Friday, August 13, 2004

Review: Hansa

I'd been hearing a lot of good things about Uberplay's Hansa by Michael Schacht and so I was eager to give this one a try.

On its surface, Hansa is a pretty simple trading game. The rules are very simple and well written. They take only four pages and half of the space on each page is helpfully taken up with examples. On the back page, the essential rules are summarized in a small three inch square box. Once you've read through the rules, you'll probably only need to refer to the summary from then on. It took us all of fifteen minutes to learn the rules and then we were ready to dive right in.

The basic mechanic of the game involves moving a ship along trade routes from one Hansiatic port to another, buying and selling goods along the way. Moving the ship costs one Taler (rhymes with dollar). At each port you may either buy goods (which also costs a Taler), build a market (which costs goods), or sell your goods (which consumes one of your markets). The catch is that you can only perform one action at each stop, and the ship can only travel in a certain direction. So if you want both to buy goods and build a market in the same city, you'll have to chose one action and save the other until you can get the ship back to that port. You're allowed to perform as many actions as you can afford but since you have to move the ship between each one, the more actions you take, the more it's going to cost.

In spite of its simplicity, the game is actually quite deep. There are a lot of decisions to be made and what you chose to do on your turn directly influences what your opponents are going to be able to do during theirs. The only random element in the game is the goods distribution. Beyond that, everything is pure calculation and strategy. Make no mistake, this is definitely a gamer's game.

Our initial game took around 90 minutes. I would imagine that repeated playings would be closer to the 60 minutes advertised.

Playing today were Dan, Arnulfo, Bob and myself.

Early in the game, Dan managed to talk Bob into making a move that left the ship in a very favorable position for Dan. Bob hadn't noticed until it was too late that Dan was going to be able to gobble up and immediately sell a large number of goods on his turn. It didn't help that Bob is color blind. That early blunder cost Bob dearly and rocketed Dan to an early lead.

By the way, this game is definitely not a good choice for the color blind because buying goods that are the same color is quite important and often the only thing that distinguishes one piece from another is its color. Furthermore the colors chosen are similar enough to one another that they can be especially hard for the chromatically challenged to distinguish.

On the last round, Arnulfo, who was very likely bringing up the rear in points, was in a position to trigger the end of the game. The rules state that all players get an equal number of turns in the game. Because he was last in the turn order, if he triggered the end of the game then the game would end without anyone else receiving another turn. He used that to his advantage, triggering the end and skillfully gobbling up several victory points that were within his reach. That brilliant move was almost enough to rocket him into second place but as it turned out, I held on to second by a single point.

The final scores:

Dan: 49
Steve: 43
Arnulfo: 42
Bob: 28

We'll definitely be playing this one again. Bob deserves another chance to redeem himself.


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