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Subject: Help! 2 player Le Havre games starting to follow the same blueprint every time rss

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Dave Chandler
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My wife and I have played a handful of 2 player Le Havre games (5 or 6) and we're starting to fall into a 'blueprint' for success. Every game is starting to play just like the last. Get a grain and 2 cattle as quickly as possible, fight for the Wharf, build a ship of whatever type as quickly as you can to stay ahead of the food curve. In the early game, smoke fish for food, in the middle game turn cattle to meat and hides, In the late game turn hides to leather, ship leather for cash. Get either the bank or town hall depending on what other buildings you happened to build along the way.

Lather, rinse, repeat.

We've found that the cost of entry for a building usually isn't severe enough to matter much who builds it... so we just build what we need when we need it.

I'm sure we're missing some major part of the strategy in the game, probably due to our agricola backgrounds. It seems we're falling into the Agricola trap of 'Do what you need to to feed your folks and build an empire with what's left.' Any suggestions how to switch things up?
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Steve E.
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"Le Havre games starting to follow the same blueprint every time "

Yep. Sounds like Le Havre...
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Sure. My one major suggestion would be to challenge yourself to buy a ship on round 2 or three, well before the wharf enters play. See how that impacts things.

Also, don't bother taking fish unless there are seven or more during the first four or five turns. Try playing without using fish at all, unless there's just a ridiculous pile early on (10 on round 3 or something).

Ignore leather in favor of coke/steel.

Also, whoever wins the game should have more than 300 francs, with two players.
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1copse wrote:
"Le Havre games starting to follow the same blueprint every time "

Yep. Sounds like Le Havre...


Sounds like the opposite of what Le Havre should be. I'm not sure if the player count is at fault here, to an extent. I've only played with 2 a few times. I think you get a much more interesting game out of it with 3.
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Rob Corn
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Try a game where you completely ignore feeding, you'll probably be surprised at how little impact the loans have when compared to the value gained by taking the extra actions (and getting a few extra francs in the early stages).

Focus on coal, coke, and steel, and only those (never take any cows, grain, or fish) and see how differently the game plays out.
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Dave Chandler
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John, Thanks for responding. Yours was the one I was hoping to get as you espoused the value of Le Havre as an ever-changing game. I'm sure we're doing something wrong (or are unaware of certain more interesting strategies) but I just don't know what.

JohnRayJr wrote:
Sure. My one major suggestion would be to challenge yourself to buy a ship on round 2 or three, well before the wharf enters play. See how that impacts things.
...
Also, whoever wins the game should have more than 300 francs, with two players.


Any way you could provide a suggestion for how to do that? The last time we played I tried to buy the 8 franc construction building bu the 2nd around and I couldn't find a way to even do THAT because feeding my people wiped my cash supply out. You have 5 francs to start with, 6 available in the offer by the end of round 3, and a maximum of 3 choices before you have to feed people. If you don't find a way to spend those 5 francs early, and you aren't taking food, you're going to lose them.

As for the '300' franc line that's a good indication that we're doing something wrong as we're ending up with closer to 230 each time. Any ideas (aside from the coke/steel suggestion) what that could be? Should buildings be changing hands often? In all of our games we've only sold a building once (and that was to scrounge up enough cash to buy a ship to handle paying the food penalty)
 
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Dave Chandler
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Haggis wrote:
Try a game where you completely ignore feeding, you'll probably be surprised at how little impact the loans have when compared to the value gained by taking the extra actions (and getting a few extra francs in the early stages).


This gets to the heart of my problem: f you don't feed your people you lose those francs. Unless I misunderstand the rules, you can only take a loan if you don't have enough food and francs to cover food costs right? Feeding people has changed from 'Avoid the negative points' to a 'Protect my cash supply' issue. How can I get through ignoring feeding people and protecting my supply of francs?
 
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djc6535 wrote:
John, Thanks for responding. Yours was the one I was hoping to get as you espoused the value of Le Havre as an ever-changing game. I'm sure we're doing something wrong (or are unaware of certain more interesting strategies) but I just don't know what.

