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Subject: Review and strategy: A great tactical game rss

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Jay Borden
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This review is based on überplay’s English edition of Hansa after 12 games (11 of them with only 2 players).

General:

Hansa is a very tactical game of pick up and deliver style trading. Set in the14th century, players will compete to become “Master of the Hanseatic city-states” by traveling the Baltic Sea to trade goods and set up markets. The player who can best navigate the trade routes to get his purchased goods to market and sold will win the game.


Components:

1x wooden Merchant Ship
22x Taler coins (Currency)
78x Good Markers (13 for each of the six colors picturing from 1 to 3 barrels)
60x Market Booths (15x wooden discs in each of the 4 player colors)
4x Moneybag tiles
1x Game Board
1x Rules



The components are of excellent quality, but the look is definitely different. All the game pieces use dull hues and the map has a yellow aged feel to it. You could say the game has an almost dreary look overall, but I don’t find the board or bits distracting (I suggest checking out the pictures here on BGG before you buy it if the appearance of games is important to you). My only complaint is the size of the box.


Set Up:

If playing with less than 4 players, all goods of one or two colors will be removed before play begins (2 colors removed for 2 player games or 1 color removed for 3 player games). Shuffle the good markers face down and add a good to each Warehouse space on the board (each city will have at least one warehouse, some will have 2). Separate the remaining good markers into 5 roughly equal stacks. Set the stacks in the stock piles located on the bottom right of the board. Each player takes all 15 market booths and the money bag tile of one color, and 3 gold coins.

Choose a start player (remember who it is since the game will end with each player taking an equal number of turns). Beginning with the start player, each player will take turns adding 2 market booths into any city except Copenhagen (repeat 2 more times for a total of 3 pairs of booths placed). Players can add booths into a city that already contains an opponent’s booths.


Game Play

Many state the rules are non-intuitive, but it shouldn’t take more than one game for anyone to understand the basic rules. I divide the turn into 3 steps, borrowing a few familiar terms from Magic: the gathering.

1.) Upkeep

Income - Always start by collecting 3 taler coins at the start of your turn. Even if you have left over coins or received payments from other players, you will still get 3 coins at the beginning of your turn.

Restock - You may then restock all warehouses for 1 taler coin (it is always only 1 coin to restock no matter how many goods are needed). The warehouses can be restocked only before you begin your actions on your turn. When you restock, take the top good markers from the first available stack one at a time and place them on the empty warehouse spaces in order. Once all warehouses have markers, you may begin taking your actions. If there are no good markers in any cities during the start of your turn, you must restock.

2.) Actions

The following actions may be done in any order and repeated any number of times as long as you have goods or coins to carry them out. You may only carry out one action during each stop in a city (moving the boat to or from the city does not count towards this one action limit).

Moving the boat – All players will be moving the same merchant ship around the board, the ship will start in the same city your previous opponent left it (you may always carry out an action in that city before moving). The map has a series of one-way trade routes that connect the different cities. Each city has at least one outbound route, but several have more than one. For 1 coin, you may move the merchant ship along one of the outbound trade routes to the next city (you must either stop in that city, or pay an additional coin to follow another outbound route from that city).

Buying goods – If one or more goods are available in the city with the ship is ported, you may purchase one good marker for 1 taler coin. If you have the majority of market booths in the city, you will not need to pay for the good. If an opponent has the majority of market booths, you must pay him the 1 taler coin. In case of a market booth tie, you must pay the bank. No matter how many barrels are on the good marker, it will never cost more than one coin.

Setting up Markets – If you have an available good marker, you may use that good to set up market booths in the current city. Select one of your good markers and remove it from the game in exchange for adding 1 market booth per barrel on the good marker. You may only add fewer market booths than the number of barrels if you do not have enough market booths left.

