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Subject: Hansa Teutonica: Soulless, Cube-Pushing Euro Goodness rss

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Hansa Teutonica
Soulless, Cube-Pushing Euro Goodness


Designer: Andreas Steading (2009)
Publisher(s): Argentum Verlag, Z-Man
# of Players: 2-5
Play Time: 60 minutes
BGG Rank/Rating: #49/7.468
Weight: Medium

This review originally appeared on GamerChris.com

Contrary to popular opinion, Hansa Teutonica actually does have a theme. And, since the theme is virtually irrelevant and most likely will not come up again in this review, bear with me now as I explain it.

Players in Hansa Teutonica assume the roles of merchants in the famed Hansaetic League during the 12th or 14th or some similar century, seeking to increase their prestige through developing their trading skills, establishing trade networks among the Hansaetic cities, and founding counting offices along the way. And for some reason, this involves the placing and eventual movement of several brightly-colored wooden cubes (and a few discs) around an old-looking map covered in hard-to-pronounce names.

Thankfully, Hansa Teutonica rises above its thinly pasted-on and exceedingly over-used theme to deliver a pretty impressive game experience.


Game Basics (click here for complete game rules)

The main thing that you'll be doing in Hansa Teutonica is pushing around the aforementioned wooden cubes. That old-looking map is filled with a lot of cities connected by roads containing 2-4 little houses, and on most turns you will be simply placing cubes into those houses. You can do this either by spending actions to place cubes from your active supply or by moving cubes around that are already on the board (which we usually refer to as "teleporting" or "paratrooping" them, even though it isn't really a nice way for us to treat an already anemic theme). If someone is in a spot that you want, you can even displace them, but doing so costs you an extra cube or two (which you spend to your general stock) and also allows your target to move that cube somewhere else and add another cube to the board.

Once you've filled up all the little houses between two cities, you can spend an action to "claim" that route by picking up all of those cubes and getting some benefit. Usually, this means placing one of those cubes into a city at either end of the route to establish an Office. In a few special cities, you can forego establishing an office and instead choose to advance a particular track on your player board (pictured above), which will do things like give you more actions, make actions more efficient, or give you victory points.

Claiming a route also grants a victory point to any player (or the players) who control the cities at either end of that route. And in addition, some routes have Bonus Markers attached to them, which the claiming player also gets as, well, a bonus. These markers have special little powers that can be played at any time on your turn to do things like advance a track on your player board, remove any 3 cubes from the board, get extra actions, or put an office into a city even if it's full.

One other important thing that I need to mention is the difference between a player's stock and his personal supply. Only cubes and discs in the personal supply may be placed onto the board directly, and once used (to claim a route or displace someone else's cube), they go to the stock. You can always activate more cubes on your turn, of course, but it costs an action, and the number of cubes you get is based on how far you've advanced that track on your player board. One of the really cool things about being displaced is that the extra cube you get to place on the board actually comes from your stock, but I'll mention this more later.

The game ends when either one player reaches 20 points during play, you run out of bonus markers and need to place a new one, or 10 cities are completely filled with offices (which never seems to happen). Players then score end-of-game points based on how many cities they control, the number of offices they have connected in a chain, how many bonus markers they have collected (based on a triangular progression), and for each track they completed on their player boards. Total them all up, and most points wins!


What I Think...

Hansa Teutonica makes me think of Data, the android from Star Trek: The Next Generation. He was, of course, a totally artificial construct, soulless and without emotion, an illusion of humanity programmed by his creator. Hansa Teutonica has similarly been called soulless, having virtually no theme and, as much any any eurogame ever before it, existing almost completely as a collection of dry, programmed mechanics for pushing wooden cubes (and discs... don't forget the discs!) around a board.

But at the same time, I remember a distinct period in my early teen years when I, in what was perhaps the pinnacle of my hopeless nerdydom, spoke aloud at my TV (in the midst of a ST:TNG episode, of course), "but don't you see, Data, you really are human!" And just as I felt at the time that Data and his positronic neural net had somehow crossed over into true humanity, my growing experience with Hansa Teutonica has begun to convince me that there truly is a spark of soul somewhere along the intersection of those wooden cubes and the mechanics for how to manipulate them.

Teenage nerdiness and startling revelations aside, the first and most obvious thing going for this game is the sheer variety of options available. On each turn, players face a ton of choices about how to spend their meager number of actions, and with so many ways to score points, there are a number of viable paths that you can pursue strategically. I've seen lots of different approaches and combinations of points win games, and this "multiple paths to victory" is a major turn-on for me. Every time I play, I feel like there's more room to explore and new things to try, and on many occasions, I've even found myself thinking about the game away from the table as well.