JohnRayJr wrote:
Sure. My one major suggestion would be to challenge yourself to buy a ship on round 2 or three, well before the wharf enters play. See how that impacts things.
...
Also, whoever wins the game should have more than 300 francs, with two players.


Any way you could provide a suggestion for how to do that? The last time we played I tried to buy the 8 franc construction building bu the 2nd around and I couldn't find a way to even do THAT because feeding my people wiped my cash supply out. You have 5 francs to start with, 6 available in the offer by the end of round 3, and a maximum of 3 choices before you have to feed people. If you don't find a way to spend those 5 francs early, and you aren't taking food, you're going to lose them.

As for the '300' franc line that's a good indication that we're doing something wrong as we're ending up with closer to 230 each time. Any ideas (aside from the coke/steel suggestion) what that could be? Should buildings be changing hands often? In all of our games we've only sold a building once (and that was to scrounge up enough cash to buy a ship to handle paying the food penalty)


I don't recall the upkeep distribution for a 2P game at the moment. Certainly, in a 3P game it's common to spend 4 francs on a building firm so that when you hit the end of round one, you take a loan and three francs. A single entry fee plus interest allows you to do the same thing at the end of round 2, and then you only need to make up 11 francs for the ship. Popular sell-off buildings include the charcoal kiln and the fishery. For two clay, one wood, and one action, you can build both. At that point you're sitting on 9 francs banked for a ship. With 2-3 available from a loan, you only need 2-3 from the franc offer to get your first ship.

The devil is in the details for these openings, of course. The proposal order and the offer spaces will affect the possible maneuvers toward an early ship. In the 3P game, the sawmill is often sold off as well, but I don't think it's used in with two players.
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djc6535 wrote:
How can I get through ignoring feeding people and protecting my supply of francs?


Easy: you can't. You'll find that you don't need much money throughout most of the game. When you start shipping (heavily) you'll get enough money for whatever purpose you like. Just pay attention to never be completely out of money so that you still can enter most buildings.
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Dave Eisen
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And judiciously sell buildings back to the city to get immediate cash influxes. Yes, this is costly from a VP perspective. Keyword: judiciously.
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JohnRayJr wrote:
Any way you could provide a suggestion for how to do that? The last time we played I tried to buy the 8 franc construction building bu the 2nd around and I couldn't find a way to even do THAT because feeding my people wiped my cash supply out. You have 5 francs to start with, 6 available in the offer by the end of round 3, and a maximum of 3 choices before you have to feed people. If you don't find a way to spend those 5 francs early, and you aren't taking food, you're going to lose them.


From my experience, buying a ship this early in a 2-player game is near to impossible. In fact, it is feasible, but doesn't pay out. You don't want to lose those Craft buildings as the Marketplace has a little greater importance in 2-player. You've got just this one opponent and you can't let him abuse the Marketplace. In multiplayer, it's easy to get the early ship through the Joinery and/or the Sawmill. So, I wouldn't recommend trying to buy one in 2-player unless you amass a little cash by chance (Franc offer + smoking + single sale).
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Ponton wrote:
JohnRayJr wrote:
Any way you could provide a suggestion for how to do that? The last time we played I tried to buy the 8 franc construction building bu the 2nd around and I couldn't find a way to even do THAT because feeding my people wiped my cash supply out. You have 5 francs to start with, 6 available in the offer by the end of round 3, and a maximum of 3 choices before you have to feed people. If you don't find a way to spend those 5 francs early, and you aren't taking food, you're going to lose them.


From my experience, buying a ship this early in a 2-player game is near to impossible. In fact, it is feasible, but doesn't pay out. You don't want to lose those Craft buildings as the Marketplace has a little greater importance in 2-player. You've got just this one opponent and you can't let him abuse the Marketplace. In multiplayer, it's easy to get the early ship through the Joinery and/or the Sawmill. So, I wouldn't recommend trying to buy one in 2-player unless you amass a little cash by chance (Franc offer + smoking + single sale).


Ponton's probably right. Like I said, I've only played 2P games a handful of times.
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dkeisen wrote:
And judiciously sell buildings back to the city to get immediate cash influxes. Yes, this is costly from a VP perspective. Keyword: judiciously.


