Pitying fools as hard as I can...
Got Hansa several months ago from Tanga, but didn't manage to pull it out until a couple of days ago. Played with 3 people, all new to the game.
You buy and sell (i.e. convert into victory points) goods from various north-eastern European cities. There is a ship that moves between the cities via perscribed routes and you can only perform an action in the city that the ship is in. Players typically move the ship several times on their turn (moving the ship costs money), buying or selling goods at each stop. Goods can also be converted into market booths in a city; you must have at least one market booth in a city in order to sell goods (and selling goods causes a market booth to be removed).
A nice enough board. The city names are in a somewhat difficult to read font which is compounded by the consonant-heavy eastern European names. The names of the cities don't really matter though. There's a cool little wooden ship, cardboard money ("Talers"), little wooden disks that represent market booths, and cardboard discs that represent goods. There are different types of goods, but they are differentiated only by color. My red-green colorblind friend Ian had a bit of trouble telling the (surprise) red and green goods apart, but since nothing is hidden, he could always ask us.
With 3 new players, it took maybe 45 minutes to set up, learn, and play the game. Lots of interesting tactical decisions to make every turn. Many actions benefit other players as well as yourself, so you have to weigh the pros and cons carefully. Luck was fairly minimal. What goods are in what city is determined randomly, but given that it affects all players, it felt like that evened out in the end. The player who makes the better decisions is going to win the majority of the time.
The theme is pretty well integrated. The way that the market booths, goods, and the ship interact gives that feel of sailing and trading. It would be hard to paste another theme onto these mechanics and have it makes any sense.
Player interaction is fairly minimal. If you pick up a good from a city where another player has the market booth majority, you give him a Taler. At the end of your turn you can decide where to leave the ship. Other than that you are just making tactical decisions based on the board set up that the previous player left you with. With two players, it might be possible to look ahead at your opponents likely next move, and where that will leave you, but with 3, I don't think that would work. You just have to wait to see where things end up and adjust accordingly.
Minor nitpick, but it would have been nice if the goods markers had actual different goods on them (i.e. gems, salt, fish, etc.) rather than being differentiated by color. Would have added more theme to the game, and also would have resolved the minor color blindness issue.
I really enjoyed this game, and I'm curious how it will stand up to repeated play. I have a fear that after playing it 6 or 7 times, the "right" move will always be pretty obvious and the game will play on automatic pilot, but it's possible there is depth I just don't see yet (probably involved with leaving the ship in places inconvenient to other players). The mechanic is enjoyable enough and the game is short enough that even if the strategic depth doesn't hold up, I think it will always be an entertaining filler. Recommended.