Review: Hansa – Short, Sweet, and Fun
This week, we take a look at Hansa. In Hansa, players compete to sell the most goods while traveling about the Hanseatic League. In this game, coins are essentially action points and the players all share the same ship. It combines light but interesting strategy with a dash of luck and just the right play time.
The Basics. Players are merchants trying to get the most points from trading. While the rulebook is silent on the reason for everyone sharing one boat, I like to think that all players are just starting their merchant careers and that they had to pool their resources to share a ship. This provides them with both opportunity, and competition.
Key cities of the Hanseatic Legaue are represented on the board. Goods are distributed randomly face down to the cities. Goods markers display one to three barrels and come in several different colors. Players start with some “market stands” in chosen cities. Everyone starts with three coins and play begins.
On their turn, a player can move the ship (costing one coin), buy a good from a city (generally costing one), use goods to set up market stands, and sell goods for points. Players can take as many actions as they can pay for, but can only take a single action in any given city. Once they have, they must move the ship to a new city and take an additional action there. Interestingly, the ship can only move along specified tradewinds. So, once you move, there is no going back unless you travel through other cities first
Points are gained through selling goods. And, in order to sell, you must have two goods of the same color. You can also only sell goods in a city that also bears your market stand. And, once you sell, you remove one disc from your market stand stack. Thus, Hansa isn’t just about selling, but also about where to sell and where to set up market stalls so that you can sell later. Plus, once someone sells a color (say, green barrels), then all other players have to discard a green barrel if they are able. Players must constantly watch what the other players pick to avoid disastrous results.
At game end, points are gained from sold goods, unsold goods (partial points), and from any city where a player has their market stand. Most points wins!
The Feel. At its core, Hansa is a euro style strategy game. However, this is not a brain-burning epic like, say, Through the Ages. The game is on the lighter end of the spectrum – perhaps at about the level of a Settlers of Catan. Strategy will pay dividends, and players must plan their moves in advance. But, the game moves briskly and the choices are focused enough that this is a game I wouldn’t hesitate to play with family or casuals.
Though the actions seems simple in theory, the game gets very interesting very quickly because of the single ship mechanic. It ties all of the players together. So everything that you do impacts the other players. Lets say, for example, that another player has a blue tile and you also want to buy a blue tile. Maybe you hold onto it in the hopes that you sell first. Or, if you are more risk averse and don’t want to have to discard it if your opponent sells first, you sail and immediately use it to set up a market stand in a new city.
The nice thing about the game is that everything is open information. True, the goods are distributed at random face down, but they are then revealed to the players. Once obtained, they are kept face up until sold. The other players can then gauge the likelihood that you will sell a good or use it to create market stalls.
The other great thing is the fact that money is essentially action points. Money allows you to refill goods (cost of 1), move the ship (cost of 1), or buy goods (cost of 1). This removes any complicated resource management that would be out of place in Hansa. Further, it allows newer players to plan out their turns quicker without spending much brain power on calculating out their income or reserve. And, since players have a constant income of three coins per turn, there is no risk of accidentally overdoing it early in the game and then fighting to catch up.
Hansa is playable in the 30-45 minute range depending on the number of players. And that is the exact right time frame. After a game of Hansa, you feel satisfied and ready to move on to the next game. Because there isn’t much to do on other players’ turns, it’s easy to keep a conversation going during a round of Hansa. But, because the game moves so quickly, this isn’t a game where you feel like ages pass before your turn comes around again. Instead, the game is engaging and hits just the right balance on playtime.
Components: 3 of 5. Hansa, by and large, uses the standard euro parts. Wooden discs for market stands, wooden ship meeple, and cardboard tokens for coins and goods. The cardboard stock is thick and sturdy – probably more than it needs to be. That was an excellent surprise. The board, on the other hand, is lacking. The board itself feels a little flimsy, though it is certainly thick enough to lie flat and serve its purpose. And the artwork is largely brown and mostly ugly.
Strategy/Luck Balance: 3.5 of 5. Luck is definitely present when goods are distributed randomly. Sometimes things tip your way, sometimes they don’t. Refiling the stalls is a gamble. Still, this is a relatively minor impact and impacts the other players (largely) equally. For example, if you can’t get to needed pairs, you can start using them to build market stalls. This would, in turn, force other players to potentially pay you when buying goods. With the extra actions, you could catch up and buy more goods. Overall, it has no more luck than your average “gateway” game.
Mechanics: 4 of 5. The rules and actions work together nicely and encourages players to plan ahead, watch their opponents, and move strategically. This is a game that is easy to pick up, with actions that are readily apparent, and yet gives rise to some interesting decisions over the course of the game. My one complaint is that the theme could be a little better tied into the mechanics. Why are we all in one boat? Why do we have an automatic income of three coins per turn? But, really, that is just a nit to pick.
Replayability: 3.5 of 5. The randomization of goods mean that each experience will be different. But, even more, the short playtime and accessibility will ensure that this game comes down from the shelf often. It is a good fit for casual gamers and I would even consider it a potential “gateway” game into euro strategy. It does an excellent job of showcasing the “complex strategies from simple decisions” that euros strive for.
Spite: 2 of 5. Spite is very present. Selling goods forces other players to discard a good of that color. And, sometimes the ship can be moved to a city that is less advantageous for the next player. However, moving that ship costs a coin and isn’t always worth it. As for selling goods, often you are just happy to get a matching set and won’t worry about whether other players will discard or not.
Overall: 3.5 of 5. Hansa is an engaging and ultimately enjoyable light strategy game. Calling something a “light game” may sound like I’m damning it with faint praise. Nothing could be farther from the truth. Not every game needs to be a six hour epic. Sometimes, you want to scratch the strategy itch, but you need something shorter or more accessible. Hansa fits the bill perfectly. I could see Hansa fitting on shelves of family gamers or even heavy gamers that like to proselytize.
(A special thanks to Eagle/Gryphon Games for providing a review copy of Hansa)