English language edition of Havanna
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In order to make Cuba's capital city Havanna gleam in renewed splendor, many magnificent buildings are being built.
Players can get pesos or building materials, hire workers, bring the architect into play, collect taxes, send out thieves, hinder the construction of buildings or simply have a siesta while being protected by their bodyguard.
Havanna stands out due to its minimal rules and its ingeniously simple mechanism that calls for different approaches each time you play. It is equally important to use intuition and rapidly find new strategies as it is to carefully plan ahead. No two games are alike, and in the end, exact timing will determine victory or defeat!
The very first game I played at the 2009 SPIEL was Havana by Reinhard Staupe. While I understood the game was not an expansion of Cuba, I hoped it would be a continuation of that theme. While the theme is still present, this time the game is set in the capital city of Havana. The city is being rebuilt, and players collect resources and hire workers in order to construct magnificent new buildings.
The game is much simpler than Cuba, and plays in a fraction of the time. Absent also are the forests of wood and board. Instead, what we have is a basically a card game, but as in other Staupe games, there are numerous other pieces and tiles.
Players each receive one peso, one randomly drawn resource cube, and a set of thirteen action cards, numbered 1 – 9, with duplicate numbers on several cards. Twelve building tiles are revealed and arranged in two rows of six tiles apiece. Three resource cubes and four pesos are placed below these tiles.
Let me explain a bit more about the action cards, as they are at the heart of the game. Cards depict either a character or action, each of which conveys special abilities for the player. For example, the tax collector allows the player to take one peso from stock and one building material cube from each following player. The ‘debris’ card allows the player to take all of the debris from the available stock. The ever- popular ‘Mama’, which depicts an elderly, cigar-chomping Cuban lady, allows the player to take half of the debris and half of the other building materials from the available stock. Deciding which cards to play at a particular time is one of the major challenges the game presents.
The building tiles each depict a unique building, the costs to construct the building (depicted in terms of pesos, resources and/or workers), and the victory points a player earns for constructing the building. Players will attempt to assemble the necessary components in order to construct these buildings.
To begin the game, players each select and play face-down two of their action cards. They are revealed simultaneously, and the two numbers on the cards read as a two-digit number to determine the start player for the round. On future turns, players will only play one new card, covering one of their two face-up cards and leaving the other one intact and active.
Each turn consists of the following phases:
Conduct two actions and purchase buildings. In turn order – lowest to highest – the players each perform the actions granted by their two face-up action cards. After conducting these actions, a player may purchase one or more buildings from the face-up rows. However, they may only purchase buildings that are at the ends of the rows. This, of course, requires careful planning and timing, as it is quite possible, and indeed likely, that at some point an opponent will scoop a desired building just prior to you having the opportunity to do so. This is why turn order is important. However, it is also important to remain flexible by having the proper resources to purchase alternative buildings if necessary.
Rows of building tiles are not immediately replenished. Rather, new tiles are placed only when a row contains two or fewer buildings.
Supplies. Three resource cubes and three pesos are placed below the row of buildings, forming an available supply. These can and usually do accumulate from turn-to-turn, making them more attractive.
New action card. As described above, each player plays one action card onto the table, covering a previously face-up card. These are simultaneously revealed, and the new turn order determined by the numbers now visible. Choosing which card to play and which to cover are tough choices, but critical to a player’s success. Leaving one desirable card uncovered for several turns in a row can often yield tremendous advantages.
If a player possesses two or fewer action cards in his hand, he may reclaim all of his previously played cards, except for the two face-up cards. The only other way to retrieve a card is by playing the ‘refreshment’ card, which allows the player to retrieve one previously played card.
The game continues in this fashion until one player reaches 15 victory points in acquired buildings (25 points if playing with two players). The game ends immediately with that player winning the game and becoming the toast of Havana.
While the rules to Havana are simple and short, the game is filled with tough decisions. Choosing which action cards to select and which buildings to purchase can be tough. Since players have a handful of action cards available to them each turn – although this number admittedly decreases as the game progresses – this can sometimes be time consuming as folks weigh their options. I am sure in certain circumstances and with certain players this could be problematic, but in my games this has not been an issue.
My biggest concern with the game is that some of the buildings grant a large amount of victory points without requiring a substantial increase in resources, workers or pesos to acquire them. For example, one of the building awarding seven victory points requires six pesos and a face-up architect card, which is not a terribly difficult task. Another building requires three debris, one red and one brown cube, yet awards only three victory points. The disparity in victory points does not seem to coincide with the difference in resources required. Still, this is a minor quibble, as all players have the option of purchasing the buildings when they appear.
One of bonuses of Havana is the time frame in which it can be played. My first game took all of 25 minutes, while another game lasted nearly an hour. Still, in every case, it has been time well spent, and the games were quite competitive with lots of tension. It is considerably lighter than its forerunner Cuba, but still packed with decisions and options. I find it to be a very good middle-weight game that should see lots of play time.