Ridere, ludere, hoc est vivere.

Monday, May 28, 2012

Discovering Le Havre

I can't remember what prompted me to look into Le Havre (designer Uwe Rosenberg, artists Klemens Franz and Uwe Rosenberg, publisher Lookout Games [website in German]), but I remember getting very interested the more I read about it.  The comment I put in my wish list was, "So highly rated, so well reviewed, by the designer of Agricola, for 1-5 players ... what's not to like?"

So I was especially excited when my beautiful, loving, game-playing wife gave me a copy of Le Havre for my birthday.  We made a point of setting aside the 5:00 cocktail hour last Friday for us to learn and play this Le Havre game that I'd heard so much about and that my wife was interested in as well, if only for the Agricola comparison (inasmuch as she has been known to farm circles around me from time to time).

We have found that the best way for the two of us to discover a new game that neither of us has played is for me to sit with the game and read the rules cover to cover to get to the point of understanding.  Then I explain  to my wife how I think the game works in what I think is a reasonably organized fashion.  We have discovered that I can do this with about a 90% reliability of getting the rules right.  Invariably I will get at least one rule wrong in the first play, sometimes more, but since we treat the first run-through as a "learning game," the stakes are low, and the consequences of screwing up a rule are usually minor.  (Well, that's my story, anyway.)

Sample resources - image posted to
boardgamegeek by Jason  Begy
Now, I will say that as I read the description on the back of the box, I was afraid I was in for a warmed-over Agricola in a different theme.  But when 5:00 arrived, I made a drink for my lovely wife, and then cracked open the box to see what I was in for.  And I found that Le Havre seems to have a very different flavor indeed.    Certainly there is still the general Euro process of taking actions, accumulating resources, using those resources to acquire things to build victory-point-generation-engines.  But the mechanisms seem very different in this game, the methodologies quite original (to me at least).

As it happens, it took me so long to learn the game, and my explanation was so confusing, that we only completed two out of the eight rounds that a two-player shortened-version game is supposed to take (which the rules claim should run about 45 minutes).  So Friday evening we pretty much got as far as figuring out the processes of the turn sequence but really didn't understand the "why" behind the different actions.  (And the rule I got wrong that first time is that I missed the wooden ship that each player gets at the start of the shortened two-player game.)

Fortunately, my lovely wife was not discouraged but inspired to suggest that we try the game again on Sunday.  And we started at 4:00 rather than 5:00, and needed only the most cursory review of rules before we were able to jump into the game with both feet.  We definitely learned a lot more in today's session about how the game seems to work.

Construction and building firms allow
players to build new buildings - image
posted to boardgamegeek by Raiko Puust
Without going into detail on the rules themselves, suffice it to say that players may on each turn essentially choose either to take raw materials of one type (as many as happen to be available at that point), or to take advantage of the action of one of the buildings that has been built in the city.  The most common such action early in the game is to use raw materials to build new buildings, which are worth points and which expand the available actions in future turns.  Some buildings yield a guaranteed number of raw materials of a certain type.  Some allow conversion of raw materials to refined materials.  The Wharf allows construction of ships.  The Shipping Line allows the shipment of raw or refined materials on ships for money (which is both currency and victory points).  Other buildings allow a variety of other actions.

There is also a decidedly Agricolesque feeding concern at the end of each round of seven turns, which motivates players to convert fish to smoked fish, grain to bread, and cattle to meat for food.  Grain and cattle can also be "multiplied" (albeit slowly).  In Le Havre, unlike Agricola, the "feeding curve" grows very quickly from one round to the next.  Ships become important, because each ship provides free food every round to offset the feeding requirement.

Shipping Line - image
posted to
by "amp (beatrix)"
But my wife discovered - faster than I did - the real value in ships:  using them with the Shipping Line to sell refined goods.  In her case, she used the Abattoir to convert cattle to meat and hides, the Tannery to convert the hides to leather, and then the Shipping Line to deliver the leather to market.  I tried to outdo her success by using the Iron Works to acquire iron, the Collier to acquire coal, the Cokery to convert coal to coke, which in turn I used in the Steel Mill to convert iron to steel.  Steel sells for a great deal more than leather (twice as much, in fact), but because I needed extra steps to make it all work, I was too late to make it come together in time before the end of our shortened game.

So my beautiful wife beat me in our first complete game of Le Havre by the convincing score of 147 to 91.  Now we both understand the game better, and I expect we'll bring Le Havre to the cocktail-hour game table many more times.


  1. What compliments, Paul! *blushing*

    Yeah, I did sort of wipe up the table with you, didn't I? LOL! I think a big advantage for me was taking all that wood and using the stockpile to make charcoal, since there was no limit to how many you can transform at once, and no energy required to do it. Once I caught on that money could be used to supplement food, and that money counted 1 for 1 as points, I just accumulated as much money as I could, even if it was a few francs here and there.

    Fun game. :)

  2. Thanks, Kath. Yes, now that we've got the hang of it, maybe I'll make for a better showing in our rematch! :-)

  3. Good review. This Eurogame, at least, seems to take the economy aspect more seriously than others.

  4. Yes, to a point, I think it does. One "unrealistic" aspect of the worker-placement mechanic is that if, for example, I use the Abattoir to convert cattle to meat and leather, then the Abattoir is unavailable to you until I abandon it.