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Subject: The strengths and weaknesses of Le Havre as I see it rss

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Michal B
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This is my first attempt at writing a review on BGG. Why did I choose Le Havre for it? Well, it is the hottest item in my humble game collection at the moment and I guess it is fun to write about something one really enjoys. I would like to briefly show you what I think are the major strengths of the game, where its weaknesses lie and present few issues which are neither superb or awful, but are often brought up when the game mechanisms are analysed. If you are looking for a detailed rules description, you may look to other reviews for that - there are many which deal with that elegantly and efficiently. This is more a set of post-game impressions. Anyway, once you read my review, I would really appreciate if you left a comment. Now, to the game.

Le Havre puts you in position of a businessman in a French port town. You will find yourself gathering, processing and trading various goods, as well as constructing and lending industrial sites, shops, factories and ships. The aim of the game is to have the most valuable business (cash plus total value of ships & buildings) at the end of the final round.

The Good

Theme.
I find it perfectly fitting for a board game. At the beginning you establish yourself as a humble entrepreneur with few francs in your pocket and small supply of coal. Within few game rounds you shall see your business flourishing in the port of Le Havre. Eventually you will acquire ships and sell overseas the goods you manufactured. The growth of each player's business is really dynamic. The basic resources which are vital in the beginning are worth next to nothing in the closing rounds. The playing table gets quickly filled with buildings and ships. This gives you the feeling you are working in an era of an economic growth, in some kind of romantic period where investing actually brings profit. This, I must admit, is highly rewarding, even if possibly does not reflect cruel reality. There is another factor that makes the game very enjoyable. If you plan your development quite right you have a real chance to see your business flowing during end rounds. The game does not end too soon leaving you without seeing the economic engine you put together works. You will usually get that few nice final moves in which you will manage to ship that precious steel you tried so hard to produce during the whole game. And you will finally be rewarded for not eating that tasty cows you kept for so long with the hope to sell them while still alive (i.e. more valuable). The business system you constructed will show its strength. And that gives a lot of satisfaction.

It is all quite logical.
What I really like about the game is that the mechanisms implemented by the designers not only fit the theme but work in a way your common-sense expects. Let's take the goods as an example (which I am actually not sure if can be called "an example", as probably two thirds of the game is manipulating the goods in various ways). The basic goods are fish, wood, clay, iron, grain and cattle. In the course of the game the resources can be processed to their upgraded versions (so that clay becomes bricks, iron is made into steel, grain is baked for bread, cattle is slaughtered into meat and leather, etc.). Altogether, you will find yourself using 16 different goods which can be used for four general purposes: shipping them for money, using them as building material, using them as energy source, and providing food for your workers. All the goods can be shipped (although prices vary for different goods), but the other purposes require specific resources. This all is reasonable and intuitive - your workers will eat fish, meat or bread but not bricks or a living cow. Same goes for finding energy to heat up your production lines, which can be obtained from burning e.g. coal or wood but not leather. It all fits, you do not need to memorise "what turns into what", as you instantly get a grasp on how to use resources using just your common sense.

Simplicity.
The game is really easy when it comes to what a player can do on his/her turn. There are two things you can do: grab all the available resources of one type or visit one of the buildings present on the board to use the building's action. That's basically it, there is no 10-step turn sequence, no specific sub-phases you need to go through. I find this an elegant mechanism, yet one that provides lots of options since there is plenty of unique buildings you may visit, each enabling you to do a different thing. You want to construct a building? Go visit construction company. You wish to sell your fish? Go visit the fish market. For producing steel, take your iron (which is processed into steel) and some energy resources and go to the steel mill. If the building you are visiting is yours you pay no entry fee, if it belongs to another player or to the town you will usually need to pay something for using it. Simple and logical, but providing many opportunities.

(Having said all that, I am aware there are mechanisms in Le Havre that some gamers find unjustified and illogical. I will try to comment on some of those a bit later).

Subtle interaction.
Some say this game needs much more player interaction. I do not agree, yet it is true that Le Havre is by no means a cut-throat game. There is no direct interaction between the players, which is not to say that there is no interaction at all. The game seems rather laid back but the players will be constantly blocking each other's moves, either on purpose or as a by-product of their self-interested actions. This is due to the fact that only one person can use a building at a time. And you will often see that precious resource pile you have been waiting for getting hijacked by someone else just before you get your turn. Still, there is no direct negativity, no sinking each others' ships, blowing up buildings, poisoning food etc. - you are after all a respectable businessman, not a mobster.

