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Earlier today one of my geekbuddies asked me to explain what sets Le Havre apart from Agricola. People compare the games a lot, but only rarely do they get at the real differences. When Tom Vasel recently noted that Le Havre lets players choose between lots of good options instead of choosing the "least bad" one, I cheered. This thread is my own effort to usefully differentiate these two games, and in the process tell you why you might want to play Le Havre. Note that I prefer Le Havre to Agricola by a wide margin, but I have a lot of respect for Agricola's design and I think I "get" its appeal. Nevertheless, my comments here should make it clear why I'll go with Le Havre over Agricola any day of the week. Hopefully, if you're an ardent fan of Agricola, they may also accurately adjust your expectations of Le Havre, for good or ill. I will try to be fair. Examples and clarifications are available on request.

Openness: Le Havre is the more open-ended game. Agricola features several mandatory scoring categories that never change. The game penalizes you if you neglect any of these categories. Le Havre gives you lots of options to improve your score, but nothing is strictly required, and only a couple of elements feel essential to any strategy. Your goals in Le Havre are up to you. Your goals in Agricola are fixed every time you play the game. You do choose which categories to emphasize, but you still need to "do everything" each time you play, or at least do as much as you can. The only thing that keeps Agricola from feeling identical each time you play is the cards. You begin each game with a hand of 14 cards offering slight improvements on the standard options available. Playing Agricola is like waking up in a new body and running the same obstacle course you ran yesterday. In the pregame, you do some stretches, get a feel for what you're capable of, and then you run the course as hard as you can with what you have. Le Havre is a playground. A playground with some benchmarks, yes, perhaps an Olympian's playground, but a playground nonetheless.

Pressure: The upkeep in Agricola requires more effort. As a result, it can feel like you are doing a lot of work and making very little progress. Efficiency is a key element of both games but feels more urgent in Agricola. It's also more difficult to evaluate the efficiency of your actions in Agricola, so players can be having a lot of fun and playing poorly and not even know it. The upkeep in Le Havre requires some planning, but you feel like you get to do more and do it faster. The last round of Agricola does not feel substantially different from the first. The last round of Le Havre features players enjoying a veritable Golden Age in contrast to the first turn Dawn of Man. Le Havre is a game of abundance. Agricola is a game of scarcity.

Replayability / Variability: Agricola has many more cards than Le Havre, and you see new combinations each time you play. However, because the scoring requirements are always the same, it doesn't feel all that different from game to game. In Le Havre, most of the cards are used in each game, but the order in which they become available is slightly different each time. More importantly, the speed at which players make them available varies, as does the rhythm of resource replenishment. There are also 40 or so special cards, and only a few of these are used each game, adding a new challenge in the corner of the playground.

Le Havre seems more replayable to me, but I don't think there is any general agreement about this. In fact, I think discussing the relative replayability of each game will always lead back to whether you prefer to run the course or cartwheel around the playground. The variability in each game is rooted in a fundamentally different paradigm.

The Casual and the Hardcore: How are the audiences different for each game? This is a difficult question to answer. Agricola is more charming to new players because of the theme and components. It's not that hard to teach, and it starts off slow. Le Havre is actually easier to teach, but since there are no scoring requirements, new players might feel overwhelmed by their options. On the other hand, once you have a basic understanding of Le Havre, it feels so much easier to get things done than it does in Agricola. As you get to know Agricola, it feels a lot harder (it is a very difficult game to play well).

I really don't know which one is more suitable for casual players. Agricola is shorter and less open-ended, but Le Havre includes a very good "short version" to introduce new players without overwhelming them. I also don't know which game to recommend with more "serious" gamers. They're both quite challenging, so I think it comes down to whether you like the constrained, obstacle-course feel of Agricola or the open-ended, free-play style of Le Havre.

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Chris Ferejohn
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Interesting analysis. I think you are underselling the variability granted by the occupations and minor improvements in Agricola. I like the "running the same obstacle course in a different body" metaphor, but I would point out that sometimes the body has 3 arms, wings, a machine gun for a hand, etc etc. While individual cards may seem somewhat minor, in the aggregate the differences are quite large.

