Havoc: The Hundred Years War
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Havoc: the Hundred Year's War is a clever, short card game that allows players to attempt to win battles during the Hundred Year's War. It is a game that has roots in the game of Poker, as poker hands - albeit on a different scale - are used to determine the winner of battles during the game. The game allows bluffing and planning ahead with some luck but much strategy in planning ahead. One can surprise their opponents with a killer hand that they've built up or attempt to spread their cards out over the many battles. Havoc allows players to enjoy many of the aspects of Poker without the gambling and high luck, and players can carefully watch their opponents for clues in the cards that they play. Havoc scales well from two to six players and takes only about an hour to play.
The rules are in English and German and can be downloaded in French and Dutch from Sunriver Games.
Havoc meets all of my criteria for a perfect game!
1. Appeals to both serious and casual gamers. The poker aspects makes Havoc immediately engaging and familiar, and the attractive artwork and theming makes hobby gamers want to jump right in.
2. Portable and quick to get playing. I detest unnecessarily bulky games with a jillion pieces and long setup times.
3. Quick & easy to teach/learn, but challenging to master.
4. High replay value.
5. Head to head player engagement. No group solitaire please!
6. Fast paced play - no between turns tedium.
Now, to be totally honest, I can think of only one thing I didn't like about Havoc, and that's sometimes having a ton of cards in your hand at one time and getting a hand cramp. But hey, that only serves as an incentive to stop hoarding cards and start playing already (certainly not enough to lower my rating).
Out of the blue (or out af a sunny river, one might say) comes a very enjoyable card game that probably also rides on the wave of the recent poker revival, but is so much more.... As any poker player will attest, poker is very often battle-like in structure. Like Zhukov or Patton or Wallenstein you let the enemy in doubt about your actual strength, and when it's time to strike you reveal your full power. Some give up before it comes to this moment, and some bluff their way to victory and some win with a simple pair, comparable to the victory of the 300 Spartans.
The Hundred Years War is the perfect setting for a battle-like poker game, as it was a time of constant upheaval, short periods of peace followed by another outbreak of violence. A series of battles is played to play a full game of “Havoc", each battle gives different amounts of victory points to the victor or even 2nd or 3rd or even 4th place, while giving different benefits to the player who actually started the war (usually drawing more cards than anybody else). The cards are numbered 1-18 (when playing with less players the number of cards will be reduced) and come in different colours and with beautiful illustrations taking from original art from the time period of the game.
After the "peacekeeper" (or starting player) is determined by an ingenious device, a rotating finger that soon will be geek item no.1, players take turns either taking cards from the pile (a selection of open or face-down cards) or declaring "havoc" and starting a poker battle round. The problem is that the longer peace endures the more the peacekeeper will profit from it, as he will keep his cards after two full turns, whereas the other players have to discard one card. The battle will be discarded (if there's peace there is no battle, obviously). But this happens rarely, more likely is the cry of "havoc" is heard at some point and the game of poker begins. Each player now has to place two cards on the table or pass, if s/he passes, s/he can take two cards but is out of the round. If you stay in the game you have to play another card in front of you (up to a maximum of 6) or fold. All cards played are lost... usually, but there are also "dogs of war" cards, which prove to be very useful. They can either retrieve cards played in a battle (up to a maximum of 2) or be part of a winning hand (number 0). They also help when drawing cards - two dogs can be exchanged for any card from the discard pile, and one dog can be exchanged for any open card.
The rank of a played hand follows standard poker rules with 6 cards, first come pairs, then simple flushes, then triples etc., up to a 6 card straight flush, the best combo. Although 6 cards are the limit that one can play in a battle, additional dogs of war can be played to increase the number of cards up to 8, theoretically.
After the battle the victors get the spoils of war and a new round begins, with the winner of the battle becoming the new peacekeeper. The final battle is a special affair, as it begins directly after the last battle, with only limited ways to improve your hand. Not surprisingly the final battle gives the most VP's as well...
