Monday, August 26, 2019

Bohnanza: The Predatory Thrill of Bean Farming

Posted By on Mon, Aug 26, 2019 at 12:40 PM

click to enlarge bohnanza_bean_fields.jpg
Playing Bohnanza for the first time was akin to what I imagine it would feel like you if saw a Cadillac CTS-V get taken off the line by a Datsun B210. Bohnanza is a goofy-looking card game with dated graphics and the theme—growing and trading ostensibly comic varieties of beans—does not tweak the adrenal glands.

But sweet mother of God, does this thing go: Underneath that hail-pitted, rusted hood is a supercharged V8 trading machine that will turn everybody you know into wheeling, dealing, wheedling, fast-thinking farmer/brokers.

Your job is to plant and harvest beans for a profit. You’ve got two fields to work with, and depending on the rarity of the beans you’ve planted, you can harvest them at any time for varying degrees of profit.

What makes it a riot? For one, you always have to start a turn by planting. And because you are NEVER allowed to change the order of cards in your hand, sometimes you have to tear out a field for little to no return to make room for mandatory plants. The only way to mitigate the economic time bomb sitting in your hand is to trade out undesirable beans in your hand for something you’ve got in the ground, or hope to plant soon.

Which brings us to the trading: After you’ve done your initial plant, you roll three cards off the top of the bean deck…and all hell breaks loose. At that point, any player who likes what they see can start trying to cut deals with you: promising to “help you out” by taking troublesome beans away for no compensation, offering straight-up swaps or even considerations for future trades (which sets the stage for backstabbing if you decide later on that you’re not going to reciprocate).

When other players have stuff on the trading block during their turn, you’ve got to always be on the lookout for ways to dump beans you don’t want while hopefully building your in-ground stock and setting up more profitable harvests, grooming your hand for fewer liabilities and more opportunities. I’ve seen some very creative and devious deals be proposed, and the whole thing can be frankly dizzying; but once you figure out some basic hand management strategy, the juice of pulling off trades and harvesting just in time to start a promising new crop is one of my favorite game-table experiences ever.

Your group (which can contain up to 8 players) will cycle through the deck of beans three times during the course of the game. Each trip through the deck brings fewer options, as beans that got harvested for cash in earlier turns become trophies to be scored at game’s end.

And then? And then you pour another round and play again, because one trip through this beanfield will never be enough.

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