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
Category: Gamer’s Game
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 to the right), 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!
Wooden cubes… and discs!
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.
- 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! So I’ll call it
- 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)