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Subject: The Best "Euro" from Essen 2009 rss

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Ted Alspach
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Intro & Background
When I was reviewing the awesome BoardgameNews.com Essen spiel preview, as I do several times leading up to Essen, I pretty much ignored Hansa Teutonica, as it didn’t seem to offer anything new or interesting. In fact, after reading the preview, even “meh” seemed like giving it the benefit of the doubt. After Essen, however, I started to hear a few rumblings that this might be a game I would be interested in. I played it for the first time at BGG.con (thanks, Tom!), and immediately purchased it. In fact, I got up from the table and said “if you don’t mind, I need to make sure I get one of these right now” and left the other four players to clean up, which is normally unacceptable, but in this case I didn’t care...I had to have a copy of this game. Since then I’ve played it seven more times, including at least once with each number of players (2-5). So you probably have an idea of where I’m going to end up with in this review.

Hansa Teutonica is a classic euro game in the veins of Tikal, China/Web of Power and Caylus. Initially it feels an awful lot like China/WoP, but as I’ve played it more I’d have to describe it as a supercharged Tikal with the wide variety of Caylus-like choices. The China/WoP “with a tech tree” descriptor is still there as a minor reference, but the action limitations and wide variety of placement options move it quite a bit away from the simplistic gameplay and limited choices of those games.

Each turn each player has a limited number of actions which they can use to claim cities for VPs, increase their abilities, block other players, or set themselves up to do any of the above. A lot of mechanisms are rehashed from other games but they fit together amazingly well to provide a fantastic classic euro gaming experience.

Components
Hansa Teutonica comes in a flat “standard” size large box, with hideous artwork (this is of course subjective, but it reminds me of high school art class walls, and the dude on the cover is effeminately creepy looking, though I’m pretty sure it wasn’t intentional). While the game comes in English and German, by looking at the front of the box and the sides you’d think it was only in German. The front has the phrase “Ein Stratiespiel von Andreas Steding” which of course means it's a strategy game by Andreas Steding, but to the non-German aware it might as well say “this isn’t something you silly Americans can play, move along please.” Fortunately, the back of the box has an English description as well as a German description, but (like the rules, covered in more detail below), the English was written by a non-native speaker, and the result ends up being comical and may indeed scare off English-speaking gamers who might attribute the poor translation to an overall lack of game quality.

Inside the box you’ll find a few large cardboard punchouts, including player mats (called “escritoires” in the rules, which serves to simply slow down rule reading and comprehension), Bonus Markers and Totally Unnecessary Soldiers(tm). There’s also a big bag of cubes and discs and a Pawn Thinger, and a double-sided board (one side for 2-3 players and the other for 4-5 players, ala China). And German/English rules in a full size, fully illustrated booklet.

The player mats are well designed, though a little busy due to the need to show numbers both on and under each of the tech advances. This can cause confusion initially, and the yellow player is at an even greater disadvantage, as the “gold” VP indicators are a very similar color and shape to the numbers under each ability. The mats are in a bit of an odd shape to represent a 3D desk or counter, but I didn’t pick up on that until I was looking up a rule and saw them stacked on top of each other.

The cubes and discs are painted wood, just a wee bit smaller than I like but certainly serviceable considering the gameboard (which probably would have had to be larger if larger cubes/discs were used). You’ll definitely want to bag this game using seven small (I suggest 3x3’s) bags: one for each of the players’ color cubes/discs, one for the bonus markers and city completion cube, and one for the two player Totally Unnecessary Soldiers and Pawn Thinger. Throughout this review I call the cubes and discs “Kontors” as they are referred to in the rules.

The bonus markers are metal plates with food on one side (very unappetizing food, it looks old and leathery) and the bonus on the other side. They will get lost on the board and when placed on the appropriate spot on your player mat.

The board is quite busy but again serviceable. There’s a lot going on there, and a few of the scrolls are not quite as tied into the cities they’re supposed to be as I’d like, but after one game most players shouldn’t have any problems.

