Die Hanse

Laurin, about £25
Designed by Tom Schoeps
3-6 Players, about 90-120 minutes
Reviewed by Stuart Dagger

Die Hanse is a mediæval trading game based on the Hanseatic League. Each player is the co-owner of two ships, one being shared with the opponent on your left and one with the opponent on your right. In your turn you move both the ships in which you have an interest, sending them on the trading missions which you hope will make your fortune. And in that rule lie both the strength and the originality of the game. In other trading games, such as Ostindiska Kompaniet, Merchant of Venus or Empire Builder, you have your own boat, train, or whatever, and it goes where you want it to go. This time you have a partner, whose trading interests won't quite coincide with your own, and yet with whom you must cooperate if either of you are to get anywhere.

At the start of the game each player is dealt a warehouse card. This card shows the items that you have to obtain and to bring home to your warehouse in Lubeck. Each item that you bring home carries a points value, which is known only to you, and the aim is to have the highest value of goods in your warehouse when the filling of someone's warehouse brings the game to an end.

Trade is by barter. Each ship departs from Lubeck with six salt tokens, three belonging to each of the two partners. From Lubeck the boat heads either for Danzig to trade up for wheat or to Bergen to trade up for fish. Wheat is then taken to Bremen (for beer) or London (for cloth); fish goes to Stockholm (for iron ore) or Novgorod (for furs). Thence it is back to Lubeck to put the stuff into your warehouse and to pick up more salt. When a ship arrives in a port both partners have the opportunity to trade. Each trade begins with the surrender of an appropriate trade goods token from the stock in your part of the ship. Having surrendered this, you pick up three of the trade tokens on offer in the port, inspect the backs of them, where the value is printed, and select the one you want. If you then want to trade further tokens, you may: you are limited only by what you brought to the port and by what they have on offer and are prepared to accept.

Movement is on a hexagonal grid (which, thanks to a remarkably skilful piece of work by the artist, manages to be both clear and unobtrusive) and at any one time there are two movement allowances - one for the Baltic and one for the North Sea. These movement allowances are changed by means of tactical cards, which can also be used to launch pirates, to put trade goods into ports other than their normal home one, to trigger storms and to inaugurate blockades. You play a tactical card whenever you move a ship into a port. Each player also has two special cards which can either be cashed in at the end for points or used to take extra moves, launch pirates or run blockades.

The game is for 3 to 6 players, though I suspect that you might find that there was too much time spent sitting around waiting for other players to do things were you to try it with the maximum number. I have played once with three players and twice with four, and that worked fine. The playing time is about 90 minutes if, as instructed by the rules, you just take the one warehouse card each. However, we found that, with just the six items to collect, this made the game seem a bit too much of a sprint. So, in the second and third games we tried taking two warehouse cards each. Since the game comes supplied with ten of the things, this is easy to do, and we thought that the game benefitted significantly from the change. Moving the finishing post means that you can be more flexible in your planning, and that makes for more scope in the bargaining that goes on with your partners. And, contrary to what you might think, it doesn't double the length of the game: it obviously lengthens it, but only by about 30-40 minutes.

The game equipment is a joy to use: it is solid and beautifully designed, with the mediæval style map that serves as the board being especially fine. The tactics cards are in German only, but this is unlikely to be a problem even for people who know nothing of the language, as there are only six types, none are complicated and all contain easily recognised key words. You do not need to be a master linguist to realise that 'Blockade von Bremen' means 'Blockade of Bremen' or that 'Sturm auf der Nordsee' means 'Storm in the North Sea'. That is enough to tell you whether or not you want to play the card, and you can then refer to the rules translation for the details, though even these are things that you will pick up fast enough as the game proceeds. This is a good middleweight game and one that I am glad I bought.

Stuart Dagger

On to the review of Ko-An or back to the review of Attacke.

Sumo - Mike Siggins - Legal Notices and Other Information