Each investment card adds a multiplier to the region’s score, making them incredibly useful. However, they are few in number and must be played to a region before an expedition card. This adds an element of push your luck to gameplay. Do you risk burning through the draw pile to find them, or push on?


Player Count: 2 - 7 | Complexity Low | Released: 1997

Bohnanza is a simple, fun and funny game I think most groups will enjoy. The idea is to collect sets of beans and sell them; the bigger the set, the more gold (points) received. Like Jaipur and Lost Cities, it's a game that leans heavily on the pairing of Hand Management and Set Collection. However, Bohnanza is also a game of trading and negotiation, which opens the door for plenty of player interaction. It's the player interaction when trading, that I find most enjoyable. However, we're here to look at Hand Management, and it's that aspect of the game that influences the trading.

The game is played with a 154-card deck, made up of eleven types of bean. The number of each bean type in the deck varies, making some more valuable than others. Players begin with five cards, and draw two new cards at the end of their turn. New cards are always added to the back of a player’s hand. The card order cannot otherwise be altered, except through trading. This sets up your biggest challenge in Bohnanza.

Initially, each player can plant two different types of beans in their farm. To begin each turn, you must play the first card in your hand, to your bean farm. If the bean doesn't match a type you already have in play, it's going to replace one. This could potentially see valuable points being thrown away.  The way to avoid this, is to trade. The active player is free to trade with any other player during their turn. You will need to trade wisely to offload unwanted cards and bring the cards you want, to the front of your hand. But watch what you give away, those beans might be gold to an opponent!

Hand Management Bruges


Player Count: 2 - 4| Complexity Medium | Released: 2013

With Bruges, your objective is to gather influence and use it to gain prestige, power, and reputation (which translate to points). A deck of 165 unique cards and five dice drive gameplay. Each die is one of five colours, as is each card. Every round, players each draft five cards and will play four of them during the round. A card is played to perform one of six actions.

The actions allow players to gain workers, gain money, build a house, build a canal, recruit a person, or discard a threat. However, to build a house, you also need to discard a worker of the same colour. To build a canal, you need money in addition to the card. To recruit a person, you first need a house in play, and money to pay for them. In addition, you will also want money to progress through the town hall. The dice are rerolled each round to determine various values, notably, how much money each of the card colours are worth.

Here we encounter Hand Management, the integral element of Bruges’ gameplay. Each round you will be playing four cards, all of which, once played, are removed from your hand. This impresses a need to think ahead and constantly assess the board state. The value of individual actions on cards of different colours will vary round to round. I really enjoy this aspect of the game as it never plays the same way twice.

Bruges is a game that forces you to make tough decisions. It's a fantastic euro game, with high replay value, that delivers simple, smooth flowing gameplay and depth. It's currently my favourite board game, and one I cannot recommend highly enough. If you enjoy euro style games, keep an eye out for this one.

Magic the Gathering (MtG)

Player Count: 2+| Complexity Medium/High | Released: 1993

From my favourite board game, to my favourite card game. I have been playing MtG since the '90's and have yet to tire of it. Thematically, each game represents a battle between powerful wizards, called Planeswalkers. Planeswalkers have the ability to travel a multiverse and manipulate energy (mana) to cast spells, summon creatures, and deploy artifacts. The aim, is to reduce your opponent’s life total(s) to zero (or lower).

What I like most about MtG is the scope given to players to shape their experience. The game is played with a deck of cards that the player can customise. Players must conform to a set of deck building restrictions, but they leave ample scope for creativity. Players have thousands of cards from which to choose, to create decks that reflect themes and play styles they enjoy. Discovering new card synergies, and powerful combos, then putting them into play successfully, is really rewarding.

Again, Hand Management is central to gameplay. There are many card types in MtG. Some can only be played on your turn, others can be played during an opponent's turn. Managing your resources is key to keeping your opponent at bay, whilst you build and push for victory. This includes knowing when it's better to hold cards back, rather than play everything and leave yourself with no options.

Playing competitively can be expensive, but it's possible to build a small collection for casual play, for a reasonable price. If you have a regular gaming group, buying a box to draft as a group is a cost effective way to play, and experience one of the best gameplay formats: sealed draft. If not, Deckbuilders Toolkits are the place to start.