The day of gaming began innocuously enough with Van suggesting a rematch at Battle Line despite her winning the last game couple days back. As usual, it was a tight affair with Van emerging victorious 2 games to 1. While abstract (typical Knizia), the tension the game creates is splendid. Some view the tactic cards as overly random but I see it as an opportunity cost mechanic which I enjoy.
Opting to hold tactic cards in hand means the trade-off of greater flexibility by holding more numerical cards. I usually avoid taking tactic cards till my opponent takes his/her first one so as to reserve an option of responding if he/she does play one against me.
Besides the decisions of how early to take a tactic card and how many to take is the decision of when to play a tactic card. My experience is that I will usually initiate the play of tactic cards when I'm falling behind and do so in the hope that my opponent holds inferior tactic card(s) which prevents a timely response. When ahead, there is absolutely no reason to open the can of worms that tactic cards bring and often I'll 'take a blow' without responding so that no further tactic cards can be played against me.
All in all, my opinion is that meaningful decisions are introduced with tactic cards and I always opt to play with them except when teaching new players the game.
Marcus contacted me last minute that he was available to game. He brought along Hansa Teutonica which I had read so much about from the Essen reports on BGG. It has been touted as comparable to Endeavor but perhaps more gamey. I had my reservations about Endeavor despite owning it and wondered if Hansa Teutonica would be a worthy substitute as a game with somewhat similar mechanics.
We grappled a bit with the rules at the start as it was the first time Marcus was explaining the rules. In retrospect, there is probably a little more to explain for HT since its mechanics are less streamlined than Endeavor and it possesses more numerous ways of scoring points. However, I do appreciate that points scored for your development tracks are less fiddly than those scored in Endeavor. In HT, you simply score 4 points for each track you maximize. With a few plays in the bag, I suspect HT shouldn't be much tougher explaining than Endeavor.
It was a close game with the three of us groping in the dark trying to formulate some kind of strategy. Marcus and I realized early that developing our actions track would be key to our competitiveness and thus there was fierce competition for the relevant route. Van caught on a bit later and was unable to maximize her actions track by the end of the game. My points grew as I controlled a city on that route and I ended the game when I crossed the 20 point threshold by scoring the 7 points given to the first player to connect the 2 red labelled cities from east to west. Marcus almost caught up as we tabulated the scores as he was the only one to advance his network multiplier to 2, which doubled the points he scored for each office he possessed in his longest network of connected cities. The scores ended 42-40-18.
The game played quick - one hour excluding rules and set-up for a first game! It pleased me to see that HT plays likely in the same time as Endeavor despite posts on BGG that suggest that it plays longer. I was a bit perturbed that most parts of the board were left untouched as we focused our actions on the south-east portion where the city to upgrade the actions track laid. I also questioned the game was too predictable as it was apparent that the action track seemed overpowered as suggested by some on BGG. But upon some reflection, I realized the various options to score points in the game was oddly balanced and it was possible to do well even without upgrading to the 5th action. The ability to take an action and move multiple cubes while less apparent can be just as powerful and potentially negate the disadvantage of having less actions. In fact, it's probably wise to opt for another path to victory if other players compete too fiercely to upgrade their actions.
Herein lies the factor in which I rate HS over Endeavor. Endeavor is a great gateway game and probably easier for casual gamers to pick up compared to HT. However, my grouse with Endeavor is that every game doesn't seem to develop differently enough. Diversification is the key to victory and one is unlikely to do well if he or she overly neglects any of the developmental tracks. The charm about HT is that there are viable options where players can specialize, whether in their choice of developmental tracks to upgrade or their means of scoring points. This trait of having multiple paths to victory is one possessed by most of my highly rated games including the Princes of Florence.
One play seemed sufficient for me to make up my mind and at the point of typing this entry, I have already sold away Endeavor and made an order for Hansa Teutonica as its replacement.
We ended the night with Le Havre. Marcus and Van seemed to get their hands on all the key buildings before I could and I struggled to keep up. Van sold off her Sawmill which reaped her enough francs to purchase a wooden ship before the Wharf was available. Coupled with my mistakes in the end game, the final scores were 223-196-167 in the favour of Marcus and Van. I realized that the end game is highly critical and there is a need to plan your final actions taken. The tricky bit is that most players will be aiming for the same buildings in the end game (shipping, clearing loans, building the luxury liner, etc.) and you may very well be shut out of those buildings. This happened to me and I wasn't able to finish shipping the goods I stocked up for most of the game. This is especially so since one cannot repeat his last action as his final, unblockable action at the end of the game. A splendid game no doubt and one I'm looking forward to honing my play in.