Selling goods – You must be in a city with at least 1 of your market booths in order to sell any goods. Remove one of your market booths from the city to sell any amount of eligible goods. For goods to be eligible, you must sell each different color in groups of 2 or more goods markers (you can sell 3 green and 2 blue as a single ‘selling goods’ action). When you sell goods, each other player must discard a single good marker of each color sold. Sold goods should be flipped face down and stacked. Each good marker sold will be worth victory points equal to one plus the number of barrels on the marker (from 2 to 4 points each).

3.) End Step

Taxes – once the player decides to end his turn (either because he has run out of options or plans to save coins or goods for the next turn), all but 3 taler coins and 3 unsold goods are discarded.
The tax prevents players from stocking up too much gold at once. If you are left with the ship in poor starting location, passing right away on a turn to start the next with 6 coins should be enough to get you back into your territory.
Since only one market both is removed no matter how many good markers are sold, limiting players to 3 goods at the end of their turn forces players to eventually set up new booths in order to continue to sell goods.

Side Rant on Mechanics: Hansa is sometimes criticized for mechanics that don’t thematically make sense. You use goods instead of money to set up markets, think of it as needing start up inventory rather than cash. When selling goods, you need to have a place to sell it that is already established and you reduce the inventory in that location (opponents even suffer losses caused by the drop in demand for the item). Hansa isn’t meant to be a rich thematic experience, so I don’t see why it should be penalized for not being one. The mechanics blend together for a well balanced tactical game that’s far from the worse offender in pasted on themes.


Scoring/End of the game:

Restocking the warehouses is the only action that will trigger the end of the game. When a restock requires you to draw a good from the final stack, the game will end after even turns (continue play until the player to the right of the starting player finishes his turn).

Once the game ends, players will add each of the following to get his total score:

Sold goods – for each sold good, the player will score 1+1 per barrel (2 to 4 points per good marker)

Unsold goods – Players receive 1 point per good they posses not yet sold (regardless of how many barrels are on the marker, it is always worth only a single point).

Markets – Players will score points for each city with at least one market booth. If only one player has booths in the city (a monopoly), they will get 4 points. If more then one player has a market booth in a city, each player will get 2 points.


Strategy:

While there are a few general strategies you can work towards, there are too many variables to consider when planning your turn to set hard rules. I’ll discuss the basic strategies as they apply to a 2 player game.

The Basics:

When in doubt, spread out! – The easiest way to guarantee points is to get at least one market booth in a city. Each city with at least one of your market booths will get you at least 2 points at the end of the game (4 points if your opponents are not present). Since you only have 15 market booths, you will likely need to give up trying for booth majorities in a bunch of cities to have enough pieces to spread out to all 9 cities. As long as you spread out to at least 6 or 7 cities, your opponent shouldn’t be able to easily leave the boat in a bad board position for the start of your turn.

Don’t over commit to one city – You should rarely place more than 2 or 3 market booths in a single city. Stacking up 4 or more booths will rarely be worth the investment. If you stack up on a city, your opponents will either try to keep the ship away from it or claim the other cities in the area. With only 15 market booths to spread over 9 cities, putting 4 or 5 in one will force you to either not set up booths in other cities, or greatly decrease your chances of gaining booth majorities in other cities. If you must add additional booths to a city, make sure it is a key location and has 2 warehouse spaces; all other cities are not worth more than 2 booths in most situations.

The early booth gets the goods – The earlier you add market booths to a city, the more likely it will yield free goods (or at least force you opponent to sacrifice good markers early to counter it). You should not sacrifice all early markets to set up booths, but those 1 and 2 barrel goods you get for free are perfect candidates to drop off in the next city.

Be careful of where you leave the boat - You should carefully consider where you will leave the ship for your opponent. Sometimes taking a less efficient turn in order to prevent your opponents form starting in an ideal position will help you more. Your good turn can sometimes be easily overshadowed by your opponent if you leave the boat in the wrong place (especially if they carried over coins from their last turn).