You also seem to imply that Agricola is harder to play well. I would definitely disagree with that. Because of the sheer number of options, I find that finding the "right" strategy in a given alignment of Le Havre to be vastly more difficult due to the sheer number of actions (not saying this a bad thing).

While I see what you mean about later turns of Le Havre being a question of "lots of good options," I think that is a little deceptive and more a matter of scaling. While an action that nets you 20 points may seem "good" if there is another action you can take that would set up a 45 point gain next turn, that 20 point option wasn't "good" after all, it just seemed that way because you just got yourself a bunch of money.

Agricola is a game of improving your farmstead around the margins of keeping your family fed, while Le Havre is a game of creating an economic engine while feeding people as more of a sideline. It is easier to create something that "works" in Le Havre, but because of that very fact just "working" isn't enough; you have to create something that works *better* than what your opponents create.

I like both games, so I'm not trying to argue that Agricola is better, just responding/playing devil's advocate.
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Darrell Perrins
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Great analysis, you said a lot of stuff I was thinking but couldn't find the words. I really like Agricola but I'm disappointed that it's success seems to put people off Le Havre.

They are both great games, we should all stop comparing them so obsessively. We'll have to go through the whole thing again comparing Agricola to At the Gates of Loyang when that comes out at Essen this year... and then it'll be Le Havre and Mercator the year after shake

It's great to see Le Harve finally getting a good response in the US. It took it's time to get there and Agricola was well dug in and fortified in the number one spot. Le Havre has found it's fans in Europe I'm sure the US community will discover it's benefits too.
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David Smidt
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Quote:
Le Havre is a game of abundance. Agricola is a game of scarcity.

This sums it up for me right there. Nice analysis. I enjoy both games for different reasons, but Agricola feels more like "work" to me than Le Havre does.
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Mark Haberman
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What Chris said...


I'll just add that Le Havre actually feels more constrained to me, since there is usually one or two best options, and the rest become false choices. In Agricola, while the scoring is more constrained, it seems like you have more flexibility in how you go about achieving those constrained goals.
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David Hoffman
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cferejohn wrote:
I like the "running the same obstacle course in a different body" metaphor, but I would point out that sometimes the body has 3 arms, wings, a machine gun for a hand, etc etc.


What, um, obstacle courses are you running?
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Brian Richardson

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I picked up Le Havre a few weeks ago and played my first game of Agricola last night. When deciding on my most recent purchases, it was your opinion, Jack (among others) that settled my internal debate between Le Havre vs. Agricola (after all, I have a lot of faith in the opinions of a man whose favorite game is Twilight Struggle!). I love Le Havre, for the reasons you describe. I also really enjoyed Agricola, and my 'preference' between the two would depend mostly on circumstantial considerations (time/number of players) because they're different enough and I like both equally.

My opinion only reflects one play of Agricola (5-player, if that makes a difference), so perhaps I will eventually feel the same fatigue as you do over building "the same farm" over and over. However, the way the two games break down for me is like this: while these factors are both critical in both games, Agricola is a game of time management, and Le Havre is a game of resource management. The way the Improvements and Occupations in Agricola allow you to enhance your action choices (allowing you to do "two things at once") dictates strategy, and your ability to add family members can buy you more time as well (though not without a cost). The Special Buildings in Le Havre usually generate some kind of revenue stream, which then tailors one's decisions about which goods to emphasize. The fact that you have to, as you say, "accomplish everything" in Agricola makes it important to make good use of your time and take as many two-things-at-once actions as possible, while the abundance of Le Havre (and the fact that everyone has exactly the same amount of 'time' since there's no family-building) encourages one to specialize in a revenue-generating resource engine. Both are a lot of fun for me, and scratch different itches.

In any event, it's always good to see your thoughts in writing Jack.
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Quote:
Agricola is a game of time management, and Le Havre is a game of resource management.


This is a good way of getting at the efficiency divergence between the games. Both games involve both time/resource management, but it's something like a 70/30 split in Agricola that reverses in Le Havre.
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Ben
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Quite nicely put. As a general rule, I prefer scarcity to abundance, which is one of the reasons Le Havre will never live up to Agricola for me. To counter David's point:

smitty1966 wrote:
I enjoy both games for different reasons, but Agricola feels more like "work" to me than Le Havre does.

