Sophie, Noah, and I played a 3-player game of Hansa this evening. It was my first playing and I must say, it’s an odd one. I’m not really sure what I was hoping for but when the game ended I was less than thrilled about it. I had researched Hansa quite a bit on BGG and its respectable rating of 7.28 and comments from my GeekBuddies steered me to put it on my wishlist. I was excited to play and finally got the kids to join me. Throughout the entire game I felt that I was behind and it was starting to get to me. Both Sophie and Noah were racking up sold goods at an alarming rate and I kept running out of gold just one or two actions short of what I wanted to do. Sophie had the uncanny knack of leaving the ship where it did me very little good. Layer on a good dose of them not wanting to restock the warehouses and I felt like I was getting crushed. But in the end I won by quite a few points due to my lone markets in cities and the fact that I had sold few goods but they were worth a lot of victory points. Now that I’ve had an hour or two for the game to sink in…I’m starting to like it better. The sheer fact that I’m still trying to figure out the best way to balance the actions two hours later is a testament to the quality and depth of the game. Now I’m chomping at the bit to play it against opponents in my gaming group.
The board is a rough depiction of Scandanavia and the waterways the inundate the region. Players are members of the Hansiatic League and they take control of a single ship that plys the waterways (and strangely a land route on the map). The 9 cities of the map contain warehouses that hold one or two goods (tokens depicting one to three barrels in several colors like the blue one in the image above). Play moves clockwise around the table where each player’s turn travels through four distinct phases.
In the first phase, the player receives three gold coins from the bank. In the second phase, the player may optionally restock all empty warehouses on the board. In the third phase, the player takes all of the actions they are willing and able to pay for and in the fourth phase, the player pays any taxes and tolls to the bank bringing his unsold goods and gold coins back down to three each.
Phase three, the meatiest phase, is where the player can move the ship from one city to another but only in the directions indicated by the arrows on the map for one gold coin per hop. When the ship is in a port of call, the player can place markets (wooden discs in the player’s color like the white, orange, and purple chips in the image above) in the city by cashing in a good bought during this or a previous move. The number of market token they place in the market is equal to the number of barrels depicted on the goods they cash in. Player may also buy a single good from the city’s warehouse (if there is one present – see restocking) and the gold coin is paid to the owner of the most markets in the city (or the bank if there is a tie or the city is devoid of markets). Lastly, when the ship is in a port of call where the player has at least one market, the player can sell pairs (or better) of like-colored goods. Selling goods is the only way to convert goods into victory points as the tokens containing the barrels are flipped over and remain in the players cache for end game scoring. After selling though, there is a ‘gotcha’ moment. To sell you must have the ship in a port of call where you have at least one market and when you sell you lose one market in that city. Also, and somewhat more painful, if any other players are holding unsold goods of the same color(s) you sell…then they lose one of the those goods during your sale. OUCH!
There is a stash of five roughly even piles of goods used during restocking and when the fifth pile is needed for a restocking, the game is near the end. When the end game is triggered, you finish the round and end just before the starting player ensuring everyone gets the same number of turns. The player with the most victory points for sold goods plus unsold goods plus victory points for your final market position in the city determines the winner.
Whew! Thank goodness the game is much harder to describe than it is to actually play. Hansa only takes about an hour to play and is listed for ages 10 and up but Noah, at 9, had no problem grasping the mechanics. He even mentioned that had he known more about the victory conditions, he would have done some different things. His final comment was, “Hansa is cool.” What more could you ask for? Come to think of it, I’d like a T-shirt with that on it!