Don’t lose goods when your opponent sells – This one is sometimes unavoidable or sometimes worth breaking just to keep your opponent from getting another 3 barrel good to sell. Anytime you are planning to end your turn with unsold good, be sure to check if your opponent has any goods of the same color and/or if there are a lot available on the board in the area you will be leaving the boat. It’s better to use that good to add market booths then let it be discarded. This can sometime be used as a trap though.

Know when to hold coins for the next round – This one is probably the most difficult thing to learn since only experience can truly tell you when it’s likely better to spend or save. The average game will leave the map somewhat divided with places on the map with one player majorities in a few cities fairly close together (“my territory/your territory” type of game). If the boat is left in you opponent’s territory, 3 gold will usually keep the boat close enough for them to just move it back on the next turn. In that case, you either try to break up the territory (by buying goods and setting up markets to break your opponent’s majorities, even if it gives your opponent a coin) or try to save coins to be able to move the boat back to your territory.

The other obvious time to save coins is right before a restock. If the board is really emptying out of goods, one of you will need to restock eventually. If you save up before that happens, no matter who restocks, you will have a lot more options to take advantage of the newly available goods. Since the restock is the only “luck” part of the game, you want to be able to get to the 3 barrel goods or keep your opponent away from them no matter where they show up.


Tactics:

Hansa is a very tactical game with minimal luck. While I can’t effectively explain how to be tactical in Hansa (due to the many variables that can influence a move), I’ll list the kinds of questions I look to answer when planning my turn.

1.) How many coins did he save? (if none, I pay more attention to trying to save my gold since he can’t do much to counter)

2.) How many cities need to be restocked? (If I have 6 coins and a lot need restocking, do I have more majorities in the area so a restock would benefit me more?)

3.) What goods are unsold (opponents and mine)?

4.) Are there any goods of that color in the area?

5.) Are there a lot of goods with the same color in the area? Do they match any unsold goods?

6.) Who has the booth majority in the nearby cities?

7.) Can I get enough of one color good to sell?

8.) Can I keep the ship away from the cities where my opponent has the majority (at least the ones with the goods he already has)?

9.) How many cities do I still need to get a booth in (I always try to get 1 booth in each, especially when it breaks up an opponent’s monopoly)?

10.) How many booths do I have left to place? Should I break up my opponent’s majority?

11.) How far are we from the end of the game?

12.) Do I have more sold goods than my opponent (I try to keep a rough idea of how many barrels were on them)?

There’s a lot of information that can influence your decisions, but with at most 6 coins (translating to a 6 move action limit), the board doesn’t change much from turn to turn.



Overall:

Hansa has quickly become one of my favorite 2 player games (along with Tigris & Euphrates and Through the Desert). The only random factor in the game is the warehouse restocks. That leaves plenty of room for good tactics to dominate over the luck factor.

I’d put Hansa in the same general category as Through the Desert and Torres. All are games with only a bit of luck, extremely high on tactics, and a quick play time (about 25 minutes for a 2 player game). If you find either of those games dry, then I do not think this will be the game for you. If you like either of those games, I’d highly recommend trying Hansa.

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Jim Cote
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Great review! cool
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Kent Reuber
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thumbsup I'll contribute a too.
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David
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Quote:
There’s a lot of information that can influence your decisions, but with at most 6 coins (translating to a 6 move action limit), the board doesn’t change much from turn to turn.


Surely it's possible to have more than six coins? For example, if you end your turn with 3 or more coins, and lose all but three to taxes, then other players pay you when purchasing their own goods, and at the start of your turn you collect 3 coins, you could easily end up with seven, eight or even more coins at the start of your turn.

Or have I misread something?

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Jay Borden
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It is possible to have more than 6, but it is not something you can plan on. Since an opponent must buy a good from a city where you hold the majority (and you need to save 3 coins from the previous round), it will be rare to have more than 6 availible on your turn.
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Joe Grundy
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We've recently bought Hansa, and it's become one of our favourites as well.