Yeah, but don't overdo. I rarely sell buildings just for the cash. Usually I'll do if I need to re-enter a building badly.
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Alan Goodrich
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We've played many 2 player games, and while I can't say we've played them particularly well (it is rare for one of us to break 200, likely because we concentrate too much on feeding), I'll also say that there is hardly a blueprint for success. The way you describe it, you'd think this is a co-op. Who has been winning these blueprint games? What is the deciding factor in the victory? A blueprint can only emerge if both players play the same way every time - and I would think this would stop happening once one player tries to beat the blueprint, so to speak, and ensure victory. Sounds like mini-groupthink going on.

For instance - blocking. Does it happen for you? We often block each other, sometimes for multiple turns. We usually build a building not to gain the entry fee, but to prevent having to pay it when we use it. Or because we are collecting a certain building type. How about loans? Do you ever take them? We've had games where the loan strategy has worked well, and games where it has been a loser.

What about the order the buildings come up in? Does it matter for you? It does for us. Even more, the special buildings really guide the game in our case. If a certain industry or productive special building appears, it can shift strategies for sure.

It seems to me the game has a lot of built in variety. Not only have all our 2 player games felt different in the play and resolution, I'd assert that the game has replay simply because neither my partner nor I have come up with a viable consistent strategy. We play a lot of games, so if one has flummoxed us for this long, it's a keeper in my book.
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Ponton wrote:
djc6535 wrote:
How can I get through ignoring feeding people and protecting my supply of francs?


Easy: you can't. You'll find that you don't need much money throughout most of the game. When you start shipping (heavily) you'll get enough money for whatever purpose you like. Just pay attention to never be completely out of money so that you still can enter most buildings.

I'm not so sure you can't. I've been part of a five player session in which the winner employed a "starvation" strategy, and he beat the rest of us pretty soundly, too. It drives me nuts that this type of tactic can (occasionally) succeed, since it seems to be at such odds to (what I would interpret as) the game's intent. Honestly--to briefly mix fantasy with reality--how long do you think you'd keep your employees around if you completely ignored their needs?

The higher-end scores tend to delve somewhat into this area, as you obviously are choosing to take a penalty early on that will eventually balance out and be far surpassed by later accomplishments. I'd be curious, though, to know what the range of scoring would be if someone manages to avoid taking any loans whatsoever (which I imagine is what the OP is asking); IMHO, that should carry greater overall reward.
 
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djc6535 wrote:
Haggis wrote:
Try a game where you completely ignore feeding, you'll probably be surprised at how little impact the loans have when compared to the value gained by taking the extra actions (and getting a few extra francs in the early stages).


This gets to the heart of my problem: f you don't feed your people you lose those francs. Unless I misunderstand the rules, you can only take a loan if you don't have enough food and francs to cover food costs right? Feeding people has changed from 'Avoid the negative points' to a 'Protect my cash supply' issue. How can I get through ignoring feeding people and protecting my supply of francs?

True, but in my 2 player games (20+) I rarely have more than 1 to 3 francs on-hand at any given time. The only time you need lots of francs (more than 5) is when you are just about to buy something, or it's late in the game and you're shipping your loads of steel and coke.

If you're sitting on any quantity of cash it's better to buy a building than have the food truck come and steal your hard earned coins.
 
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@Brett: You can't protect your money if you're starving. If you're going loans, you'll be short on money. There is no other way as you must eat your money if you're lacking food!
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chindent wrote:
Honestly--to briefly mix fantasy with reality--how long do you think you'd keep your employees around if you completely ignored their needs?

The higher-end scores tend to delve somewhat into this area, as you obviously are choosing to take a penalty early on that will eventually balance out and be far surpassed by later accomplishments. I'd be curious, though, to know what the range of scoring would be if someone manages to avoid taking any loans whatsoever (which I imagine is what the OP is asking); IMHO, that should carry greater overall reward.

I've tried that in a two player game experiment. It wasn't even close, the player who took the loans won with something like a 2:1 margin (if I remember right the final score was about 220 to 110).

I also tried a game in which I completely ignored food. I ended up having 22 loans at one point, and still scored over 200 at the end.