Presentation.
The game is nice to your eyes and fingers. It's art design may be a bit too cartoonish for some tastes and I can see why. The box art and some of the board elements (mostly the people drawn) seem... well, not serious enough I guess. That, however, for me can be easily overlooked since there is one thing that hits my soft spot when comes to visual presentation of the game - the buildings cards. The artwork on them is also cartoon-style, but by no means grotesque. Each building has its unique look and is a proper representation of its function. What I find best about them is that when you lay down the buildings next to each other in the course of the game, they fit perfectly and turn into a nice looking port street. It is really hard to explain why I like it so much. Maybe it reminds me of the good old computer games with scrolling 2D backgrounds? I am not sure, but it works for me - each time you build your own port district and it all fits. I also appreciate the resource tokens: the artwork is nice, clear and informative. The colours are vivid and serve well as visual aid.

Plays smoothly with various number of players.
This came as a nice surprise to me. For some reasons I expected Le Havre to work good with 3 or more people. As for most of the time I am playing games only with my girlfriend I really appreciate this game working fantastically with 2 players. In fact, this is the best 2 player gaming experience we have had. With 2 players there is less randomness when compared to 3+ player games - you can work on your strategy better and your ingenious plans have a much better chance of not being spoiled by other player moves. Surprisingly Le Havre is also quite rewarding as a solitaire game, when your only competitor is your current highscore. Solo play does not get close to a multiplayer experience in terms of fun but it is there - and works. It lets you test and optimise your strategies and is a nice one hour brain burner.

I must admit I have not tried Le Havre with 4 or 5 people. My expectation is that it may get really slow with that many players, since the game seems to be quite prone to provoking analysis paralysis. Speaking of which...

The Bad

AP.
As it was said, the gameflow can clog at times. A player, especially during the final rounds, will have many options open to them during each turn. Usually this comes down to a choice between a good option, better one, and the optimal one. This choice is almost never obvious so gamers who value winning above smooth gameplay may have problems with making decisions. Actually, even if you are a quick thinker or just want to get the game going, you will often find yourself stuck on your turn scratching your head pondering whether to grab one of three deliciously looking resource piles or to use one of five inviting buildings.

Set up and the token chaos.
The set up is simply too long. All because of the resource chits that need to be stacked prior to each game. And there is lots of them. And the game can get messy really quickly if you do not pay attention to proper stacking of the different chits. If you have fat fingers - you are doomed to play in chaos, for the resource piles will fall and mess it all up. There is also huge amount of chit fiddling that needs to be done in the course of play. Stacking the resources and constantly moving them from one pile to another may be frustrating. Oh, and each resource token has two sides, each representing different good, so keep that in mind and do not flip them over accidentally, you clumsy fool. Home-made boxes or chit slots may be an answer. But as the game comes out of the box, there will be frustration.

The game length.
It gets about an hour per player, if the players know what they are doing. I guess it is not that long for a solo or 2-player game, but when it turns into an over 3 hours sitting... well, that is wee bit too long for such a game. Not that it gets boring, but spending some 200 minutes to me defies the concept of playing this game. A game which is relatively simple and possibly does not offer huge depth to justify eating all your precious free time. Still, as I mentioned, I am yet to play with more than 3 players so I do not really know if 1hour/player rule prevails there.


The Eyebrow Raisers

There are two issues with Le Havre's mechanics that I learned people often dislike. One is the food requirement. After each turn, players need to dispose of pre-determined amount of food and/or money as wages for their workers. The first counter-intuitive thing here is that you do not get any workers "physically" during the game. There are no pawns or tokens representing them, they are this invisible force which apparently resides in the buildings you constructed - and which is hungry. This I do not find to be a real issue. So what if I do not see my workers? I am supposed to be a grand entrepreneur, I do not deal with port-folk face to face. What I do find little strange with this obligation to pay food each round is that the amount of food you need to give out to your workers is pre-determined and increases each turn without you having any influence over it. So a player who controls much estate in the game pays the same upkeep as a slow-starter. This is definetely counter-intuitive and people have voiced their concerns over it. That being said, I feel compelled to defend this mechanism, as it is key in keeping the game balanced and tense. It is virtually the only brake in your race for quick cash - it keeps you balancing your long term plans (like gathering resources for that precious ship to come in two turns) with these "everyday" needs of feeding the supposed people that work for you. Without this mechanism the game would be flat as yesterday's soda.