However, I don't want to give the impression that players will score points no matter what they do, which is a complaint I've heard about other "well balanced" games. I actually find Hansa Teutonica to be quite the opposite, where you must have a coherent and efficient strategy, or you'll just plain get abused. I like that this game requires experience and skill to do well, but I could also see that it would be a downside for some people. While the mechanics themselves are very simple, knowing how to be effective in the game can be more than a little opaque to new players.

Another facet of Hansa Teutonica, which is actually rather rare for traditional eurogames, is the intense player interaction involved. The "displace" action allows players to directly screw around with another player's plans by kicking them out of particular spots along a trade route. However, this action is so well balanced that the "target" can potentially come out of it actually being in a better position, since they are allowed to add an extra cube to the board for each one of their cubes that is displaced.

As a result, purposefully blocking important routes with the intention of getting displaced becomes a signifiant tool in the game, and combining this with the action of "teleporting" cubes around the board allows a player to be very flexible and opportunistic. And since these extra cubes come from your stock (rather than your personal supply), it sort of short-circuts the whole economy related to cube management. And in a lot of ways, blocking in this way really becomes the bread and butter of the game, where every other action and placement has to be weighed against the benefit possible from getting in someone else's way.

This idea of being opportunistic and able to read the timing and pace of the game becomes very important. It's also critical to know when you should get in people's way, when you need to compete for critical spots, and when it's best to just go off and do things that no one else is doing. You need (as I recently defined) to have a dynamic strategy that is flexible enough to roll with the punches and adapt to what the other players give you.

But with all this praise being said, I do need to mention one black mark on my experience with the game so far. While I have found it to be an exceptional game for 4 and 5 players, I think that we may have discovered that the 3-player game is actually broken. One of the most important cities on the board is Göttingen, which allows players upgrade the number of actions they have each round. On the 4-5 player map, there are two routes leading into the city, but on the 2-3 player map, there is only one. As I mentioned in a recent session report, it appears to be possible that the first player to get their third action can forever block the other players from upgrading it as well, which pretty much guarantees them victory. We tried to think it through and couldn't come up with a way to break the cycle, but I'd love to be wrong and welcome any ideas of how the lock could be broken.

Now, I'm sure that I could go on much longer talking about particular mechanics or strategies, I don't actually think that breaking down the individual components of Hansa Teutonica would do it justice. Because in reality, everything about it has been done before in one way or another. With its tired theme and mish-mash of standerd eurogame mechanisms, a lot of people have assumed they know what it would be like or have written it off as "Just Another Soulless Euro". But Hansa Teutonica is a lot more than just the sum of its parts, and when you fit all the pieces together and start to get a better understanding of it, most people tend to find something quite special about this game.


The Verdict!

Rules: The actual rules are easy to teach and understand, but strategy can be difficult to pick up on in the first few plays.
Downtime: Turns are extremely short and players are engaged all the time through the use of the displace action, so I've never felt like there was any downtime at all. In fact, I never seem to be able to take good pictures of it because I'm too preoccupied with actually playing the game!
Length: My group has averaged 51 minutes for our games, but with repeated play it has now settled more into the 35-45 minute range. I've never had it wear out its welcome.
Player Interaction: With the displace action and intional blocking, you're always screwing with each other, so I'd definitely say High.
Overall Weight: Despite having quite a depth of strategy, it's easy to learn and quick to play, so I'd still call it Medium.
GamerChris' Rating: 9 (on the BGG 10-point scale)
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Tim Seitz
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Thanks for remembering the discs!

With regards to 3-player, you have to be careful not to let one player get too large of an advantage, otherwise he can control the game. The remove-3 bonus marker is integral in ensuring that the first to 3 actions is not automatically the winner. That player cannot simultaneously defend the action route and the bonus token route unless the other two players are playing poorly.
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As I mentioned in a recent session report, it appears to be possible that the first player to get their third action can forever block the other players from upgrading it as well, which pretty much guarantees them victory


Could you elaborate? How can the first player block the others? (and do anything else as well).
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jedimusic wrote:
Quote:
As I mentioned in a recent session report, it appears to be possible that the first player to get their third action can forever block the other players from upgrading it as well, which pretty much guarantees them victory


Could you elaborate? How can the first player block the others? (and do anything else as well).

Player 1 claims the route, then uses his new 3rd action to insert a resource on the action route.

Player 2 moves 2 and displaces Player 1...

a) Player 3 would like an action, too, so he displaces Player 2 twice. Player 1 displaces Player 3, and then does something else with two actions. As long as no player has gets two cubes on the route it is locked up.

b) Player 3 does something else with two actions; so Player 1 displaces Player 2 twice and then does something else with one action. As long as no player has gets two cubes on the route it is locked up.

This is where the remove 3 token comes in. It is necessary to be able to pry out the blockers on the action route.

