Sunday, February 8, 2009

8 Feb 2009 Session Report: The One With First Impressions Of Le Havre

Marcus came over today to introduce us to Le Harve. I was eager to try it since both Van and I enjoyed its sister game Agricola when it was loaned to us.

While the 3 common playing boards did bring Agricola to mind at the start, the game that stuck in my mind as I played was Caylus. Le Harve utilizes a similar mechanic which allows players to build buildings available for use by other players for a small fee.

Some first impressions:

1. With the nature of the loans in this game, a 'starvation strategy' is much more feasible than in Agricola or even Stone Age. In Agricola, starvation is a strict no-no due to the hefty penalty. In Stone Age, a starvation strategy while possible can be easily deterred by opponents who catch on to it. Here, it almost seems a folly not to take advantage of loans at opportune moments.

2. The game gives the same feel as Agricola in which I feel I've constantly more things to do than actions available. However, the availability of loans coupled with the ability to substitute money for food at 1:1 reduces the tension somewhat, and food actions can be sacrificed for better options when available. However, the demands for food do step up significantly towards the end.

3. Shipping appears key to racking up points towards the end of the game. I failed to anticipate the ending well, and was busy repaying my loans and acquiring food towards the end-game. As a result, I failed to ship even once, leading to an inability to acquire a better exchange rate for my remaining resources.

4. Ships have a triple role - first for a regular food supply, second to provide capacity for shipping and third, VPs. I paid too much attention to the third function, and put off building ships to the very end in hope of nabbing the ones with higher VPs. This was terribly unwise as it left me fighting to acquire food at the end, and unable to effectively utilize shipping to acquire points towards the end. Early ships are evidently important with the incremental food requirement.

5. The best goods to ship appear to be those that can be converted without energy such as coke and charcoal. In particular, shipping steel makes little sense with the additional need to supply substantial energy for the production process.

6. Bulk exchanges are a must to save actions, thus planning ahead is critical. Efficiency of actions is clearly the determinant of victory.

7. I like the set-collection element of the buildings where acquiring certain groups of buildings provide additional advantages.

8. The ability to purchase buildings ahead in a stack could be used as a strategy in gaining priority assess to high cost buildings that need to be built.

9. In some ways, it is harder to plan your actions as there is no certainty an opponent will vacate a building you are targetting. While it did not come to that in today's game, I see that part of the importance of owning key buildings is to be able to sell them when necessary to forcefully vacate an opponent.

10. Owning and blocking the Shipping Line towards the endgame can really throw a spanner in our players' plans. However, with a sufficient large shipping capacity, perhaps one ship with the last unblockable action is all that's needed.

11. Potential wastage of resources due to indivisibility. I can remember the number of times today I over-payed or had to round down francs acquired due to odd number exchanges.

12. Game seems to drag on somewhat towards the end. I suspect I would prefer it more if its length was closer to that of Agricola. Nonetheless, I'm looking forward to my next play.

I ended the game with 114 points, Van had 140 and Marcus took us to the dryers with 200+ points. Almost left that out but this is after all a supposed session report ;)


  1. Marcus > Excellent writeup SJ. Given that it was the first try for Vanessa and yourself, you guys did very well and were in a solid position up to about 5 rounds before the end. At that point, if either of you had bought the iron/steel ships, that would have helped reduced your need to waste actions for food and focused your attention on Shipping.

    Today was the second game in a row where I've tried to starve early on in the game. Assuming the other players do not starve and focus on getting food resources half the time, starvation in the early game does allow you to focus instead on i. obtaining important building resources, ii building up a portfolio quickly and iii. reducing actions waste by allowing sufficient cattle/grain to accumulate before bulk conversion. However, as I experienced today, depending on how the resources are re-filled and player order, it doesn't automatically translate into a strong early game position if you can't leverage. Also a starvation strategy depends heavily on the presence of the Local Court card (which doesn't come into play for the short game), and/or the player's ability to churn lots of francs quickly (usually through Shipping) to pay off loans before the end. In a 4/5 player game with limited actions per round and more blocking opportunity, starvation might not be so painless.

    The coal -> coke -> ship strategy is indeed a powerful one, one that could possibly be mitigated through competition amongst players going for this same stratgy and/or strategic blocking of any part of the chain.

    Thanks for hosting and let me know when you want to next have a go again at Le Harve, or any other games.

  2. Thanks for your insights, I would love to have another go at it.

    I also wonder whether the game scales better with fewer players since unlike Agricola, each player actually has less actions with more players in the game. The idea of sitting through a longer play time yet only being able to 'do less' doesn't sound like a very enticing proposition.