In this excellent card game players are not playing a simple poker game, they play three poker games at once. For a start it is not always a good idea to always participate in every battle or to give your best when doing it. You always have to consider how your hand will look AFTER you play the battle, not only winning the battle itself. This means that your hand (which is unlimited in number of cards) is in constant flux, you will find it is a result of former battles fought, of what is involved in a present battle and what you will have to save in planning for future battles. This makes for interesting decisions, even sometimes resulting in very weakly fought battles as every player holds his best cards back. But if you fight too weakly somebody will win the day with a meagre pair, so you constantly have to look out for the hand management of other players. If you have played 3 cards from a 5 card set should you actually play the other two cards as well to win safely (if you can) or should you instead play two dogs to retrieve at least two of them and prepare a 4 card set for next round, but then perhaps give another player the ultimate victory? The victory points "schedule" of battles will also influence your decision - if only the first place gets points you probably have to either fold immediately or give all, but if there are several tiers of victory you might have to try to always be involved with at least a pair for some easy VP's. As many card draws will be from a row of open cards you will also be able to outguess other players plans, also something missing from "normal" poker.
Whatever your tastes in card games are, you will find "Havoc" to be a challenging and clever game on it's own that you will want to play again and again. There is even an in-game expansion that adds more options and abilities to cards, if you ever should get bored or want to try out something now.
In my opinion "Havoc" was one of the best new card games of Essen 2005, and can heartily be recommended to anyone, even if they HATE poker (like me).
Explaining the Rules: 10 minutes, basic poker knowledge
otherwise a bit longer
Playing the game: very much depending on the number of players – anything from 45-70 minutes when playing the "full" game
Brain: is used
Luck: plays a role, but not overly, as there are always plenty of cards to choose from
Havoc definitely has roots in the game of Poker, as poker hands, albeit on a different scale, are used to determine the winner of battles during the game. But while I merely think poker is a ho-hum affair (I know that poker players are reading this with askance), I found Havoc to be a clever game - one I enjoyed greatly. While using some mechanics of poker that I liked - the hand rankings and the bluffing, much of the luck has been eliminated, and players can better control their games. Havoc demands that players know what battles to get involved with, and which to avoid, and the best player will most likely win each game. Havoc is a clever, short card game that is easy to teach and play, and one that will suggest over poker any time.
A large deck of cards, in six suits, is shuffled with the number of cards in each suit determined by number of players (from eight - with two players, to eighteen - with six players). Each player is given one special "Dog" card, and then is dealt seven cards from the deck. Another "dog" card for each player is shuffled into the deck, which is then placed face down near the board with three cards face up in a "Recruits" area. Nine cards are placed in the middle of the table, in order - each representing a battle from the Hundred Years War. Some of these cards have victory point chips associated with them, which are placed with the corresponding battles. One player is chosen to be the "Peacekeeper", and is given a Havoc/Peace card. That player takes the first turn, and then play proceeds clockwise.
On a player's turn, they either recruit troops or cry Havoc! to start a battle. When recruiting troops, they must draw two cards to their hand, either from the face up recruits area, and/or the discard pile. If the recruit area is full (four or five - depending on players), then the player must draw one from there. The player then must discard one card from their hand back to the recruit area. During recruiting, a player may also discard one Dog card to take an additional card from the recruit area or the draw pile. The player may also discard two dogs, and then search the discard pile and take one non-dog card from it.
If it is the peacekeeper's turn, they must rotate the peace card one turn to show that a year of peace has occurred. If they rotate the card, and there is no higher number to rotate it to, they remove the lowest battle card from the game, and all other players must discard a card from their hand.
If a player cries "Havoc!" on their turn, a battle starts. The calling player takes the Havoc/Peace card and places it Havoc side up, showing that a war for the lowest numbered battle card is underway. The player then must play at least two cards from their hand as the start of their "Battle Hand". Each player, in order, must then either join the battle by playing two or more cards from their hand on the table, or by refraining from the battle, in which case they draw a card from the draw pile into their hand and are out of the battle. Meanwhile, players still in the battle must add at least one card on their turn (up to a maximum of six cards in their Battle Hand), or pass, "locking" in their Battle Hand. Once all players have passed, the Battle hands are compared. Hands are similar to poker hands, with seventeen different rankings, from the highest: a six card straight flush, to the lowest: a high single card. All Dog cards have a value of "0", but are "wild" when it comes to color. The player who has the best hand gets to keep the Battle card, earning the points printed on it. Players who are in second or third place may also get some points if they are indicated on the battle card. These players take the matching victory point chips for the amount they won. Players may use Dog cards that are in the Battle hand to retrieve cards from the table (if they didn't use the Dog card as part of their ranking).
