Sunday, 26 April 2015

Hansa Teutonica: Britannia

Plays: 4Px1.

Hansa Teutonica, published in 2009, took most gamers by surprise. It didn't look like much. It wasn't from a hot designer. The artwork and setting are very run-of-the-mill. However most players who tried it were pleasantly surprised, and the positive word of mouth spread like wildfire, eventually making it one of the hottest games in that period. That's about 5 years ago now. Hansa Teutonica did not grow to become a classic, but it did well enough for the publisher to have released two expansions. Britannia is the second expansion which came out in 2014.

If you are not familiar with the base game, you can read my older blog post here.

The Game

The Britannia expansion is a new map, with its own quirks and with some additional rules. These additional rules are best described while referring to this photo below.

The biggest change are the Scotland and Wales regions. Scotland is in the north (left side of the photo), and paths in Scotland are blue. Paths in Wales are brown. There are restrictions around placing your pieces into these two regions. You need to have established offices in London, Cardiff or Carlisle. If you are the most recent player to have established an office in Carlisle, you have the right to place one piece in Scotland on your turn. If you are the most recent player to have established an office in Cardiff, you have the similar right except it is for Wales. London works for both Scotland and Wales. Due to such restrictions, establishing trade routes and opening offices in Scotland and Wales are a pain. Naturally, there is a reward which makes this worthwhile. Players who control the most cities in Scotland and in Wales respectively at game end will score bonus points.

In the southeast corner, the two paths going to France have a special bonus token icon drawn next to them. If you establish a trade route here, you gain a bonus action. This type of special action first appeared in the first expansion.

Yet another change is one of the game-end conditions. The game ends when 8 cities have all office spots filled up, as opposed to 10 in the base game. This impacted our game. It was how our game ended. With this change, it seems it is much easier for games to end this way, so players will need to watch out for this more carefully.

The Play

I played a 4P game with Ivan, Jeff and Chu. The gameboard is double-sided, one side for 2-3P, the other for 4-5P. I assume this means the maps are tuned well for the specified player counts. When I started playing, my first thought was this is quite complex. Only much later I realised that there are actually not many rules additions to the game. I felt overwhelmed only because I was rusty. It had been quite a while since my previous game. Playing Hansa Teutonica again made me appreciate how rich the strategic space is and how much freedom the players have. The basic actions are very simple. It's just placing your pieces, moving them about and filling up paths on the board. What make the decisions interesting are where and when to do these. The where and when determines how you upgrade your actions, where you establish offices, whether you gain bonus tokens. Ultimately all these little where's and when's form your strategic masterplan for scoring points. That is, if you have one. Otherwise you'd be just flailing around. There is much player interaction in this game. It is always a joy to stick your piece in that last spot which your opponent needs to complete a trade route. Playing this game is like going: "Jerks. Jerks everywhere."

I was mostly flailing in the game we played. I did try to establish offices more, hoping to link up York and Oxford for the 7VP. Unfortunately I underestimated how soon the game would end, and didn't manage to complete this quest. I didn't put much effort into placing pieces in Scotland or Wales. These two areas were eventually dominated by Chu and Jeff respectively. In hindsight, it was a bad idea to have not invested in those areas, wasting the privilege I had for some time when I had an office in London. If I had controlled even one office in Scotland or Wales, I would have scored 4VP (which is not insignificant) for placing second. This was probably more worthwhile than trying to shoot for connecting York and Oxford, which was a 7VP-or-nothing venture.

The tempo of the game caught most of us by surprise. I felt I was neither here nor there. I hadn't managed to max out any of my techs. I didn't have enough time to link up York and Oxford. The only thing I managed to do more of was establishing offices next to paths where people tended to establish trade routes. Each time someone (including yourself) establishes a trade route next to a city you control, you gain 1VP. I scored such baby-step single VP's more than others, giving me a lead over the others in in-game scoring. Surprisingly, this was sufficient to give me a narrow victory at the end of the game. I suspect it is because our game was rather low-scoring. We were mostly in the mid twenties.

I've always liked this player board. Informative and practical. The table top shows the five techs you can advance. The table front shows the five possible actions.

Our game-end score. Ivan says this is quite low.

At game end, Jeff (purple) monopolised the cities in Wales (brown area). Ivan had set up shop in Cardiff and Conway, but at both locations Jeff's newer offices overpowered his older ones. So eventually Ivan controlled no cities in Wales, which was a pity. If he had controlled even just one, he would have scored 4VP more.

The Thoughts

If you like Hansa Teutonica and play it often, there is no question - buy this expansion. It gives some variety, but does not change the core of the game or upset the balance. Games like Power Grid, Age of Steam and Ticket To Ride have so many expansion maps that after a while you start to question whether you really need that many. Hansa Teutonica only has 3 maps in total, so it is definitely justifiable to own them all.

If you don't like the base game, this expansion won't change your mind.

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