The Hanabi deck contains cards in five suits (white, yellow, green, blue, and red): three ones, two each of twos, threes, and fours, and one five. The game begins with 8 available information tokens and 3 fuse tokens. To start the game, players are dealt a hand containing five cards (four for 4 or 5 players). As in Indian poker, each player holds his cards so that other players can see them but he cannot. Play proceeds around the table; each turn, a player must take one of the following actions:
- Give information: The player points out the cards of either a given number or a given suit in the hand of another player. The information given must be complete and correct. It is allowed to indicate that a player has zero of something. Giving information consumes one information token.
- Discard a card: The player chooses a card from his hand and adds it to the discard pile, then draws a card to replace it. The discarded card is out of the game and can no longer be played. Discarding a card replenishes one information token.
- Play a card: The player chooses a card from his hand and attempts to add it to the cards already played. This is successful if the card is a one of a suit that has not yet been played, or if it is the next number sequentially in a suit that has been played. Otherwise a fuse token is consumed and the misplayed card is discarded. Successfully playing a five of any suit replenishes one information token. Whether the play was successful or not, the player draws a replacement card.
Players lose immediately if all fuse tokens are gone, and win immediately if all fives have been played successfully. Otherwise play continues until the deck becomes empty, and for one full round after that. At the end of the game, the values of the highest cards in each suit are summed, resulting in a total score out of a possible 25 points.