Introducing the next game by the fabulous team at Codito: Le Havre. Le Havre is the recipient of numerous awards, including the 2009 Golden Geek Best Gamer’s Board Game Winner, the 2009 International Gamers Awards – General Strategy; Multi-player Winners, the 2009 Tric Trac d’Argent, and the 2011 Ludoteca Ideale Official Selection Winner. It was also nominated for a few more on top of that.
Editors note: this game was reviewed in advance by using a special distribution system, however it is representative of the final version which is currently awaiting approval in the AppStore.
Le Havre can be thought of as the spiritual successor to Agricola. Both games depend on the allocation of actions each round and dividing that effort between collection of resources and the use of those resources towards long-term goals and the final score. Le Havre is a game designed by Uwe Rosenberg, and I am always amused to think that in the creative industries Uwe can represent both ends of the spectrum of talent and ingenuity, depending on whether you add Rosenberg or Boll as the surname. Oh an in case the French title didn’t tip you off (Le Havre is a city in the Seine-Maritime department of the Haute-Normandie region in France), the use of francs as the monetary unit should!
You represent one of a few harbour masters, each attempting to be the richest of them all at the end of a designated number of rounds relative to the number of players. Throughout each round there are two main objectives, the first is to collect resources made available at a variety of piers in the harbour (fish, wood, clay, iron, grain, & cattle) as well as a supply of francs that accumulates over time. Ideally, by the end of the round you will have enough food to feed your workforce (the amount increases with each turn) and have managed to position yourself in a financially better place. If you fail to have sufficient food at the end of the round, you will have to take out a loan to feed them. Unless you can pay this off before the end of the game it will be a huge detriment to your score.
During each round, there are seven supply tiles that will determine how quickly the game moves. These supply tiles are laid in a row, and at the start of each player’s turn, their corresponding ship is placed on the next supply space. The first thing this does is show you progress through the round. Since the number seven will not divide into the number of players at any given time, this means the starting player is constantly changing as the turn order continues from round to round. That is, in a two player game, players one and two will alternate with player one having the seventh turn, but then player two having the first and last turn in the next round. Since a game that has more players will permit less actions per player per round, there is an increasing number of rounds relative to the number of players.
At the beginning of the turn, you place your ship onto the next supply tile and this will generate two resources (good and/or francs) that will be added to the stockpile on the various piers (called Offer spaces in the game). After that you may take your main actions, which consists of either taking all of the available goods (or francs) on one of the piers, or using the action of one of the available buildings (some of those actions allow you to buy buildings or wharves, which increase the types of actions available or the amount of food you generate in a turn respectively). A player may, as a secondary action, buy buildings for their monetary cost (rather than simply using an action to build with resources). It should be noted that using your action to take resources takes all the resources, and using your action to use a building makes it unavailable until you relocate your piece to another building in another turn. Both are important strategic blocking mechanisms.
The types of buildings that are available at any given time depends on two things. Firstly games with fewer players naturally use fewer types of buildings. Likewise not all buildings are available from the beginning of the game. All buildings are placed in three columns and the ones beneath only become available when the ones on top are used. Depending on where the building is (owned by the town, or another player) you will need to pay an entry cost of food or francs to enter and be given the privilege of using that building. Naturally, if you own the building yourself you pay no such cost. The types of actions that buildings offer mostly revolve around granting certain resources outside of the piers, converting lesser value goods to greater value goods. These conversion rates will be important as they represent the only way to acquire certain types of resources not offered on the piers. They can be things like smoked fish (fish that have been smoked provide more food), or coal (a basic energy resource not offered on the pier).
This last statement reveals that not only must you account for food each turn, but account for the energy consumption of any given action. For example, it costs 1 unit of energy to convert fish to smoked fish. This is a cost paid independently and on top of any costs for entering a building. The more powerful the conversion, the higher the energy costs. That is, to convert iron to steel, you’re looking at 15 units of energy. Energy is paid through resources as well. Wood is versatile and can be used either for construction or burnt for energy on a 1:1 ratio. Wood can be converted to charcoal, which provides a 1:3 ratio. Coal can be mined through the colliery card, which also provides a 1:3 ratio, and coal can be converted to coke which provides an energy ratio of 1:10!
Obviously, there are many more particular rules relevant to the individual cards in play, but you now have an overview of how the pieces all fit together. At the end of the game, you count up the value of any buildings you own, any ships you own, and the sum of your actual money. You deduct for loans you have yet to pay off.
Codito’s talents are growing. They are demonstrating an aptitude for converting complex games onto the user interface of the iPad. Like Puerto Rico, they’ve had to convey a large amount of information into the singular frame so that players can absorb their opportunities in a glance. It does suffer from this translation as there is still a lot to take in. I found that having never played the physical game, some of the subtleties eluded me, which would undoubtedly be more apparent if I was familiar with the physical game. That being said, once you have passed that learning curve of understanding all the components, it will easily become a favourite game. Hopefully, fans of the game won’t assert the criticisms that were leveled at Puerto Rico and Tigris & Euphrates, in effectively changing the layout of the game. For all intent and purpose the layout looks quite similar to the original concept. I am also quite besotted with the charming French accordion music that resounds in the background as you play. It is wonderfully thematic.
You can also see some of the tell-tale signs that it’s a Codito build. If you’re familiar with either Tigris & Euphrates or Puerto Rico, you’ll see similar icons in use. The artwork is of excellent caliber drawing upon the original artwork of the game. However, does the game tick the necessary boxes? Yes there is a tutorial, which will walk you through an entire game explaining the process step by step. I believe this is fundamental to introducing highly complex games to new audiences. Even after a few rounds, I didn’t quite understand the scope of all my decisions. However it only took a second game to feel like I had a sound grasp of the fundamentals. There is multiplayer, allowing for online play through GameCenter or as a pass’n’play option. That’s a tick in every box.
10/10: This game will undoubtedly go down as a perennial favourite. Get it when you can.