Gaming the Globe – Le Havre, France

GAME: Le Havre
LOCATION: Le Havre, France
ASSIGNMENT: Collect raw resources, process & upgrade them, then ship them for big profits

Le Havre is a game inspired from the real namesake port town in France, and contains a lot of complexity and many ways to gain a profit. So in brief, how does it work? In this deep strategy game, 1-5 players will be taking goods that have been shipped into the harbor and using buildings in their town to manufacture them into upgraded refined products. I’m glossing over MOST of the finer details and rules because this game is pretty deep and multi-faceted. There are so many options for things to do on your turn. You can smoke fish, turn clay into brick, grain into bread, coal into coke, wood into charcoal, iron into steel, hides into leather or butcher cattle for meat. Then using all these refined goods, players may build other establishments or purchase ships, which help to feed all your workers who are doing all this cool stuff. The options become more and more lucrative as more establishments are built in the port town. After a fixed number of rounds, whoever has the most wealth is the winner.

The game works surprisingly well with just 2 players. My wife and I were playing in this game session…

After getting a good first haul at the fish market, and with the Smokehouse coming up soon on the Building Proposals lot, I decide to take an early Fishing strategy. The Fishery lets you catch your own fish of course, so you don’t have to just rely on the daily market offers, then the Smokehouse lets you turn your Fish into Smoked Fish, which has double the value in food & Francs.

The first building that the town builds is a Bakehouse, where you can use Energy to make Bread out of Grain. Buildings in town can be used by anyone, but sometimes have a cost (shown in the upper right). In this case, that is one food. If you own the building, you don’t have to pay its cost to use. Energy can be gained from a few different fuel sources. Basic Wood gets you 1 energy, while if you turn Wood into Charcoal, that gets you 3 Energy. Coal starts out by giving 3 Energy, and if you are able to turn it into Coke, that gets you 5 Energy! Speaking of Energy, we’re going to need a good supply, especially later in the game. So I build the Charcoal Kiln, which only takes 1 Clay to build, and is an easy value of 8 at the end of the game.

I then buy the Clay Mound. Yes, basically just a cheap heap o’ dirt. But it gives me just a bit of control over the Clay in the town. My opponent has to pay me 1 Food every time she wants to use it.

The Wharf is incredibly important, as it is the only way to build ships. Ships not only provide food for your workers, but they can also ship goods out for a profit. The fact that I was able to build it myself and claim it instead of just waiting for the town to build it themselves makes me feel pretty good about my chances moving forward. I use the Wharf soon after to build my first ship, a wooden vessel called the Noemi.

Le Havre is a seaport on the mouth of the river Seine in the Normandy region of France. It is hard to say how long it was a small fishing village. There are references to the town’s oldest building, the Graville Abbey as early as the 9th century. In 1517, a new harbor was built by King Francis I and he called the town Franciscopolis, but it was later renamed after the harbor itself, Le Havre-de-Grâce. Increased trade, especially with the West Indies, caused the town to grow throughout the 18th century.

Sadly, most of the town was destroyed or heavily damaged in World War II. The British bombed the city to help prevent the Germans from launching an attack from there, due to its strategic location on the English Channel. The town was rebuilt over the next few decades after the war, and today, its economy still relies heavily on its maritime industry.

“Le Havre is a French city, containing France’s second largest harbour (after Marseilles). The city is notable not only for its size but also for its unusual name. The Dutch word ‘Havre’, meaning ‘Harbour’, was adopted into French in the 12th century, but these days it is considered archaic and ‘le port’ is used instead.”

From the Le Havre instruction booklet

With the help of the Ironworks, I was able to build my 2nd ship, an Iron vessel named the Dunkerque.

Iron can be made into Steel at the Steel Mill, which the town built in our game. However, notice that it takes 5 Energy for every single piece of Steel! It is no great surprise that Steel is the most valuable good in the game, fetching a price of 8 Francs for every piece you ship out.

Here are some highlights of my actions in the late period of the game…

Toward the end of the game is the time to build buildings like the Town Hall if you are able. It is not that valuable in and of itself (6 Francs), BUT it provides bonus points at the end of the game for certain types of buildings that you own.

I also am able to build a couple high-value buildings that will simply increase my overall points for final scoring. Note that any raw resources that you have at the end of the game count for NOTHING. So it is a good idea to either use them to build or ship goods out.

Here is my big shipping run, using the 3 ships I built during the game. Caen, one of my iron ships, will ship out my stores of meat. Dunkerque will take the Leather & Hides, and my ole faithful wooden ship Noemi will handle the valuable Steel.

Everyone gets a final action after the last round has concluded. This is an easy decision for me. I use the Wharf to exchange one of my Iron ships for the much more valuable Luxury Yacht. Ah…after a great career in Le Havre, it is time to retire….

Due to some late maneuvering, I take home the victory. It was fairly close until the last couple rounds, really. My wife focused not so much on shipbuilding, but on goods production and the clothing industry.

Final Thoughts: Le Havre is designed by Uwe Rosenberg and what a design it is. It is a complex, well-oiled machine and all the more impressive considering the variable nature of each game since establishments will be featured in a different order each time. Within that efficient machine, each player has their own engine to develop, so to speak. The game also scales pretty well, as it’s just as fun with 2 players as it is with 4 or 5. There are so many available ventures, but it does not feel like work because it is satisfying to grow your fortune and develop your investments. The theme itself doesn’t even seem exciting—shipping & manufacturing—but it is a complex brain-burner that just feels good, because of the challenge and the many interesting options.

If you like economics and related activities, this one is great. Or if you really like Catan and are interested in a heavier weight Eurogame, this is one of the best. There are a ton of components, nothing too fancy, but they get the job done. The symbology is useful once you get used to it. This one scratches the itch when you’re in the mood for a heavy strategy game. Excellent.

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