The fundamental problem is that at least one of the players did not fight hard enough for the action space in the first place. You need to keep it so that no player starts his turn with 2 tokens on the route AND enough resources to displace.
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kilroy_locke wrote:
how many bonus markers they have collected (based on a triangular progression)


More specifically a staggered triangular progression, which amusingly means that it can be closely modelled with a linear one for the values likely to occur.
 
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Kaffedrake wrote:
kilroy_locke wrote:
how many bonus markers they have collected (based on a triangular progression)


More specifically a staggered triangular progression, which amusingly means that it can be closely modelled with a linear one for the values likely to occur.

Yes, I tend to value them at 1.5 points. Which is accurate enough in my experience.
 
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out4blood wrote:
The fundamental problem is that at least one of the players did not fight hard enough for the action space in the first place. You need to keep it so that no player starts his turn with 2 tokens on the route AND enough resources to displace.
You're right. In the game in question, one player went off and did other things and never really tried to fight for his 3rd action, so there was no way that I could break the "lock."

If both other players work together, one of them will be able to break through and get a third action as well (probably the one that is able to claim the "remove 3 cubes" bonus marker). But that still leaves one player at the whim of the others with no real recourse to break through on their own.

One solution that I've considered would be to just have everyone in the 3-player game start with one advancement on their action track (i.e. everyone has 3 actions to start). From there, I don't see that these kind of shenanigans would be possible.
 
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kilroy_locke wrote:
out4blood wrote:
The fundamental problem is that at least one of the players did not fight hard enough for the action space in the first place. You need to keep it so that no player starts his turn with 2 tokens on the route AND enough resources to displace.
You're right. In the game in question, one player went off and did other things and never really tried to fight for his 3rd action, so there was no way that I could break the "lock."

That's certainly an option, and it's been suggested before. Personally, I think the game loses some tension with that variant.

Which seating position is getting that first claim on the action route? If it's always the same, then I would say it's the game, but if it's not, and I don't think it is, then I'd say it's the players.
 
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kilroy_locke wrote:
"but don't you see, Data, you really are human!"


previously, the classic Hitchhikers remark was "bring the robot", and lets face it, compared to Marvin poor old Data was a slightly less neurotic abacus.

Quote:
most people tend to find something quite special about this game.


I remarked the other day that the eights, nines and tens on Geek comments go on for 17 pages, and the reply was that so do the ones and twos. Depth of stratgey is not enough, if no normal person would engage with it a second time. Yes, the best move is obvious, yes, its all been done before, but as for real and impressive finesse there's none here. Its another very good second-class experience for gamers without much.

Quote:
I don't want to give the impression that players will score points no matter what they do


but they do though, don't they, er, though?
 
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aforandy wrote:
Quote:
I don't want to give the impression that players will score points no matter what they do


but they do though, don't they, er, though?

Absolutely not. You can be playing really "well" by upgrading nearly all of your skills and not score a single point!
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aforandy wrote:
kilroy_locke wrote:
most people tend to find something quite special about this game.


I remarked the other day that the eights, nines and tens on Geek comments go on for 17 pages, and the reply was that so do the ones and twos. Depth of stratgey is not enough, if no normal person would engage with it a second time. Yes, the best move is obvious, yes, its all been done before, but as for real and impressive finesse there's none here. Its another very good second-class experience for gamers without much.
I could definitely see HT being a divisive game; sort of "love it or hate it". Again, it goes back to whether or not you get past the initial strategic learning curve or not. The finesse and first-class experience is certainly there, but you have to invest a little to "get it" enough to get the payout. And as I'll address below, I totally disagree that "the best move is obvious"...

Quote:
Quote:
I don't want to give the impression that players will score points no matter what they do


but they do though, don't they, er, though?
Absolutely not. The big problem is that the game is so wide open that it's really hard to learn what you should do, and there are two big hurdles to overcome: 1) knowing what to do, and 2) being efficient in getting it done. I had a decent idea about #1 after my first game, but I still haven't begun to master #2. And let me promise you, not doing well means not scoring many points at all.
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Considering there is no such thing as a soul... and arguably no such thing as theme in a boardgame(no, having tons of pretty pieces, a ridiculous amount of unneeded rules, and poor play testing does not give it one).
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Do you really need to clog a guy's review thread with your views on religion? yuk
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out4blood wrote:
Do you really need to clog a guy's review thread with your views on religion? :yuk:


Huh? Is that what a soul is classified under? Haha. Ok, if you say so.

The term, like theme, has no real meaning, and I pointed it out. Had nothing to do with religion in my mind. Sorry if you are sensitive about it.