Le Havre doesn't feel enough like "work" for me. In the absence of desperation, I lack emotional investment.


One difference that you didn't touch on, and which may be a difference that is only of any import to me, is the effect of theme on the gameplay experience.

Agricola is a game that tells me I'm building a farm, and that allows me to think in farm-building terms while playing: I need food and animals are scarce, so I had better bake some bread, which means I need to grab some clay now while I still have time to improve my oven.

Le Havre is a game that tells me I'm...some sort of shipping/construction magante (?), but that then directly invites me to look past that story and directly to the mechanical skeleton of the game. Tactics like squating on a wharf or intentionally starving workers to take loans make for interesting gameplay, but at the expense of immersion. And thematic details like converting cows to meat + hides quickly seem to get swallowed up into an internal dialogue that's focused on marginal monetary benefits and action/opportunity costs.

Perhaps my complaint is simply about the nature of economic games, but my mind is the sort that resists thinking of games in simple resource --> VP conversion terms, and wonders instead what sort of weird shipping magnate owns a Clay Mound, a Smokehouse, and a Bank.
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Nate Straight

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This is a fantastic article, and while your review seems to garner more attention, I find this the more useful post.

JohnRayJr wrote:
Le Havre is a game of abundance. Agricola is a game of scarcity.


Definitely and it's what makes Agricola the true "economic" game among the two. Le Havre has money; Agricola has an economy.
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Tom Shields
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chally wrote:
In the absence of desperation, I lack emotional investment.

Wow, this is interesting. So that desperation provokes an hormonal response. We are subliminally engaged in the game, our bodies one step ahead of our mind, & directing our minds: Look m*therf*cker, get efficient cause some sh*t is going down. And that's one surefire way to get into the zone.
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Jason Reid
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JohnRayJr wrote:
Le Havre is a game of abundance. Agricola is a game of scarcity.


I keep hearing this abundance vs. scarcity thing, and I just don't understand it. It all seems relative to some baseline that I don't share with the rest of the crowd.

When I'm playing my opponents in Agricola, the object is to end the game with a higher score than them. The same goes for Le Havre. The fact that the end scores are higher in Le Havre is not a qualitative difference to me.

One thing I'd say is that Agricola seems to present more constraints on what constitutes "good play" from turn to turn. For that reason, I prefer Le Havre.

NateStraight wrote:
Definitely and it's what makes Agricola the true "economic" game among the two. Le Havre has money; Agricola has an economy.


I don't know what a "true" economic game is, but Agricola's economy doesn't seem particularly more realistic or dynamic than Le Havre's (that is, not much in either case).
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Byron Leung
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NateStraight wrote:
This is a fantastic article, and while your review seems to garner more attention, I find this the more useful post.

JohnRayJr wrote:
Le Havre is a game of abundance. Agricola is a game of scarcity.


Definitely and it's what makes Agricola the true "economic" game among the two. Le Havre has money; Agricola has an economy.


Hm... that's one of the weirdest comment I'm come along. How do you define "true" economic game?

Economy is about goods and currency, supply and demand. If anything makes a game a "truer" economic game, it's gonna be the game with money and which you can actually purchase and sell stuff with little constraint.

Agricola puts everything in a sand box and you collect food, you get paid in food and you, rarely, buy things in food. But I find the interaction with food highly limited. Maybe it's because most of the time you barely get enough to feed your family.

Food in Agricola IS like a by-product of currency where you need to spend for upkeep to your engine. Everyone demands food, and only the game supplies it. Money in LH seamlessly streamlines the whole economy and Realizes supply and demand (building entry cost) truly.
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Josh
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I'm going to late-jump in and say that for the theme Le Havre beats Agricola(and provide justification)

I think some people are confusing the components(little sheeps and fences and people!) fitting the theme, over the game itself fitting the theme. Hands down the components for Agricola are much nicer for the imagination. (at least when mildly pimped out they are) I had to do some serious work on Le HAvre to make it feel more theme-y(got pics up on the geek here) However, when you peel it back to mechanics you find this reverses itself.