The rules for Hansa Teutonica are written, as noted above, by a non-native English translator, and the result is often quite amusing. My personal favorite is the section describing triggers for the final scoring: “And of the Game”. It doesn’t help that there are Latin terms mixed in with the English. However, the rules are certainly suitable for playing and adequate for a reference. Even though I was taught the game, I could see myself having learned it from the rules. While there are a few ambiguities throughout, none are critical to gameplay, and it was easy to make logical assumptions where there were questions.

Setup
Setup is pretty quick: Three of the bonus markers are placed face up on the three villages on the board, each player places cubes on all but the leftmost spots on each of the skill tracks on his player mat, one cube on the 0 spot of the VP track on the gameboard, and each players’ remaining cubes are divided into two groups: a personal supply and a general supply (we call this “El Grande” style). The starting player gets 5 in his personal supply, the 2nd player gets 6 and so on.

Mechanics
On their turn, each player may do any number of actions, determined by the rightmost empty spot on the action skill track (on the upper right of the player mat). Everyone initially starts with two actions, and throughout the game each player may increase the number of actions available up to 5 actions. The actions available to each player are:
Resupply Kontors: Bring the number of Kontors from your General supply into your Personal supply as indicated by your “bag” level skill track on your player mat.
Allocate Kontors: Place a kontor (cube or disc) on an empty spot on any road.
Displace Kontors: Replace an opponent’s Kontor with your own, paying one kontor to your general supply to replace a cube and two to replace a disc. Your opponent immediately moves the displaced Kontor to a new nearby empty road spot, and places one or two additional kontors from their general supply nearby as well.
Move Kontors: Move the number of Kontors indicated by the current “book” level on your player mat to any other empty locations on the board.
Establish a trade route: We tend to call this “claim a road.” Once all the spots between any two cities are filled with your own Kontors, you may do this action. Claiming a road lets you either (a) place a Kontor in a city on either side of the road (limited by kontor type and your current “privilege” color) or (b) remove a Kontor from the associated skill track if there is a related scroll in one of the two cities. The removed Kontor goes into your personal supply.

The player mat shows five difference skill tracks, which can be upgraded during the “Establish a Trade route” action if your trade route ends in a city that has a scroll that matches the skill track you wish to enhance. The five skill tracks are:
Town Key: This increases the multiplier for your “Cloud” of connected cities at the end of the game.
Actions: This increases the number of actions available to you each turn.
Privilege: This allows you to place in empty city spots with different colors (initially you may place in only white).
Book: This gives you a disc instead of a cube, and increases the number of Kontors you can move each action.
Resupply Bags: This increases the number of Kontors you get when you resupply from the General supply to your personal Supply.

Whenever a trade route is established, the player(s) who controls the cities on either side gets a VP. A player is in control of a city if they have majority in that city, with ties being broken by the rightmost Kontor. If a bonus marker is on that route, the player who establishes the route gets the bonus marker to use as a free action from any point onwards. On the same turn, that player puts out a new bonus marker on the route of his choice. This last rule is the one that everyone forgets. The player mat has a place for the new bonus marker to go until it is placed, but it makes the marker blend in with the mat. There are so many things going on during someone’s turn that this has been a slight issue for our games (especially because not having the new marker out changes what the next player will potentially do). There’s also a special “scroll” in the lower left of the board that provides VPs at the end of the game.

The game ends instantly when one players’ score reaches 20, or if 10 cities are full, or if a Bonus Marker can’t be replaced (because they’ve run out). Then the final scoring happens, with bonuses for Bonus Markers, 2 pts for each controlled city, 1 point for each city you have a Kontor in that is in the largest contiguous group (the “cloud”) times the key on your mat, 4 pts for each completed skill track, and additional points for each of the discs you’ve placed in the lower left (at Coellen). The player with the most points wins the game, and there’s no tiebreaker (in the 8 games I’ve played, it’s never been closer than 5 points or so between the winner and the next player).

