and everything under the sun is in tune
My first playing of Hansa, my opponents being Joe L. and Martin. I am not quite up to the task of giving a detailed account of the game play, as it is a little on the convoluted side, but here's a halfhearted attempt anyway. The game board is a map of the Baltic Sea with nine or ten cities port cities marked thereon and arrows dictating the various routes (always one-way) that can be taken to other nearby cities. Players have an income of 3 gold a turn, and with their gold they can move the common ship and take one action in each city visited. One can, for instance, buy one available good in each city the ship visits. The goods can then be used in other cities to create new markets in the player's color, or else delivered to an already-existing market for victory points if you have a pair in the same color. Having the most markets in a city also lets you take a good for free instead of having to buy it for a gold. There are a lot more rules regarding requirements for and consequences of delivering goods, refilling goods to the board, and other restrictions and details in general, but to go into these would violate my promise to do a half-assed job at describing the game, and I would never break a promise to you, gentle reader.
Not surprisingly, I had an extremely difficult time understanding the rules to this one; as we started the contest I had almost no idea what I was doing, and my first move was both a horrible squandering of funds and a very nice setup for the next player, namely Martin. I soon got up to speed, however, and eventually even pointed out a thing or two on the board that the others hadn't noticed. Martin seemed to be in the lead as we headed down the home stretch, but on our last turns both Joe and I swept past him, with Joe snagging the win. I didn't come in last. Technically speaking this was a "miracle."
I liked Hansa--much more than I expected, in fact. I do not share the gaming community's love of Michael Schacht, as there is something in his designs which does not quite mesh with my personality; there seems to be something cold and unfriendly in them, as they have the abstractness of a Knizia with none of the fun or elegance. I'll admit that he has made some games which I thought were decent--namely Dschunke and Industria--but even these had a whiff of Schachtness about them, and so I am wary of his stuff.
Hansa, however, I liked. Solving the riddle of what you should do on your turn is fun, and yet the game didn't bog down into analysis paralysis; the game state fluctuates too much to worry about the long term, and there isn't really ever a make-or-break moment that you have to sweat bullets over. If the little white ship passes your port by, don't worry, it'll be back. The other nice thing is that there are all kinds of different things you can do on your turn, and each of these has some kind of satisfaction of its own. If you can't pull off a big VP grab, you can build markets and set yourself up for later, and if you can't do that, just stick the boat in the worst place possible for everyone else, and if you can't do that, save your money to make a really big play next turn.
My only criticism is that there can be a little down time, as you really need to explore a lot of possible moves when it comes to your turn. Sure, during your opponents' turns you might be able to make an educated guess at what the board is going to look like when it rolls around to your go, but if you're wrong then you'll just have to start over from scratch and make a totally new plan. Moreover, for every course of action you explore you really need to look ahead and see how you're leaving things for your opponent, since you of course don't want to give away the farm with your move, however good it might be for you. Anyway, the point is that I would be a little nervous about playing with four players unless I knew that they were the fly-by-the-seat-of-their-pants type.