We don't like Through the Desert (as being too dry) but we very much like T&E.

Have you tried the variant where whenever a good is taken from the board you turn up the next replacement good but mark it as not yet in stock? We like it.
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Tim Royal
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"We don't like Through the Desert (as being too dry) ... "

Most deserts are...
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Jay Borden
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Unfortunately, my 2 player sessions are limited to non-hardcore tactical gamer opponents, so Hansa has been collecting dust for a while.

I grouped Hansa in with Through the Desert and Torres since I feel they reward the same kind of tactical thinking. If someone told me they didn’t like Through the Desert, I’d probably look for something less tactical. My intention was to put a game I obviously enjoy into the right context for someone that might not share my view on tactical games. I just hope my review hasn’t turned other potential fans away with the Through the Desert connection.

I have not tried the ‘reveal the next good to be restocked’ variant yet. I don’t really mind the luck of the restock, but I’d be willing to try almost any variant just to get it on the table again. Last month I finally started playing on MaBiWeb. I was hoping to join the tournament run by Snoozefest, but by the time I was able to get a learning game in…I had missed the deadline for sign ups. I guess there’s always next year (hint, hint).

If anyone is interested in playing Hansa on MaBiWeb, please send a geek mail my way. I’d be happy to get as many games in as possible; it’s still one of my favorite 2 player games.
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Brian Foster
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This is easily one of the best BGG reviews I have read in the last year or so (and I have read hundreds). You not only understand the game well but describe Hansa in a manner that is easy to follow. We have recently started playing it and with each game we become more aware of the nuances that make this a very enjoyable game.

At first, we were disappointed with the game, and found it rather dull and mechanical. Then one time, it just clicked, and now we like it a lot. Once we started playing it faster, that really helped, and now my wife and I make a conscious decision to not get bogged down on our turns!

Thanks also for the detailed information on strategy and tactics, which will continue to help us as we play Hansa. It is rare that one review covers a game so thoroughly, and I applaud your effort!
 
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Deb Wentworth
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Wonderful review. I'd definitely give you a job writing or editing instructions! I understand it now better than I did after reading the rulebook.
 
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Jerry Dicker
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I agree that you have given us a very helpful review but your rules differ slightly from the rules I have seen.

Under 'Game Play, para 2: Actions, Selling Goods' you state "You must be in a city with at least 2 of your market booths in order to sell any goods"

Isn't one market booth only required?
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Jay Borden
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Ailanthus wrote:
I agree that you have given us a very helpful review but your rules differ slightly from the rules I have seen.

Under 'Game Play, para 2: Actions, Selling Goods' you state "You must be in a city with at least 2 of your market booths in order to sell any goods"

Isn't one market booth only required?


You are correct, only 1 market booth is needed, and at least 2 goods of the same color (might have been thinking goods when I wrote it 10 years ago). I will edit the original for anyone else that stumbles on this...fun to read something that is so old I forgot what I wrote. Thanks for the correction.
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Steve PP
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Excellent review! Would you still rate it as one of your favourites after all these years Jay? Just curious how it has stood the test of time for you? Thanks!
 
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Jay Borden
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Redbloke wrote:
Excellent review! Would you still rate it as one of your favourites after all these years Jay? Just curious how it has stood the test of time for you? Thanks!


I still regard it as a top 2 player tactical game I would highly recommend to anyone into those, but it has long since been an active favorite of mine as it doesn't have the depth to keep it fresh. After a couple dozen plays, it didn't offer enough new decisions in each game. After another dozen or so including an online tournament I won, I regarded it as "solved" to me personally. It was clear 1 other opponent was on the same level as me and reacted identical to how I would in every situation. It was always a coin flip of who won each of our games based on the random restocked goods. That has soured it for actually wanting to play it, but I would still say it well worth exploring for anyone new to the game.
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