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HANSA

Reviewed by Herb Levy

(Überplay, 2-4 players, ages 10 and up, 60 minutes; $29.95)

 

In 14th century Europe, the Hanseatic League was a center of trade. To become Master of the Hanseatic city-states during this time is the goal of players in Hansa, the new creation by Michael Schacht.

The components of Hansa are basic: a mapboard showing the Baltic Sea area highlighting 9 Hanseatic cities connected by sailing routes, 78 goods markers in six colors (consisting of 1, 2 and 3 barrel markers), 60 market “booths” (i.e. wooden disks) in four colors (15 of each), 22 Talers (the currency of the game), 4 Moneybag tiles, a Merchant Ship and only 4 pages of rules. But what Schacht has done with this simple components is remarkable.hansabox

To begin, the goods markers are mixed, face down, and a single goods marker is placed on each circular Warehouse space on the board, located on the cities. Some cities have one Warehouse, some have two. Remaining goods markers are arranged in five equal piles to come into play later. The Merchant Ship begins at Copenhagen. Each player begins with 15 market booths in his color and 3 Talers from the bank which are placed on the Moneybag tile. A start player is chosen at random and now the board is “seeded”.

In turn, each player places TWO market booths on ANY city (except for Copenhagen). Once completed, this action is done a second time and then, a third time, so each player has six booths on the board. (Restriction: Each pair of booths placed by a single player must be placed in a DIFFERENT city. Opposing players, however, may be in the same city.) Now, the actual play of the game begins.

Three phases comprise a game turn: Income (when the active player receives 3 Talers), Replenshment (allowing the active player to fill all empty Warehouses with goods – at the cost of 1 Taler) and Action (the cornerstone of the game).

Generally, there are three types of Action possible during the Action Phase: purchase goods, set up a market booth and sell goods. In addition, the active player may move the Merchant Ship. It is the combination of these actions that give the game its unique flavor.

If you think of Talers as “Action Points”, you have a good idea of the value of money. For example, the Merchant Ship may be moved as many times as a player wishes. But each move costs 1 Taler. Simple, yes. But not as simple as you may think. “Going with the flow” takes on a whole new meaning here because movement is RESTRICTED by the flow of the sea routes. All sea routes are denoted by arrows. A ship may ONLY move in the direction of the arrow.hansat2

Once the Merchant Ship is in a city, action choices open up. If a good is in a Warehouse space, the active player may pick up ONE good, paying 1 Taler to the bank (if no player’s market booth is in that city or if two or more players have an equal number of booths) or pays that Taler to the player with the most booths in that city. A player gets that ONE good for FREE if HE is the player with the most markets at that particular city.

To set up market booths in that city, you need to turn in a market good in your possession. This allows you to place one booth for EACH barrel on that good. (That market good counter is now out of the game).

Finally, a player may sell his goods at a city and the selling aspect is pretty ingenious. To sell a good, a player MUST have at least one market booth in that city AND have at least TWO goods of the SAME COLOR to sell. If both conditions are satisfied, the player then FLIPS the market goods over. These sold goods will be worth Victory Points at the end of the game. Selling goods does NOT cost Talers but it does cost something. The seller REMOVES one of his booths from the city where the goods were sold! And that’s not all!

When a player sells goods, it can also affect other players in the game. All players holding goods of the same color as the color just sold LOSE 1 good of each color sold!

By the end of a player’s turn, he may not hold more than 3 Talers and 3 goods markers. Any excess is turned in and lost.

When any player decides to replenish the warehouse spaces on the board and market good counters are taken from the fifth and final stack, the last round commences immediately. Keeping in mind who the start player was, the current round is played to the end so that each player has had an equal number of turns. Now, Victory Points are tallied.

Each unsold goods marker is worth 1 Victory Point. Each sold goods marker (the ones flipped over) are worth 1 VP PLUS 1 VP for EACH barrel shown on the marker. (For example, a Goods Marker with 3 barrels is worth 4 VPs!) Finally, players get 2 VPs for each city in which they have at least 1 market booth. (If a player is the ONLY player with a booth in a city, he earns 4 VPs!) The player with the highest total wins!

Hansa is a remarkable game on many levels. A bunch of counters? Some wooden tokens? Only 4 pages of rules? Can’t be much here. WRONG! The intricate interrelationships between goods and markets force you to calculate carefully. Goods are worth up to 4 VPs each when you sell them. But sell them and you lose markets. But without markets, you can’t sell additional goods and LOSE VPs if you lose a presence in a city. But if you cash in goods to get markets, you can’t sell them to get Victory Points. Whew! And, to make matters even more challenging, the game seems to be remarkably balanced. We haven’t been able to find the “perfect” strategy yet, the mark of a well designed game.

To a certain extent, you are at the mercy of the opponent on your right. Where he leaves the Merchant Ship will shape the direction (both literally and figuratively) your actions will take. (An unusual geographic twist here: when traveling from Tønsburg to Stockholm, the boat “sails” across land!) Still, nothing is too far away so that distance is insurmountable. It may be costly (money is VERY tight) but not insurmountable. Which leads to another consideration: Do you buy goods in a city where your opponent will get your Taler? Is it worth it to you to give the enemy the wherewithal to do the extra action your buy will allow? You pay your money, you take your choice!

Hansa is the most substantial individual design from Michael Schacht since Web of Power (Summer 2000 GA REPORT), deceptively simple, well balanced and very challenging. – – – – – – – Herb Levy


 

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