I mean, if I said I didn't believe in soul mates, because it was a made up nonsensical term... would you also consider that something related to religion? Honestly just sounds like something you are super super sensitive to. Never in a million years would I have associated the term "soul" to religion.. maybe because I just don't think about religion at all a majority of the time, while you are always thinking about it and therefore it jumped out to you.

Sorry if it upset anyone. Was not my intention.
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kilroy_locke wrote:
The big problem is that the game is so wide open that it's really hard to learn what you should do,


The state of being too "busy" is usually a design error.

Quote:
and there are two big hurdles to overcome: 1) knowing what to do, and 2) being efficient in getting it done. I had a decent idea about #1 after my first game, but I still haven't begun to master #2. And let me promise you, not doing well means not scoring many points at all.


the rather more important question is why would someone play this oddity a second time? Being weird is fine, but there has to be a reason why.
 
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I'm actually surprised your play times have decreased. My group loves this game. It was our game of the year last year in fact, but our plays have gotten longer as we have gotten more competitive at the game.

Our first games saw most people trying to stay out of other peoples' way and play their own game while now they are brutally interactive and all that cube bouncing can really add to game times.

Anyway, great review of one of my favorite games ever.
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Wow, you actually clearly explained what happens in the game and how it is played, and that's taking it where no Hansa Teutonica reviewer or player has gone before.

And that only took you a small portion of your review and you just nerded up the rest.

I have been dying the figure out exactly what is this game. Everyone says how much they like it, and yet no one tries to explain what happens.

It's also clearly fast to play and easy to learn and its rating proves its strategical depth. Also Troyes just passed this game by 1 rank. I'm still a bit miffed that Troyes gets butchered mercilessly for having a thin theme and yet no one really seems to press charges on Hansa Teutonica.
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Zubbus wrote:
It's also clearly fast to play and easy to learn and its rating proves its strategical depth. Also Troyes just passed this game by 1 rank. I'm still a bit miffed that Troyes gets butchered mercilessly for having a thin theme and yet no one really seems to press charges on Hansa Teutonica.


I've never liked it when game designers try to push themes onto abstract games, so I feel like Hansa has too much theme. If the game is purely abstract, it should stay abstract.
 
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For what it's worth, my group plays this a lot (sometimes we'll have 3 Hansa games running in parallel) and haven't had this problem. If someone insists on trying to lock down Göttingen then someone else just drops a circle on it. I once had a game where the other two players were able to take turns with Göttingen but I never had a chance. So on the third turn I went for a key and built up a network while they were fussy around with their boards. When the game ended, I had lost by 1 point. I'm sure I made enough mistakes that I could've squeaked another few points out for the win. So whenever someone tries doing that, that just means that you have to grab a drop a circle on the route with Göttingen and end the game as fast as possible before their extra actions give them too much of an advantage.
 
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CunningAllusionment wrote:
For what it's worth, my group plays this a lot (sometimes we'll have 3 Hansa games running in parallel) and haven't had this problem. If someone insists on trying to lock down Göttingen then someone else just drops a circle on it. I once had a game where the other two players were able to take turns with Göttingen but I never had a chance. So on the third turn I went for a key and built up a network while they were fussy around with their boards. When the game ended, I had lost by 1 point. I'm sure I made enough mistakes that I could've squeaked another few points out for the win. So whenever someone tries doing that, that just means that you have to grab a drop a circle on the route with Göttingen and end the game as fast as possible before their extra actions give them too much of an advantage.

Dropping a merchant on Göttingen is rather expensive, and can easily be undone by bonus tiles (swap kontor or extra kontor).

Of course, I am not really a fan of dropping in Göttingen early anyway. When do you do it? If you are first to three, you should be able to lock things up instead. If you are late to three, then chances are you have missed the main window for scoring points.

Göttingen is a good midgame location, though, and even if no one else is going for it, you can build a late game network through it where running down the clock also benefits you in terms of actions.
 
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Ah, the dreaded 3 player game. It is definitely more competitive. What I've always found more likely than 1 player dominating the action space, is two players dominating it with the 3rd never even having a shot. As has been covered, it's relatively easy to unlock the action space. Use the remove 3 bonus token (which most experienced players know is pivotal) then move and claim. Yes it requires having upgraded your move and/or having a man on the action space already. But it's definitely viable. There are 2 remove 3 tokens in the game as I recall. There are also 2 skill upgrades, and a few +3/+4 action tokens which are also great for breaking the lock.

Now if the game you play severely undervalues bonus tokens, you may just sit around the whole game with swap office tokens on the board. But in the game I last played, everyone valued everything quite well. In fact the player who won was the player who'd been locked out of the action upgrade the whole game. He used a bonus token to upgrade to 3 actions, and then after that just grew his network, racked up a bunch of in game points, used the swap office token to establish control in cities he didn't have permission for, and generally played a very shrewd game.
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