Le Havre is a worker placement game by Uwe Rosenburg where players try to amass the largest fortune by the shipping of goods. Le Havre is designed by the same man who created Agricola , and you can certainly feel that while playing Le Havre. The same idea of making an engine in order to score high is present here. In Agricola the player is building a farm, here in Le Havre a fortune can be gained by a variety of methods, but it is hard to win without building some ships.
Le Havre can be played by 1–5 players, but is played best with 3 or 4 players. The game is quite lengthy, ranging from 2–3.5 hrs long, based upon the number of players. It does have a shortened version that takes 45 minutes to 2 hours, but I can’t comment on it as I have not played the shortened version. Each round consists of 7 turns, which rotates between the players. The number of rounds in the game depends on the number of players, but ranges from 14 for 2 players to 20 for 5 players.
Goods acquired can be turned into other types of goods. These conversions make sense and add to the theme of the game. For example, a player can gather grain. Once you have grain, there is a building, called the “Bakehouse” where a player takes the grain, along with some energy, and converts it into bread. There are 8 different goods, and each one can be upgraded to an advanced version. Wood can be fired into charcoal, clay can be burned into bricks, iron can be made into steel, fish can be cooked into smoked fish, grain baked into bread, cattle slaughtered into meat, hides made into leather, coal made into coke. In addition to goods, there is money, which since the game takes place in France the money is Francs.
On a turn, a player chooses to do one of two things: The first choice is to take goods from an “offer space”. Every turn, goods are added to some of the offer spaces. The player can take all the goods on any offer space and that is their turn. There are offer spaces for 6 of the basic goods plus francs. For example, of the 7 turns in each round, in four of the turns 1 wood is added to the wood offer space. On a player’s turn he/she can take all the wood on that space. He or she could choose any of the other 7 spaces.
The second choice is where the worker placement aspect comes in. The player can, in lieu of taking an offer, use a building. Buildings do a variety of different things, but most buildings allow a player to change one good into another, such as the Bakehouse example earlier. Another example is the “Tannery” allows a player to turn hides into leather, every hide turned into leather also gets the player one franc. Buildings are either owned by the player or the town. A player pays nothing to use his own buildings but will likely have to pay something to use another players’. Once a player is in a building, no other player can use that building until he leaves. Buildings also allow players to buy new buildings, construct ships and ship goods on the ships constructed for francs.
At the end of each round, workers must be fed, with the amount of food needed going up as the game goes on. Building
ships lowers the cost of feeding workers every round after they are built. This is why it is hard to win without building ships. If a player does not, he will spend all his time gathering food and will have none left to make an engine that will get points. There are options for loans in the game, and like Agricola, there are harvests after rounds where grain grows more grain and cattle can breed more cattle. After all the rounds have been played, all the value of the buildings owned plus the francs on hand and whoever has the most is the winner.
So, is Le Havre a good game? Yes, it is a great game. If you like Agricola, you most likely will like Le Havre. Rosenburg game lovers like to talk about which game is better, Agricola or Le Havre. I personally think Agricola is better but Le Havre is still one of my favorite games. What I like about Le Havre is that it requires a much greater feel of the entire game than Agricola. The classic game strategy of “do what the other guys aren’t doing” often works well in Le Havre. It is impossible to calculate what is the optimal move most the time. It is often a choice of making a good move or making a slightly better move.
Some people say that Agricola is harder to play because the tension in that game is making sure you get your player on a spot of the board before someone else does in a given round. In Le Havre, this rarely happens. If a player goes onto a building that you wanted to use, you can find another that is almost as good. There is much more flexibility in this regard. In Le Havre, though it is much more likely to cause analysis paralysis (as if you play with someone always trying to find the optimal move), it can be a nightmare. The decision tree is enormous and I have seen may people just freeze up because they don’t know what to do, and it stresses them out much more than Agricola ever did.
Le Havre is a great game. It isn’t a game for everyone, but it is a game that can be enjoyed by many. I rate it just a tad below Agricola, but it is my second favorite worker placement game and for sure in my top 10 games to play. I hope you play it and enjoy life on the inner harbor of Le Havre.