English language edition
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Le Havre is a game about managing a harbor, building ships and constructing buildings. On each turn, players must decide whether to take good of one type or to carry out a building action.
The number of goods on offer varies from turn to turn. New goods of each kind are added regularly, building up until a player takes them. Wood, clay and iron are building resources. Fish, grain and cattle are used to feed your dock workers. Actions in buildings allow goods to be upgraded -- just turn the tokens over to show the reverse side.
At the end of the game, the player with the largest fortune is the winner. This is the total of the player's cash and the value of his or her ships and buildings.
Le Havre can be played by 1-5 players, either in a shortened version or as a full game, ensuring that it provides the right level of challenge for any game table.
Let me get the complaints about Le Havre out of the way first because these two things can hurt the game quickly.
1. The game has a LOT of small chits, bits, and cards that have to be strategically set up before the game begins. This is discouraging to new players who seem to translate the number of bits to be equivalent to the level of complexity. Best to have it set up before your gamers arrive to avoid that quick dismissal of it.
2. The game is honest in its play length which can go from about an hour for the "shortened" two-player game to well over 3 hours for a full-scale five-player game. It creates frustration if players give up before the end as much of the game is based on how well you play in the last rounds.
With those understood, be prepared for a surprisingly engaging game of resource management and advance planning. The theme works well as players are acquiring goods and converting them into marketable products which they can later ship out at great profit. To do this, you will need to acquire or use the services of many of the town's industries. The savvy player will have to manage their resources, their buildings, and their food production to make a profit. If it sounds like Agricola, it is probably because Uwe Rosenberg created both games. To me, though, it plays more like Stone Age. Although lack of food production can prove to be deadly, a player can win just as well by making wise choices in what he builds.
The real fun of the game comes from the planning it takes to, for example, gather enough iron, then take it to the Steel Mill to convert it into a more lucrative export, and then shipping it out for a profit. If you are lucky, all of that conversion will only take you three turns, but a lot can happen to block, and even the best laid plans are not as easy as they may seem.
The game gets more competitive as it proceeds and more buildings are added to the town. With more options, comes even more careful planning on the players' part which just makes the game even richer. Never give up before the last round as the final round truly does determine the real winner. With so many options, there are many shipping lanes to victory as well.
One bonus that should be mentioned is that the game has a solo player version as well. I found that playing the game a few times to get used to all the rules helped me move initially skeptical players through the game faster. It is definitely a game where the opinion at the end is much more positive than the initial response.
A game well worth hitch a ride on.
When I approached my game-playing friends about a new game from the fine designer, Uwe Rosenberg, they appeared a little skeptical. They had played Agricola in its original German version with English rules and were not too taken with the long rules. Still, I had persevered by playing a two-player game with the flushing out of mechanics prior to the five-player effort.
The game begins with the understanding of seven-player turns to complete each round. We decided to play the long game (with my urging) instead of the shortened version. That consisted of 20 rounds instead of 15. First, I explained each of the round tiles as a way to secure resources (products) and francs. We were each given five francs at the beginning and one coal (an energy resource) that can be converted to coke by later turning over the tile and having some kind of coke-converting plant. I explained how each of the seven round tiles usually represents two resources, such as wood and cattle. At the beginning of any turn you have two main actions:
The Main Action could consist of entering a building and, then, if unoccupied, paying the resources to build (construct) the structure. If occupied, the entrance fee must be paid to the owning player. Buildings, at the game's beginning, can only be purchased from the town and consist of three types: two building firms and one construction (to erect one or two buildings). Naturally, one of the players opted to purchase a building early in the game, and the rest of us paid one franc every time we visited that card to construct. It is important to remember that you can construct standard buildings (three building proposals always available) or special buildings. Special buildings come into play at certain times of the Feeding Phase conclusion. I warned all the players in explaining the initial rules to be sure to construct ships, even wooden ships, to ensure they had plentiful food during the final part of the Main Action, called the Feeding Phase. That phase occurs at the end of the seventh turning over of round tiles.
The Feeding Phase is crucial to the game. Cards are arranged in order of zero food to at least five food for the five-player game. The cards in the game tell whether the group is playing a two-, three-, four-, or five-player game and how to arrange the food issues. Mr. Rosenberg has cleverly labeled a black pot as the amount of food needed. Further, he has taken the player action card explanations and placed a "buttery" on the back to keep track of whether a player has enough food at the end of each round.
Food requirements can easily be solved if one possesses grain or cattle during any round. One grain makes two at the end of any seven player turns. One cattle or two makes another cattle at the end of the same kind of round. What the construction of ships do for you is allow the reduction of one or more food when the Feeding Phase occurs.
I watched in horror (because of limited resources) while one of my gaming friends accumulated a Fishery and a Smokehouse. That allowed him to "smoke" six fish as a maximum and keep his food production high. Further, during the game he accumulated at least seven cattle, so this individual was never in trouble with food costs.
Let's digress for a moment and talk about someone who cannot pay the food costs. Then, you have to take a loan. The loan gives you four francs (only if you need to pay food costs), and the loan needs to be repaid before the end of the game with five francs. The comments on the Internet suggest it is not wrong to take loans, especially if food costs are eating you out of house and home.
The game went smoothly for all the players, and I, finally, acquired a shipping line late in the game. However, we had already paid the supposed winning player dearly for the opportunity to construct buildings, secure bricks (from clay counters), and substitute one lumber for five francs. I had constructed a wooden ship (Iron, Steel, and Luxury Liners exists in the game); therefore, my food costs with one reduction were reasonable.
However, the name of that game is also Francs. You need francs to purchase buildings. That's why most of us were accumulating and paying resources to construct buildings. It is an Either/Or situation: You either build or purchase. That leads to a pertinent question that was not sufficiently answered during the spirited game:
Why would anyone purchase a building when you can construct the building with resources?
As the game progressed, we all noticed the now winning player had achieved at least 56 points. Little chance existed to catch him before the end of 20 rounds. We had 22, 16, and so forth in points. Therefore, we conceded the game with the individual who had five buildings and was charging us every time we needed to construct or achieve resources or francs.
All in all, the players said it was a worthwhile game. Even though I like Agricola, I think LeHavre achieves more interest. Perhaps, it is my penchant for economic and trading games. Anyhow, if you are prepared for an evening of beautifully designed rules and terrific trading/purchasing decisions to make, then Le Havre is your cup of tea.
Do, always, think about the food costs.