After the battle, players discard all played cards, with the winner of the battle following the action listed on the battle card (usually gives the person who cried Havoc an extra card, sometimes everyone an extra card.) The winner also becomes the new Peacekeeper, turning the card over to the Peace side, and starting the next turn. Play continues until the eighth battle concludes - at which point the ninth battle immediately begins (after all players are dealt two more cards, and players may exchange up to two dogs for the same number of cards from the draw deck.), with players making the best card that they can with their remaining cards. After the final battle concludes, players then total their points, and the player with the most points is the winner!
Some comments on the game...
1.) Components: First of all, I simply love the box. It's a long, thin box that has three compartments to hold the cards, and then has a lid that closes firmly, holding everything into place. It's excellent packaging that holds the cards in well, no matter which way the box is stored on the shelf. The cards themselves are of good quality (although I would have picked white borders over black). Each suit is a different color with a symbol next to the number to help differentiate for the color blind. The different numbers have ancient medieval artwork on them, as well as some flavor text about the picture. The victory point tiles are feasible, and everything stores away easily and quickly in the box, covered with yet more medieval artwork.
2.) Rules: The rulebook, long and thin like the box, is eleven pages of rules, although these contain a full two pages of a play example, pictures, and tips. Teaching the game to people already familiar with poker hands is quite easy, they simply have to learn the easy mechanics that have been added. Even people who never have played poker won't have too much of a problem. My wife knows nothing about poker, but with the aid of a reference card that showed the battle hand rankings, and some explanation of what a flush and straight were, easily learned how to play the game. I've taught the game to several groups - all who quickly picked up on both strategies and the rules.
3.) Strategies: Knowing which battles to win, and which to pass on are critical. In my first game, I won as many early battles as I could; but this caused me to lose most of the cards from my hand, so that when the big point battles occurred, I had nothing to play and lost out on a lot of points. At the same time, if a player skips the early battles, they may allow their opponents to gain points for only a few cards. One needn't always play "6 of a kind" to win a battle, they simply need to play better than the next player.
4.) Tactics: Watching what other players discard can give clues to as what is in the hand, and watching what cards they take can help you know what they will play later on. Bluffing is still an aspect in this game, but players will have partial information about other players' hands, which allows them to make spot decisions. Learning how to use the Dog cards is also critical. Having a wild zero to use in a Battle Hand is nice, but retrieving a card from a battlefield could be much nicer. I like how hands are played slowly - only a bit at a time. Why play four of a kind, when three of a kind will do? Is second place worth it, if it allows me to keep most of my good cards? These decisions, which change from battle to battle, keep Havoc fresh and interesting. And someone always ends up singing "Who let the Dogs Out?", or some other song?
5.) Luck: There is a decent amount of luck in the game - but not enough to totally influence the outcome of the game, I think. Yes, it's nice to draw six "14" cards; but if you throw them all away in one battle, did it really do you that much good? The biggest luck factor in the game comes from the cards drawn right before the final battle. But every player knows about this and can plan accordingly. Sure, there's some luck - which in my opinion is nice - but not too much.
6.) Theme: There aren't too many games about the Hundred Years War, and this one does a good job printing information about each battle on the reverse of each battle card and the flavor text on the regular cards. But still, it's simply a card game, and the theme is pasted on. EXCEPT, the dogs of war, with their special powers, certainly fit into the theme well and help translate the "poker" hands into battle formations. But really, in the midst of the game, we forget all about the theme and concentrate solely on the numbers.
7.) Interaction: The Peasant can affect the Banker, the Merchant affects the Peasant, etc. This, to me, was an excellent feature of the game. Players were not playing in separate mini games; rather they were different players in one larger game, and the fact that Peasants and merchants could participate in auctions, and play cards to negatively affect the Banker
8.) Fun Factor: Havoc provides the sort of fun that I most enjoy from a lighter game such as this - a game that provides strategic decisions, while allowing you to surprise the enemy with a killer hand. Unlike Poker, where I have to wait for that hand - and then perhaps never get to play it - in Havoc, I can build up that great hand, and then play it with a flourish. Think it's fun playing four of a kind? Try playing six of a kind - it's immensely satisfying. And when my wife won the final battle with a six card straight flush, we all had to bow to her greatness. She had fun.
If you like poker, and/or are looking for a medium light card game that allows bluffing and planning, then Havoc is a good choice. For me, it's an excellent entry into the market by Mr. Humphrey, and I'm excited to see what will come from him further down the pike. I'm not a gambling man, and many people insist that poker is only fun with money - I don't play with funds, so poker merely seems okay to me. But Havoc is fun regardless and allows me to bluff, plan strategically, and make quick, easy choices. Fun in a thin box.
"Real men play board games"