The ABCs of Gaming: H is for…

On with the list!  H is for…

image by BGG user Werbaer

Le Havre was designed by Uwe Rosenberg and released in 2008 by Lookout Games.  The game (1-5 players age 12+, 150 minutes) was Rosenberg’s follow up to the insanely popular Agricola.  Le Havre is about the shipping industry; specifically, it’s about collecting resources, buying buildings, and trying to turn the biggest profit in a French seaport town.  Like its older brother, Le Havre won its category handily, taking 25% of the vote, beating out second place Hive with 15.8%.

Components - image by BGG user foofire

Le Havre comes with a shipload of stuff: 3 game boards, 5 person discs, 5 wooden ship markers, 7 large round supply tiles, 16 large round food production tokens, 1 large round starting player tile, 48 1 Franc coins, 30 5 Franc coins, 60 cattle/meat tokens, 60 grain/bread tokens, 30 iron/steel tokens, 42 clay/brick tokens, 48 wood/charcoal tokens, 42 fish/smoked fish tokens, 30 coal/coke tokens, 30 hide/leather tokens, 5 game turn overview cards, 5 round overview cards, 33 standard building cards, 36 special building cards, 20 cards representing the rounds with ships on the back, and 11 loan cards.  As opposed to the ton of wood in Agricola, this game has much more cardboard.

A game of Le Havre lasts a different number of rounds based on the number of players, and whether or not you want to play the full or shortened version.  A full game lasts 7-14-18-20-20 rounds for 1-2-3-4-5 players, while the shortened round lasts 4-8-12-12-15 rounds.  Five player games are only recommended for experienced players, and most people seem to say that 3 is the best number.

Boards - image by BGG user BohnanZar

The three boards come together to make one surface that is more for storage than anything else, though the round track does go through it.  The round discs are mixed and placed face down on the seven spaces of the round track.  Offer spaces are seeded with some resources (more in the shortened game than the full version).  The buildings are shuffled and dealt into three face up piles, where they are then sorted with the lowest numbered card on top.  These are called building proposals.  Six special buildings are used in the full game, and are not used at all in the short game.  You’ll sort the round cards, using the appropriate number for the length of game you’re playing.  Each player begins with five Francs and some resources (1 coal in the full game; 2 fish, 2 wood, 2 clay, 2 iron, 1 cattle, 2 coal, and 2 hides in the short game).

In each round, there will be seven turns.  Each player, beginning with the starting player, takes their turn by advancing their ship along the round track and taking an action.  Since there are 7 turns, not every player will get the same number of turns in a round.  However, it all balances out in the end.

Now a little more detail.  When it is your turn, you advance your ship to the next available space on the round track.  Each space has a tile that will show two resources.  You will move the shown resources to their corresponding supply houses.  These tiles will not move for the entire game, so after they are revealed in the beginning, you’ll know when each supply house will get restocked.  One of the tiles says “INTEREST”.  When this tile is landed on, anyone who has a loan must pay 1 Franc in interest, no matter how many loans they have.  If they can’t pay, they have to take another loan.  Loans can be taken throughout the game, and they give you 4 Francs.  You must pay them back for 5 Francs during the game, or lose 7 Francs at the end.

After your move, you can take an action.  You have two options – empty an offer space or use a building.  Emptying a supply house is easy – take all the resources from one of the offer spaces.  To use a building, put your player disc on any unoccupied building, whether it’s one of yours, one of your opponent’s, or one that’s owned by another player.  Sometimes, if it’s not your building, there will be a fee for using the building in the form of Francs and/or resources.  If there’s a player disc on a building, you can’t use it.  Building proposals are built by using the construction or building firms (initially owned by the town), then paying the resource cost of the card.  It goes in front of you, and is now available to be used by someone else.  And you want people to use your buildings so you can get some free capital.  You also may be able to build ships by using a wharf that is owned by a player.  Ships are good for reducing the amount of food you have to pay at the end of the round.

There are a couple of optional actions you could take during your turn if you wished.  One is to buy a building, either from the town or from the top of one of the three building proposal stacks.  To do this, pay the cash value and take the building for your own.  The other is to sell a building to the town for half its cash value.

