Rob: Today, Gameosity is going down to the docks as we check out Uwe Rosenberg’s Le Havre (Z-Man Games, for 1-5 players). Several parallels could be drawn between this dock/fishing town management game and Rosenberg’s other more agriculture-centric work, but Le Havre can stand well enough on its own, regardless.
In fact, it manages to leave pretty much every other Rosenberg game I’ve played well in the dust. Yes, even Agricola. Especially Agricola.
Everybody in Le Havre is trying to expand their fishing/shipping/boating business, while also buying property and constructing their own buildings. Certain goods can be sold for a fair bit of cash (represented as francs), some structures will generate money when used, and any buildings and ships you own are also worth victory points at the end of the game.
The goal is, naturally, to be the person with the most wealth in the end, but there are quite a few ways to go about getting rich.
As with most of Rosenberg’s other games, there’s a general supply with several different types of goods that will fill up as turns pass. On your turn, you can either grab everything off of a single supply pile or send your one worker to use a building.
Yes, you only get one worker.
Deciding when to gain supplies and when to take actions is a big part of Le Havre’s strategy. You need supplies to do things like feed your crew and build stuff, but there’s a somewhat delicate balance you have to maintain, especially in the beginning, when your ability to gain resources will be limited. As the game progresses you’ll start to gain access to more advanced buildings, which in turn will give you more ways to collect food, money, and supplies.
Something that I’ve found very interesting about all of this is how Le Havre manages to be both predictable and unpredictable at the same time. Rounds will progress in the same order no matter what, but there’s enough variability to it that you won’t start to feel like you’re playing the exact same layout every time.
For example, all of the regular buildings will appear in the build area at roughly the same time, but having to shuffle them up into three separate piles means that certain key structures like the Wharf and Shipping Line may appear much sooner or much later in a given game – which can have a tremendous impact on your strategy.
There’s also a somewhat ridiculous number of special buildings you can draw from, but you’ll only ever use six of them in a single game, and even then you won’t see all six of them. Although, since all these special buildings can do some pretty powerful stuff, like turn wood and grain into francs or let you trade goods based on their monetary worth, it makes sense that you won’t be using all of them at the same time.Still, it’s not uncommon for the strategy you’ve been using the whole game to suddenly change once a special building hits the table and that potentially allows for some exciting mid-stream shifts in tactics.
Even the order in which the supply is filled up changes from game to game, thanks to the randomized tiles. It’s a small detail, but when combined with the somewhat random appearance of regular buildings the the totally random special buildings, it goes s a long way toward adding replayability.
Now I want to be absolutely clear about one very important thing: do not try to play this game with more than two people. It might be serviceable with up to three, but any more than that could downright ruin the fun. This is because each round has a static number of turns which get divided between all players; the more players there are, the less each get to do.
Two players seems to be the magic number here. It leaves everyone enough turns each round to feel like they’re accomplishing something, but can still leave them feeling tense when they see that they’ve only got one or two turns left.
Don’t get me wrong, it’s also great as a solo game – kind of like Rosenberg’s other games, in that it feels sort of like putting a puzzle together – but it really comes alive when you play with two.
Another thing you should know if you find yourself contemplating a purchase is that Le Havre can be something of a pain to set up if you aren’t prepared. As I mentioned, it comes with a lot of tiles for the various goods, but the spots meant for them on the boards are relatively small. So you’re going to have to meticulously stack them (which would make setup and teardown a massive pain), keep them stored in containers in the box and only use them as needed (which is less than ideal), or find some smallish containers to store them in that you can keep in the box and also easily place on the boards when you play. I actually made my own custom insert to deal with this problem, but I’m also a massive dork, so your experience (and tolerance) might be a bit different from mine.
There’s just so much I really love about Le Havre. The theme is cool, it’s strategic and methodical (I’m a sucker for both those things), it’s really fun, and despite having to feed your workers it’s still a significant improvement over Agricola obnoxious hunger/begging systems. It’s a spectacular engine-building game, and it’s without hesitation that I call it my absolute favorite game from Uwe Rosenberg so far.
If you’re also a fan, or if you simply enjoy games like this and think Le Havre sounds interesting, you should absolutely add it to your collection. Conveniently, it just so happens you can order it right here.