Optimal number of players: 5
Hansa Teutonica plays from 2-5 players, with 5 being ideal as it causes the most contention. With two players, there are special rules:
Place the Totally Unnecessary Soldiers on the board at setup: : For some reason, there are cardboard soldiers you place in spots to separate a few areas of the board into provinces. Why these weren’t just printed on the 2-3 player side of the board to begin with (it wouldn’t have impacted 3 player games) is a mystery. You never move them, they’re there the whole game, they get bumped occasionally leading to potential confusion, and they are, as stated above, Totally Unnecessary.
Move the Pawn Thinger up to two spaces before or after your turn
In order to use the Allocate, Displace or Establish a Trade Route actions, the Pawn Thinger must be in the province
You can move the Pawn Thinger anywhere for the cost of one action
The two player game is actually quite good, and the movement of the Pawn Thinger can be very strategic, especially in the early game.

Game Length
The game takes roughly 1-2 hours to play, more with more people. This is NOT a game you want to play with A/P gamers, as the game will come to a screeching halt when it is their turn. We had one such player at my first game, and he took longer than all of the other players combined. As always, this is subjective, but unless you really like that A/P player, don’t play this game with them.

Strategy
Here's a few pointers that might help you out:

Bags and Actions are important in the early game.
Getting into cities near the scrolls early on can result in a lot of VPs throughout the game.
Blocking gets you lots of “free” cubes on the board.

Rating and Summary
meeplemeeplemeeplemeeplemeeplemeeplemeeplemeeplemeeple
Hansa Teutonica is now my top Essen 2009 release, supplanting Tarantula Tango, Fast Food and Ubongo 3D. I think it has the legs to be a classic “heavy” euro, and I expect to play it quite a bit in the near future.
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KAS
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Arlington
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Nice review. I just played my first game and I agree it is a great game. It reminds me a little of Endeavor (which I do like) but appears to have more interaction and depth. I think that there will be a lot of group think when playing this so it will be interesting to hear how strategies develop over time.

BTW, I must add that the English rules, as written are not very good. They have all the needed information, but are not presented in an easily digestible way.
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I'm quite happy I purchased a copy (in fact - traded it cool ). Now, if I only had the time and the group to play it yuk
 
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Geeky McGeekface
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Ted, I bet that Steding came up with the two-player rules after the board artwork was finalized. Hence the Totally Unnecessary Soldiers.

By the way, both "establish a trade route" and "claim a road" are incorrect terms. As Rick Thornquist taught us, the proper phrase is "popping" the route. We used that throughout our game and it seemed to fit very well.

I agree, this is one of the highlights of the Essen crop. Although no one game stands out, there are 6 or 7 that I really liked and Hansa Teutonica stacks up with any of them. Like you, I was unimpressed by the rules, but the end result wasn't too surprising, given the quality of Steding's earlier designs.
 
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Matthew Chua
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kneumann wrote:
Nice review. I just played my first game and I agree it is a great game. It reminds me a little of Endeavor (which I do like) but appears to have more interaction and depth. I think that there will be a lot of group think when playing this so it will be interesting to hear how strategies develop over time.

BTW, I must add that the English rules, as written are not very good. They have all the needed information, but are not presented in an easily digestible way.


You took the words out of my mouth - the game play description does remind one of Endeavor. Wonder how they both stack up with more plays.
 
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Snooze Fest
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I played this yet again, on the last day of the con. It was with 5 players, one of whom took for-freaking-ever with his turns (although he did win -- yay for him!) -- it was so painful! But one of the others had actually read the rules, and there is apparently one that we'd not played with before: you can also score VP immediately by establishing a connection between the 2 purple-banner cities (in the middle of the left and right sides of the board). The first person to do so scores 7, and I think the next one scores 5?

I think the game was pretty good, although I'm not quite as blown away by it as you were (Fast Food and Tarantel Tango ... now those were fun games!). Players really need to do a good job keeping each other in check; if one person is allowed to play unmolested (e.g., get a bunch of extra actions easily) or if several players end up displacing one player preferentially, that player will end up doing very well.
 
