Updated: Feb 18
This game from Argentum Verlag and Z-Man Games has become a classic. It was first published eight years ago. If some aspects of Hansa Teutonica seem familiar, it’s because they have been borrowed and used in other games published since.
Hansa Teutonica represents the Medieval trading empire that emerged in what is now Germany around the 12th Century. In British schools, history teaching seems to focus almost exclusively on Hitler and Henry VIII, so few Brits will have even heard of the Hanseatic League. I daresay something similar is true for those in the US. In actual fact, the Hansa was an immensely powerful trading organisation that transcended what we now think of as national boundaries and extended as far north as Norway and Russia. This was the Amazon.com of its day: the world’s first big multinational - in its heyday, at least as powerful as what we now think of as nation states. If you have a chance to visit Bergen in Norway, they have Hansa building preserved there as a museum. This highlights in particular the economic importance in Medieval Europe of dried cod: a key Hansa trading good, in much demand in Catholic Christian communities far inland from the sea where religious prohibitions meant fish was to be eaten rather than meat not merely on Fridays but on the numerous other holy days in the Church calendar.
In Hansa Teutonica, players are using their limited actions (initially just two) to complete routes between cities and either score them or build an office in the city. If they take control of a city, they will unlock a skill improvement, one of which is the ability to take more than two actions. As they unlock skills, they free up more pieces to be played out onto the board, revealing the cost of the next skill upgrade. Players have quite a wide choice of how and where to use their actions but, even with relatively indecisive players, play is brisk. That makes the game ideal for playing with five players - which is, in my view, the optimal player number for this game.
The board is double-sided, with the choice of sides dictated by the number of players. In addition to the original game board, you will see in this Board's Eye View photo, the alternative boards that have been published: one set in Britain and the other in Eastern Europe. These are likewise double-sided. If you are eagle-eyed, you might also spot the 'Emperor's Favour' mini-expansion that was published in last year's Brettspiel Adventskalender. That offers the option of earning one of six face-down rewards but at a cost of sacrificing both a turn and the effects of two already collected bonus markers.
In play, Hansa Teutonica demands strategic thinking. To an extent, players will be developing their ‘engines’ to generate the ‘prestige’ points that determine the winner, but they will also be continually looking at what others are doing because there can be a benefit in placing out pieces to ‘block’ an opponent: an opponent can move your piece but this costs them extra and it gives you the bonus of being able to reassign the moved piece plus another piece.
A common criticism of Hansa Teutonica is that the theme is thin. That hasn’t been my experience in playing this game. Sure, I may not not feel that I am actually running a Medieval trading empire, but then neither am I really fooling myself that I am determining the future of the Free World when I play Twilight Struggle (GMT) as the USA. The game is engaging. It can be quite combative. Tho’ elements have been copied and developed in more recent games, this game stands the test of time remarkably well.
(Review by Selwyn Ward)