Andreas Steading’s Hansa Teutonica (published in the US by Z-Man Games) is a difficult game to describe, since there is a lot going on and not a lot of thematic reasoning to help explain it.
Each player (from three to five, with additional two-player rules provided and a double-sided board accommodating either 2/3 or 4/5 players) has a board indicating his strength in five different abilities; all of the spaces on the board save the left-most in each ability begin the game with a cube or disk covering it. The rest of a player’s cubes (and one remaining disk) are split between his active supply and his stock according to player order. The abilities and supply/stock mechanic are reminiscent of another Z-man published title, Endeavor, but the similarities (and easy comparisons) end there.
On a player’s turn he has a number of actions as indicated by his current ranking in that ability. Each of those actions can be one of five different types: 1) placing a cube or disk on a route; 2) claiming a completed route and either installing an office in one of the cities (if you have the appropriate privilege level for the current office; the other cubes/disks are returned to the player’s stock) on one end or advancing in an indicated ability if applicable (the removed cube/disk is added to the player’s active supply and the ones on the route are all sent to the stock); 3) drawing a number of cubes and/or disks from your stock to your active supply (the number determined by your “money bag” income ability); 4) rearranging a number of cubes/disks on the board (equal to your current “book” ability); or 5) displacing an opponent’s cube/disk. Displacing a cube costs you one additional cube, and displacing a disk costs two cubes; the displaced player then gets to take that many cubes and/or disks from his stock and places them, along with the displaced object, on an adjacent route. Forcing other players to displace your pieces is a very strong tactic, as it costs them pieces while providing you with additional ones.
A point is scored whenever a player has control of a city (the most or, if tied, right-most offices in that city) and an adjoining route is completed. Additional points can be scored by claiming certain offices (often ones with only one adjoining path) or if a player manages to connect the two red-indicated towns (on opposite ends of the map). A player reaching twenty points will end the game, although the scores will not remain there for long. There are also two other ways to trigger the end of the game: when the supply of bonus disks is exhausted, or when ten cites on the board are completed. Bonus disks lie along certain routes and provide one of several free actions for later use; when a disk is claimed, a new disk is placed along an empty route by the active player at the end of that turn. Completing cities is such a rare and difficult task (due to privilege requirements) that a situation in which that condition is met before one of the other two seems impossible to visualize, but it must exist as a viable condition for a reason.
Regardless of how the game ends, bonus points are then scored for various categories. Each maxed-out ability (save one) is worth four points. Claimed bonus disks (used or not) are worth an increasing number of points based on how many you have collected. Each player scores one point for each office he controls in the longest chain of connected towns, which is then further multiplied by that player’s “town key” ability (the one ability that doesn’t award a bonus on its own). A player also scores two points for each city he controls. Finally, any players that have placed a disk on the “Colleen” space on the board scores the corresponding number of points (from seven to eleven).
As you can see, there are a ton of options, which means a staggering number of choices each turn. New players can (and usually will) be overcome with a sense of having absolutely no clue what to do, and observing a game in progress doesn’t help as there is seemingly no rhyme or reason as to what is going on. The only real way to learn is to play; if one or two players have even only a couple more games’ worth of experience they will probably be destroyed. Not helping matters is the incredibly dry theme (something about 12th – 14th century Germanic merchants forming a sort of trade league… yeah) which does nothing to draw in new players. That basically just leaves a lot of wooden cube-pushing to wade through, which is decidedly not for everyone. The strategy is definitely there, and multiple apparent routes to victory provide additional depth. If the lack of theme is something you can deal with (or, in some cases, prefer), Hansa Teutonica can be picked up at a gaming store for about $50, although I’d recommend playing a game or two first if possible to make sure.