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Compete to become Master of the Hanseatic city-states during the 14th Century. Criss-cross the Baltic Sea in a merchant ship, always on the lookout for a chance to acquire valuable wares.
Set up networks of market booths within the cities, which allow you to resell the goods at the right time, thus increasing your wealth and power.
End the game with the greatest profits to emerge the winner!
All copies come with the Compass expansion. Before starting the game, place the compass, on edge, on a smooth surface and spin it like a top. When the compass has stopped spinning, place it, without changing its orientation, onto Gotland. The face-up side of the compass determines whether the merchant ship follows the routes either in the direction of the arrows or against the direction of the arrows. This counts for all ship movements during the entire game!
I very much enjoyed Hansa. The first game we played lasted over one hour. After the learning curve was passed each game lasted less than an hour, perhaps closer to 30 minutes.
As usual, I won't rewrite the rules in my review, others are much better at that sort of thing than I. But I will say, in a turn a player is able to do only a few things, as he is limited by scarce money. The trick is to figure out how to make the most of the money you have. There is a moderate screwage factor, mainly by leaving the ship in a port that will cost your opponent extra money, or placing more market booths in a city he has grown accustomed to thinking of as his own. There is no direct interaction between players which is normally a big negative for me. I will overlook that fact for much the same reason as for Puerto Rico, Hansa is a very good game.
Hansa has a well written, short rule book. It is four pages long, much of which is examples and pictures. Hansa is simple in mechanics, but is a little to strategy heavy for non-gamers to enjoy.
Hansa may be at its best with two players, yet it shines with any number, and by any number I mean 2, 3, or 4. Solid game, good components, destined to be a classic. I have no doubt.
Hansa is yet another example of a solid European-style game with simple and easy to learn mechanics that nonetheless provides a variety of both strategic and tactical options, constrained just enough to keep play balance on a razor's edge at all times. Though new players may find it challenging to keep up with more experience players at first, there are no 'secrets' and the few big mistakes (notably making unnecessary moves or forgetting to take free goods tokens) are easily avoided.
Plays well with two players and is highly recommend as a 'couples' game.
Michael Schacht's games always cause me to approach them warily. I always expect too dry, too dull. It's not that they aren't well designed, but they just lack a sparkling fun-factor for me. But with the release of Coloretto last year (which quickly became my favorite 'filler' game) and now this gem, Hansa -- I think Schacht is becoming one of my favorite designers.
The game board has a nice atmosphere: a map done in earthy tones displaying the Hanseatic states circa 14th century (think modern day Scandanavia, north Germany, Russia, Estonia.) Cities such as Copenhagen, Kalmar, Riga, Stockholm, and five other cities are connected to each other but a web of one-way arrows that represent sailing routes through the Baltic. A wooden Ship piece is placed in Copenhagen, and then goods (colored discs with 1-3 barrels on them) are distributed throughout the board. Cities either have room for 1 or 2 goods, and paths to 1 or 2 other cities (except for Copenhagen which goes to 3 different cities.)
Players are given 3 'Talers' (the currency of this game, which are essentially action points) to start the game. Then in turn order, each player may add two markets to a city until each player has put 3 sets of 2 markets (a total of 6 markets) into 3 different cities. And heeeeere we go...
At the start of your turn you get 3 Talers income, then a player has 4 simple options:
1. Move the ship. Cost: 1 Taler. This allows the player to move the ship to another city by following one of the one-way arrows that leads out of the present city to a new one. You will be moving a LOT because a player can only do one action in each city. Those actions are as follows...
2. Buy a Good Chip. Cost: 1 Taler, payable to whichever player has the most markets in the city. If it is a tie among several players, or no one is in the city, the Taler is paid to the bank. Chips are always useful, but especially useful when sets (2 or more chips in a color) are made, allowing the player to...
3. Sell Goods. Cost: 0 Talers. Players simple take one or more sets of Goods and then flip them upside down as end-game victory points. Those chips them have no further use to the player. The catch is that you can only sell goods in a city where you have markets, AND you lose a market in a city when you sell goods. BUT when you sell a set of Goods, any player(s) that have Goods in that color must discard one of that color! Mwa-ha-ha! So, how do you get markets?
4. Establish markets. Cost: 0 Talers, but 1 Good chip. Each player gets to put 3 sets of 2 markets (6 total) into 3 different cities at the start of the game. But since that isn't going to get you far, you're going to need more market presence on the board. Each player has 15 markets and getting most, if not all, of them on the board is important. All a player has to do is get to a city and discard a single Goods chip. However many barrels that Good has is how many markets the player may add to that city. At the end of the game, each city you have markets in is worth 2VPs, and if you are the only player in a city, you get 4VPs. All the more reason to have markets spread out.
5. Restock the board. Cost: 1 Taler. And you actually have to do it before you start your turn. This actions fills every blank goods circle on the board. The catch is that everyone can benefit from you taking this action, but at least you get first shot at the goods.
So, that's it. At the end of your turn, you must get down to 3 Goods, and 3 Talers. Sound boring? Sound too Schacht-ish? Ah, my friends, herein is a sign of master game design: this game is far more than the sum or its parts.
Sure you only have possible 5 actions to choose from in the game, but rare is the game that makes such a simple combination of action so enticingly difficult. You may get to a city want to buy a good. But an opponent 'owns' the good (most markets) and already has 3 coins, and you don't want him to clean up the board on his next turn. Should you buy it? Suppose you race over to Stockholm to buy a good with your last coin, but by leaving the Ship there you set your next opponent up for big points. Where do you leave the Ship at the end of your turn? Do you set your self up between two turns and go for a big set to use your markets efficiently? What if someone sells Goods in that color and you lose a chip? You have to learn when to lose a market lead, when it's important to tie for markets in a city, when is a good time to sell, when it's a good time to save. You will have your hands full!
And all this in a game that takes 30-60 minutes to play! This game may be simple as far as actions go, but few games of this 'simplicity' are so confoundedly tricky. If Michael Schacht keeps making games like this, you'll see a lot of his games in my closet! This game lookds good, plays well, has a good theme, and is easy to teach.
A couple notes on the number (and type of players.) This game is one of few that actually plays spectacularly with 2 players, and also with 3. But with 4 players, it starts to drag on a bit and gets a lot more chaotic. Furthermore, analytical players could easily kill this game. In a 4 player games, I have seen situations where a player takes a very long time to decide how to spend all the Talers he's saved up. So bewars. This game is simple, addictive, tricky, but with the wrong players could bog down a bit.
Don't let that scare you though. The process of the game not intimidating, nor is the theme, nor are the rules. It usually plays at a good pace (with 2 or 3 players), and has a great luck/strategy balance. I for one, am very impressed with Hansa. It bears a passing resemblance to Web of Power in the decisions and balance in the game. But where I found Web of Power to be dry and abstract and difficult to get excited about, Hansa just cruises seamlessly with a blend of simple mechanisms and addictive gameplay. Michael Schacht, you have come a long way from Blindes Huhn...