I totally disagree that the intent is not to take loans. It's a balancing act -- the loans have a cost that is higher than the immediate payout, but the immediate payout can be leveraged for greater potential if used properly. You aren't starving your people or keeping them unhappy -- they still get paid, it's just the boss (you) has to go talk to the bank. The workers don't care where the money comes from, but the bank will want to be repaid (hmm... sounds familiar... ).

Each player in Le Havre seems to build momentum but it takes a lot of effort to get that momentum going, and early loans can be key.

Edit: I should note that all of my games have been with the default loan rules, in which no matter how many loans you have it costs you 1 franc when interest is due, and not the advanced rules which has you pay 2 francs when the number of loans equals or exceeds the number of players (or is it just exeed?). I'm planning to try the advanced rules the next time I play though.
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chindent wrote:
Honestly--to briefly mix fantasy with reality--how long do you think you'd keep your employees around if you completely ignored their needs?


You don't ignore their needs like in Stone Age or Agricola - you get a loan in bank to pay your people! They won't know you're in debt.


Haggis wrote:
I also tried a game in which I completely ignored food. I ended up having 22 loans at one point, and still scored over 200 at the end.


This is crazy. Your opponent must really have been inexperienced if you still scored that high. With 22 loans, you need to get 110 francs, thus get some really good shipments done. If I was your opponent, you'd be left with about half of the loans...
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Okay, perhaps my metaphor is not exactly accurate. I guess I've always had a hard time understanding why it's possible (in any game) that if I happen to be playing efficiently enough that I never have to take a penalty and I manage my resources well, more often than not I will ultimately perform worse than someone who deliberately shorts themselves but is somehow easily able to make up the difference (and then some) by game end. I'm sure it all comes down to greater risk equals greater reward--does that mean playing it safer is an inferior tactic?

P.S. I do enjoy Le Havre and think it has great depth and variety, but I personally will never go near Stone Age again.
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Ponton wrote:
This is crazy. Your opponent must really have been inexperienced if you still scored that high. With 22 loans, you need to get 110 francs, thus get some really good shipments done. If I was your opponent, you'd be left with about half of the loans...

I'm just that good

I don't remember the specifics but it was probably one of the first six or so games we played, so fairly inexperienced.

But even now it's not unusual for me and my normal opponent to see between 8 and 12 loans in a two player game. So back to the original point, loans should thought of as a normal part of the game and not considered a "must avoid" experience.
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chindent wrote:
I'm sure it all comes down to greater risk equals greater reward--does that mean playing it safer is an inferior tactic?


Depends. You can win the game by feeding yourself, but you need to do it really effectively. Sometimes you need to find a way in-between. This is part of the game. There's nothing in the rules that bans loans. They're part of it. So, use them wisely. This is not Agricola, where one begging card is like -10% of your overall score (if people are playing cut-throat) and there is no way to get rid of them (except Mendicant).
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Haggis wrote:
But even now it's not unusual for me and my normal opponent to see between 8 and 12 loans in a two player game. So back to the original point, loans should thought of as a normal part of the game and not considered a "must avoid" experience.


This sounds more reasonable. I usually try to stay below 10 loans, because it starts to become really hard to get rid of that many loans by the end. I usually don't pay them back after my first huge shipment, but invest in steel ships and buildings, so if you don't, it might be fairly easy to go up to ~15 loans.
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chindent wrote:
...if I happen to be playing efficiently enough that I never have to take a penalty.

A-ha! Don't think of the loans as a penalty, they're not. They are a tool to sacrifice long term cash for immediate cash. If you time the loans right, which takes some planning, you can start the next turn with 3 francs in your pocket without having to take an action (and you also saved actions from the previous turn by not running around collecting fish like your 'efficient' opponent).
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Ponton wrote:
There's nothing in the rules that bans loans. They're part of it. So, use them wisely. This is not Agricola, where one begging card is like -10% of your overall score...

Perhaps this is part of my mental block then--I see the penalty as simply that and it instills paranoia. Clearly if I witness others still performing well after taking several loans, then I should relax a bit and give it a try, too.
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