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KAS
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snoozefest wrote:
But one of the others had actually read the rules, and there is apparently one that we'd not played with before: you can also score VP immediately by establishing a connection between the 2 purple-banner cities (in the middle of the left and right sides of the board). The first person to do so scores 7, and I think the next one scores 5?
Yeah, if you connect between Arnheim and Stendal the 1st person gets 7PP. the 2nd gets 4PP and the 3rd gets 2PP. In two of our 3 games, the (only) person who made the connection ended up winning. Not only do you get these bonus points, but if you get your key level to 3 or 4, it can be 40PP additional.
 
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J C Lawrence
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toulouse wrote:
This is NOT a game you want to play with A/P gamers...


You sweet-talker, you.
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Jonathan Challis
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Inkpen
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I'm with Clearclaw...

Words like that are what AP players like us look for!
 
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Mike Siggins
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Yes, the cross board build is important. Like all the other key spaces though, if two or three players fight over it, things get tough. I tried for it in my first (success) and third games (failed by one space).
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Jason Matthews
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First, thanks for the great review, Ted. The game deserves some attention.

Hansa Teutonica was the last thing I played at BGG.Con, and I am glad I did. Looking at it, and then listening to the rules explanation, I thought this was going to be a stale, cube-pushing nightmare. Happily, the experience of playing the game was something altogether different.

What I think distinguishes Hansa Teutonica is its successful effort to incoporate player interaction in a tech tree game. You really care what goes on before and after your turn. That alone makes this game worthy of study.

Larry is more bullish on this crop of Essen games than I am. Rather than 6 or 7 good ones, I am more in the 3 or 4 game I might still be interested in a couple of months from now. But among that number, Hansa Teutonica certainly has a place.

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Jesse Dean
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Jason, which three or four are those?
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Jason Matthews
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Jesse,

Our crew really likes Endeavor (not exactly an Essen release from the US perspective) and Peloponnes. From BGG.Con I really enjoyed this, and to a lesser extent, Homesteaders (kind of a riff on Puerto Rico). I haven't tried Tobago or Vasco de Gama, but had them on good enough authority to order them. So, we shall see.

Of course, this is a case of different strokes. But I thought BGG.Con was illustrative. There was no single game dominating the playing room, or discussions. Some people really liked Dungeon Lords, others thought it was "meh", same for Shipyards. Colonia was a complete disaster with our crew, I sold mine to someone who liked it. But it struck me that there was a little desperation in finding something to really like about this Essen crop. All these long and meaty games, one of them HAS to be good, right?

Jason
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KAS
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JasonMatthews wrote:
Our crew really likes Endeavor (not exactly an Essen release from the US perspective) and Peloponnes.
We also have enjoyed Peloponnes, but it doesn't look like Ted had a good time with it.
 
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Bruce Murphy
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kneumann wrote:
JasonMatthews wrote:
Our crew really likes Endeavor (not exactly an Essen release from the US perspective) and Peloponnes.
We also have enjoyed Peloponnes, but it doesn't look like Ted had a good time with it.


Peloponnes: Not a good game if you enjoy throwing coasters.

I'll keep that in mind.

B>
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Jesse Dean
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JasonMatthews wrote:

But it struck me that there was a little desperation in finding something to really like about this Essen crop. All these long and meaty games, one of them HAS to be good, right?

Jason


Jason,

Ah, I see. I have played neither of those, but I did find Shipyard to be pretty intriguing. Power Struggle also stood out to me. Did you get to play it? Larry mentioned to me at the convention that he liked it quite a bit as well. I suspect it will end up being my "game of the year"
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mojo shivers
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One of the best new games I've played this year, if not the best.
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Geeky McGeekface
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I have an article up on BGN now about the games I really enjoyed at BGG.con. Here it is:

http://www.boardgamenews.com/index.php/boardgamenews/comment...
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