After being introduced to Le Havre last Friday, you played all weekend as the subtle complexity and inherent trade-offs challenged you to prove that your intuition and strategic reasoning skills could not be matched. You bested your team-mates, and after one play each night of the simple game in the iOS version, where you beat the Admiral Sabine AI on your 4th try, you think you’re ready for the full base game. But are you?
In the simple game, only 19 of the 33 buildings are used — typically these will be the Abattoir, 2 Building Firms, Bakehouse, Bank, Brickworks, Charcoal Kiln, Clay Mound, Cokery, Colliery, Construction Firm, Fishery, IronWorks, Marketplace, Shipping Line, Smokehouse, Steel Mill, Tannery, and the Wharf. With the exception of the marketplace and the bank, each of these was covered in our first post. In addition, you start off with one wooden ship, 5 francs, and 12 resources: 2 fish, wood, coal, iron, and cole and 1 cattle and hide. You are guaranteed of being able to feed your works and build something first round. Not so in the full base game (which goes 6 extra rounds). In the full base game, you start off with five francs and one lump of coal. No ships, no food, and no resources to build. And the marketplace, which gave you four goods in the base game, gives you only 2. You have to wheel and deal your way just to survive (and victory is a long way off).
The challenge of Le Havre, where you not not only have to balance food production (to pay your workers) with resource acquisition (to build your products), energy production (to power your manufacturing plants) and ship production (to distribute your goods for sale), is that you also have to build at the right time, use the buildings at the right time, and trade appropriately. If you’re too early or too late to the market with your goods, no one will buy them. If you don’t take advantage of opportunities, your competition will. And if you don’t secure transport during peak Christmas season, well, then, you’re just dumb. Furthermore, in the game of Le Havre, 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 (payroll as your organization grows) make the game quite challenging if you don’t adequately prepare for food production (cash flow) from round one.
And when you scale up to the full base game, a lot more trade elements enter into the picture. Consider the following buildings not typically used in the simple game:
- Arts Center: Each player occupying (using) one of her buildings receives 4 Francs from the treasury.
- Black Market: A player visiting the black market may take 2 of each good whose offer space (in the harbour) is empty.
- Bridge over the Seine: The player may sell as many goods as he wishes at the rate of 1 Franc for each upgraded good and 1 Franc for any combination of 3 standard goods.
- Business Office: The player can exchange any four goods of his choice for one steel or one good of her choice for 1 charcoal, leather, or brick.
- Church: It’s a miracle! Walk in with 5 loaves of bread and 2 fish and walk out with 5 more loaves of bread and 3 fish.
- Dock: At the end of the game, the player who owns the dock receives 4 Francs for each ship.
- Grocery Market: Receive 1 cattle, meat, fish, smoked fish, grain, and bread from the supply!
- Hardware Store: Receive 1 wood, brick, and iron from the supply.
- Local Court: Return 1 or 2 loan cards for free!
- Sawmill: Build any building that requires wood for one less wood.
- Storehouse: At the end of the game, the player with the storehouse receives francs for his unsold goods.
- Town Hall: At the end of the game, each other public building owned by the player increases the value of the hall by 4 Francs.
When these buildings are added into the mix, there are more ways to get (valuable) goods (since each unit of steel requires 5 energy to produce), much needed food (as the grocery market yields the equivalent of 8 food units on a single visit), and money (especially at the end of the game). Trade becomes a much bigger part of the game, in terms of resources and buildings (as it is often advantageous later in the game to sell buildings acquired earlier in the game for those that give you monetary advantages at the end of the game). And the balancing act becomes tougher. (In fact, for those of you who acquired the iOS version, don’t be surprised if Admiral Sabine starts kicking your @ss again until you not only figure out that trade is the name of the game and what that means in the town of Le Havre.)
And this is just the beginning of the complexity. In addition to the full set of base buildings, you are also presented with 5 special buildings, put up by the town, that can be bought in each game. These are randomly selected from the set of 36 special buildings and include: 6 craftsman’s buildings, 14 economic buildings, 6 industrial buildings, 4 public buildings, 5 non-buildings, and a ship. The craftsman’s buildings, like the brick manufacturer or steelworks, give the player resource-based economic advantages. For example, the steelworks allows one iron and 15 energy to be exchanged for 2 steel (instead of the one-to-one conversion enabled by the steel mill). The economic buildings, like the guild house and mason’s guild, give players economic advantages during the game or at game end. For example, the guild house gives its owner 2 Francs for each economic building owned by the player at the end of the game. And the luxury yacht, which can be swapped for an iron ship, has a value of 20 Francs!
Le Havre really is a great game to test your supply management mettle. While it will take you a few hours to get through an intense four (or five) player session and prove your strategic supply management dominance, it really puts your thinking skills and your ability to balance supply with demand with opportunity to maximize the overall value generated to the test. Give Le Havre an honest go. You might just advance your strategic thinking and planning skills more than you bargained for. (And if you haven’t checked it out yet, don’t forget to try Le Havre on iOS. Remember to start with the tutorial, and then move on to the simple version of the 2-player game before moving on to a full 2-player game, and, finally, a full multi-player game.)