Bohnanza (1997)

I wonder if in countries where haggling is prevalent, are card games like Bohnanza popular? Is there an Afghan version of Settlers of Catan? I don’t know and furthermore am I being racist? I hope they play a lot of weird German card games in the barter countries, you know, to increase the peace.
Ok, that seemed racist.

Bohnanza is a light card game where you trade, plant and harvest different types of beans for victory points. First off, beans? This isn’t a game where the mechanic is heavily intertwined with the theme, so the collecting and planting and harvesting could be anything, Martians planting humans, cars in a garage collection, guitars, baseball cards, heck, even regular old crops would be less boring than beans. The only people to get excited about beans are the starving and old hippies. (Wow, who knew a review about a bean card game could be so offensive, it’s a gift/curse.) I’ve heard many nice things about Bohnanza through the years, but the picture of a bean on the cover has kept me from buying and playing it. I played it yesterday with James who bought the game at Goodwill still IN THE SHRINK WRAP. So, I’m imagining I’m not the only one unexcited about a bean game. There aren’t even any bean counters included to get some milage out of an old pun.
And you can use counters.
More about the game. When you get cards, you can’t rearrange them in your hand which is a unique mechanic. At the beginning of your turn, you must plant the front card in your hand in one of your two fields (later, you can buy a third). There are different types of beans to plant each of different amounts in the common draw deck. You can only plant one type of bean per field and you must harvest a certain amount of beans, different for each type, to clear the field. You also draw cards at the end of your turn which file in line at the end of your hand. So, the game comes down to hand management. And to get the order of beans in your hand the way you want to plant, you have to trade out the beans with other players.
This means haggling. And bargaining. And pleading. And shmoozing. And threatening. Feelings may be hurt. Over a stupid bean game.
I’m not a fan of trading games because they sometimes devolve into an emotional game. If you play with two or more siblings or the child from a large family, the issue of ‘fairness’ always comes up. They say that a good trade is one where each side comes away feeling they’ve bested the other. In this game, you could use math to figure out who is the winner in each trade. That’s not a fun thing to do in this game. But the emotional and situational nature of trading certainly change the nature of what’s fair. In fact, you can just give your cards away to other players just to build trust. Boy, that makes the game even more psychological. I think I came in second in the one game I played because I decided, about a third of the game in, to trade with only those I thought were going to win. That strategy worked pretty well for a game I didn’t really grasp the nature of play until about a third of the way in.
You know, I don’t mind ‘Screw your neighbor’ games like Munchkin because you’re expected to go after the leader, but in trading games, it’s frustrating and infuriating to trade because I don’t know if I’m helping someone else more than I’m helping myself. I rarely trade in Settlers of Catan because I feel like I can win without trading. It rarely happens, but in Bohnanza, you HAVE to trade. This does make the game more social which is a good thing. We played Werewolf, the ultimate social game, again yesterday and every time I’ve played a werewolf-type game, there’s been zero social interaction. Maybe social interaction in a game is more dependent on naked self-interest, than just tearing down others. It’s a thought.

Overall, Bohnanza is a simple enough game for game newbies. There’s some interesting mechanics, lots of trading and play in under an hour.
I’ll play again, but maybe I’ll need more social lubricant for trading purposes.

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