#002 Hanzi 漢字傳說 (2017)
Designer: Chau-Hsin Chou
Artist: Stephen Tsai
Hanzi is a lightning fast 2-5 player memory card game that only takes 20 minutes to set up, play, and put away. It's a light family game that celebrates Cangjie, the legendary creator of Chinese characters.
A Quick Word
HANE-ZEE? HON-ZEE? HAN-ZII?
Normally I try not to unleash the grammarist deep inside me. Yes, Stannis Baratheon became my hero with his "fewer" comment. However, in this case I believe it is warranted. The purpose of this game is to celebrate and learn 漢字, so we might as well, at least try to, say it properly. It is two syllables. In "Han" the "an" sounds similar to "on" as in "turn on". "Zi" sounds similar to the end of the English/German word "blitz". Hanzi. Should be simple, right?
A VERY Brief History of Chinese Characters
Learning Chinese isn't easy. Trust me; the struggle is real. Even for native speakers. You could create countless mnemonic devices to help you memorize the characters; however, there really is no way to escape the necessary rote memorization to be able to read, write, and say all 10,000 plus characters. There are shoe boxes of flash cards in my living room. Chinese characters of today don't look the same as they did thousands of years ago. The characters evolved over time. Before there was a unified writing system, there were even several schools who all wrote characters differently. So there feared character of turtle 龜 had several versions in circulation. Eventually Emperor Qin, yes that guy with the terracotta army, conquered China and forced the country to use one unified writing system. Now Taiwanese children and students of Chinese everywhere run in fear from only one turtle 龜. (Taiwan still uses traditional characters, while China uses simplified characters as an effort to increase literacy.)
It's important to briefly understand this history in order to grasp what's going on in this game. Hanzi is a memory game. Memory games work with paired cards or tokens. If you flip over Mario and Luigi, you lose your turn and have to wait. Unfortunately Daisy saw your mistake and flips over two Luigis and scores the cards. Hanzi is no different. However you're not flipping over pictures in search of video game characters. You're looking at ancient Chinese characters that hopefully have the same modern Chinese character equivalent. Hanzi excels here because it's not wild guessing that's driving this game. There's known researchable knowledge being tested here, so with some due diligence, you should be able to improve with every game--tipping the sides in your favor.
Memory Game Bias
I have to admit something. I tend to not like memory games. It could be that I'm not good at them, so I don't like them. It could also be I don't like them, so I'm not good at them. However the cycle starts, it begins and ends at the same place. I tend to not like memory games--not so much for me, but for other players. We have all gotten fatigued in a game before; however I've seen memory games take their toll on players faster than others. It's your turn. You make two guesses--educated or not. You fail. Your turn ends. You wait. It's your turn. You guess. You fail. You wait. It can become quit defeating and I have seen players, especially kids, become discouraged and lose interest in the game. It ceases to be fun for them. This is especially exacerbated if there is some prodigy at the table who cleans up.
On your turn, you'll have two actions.
- The first action is optional. You map play a tablet card with a special ability from your hand. These range from stealing cards or tokens from your opponents to taking an extra turn.
- The second action is mandatory. You have 3 mission cards in your tableau. Announce one and then choose 2 of the 30 brown first age cards laid out on the table. HUZZAH! The cards both match your mission card. Place the card with points marked on it in front of you (2 points) and put the card with the special ability in your hand. Replace the empty slots with 2 blue cards from the second age card deck. Draw a FAILURE! The cards don't match. Flip the cards back over and take one creation marker. Wait patiently for your next turn. Play continues clockwise.
- Creation markers are very useful. Prior to your second action, you may discard one creation marker to flip over 3 tablet cards instead 2 that turn. OR you may discard two creation markers to exchange one of your mission cards with another from the supply.
Game play continues until one player gets 10 points (5 sets) and immediately wins the game.
Final Thoughts & TL;DR
I'm not the biggest fan of memory games; however, the creation markers add a nice handicap for myself and other unskilled players. There are also several variants in the rule book that should add some extra legs to the game as well. In the end, my real struggle with this game is finding out whom this game is for. There's enough new stuff going on here for fans of memory games to explore, but I don't think there's enough for the gamer. There just aren't enough meaty decisions. I've tried this game with gamers; it fell flat. I've tried with non-gamers; it also fell flat. I then tried this game with some of my students and wow was it a hit. Now, my students are all elementary school Taiwanese kids, so please take that into consideration. We played several games, and they definitely got better with each play. Until the WizKid showed up for a game. None of us knew that his parents had passed their passion for Chinese calligraphy on to the son, and he destroyed us. It was beautiful and terrifying to watch. If I weren't an EFL teacher or a student of Chinese, I would give this game a pass. However as my students enjoy it, it has earned a spot on the game shelf at my school.