Daily Archives: April 4, 2014

The Board Gamers Guide to Supply Management Part XIV: Le Havre

You’ve mastered Agricola and feel that you are an agricultural supply master and after sailing Upon a Salty Ocean, you feel you are also a master of logistics and market timing. But can you handle the full meal deal? Especially when you not only have to balance food and resource acquisition with trading and energy needs? Le Havre, an economic construction strategy game, adds a new dimension to put your supply management strategies to the test: having to balance the use of resources for food and the use of resources for energy to power ships, brickworks, iron mills, abattoirs, bakeries, and smokehouses which allow you to acquire and trade resources, convert raw materials into useable building materials, and turn raw fish and grain into food.

You win Le Havre by acquiring the most wealth over the course of the game, and you acquire wealth by collecting, selling, and using goods and by buying and constructing ships and buildings which have a monetary value. This sounds easy enough, but it is a significant supply management challenge as you have to continuously make enough money to cover the entry costs to the buildings you need (but don’t own), acquire enough raw materials that can be used to produce energy to power the buildings that produce food and building materials, and produce enough food to feed your constantly growing workforce at the end of every round (just like your payroll for an increasingly growing workforces increases in real life), which requires more and more food as the game goes on (just as your corporate workforce also grows as your company grows and you acquire more property and trade more resources).

Although you want to focus on acquiring buildings and building ships, as this is generally what helps you accumulate the most wealth (especially if you leave out the special buildings), you’re constantly having to interrupt your strategy to acquire food to feed your workers, raw materials for future buildings, and energy sources. The last thing you want to do is run out of food, because then you have to buy food, and if you don’t have enough money you either have to fire sale a building (if you have one) at half of its value or borrow, and every loan accrues interest every round (and there’s no limit on debt or interest, just like there’s no limit in the real world).

The game consists of a fixed number of rounds (defined as 14 rounds for 2 players, 18 rounds for 3 players, and 20 rounds for 4 or 5 players), each of which consists of 7 turns. On each turn, you take one of two actions:

  1. take an offer from the harbour or
    on each player’s turn, new goods arrive in the harbour and are added to the appropriate offer space, which the player can take
  2. use one of the available buildings
    which can include the construction firm that allows you to build up to buildings of your own

The base goods that are available as offers for the player to take are:

  • fish
    a food source worth 1 food or 2 food if smoked in the smokehouse
  • wood
    used to construct buildings, ships, or supply 1 energy (via fire); it can supply 3 energy if converted to charcoal in the charcoal kiln
  • clay
    used to construct buildings, it can be upgraded to brick in the brickworks to build more buildings
  • iron
    used to construct buildings or iron ships, it can be upgraded to steel
  • grain
    a harvest good that can be baked into bread (worth two food) at the bakehouse, or used to grow 1 more grain (at the end of the round)
  • cattle
    a harvest good that can be upgraded to meat (worth three food) at the abattoir and hides (for every 2 cattle slaughtered); also, 2+ cattle produce one more cattle at the end of every round

All other goods have to be produced. These include:

  • charcoal: an energy source worth 3 energy produced from wood in the charcoal kiln
  • coke: an energy source worth 10 energy produced from charcoal in the colliery
  • brick: produced from clay in the brickworks
  • steel: produced from iron in the steel mill
  • bread: produced from grain in the bakehouse
  • smoked fish: produced from fish in the smokehouse
  • meat: produced from cattle in the abattoir
  • leather: produced from hides in the tannery

There are 33 standard buildings (and 36 special buildings, which you should ignore until you’ve built up some experience with the base games). In addition to the 9 resource conversion buildings already mentioned, specifically:

  • Abattoir
  • Bakehouse
  • Brickworks
  • Charcoal Kiln
  • Cokery
  • IronWorks
  • Smokehouse
  • Steel Mill
  • Tannery

The following 8 buildings are also available, and necessary:

  • Building Firms: necessary to build buildings
  • Clay Mound: a source of clay
  • Colliery a source of coal
  • Construction Firms: necessary to build buildings
  • Fishery: a source of fish, which is a vital food source
  • Shipping Line: necessary to trade
  • Wharf: necessary to build ships

In order to use a building, you have to pay the entry fee (if you don’t own it), have the energy sources to power it, and one or more of the base goods required to use its ability. In order to build a building, you have to have the resource cost, just like in Agricola. Not to mention, it has to be available. This is the challenge of Le Havre, not only do you have to balance food production (to feed your workers) with resource acquisition (to build), energy production (to power buildings) and ship production (to acquire fish and trade), but you also have to build at the right time, use the buildings at the right time, and trade appropriately. Especially since, just like in the real world, only one player can use one building at a time, take an offer from the harbour and the resource type associated with it, or get points for a particular building or action. And the increasing food costs make the game quite challenging if you don’t adequately prepare for food production from round one. In a four player game, you will need to produce 113 units of food and in a two player game, you will need to produce 177 units of food! A growing workforce needs to be fed (paid)! And you just can’t borrow willy nilly, as the bank only lends money to cover the cost of food (as in Agricola, you can only beg for food).

If you really want to test your supply management mettle, Le Havre is a good game to test it on. While it will likely take twice as long as Agricola to get through a session, it puts your thinking skills and ability to balance supply (offered resources) with demand (building [utilization] costs) in a way that maximizes overall value generated (as the winner is the one that acquires the most wealth by the end of the game). So give Le Havre a go. You might just get more than you negotiated for. (And get one step closer to the ultimate supply management challenge.)

P.S. If you want a good guided introduction to the game, try the iOS version and see if you can become Le Havre’s next titan of industry. The tutorial is good as is the gameplay. (But it won’t give you the challenge of going head to head with your team-mate — all AI’s have preferred strategies and predictable responses when you play them enough.)