The other thing often disliked in Le Havre is the use of ships. Ships provide you with steady supply of food (for the workers) and let you ship out your goods (i.e. sell them for cash). So they are very useful and it is hard to imagine a game without them. Some players feel that this dual function makes the ship indispensable to a point in which all your efforts come down to getting the ships. So that effectively the game forces the ships down your throat. I do not share this view because of two things. Firstly, you can win the game using a non ship-centered strategy (in fact I would say probably in most games I played it was the player with less ship number that won). Secondly, why would one find obligation to use ships a serious limitation? It is a game about ports and shipping goods after all...

----

As you must have realised, I really enjoy Le Havre. It is a well-designed, smooth eurogame. One that is engaging, medium-weighted and a rewarding experience. It is not complicated but gives a player numerous paths to gaining wealth, thus providing that precious illusion of very few limitations. It has this nice, light industrial feeling to it. The final scoring is usually rather tight. The differences between players are such that one or two additional moves would have turned the things around. This makes you wanna play again, because after each play you realise there were always things you could have done better, some actions that you rushed in a bit and some missed opportunities that might be worth considering next time.

I rate Le Havre 9 out of 10.

A great game indeed.
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Well done. Every review should have a section entitled "The Eyebrow Raisers." meeple
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Chris Ferejohn
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Quote:
...Le Havre is by no means a cut-throat game...


Huh. I guess I use a different definition of "cut-throat". I find Le Havre to be pretty brutal. New players stand basically no chance and there is no catch-up mechanism at all. A player who manages to effectively deny wood through the first couple turns is going to get out to a lead that will be hard to recover from.

Quote:
...Set up and the token chaos...


I just put the tokens in a Plano box and pull them out as they are needed to supply the offer spaces. When they are consumed/shipped/used we put them on the supply spaces. Set up takes little time at all and you don't have 200 tokens all on the board for no reason.
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Robert Corn
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How appropriate. You fight like a cow.
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Great review!

I found this geeklist to be great for organizing the bits.
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Snowball
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A very good and honest review.
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Jennifer Schlickbernd
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Nice review. I find that the loan strategy is an 'eyebrow raiser' yet you don't mention it in the review.
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jschlickbernd wrote:
Nice review. I find that the loan strategy is an 'eyebrow raiser' yet you don't mention it in the review.


The more I play the game the more in love I am with the way loans are integrated. I'm constantly taken by the desire to tweak small things, though (for example, raising the conversion batch caps on special buildings that require two refined goods).

Everyone has a couple of little things that strike them it seems.
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Justin Moore
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The problem for me is length. For a full game:

A. 7 player turns per round.
B. 20 rounds
C. 1 Upkeep action every round
D. Some stuff at the end.

That's 160 actions, of which the last 80 or so can legitimately take a couple minutes each due the the huge number of options available.

I found the game interesting, but would only play the short game again.
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Jonathan Morton
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Interesting that I'm something of an exception on the length issue, at least for the 3-player game. I was unimpressed with all of 1861: The Railways of the Russian Empire, A Brief History of the World, and Baltimore & Ohio as I felt they ran far longer than merited by depth or engagement. My one play of Le Havre, on the other hand, ran close to 4 hours and I loved it. In fact my initial impression (half an hour into the game) was that it was about a 6, which raised to 7 about an hour in, and ended up at 8. Further plays could see it rise more.

Great review!
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Matthew Chua
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feydjm wrote:
The problem for me is length. For a full game:

A. 7 player turns per round.
B. 20 rounds
C. 1 Upkeep action every round
D. Some stuff at the end.

That's 160 actions, of which the last 80 or so can legitimately take a couple minutes each due the the huge number of options available.

I found the game interesting, but would only play the short game again.


With some experience, you can get a 3-player game under 2 hours consistently. I think my regular group of 3 hasn't gone over that limit for a game of Le Havre since our 2nd game.
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Darin Perrine
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Outstanding review. Spot on. I would fully agree that its at its best as a two player game, fast & furious!
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Michal B
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Thank you all for the comments. It's really ecouraging to read your positive feedback.

jschlickbernd wrote:
I find that the loan strategy is an 'eyebrow raiser' yet you don't mention it in the review.