Le Havre:You're a businessman trying to make money. Your every action comes down to *making money* You buy and sell buildings, invest in resources, develop supply chains, take loans, and build up the town itself all with the goal of 'Die(end the game) with the most stuff'. You can't really get more spot on than that. The game rewards you for nothing that is not directly related to making money.

Agricola:You're a subsistence farmer trying to build up your farm. ... or are you a joiner trying to horde wood for your business(wouldn't sacrificing wood for the VP make more sense?) or are you a shepherd tending your flock? Actually you're some horrible mishmash of these things. You're definitely *not* any kind of successful small-scale farmer if you score well. People back then dabbled because they *had* to, they were guarding against catastrophe. Having a lot of variety kept you from failing but it wasn't the path to success. Success is plowing your fields and planting a ton of wheat and getting a large yield to take all at once to the mill. Success is making ONE large corral and having a few hundred head of cattle making babies you can sell off as yearlings year after year. Agricola's scoring mechanism is counter to its theme. More thematic would be rewarding people for specialization with tons of points, but including a mechanic where random events can wipe out a crop or herd as a swoop. This would leave the burgeoning farmer asking him/herself 'how much do I dare specialize? How much do I risk my livelyhood and indeed my life vs the chance of wealth and prosperity?' which is a much more accurate choice facing those subsistence farmers of old.
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Patrick Davis
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JohnRayJr theatog wrote:
Economy is about goods and currency, supply and demand. If anything makes a game a "truer" economic game, it's gonna be the game with money and which you can actually purchase and sell stuff with little constraint.


NateStraight is applying the definition that economics is the study of how people's behavior changes as they use scarce resources to attain their goals. The tension between supply and demand exists because resources are not infinitely available. Goods and currency are only two of many forms of resources. The fact that supply and demand do exist in Le Havre reveals that there must be some scarcity built within that economic engine as well, though in Agricola it is felt more acutely.

[edited to correct misatribution blush]
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Ahem... I believe you're quoting a comment from someone else.
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Fall Jester
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I have only played Agricola (~20 games), but I am about to pull the trigger on Le Havre.

The only comment I want to add to the discussion is about teaching Agricola. Personally, I think it is a major pain. Even though the theme is really intuitive, it still has taken upwards of 30 min to teach the rules, and just when the noobies are confident that they understand the rules, we deal them 14 cards and they are confused all over again. I find this really impedes the flow of a player's first game.

Even when I play a game, I always hate the buzzkill of everyone silently reading over their cards for the first few minutes. From the reviews, it sounds like Le Havre's "let's start, and you can learn as you go" attitude is better to learn.

I know that the family version of Agricola doesn't use cards, but that seems like oversimplifying the game (especially if we only have 1 or 2 new players in the game).
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Jim Gutt
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One thing all posters seem to have ignored is the effect of randomness in both games. My game group has played both games numerous times (Agricola over 300, Le Havre over 100), and the consensus is that randomness is minimal in Le Havre (yes, different buildings are used in each game, but their order is known to all at the start; special buildings are unknown, but the game mechanic makes it a choice to know them to some extent, thereby making it possible to mitigate the luck factor), whereas the expert Agricola players in my group have gotten to know the game so well that they could just deal out the 10 occupations/minor improvements to each player and show them all face up, and pretty much know who's going to win! Sound like a true board game, or just craps ("roll and see who wins"). And the draft mechanism, while helpful, can still only do so much to overcome this luck factor.

Yeah, for newbies or even those like myself who only have a few dozen plays under their belt, Agricola is a fine game, that I still like (and really enjoy the solo variant!). But for a truly repeatable experience that doesn't boil down to "Dan got the Nurse Maid and the Layabout, he wins", Le Havre is much better, IMO.
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Nathan T
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smitty1966 wrote:
Quote:
Le Havre is a game of abundance. Agricola is a game of scarcity.

This sums it up for me right there. Nice analysis. I enjoy both games for different reasons, but Agricola feels more like "work" to me than Le Havre does.


I would say that Le Havre is not a game of abundance. Time is the most important resource in this game -- and it is extremely scarce. Given how juicy all your options look, it's more a game about controlling your impulses.

(Edit: great analysis by the way and I agree with pretty much everything. Just wanted to offer a slightly different perspective that I hadn't seen elsewhere on the board.)
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