After the seventh turn, the round ends.  If there’s a harvest, players with at least a grain get one grain, and players with at least two cattle get another one.  Everyone must then feed their people the amount of food shown on the round card.  You can always substitute one Franc for one food.  If you can’t feed or pay, you’ll need to sell buildings or take a loan.  Ships reduce the amount that you have to use.  If a special water symbol appears, the town builds the lowest numbered building proposal.  After feeding, the round card turns into a ship available to be built.  After the last round, players get to take one final action.  You then add up the values of your ships, buildings, and cash to find the winner.  The player with the highest score wins.

Mechanically, Le Havre is a very simple game.  You don’t have to do much on your turn, and this keeps the game rolling along at a nice pace.  The real complexity from the game comes from trying to zero in on the best strategy available.  Do you take resources?  If so, which one should you take?  If you want to use a building, which one should you use?  Can you afford to pay costs for a new building?  Is the reward worth the cost you need to pay another player to justify using their building?  How should you use your resources to their fullest potential?  What are my opponents trying to do, and how can I best mess them up?

Le Havre often gets compared to Agricola, mostly because it was Rosenberg’s next game.  The two games are quite different, but both feature some tight resource management, many paths to victory, and the constantly increasing pressure of having to feed your people.  I’ve only played Le Havre once, but I can already say I like it better than Agricola.  I feel less overwhelmed, if that makes sense.  There’s a lot to do, and the game is very unforgiving, but I feel that it’s easier to change strategies.  It also seems faster to me.  Granted, I’ve only played with three players and I don’t think I want to play with 5, but I think Le Havre feels less like work than Agricola does.

That being said, it was not my vote when I put up the poll in October, and that hasn’t changed.  I don’t think Le Havre is an essential game.  It’s a very good game, and one that I think people should play, but you certainly don’t have to.  My vote was for Hive, the two-player abstract game with bugs by designer John Yianni and publisher Gen Four Two.  It’s fast, portable, simple to learn, and more accessible/less intimidating than Chess.  Hive did get second place in the voting, so that’s good – maybe it will win if I decide to do a volume 2.  The other games from the poll were:

  • Heroscape in third place.  This Hasbro-produced game system first came out in 2004, and picked up some really devoted fans.  It’s essentially a fantasy battle game, with lots of varied terrain and many races with special abilities.  Hasbro decided to end the series in 2010, much to the dismay of the hobby market, but my guess is that someone else may try to pick it up at some point, particularly with the existing fanbase.  I could have seen this as the winner of the poll, but I still have not played it.
  • Hansa Teutonica in fourth place.  This 2009 Eurogame (designed by Andreas Steding) is all about building businesses in pre-renaissance Europe.  I haven’t played it, but I’ve heard lots of good things about it.
  • Other in fifth place.  Nominations included Haggis, Hearts, Helden in der Unterwelt, HeroQuest, Hex, Hex Hex, Hexxagon, Hey! That’s My Fish!, Hey Waiter!, High Frontier, High Society, Highway to the Reich, Horus Heresy, and A House Divided.  Of those, I’ve played Hearts, HeroQuest, and Hey! That’s My Fish!  HeroQuest was a favorite when I was a kid, Hearts was a favorite when I was in college, and HTMF is a great family abstract game.
  • Hannibal: Rome vs. Carthage in sixth place.  This classic card-driven wargame was first published in 1996 (designed by Mark Simonitch), and rereleased by Valley Games in 2007.  Another that I haven’t played.
  • Hammer of the Scots in seventh place.  Another wargame.  Released in 2002, and designed by Jerry Taylor, this game is set in the time of William Wallace, the Scottish man who led a rebellion against the English.  I’ve never played, but I can just imagine the music of Braveheart playing in the background while the game goes on.
  • Here I Stand and History of the World tied for eighth place.  Here I Stand is a 2006 game from designer Ed Beach that is all about the Protestant Reformation of the 16th century.  History of the World is a 1991 game from designers Gary Dicken, Steve Kendall, and Phil Kendall that covers…well…the history of the world.  From what I hear, both are fairly unique takes on wargames.
  • Homesteaders in tenth place.  This game from Tasty Minstrel Games and designer Seth Jaffee came out in 2009 and was plagued with component problems.  It was one of TMG’s first games, and a second edition came out last year that was much improved.  It’s all about building up a town in the Old West, and features auctions and resource management.  I enjoyed my one play of the game.
  • Hacienda in eleventh place.  This one came out in 2005 from designer Wolfgang Kramer, and is all about competing for territory in South America.  Another one that I haven’t played.

There you go.  I’ll be back in two weeks with I, and I’ll tease you by saying that one was the most controversial of all the letters on the list.  Thanks for reading!

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