That may be a valid point, but I have not mentioned it since I actually find loans to be working well. I believe the loan accumulation strategy is not an exploit but a possibility conscoiusly implemented to the game. Still, yes, it somewhat strange that you pay fixed interest without regard to the total amount you loaned.
 
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Jennifer Schlickbernd
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najmundrzejszy wrote:
Thank you all for the comments. It's really ecouraging to read your positive feedback.

jschlickbernd wrote:
I find that the loan strategy is an 'eyebrow raiser' yet you don't mention it in the review.


That may be a valid point, but I have not mentioned it since I actually find loans to be working well. I believe the loan accumulation strategy is not an exploit but a possibility conscoiusly implemented to the game. Still, yes, it somewhat strange that you pay fixed interest without regard to the total amount you loaned.


That's what I meant by 'raised eyebrow'. Not that it's necessarily an exploit but that it's unexpected.
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Michael
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I'm still unsure about this game. It seems to be interesting. But I have Caylus, which is very good in my opinion. So, do I need Le Havre?
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brauerle wrote:
I'm still unsure about this game. It seems to be interesting. But I have Caylus, which is very good in my opinion. So, do I need Le Havre?


I think you'll find them to be quite different in practice.

Things that Caylus and Le Havre share:

1.) Send a worker to activate a building (but in Le Havre you only have one worker, so there's no equivalent to dancing around the actions of 2-3 other players with 3-4 workers each).
2.) Earn victory points for building.
3.) Pay a fee to use another player's building (but in Le Havre you have to pay out of your own pocket, rather than just awarding that player a prestige point).
4.) Income (although in Le Havre your ships allow you to meet your upkeep, and cannot actually award you bonus food).

Things that Le Havre has that are not in Caylus:

1.) Dynamic resource offers. In Caylus, players can change the overall scarcity of resources, but not the yield of individual actions.
2.) More basic resources (8).
3.) Two-step resources - each of the 8 can be refined.
4.) An upkeep that steepens from round to round. The only equivalent in Caylus are the three prestige penalties for not building in the castle - hardly an "upkeep."
5.) All resources have three values: shipping worth, energy yield, and food yield. In Caylus, the main concern is that you have the right resources for the structures you intend to build and the actions you intend to take (which is true in Le Havre as well). The Castle mechanic also emphasizes having a diverse set of goods, and there is no real equivalent for this in Le Havre.
6.) Goods that reproduce themselves if you hold onto them.
7.) Special buildings: In Caylus, the character of the game changes based on what is built early, which initial buildings are removed from play by residences, etc. Le Havre also changes based on what is built early, but no buildings are later removed from play altogether. Instead, Le Havre always features a small number of special buildings (chosen randomly from a large deck) that influence the character of the session and provide strategic options not available in other sessions of the game. Imagine if Caylus had 12 special buildings but only two of them were randomly available to be constructed each session.
8.) Buying and selling of buildings. These are free actions in Le Havre. You may purchase a building (instead of building it) as long as you have the money and it is available from the building proposals or the town. You may sell a building for have its value at any time.
9.) Occupying buildings / blocking. Your workforce does not return "home" at the end of a round. They block access to a building until you move, until the owner of the building sells, or until another player purchases the building (if owned by the town and not by a player). You may claim resource offers without moving, so sometimes building is blocked for several actions in a row.

Things that Caylus has that are not in Le Havre:

1.) Paying your workers (cash flow... although Le Havre has its own version of cash flow).
2.) The castle: batches and royal favors. If anything batches are a corollary to the shipping line in Le Havre, in that you can unload a lot of material. But they're not really similar because material is much harder to come by in Caylus and because the castle prestige points are weighted toward the early game and accessible immediately. There is no equivalent to favors in Le Havre.
3.) Building tiers. There is no equivalent to pink/brown/grey/green/blue buildings in Le Havre. There are three construction spaces available at the beginning of the game, and these will allow you to build anything you want as long as it is available in the building proposals.
4.) Variable turn order: Players cannot change their turn order in Le Havre.
5.) Provost: Players cannot accelerate the pace of the game in Le Havre. They also cannot nullify the action-selections of other players.
6.) Passing: because there is only one "workforce" per player in Le Havre, there is no concept of passing when other players still have moves left to take.

Not that I've been thinking about this lately or anything...whistle

EDIT: Long post, typos!
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Steve Duff
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Or, in short - Yes, you need both these games. cool
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James
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UnknownParkerBrother wrote:
Or, in short - Yes, you need both these games. cool


QFT!!
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