The Tao of Gaming

Boardgames and lesser pursuits

Le Havre, Agricola and the One True Way

I’ve now played Le Havre half a dozen times. (Which means that everyone who said I should get it was right).

So, expanding on my initial thoughts

I’m not positive there’s a dominant path to victory in Le Havre, but I wouldn’t need much convincing. Perhaps it would be better to say that there’s a dominant failure path — worrying about food for your people (and/or loans). Avoiding loans cost actions; and actions are worth much more. An extra endgame action is usually worth 20 florin, and holding a loan for the entire game costs less (1 florin extra payback, 15 florin interest, a few florin from loans caused by followon interest). If you only needed one loan, it would be close, but you’ll need to take several actions in the first half of the game (until you get enough ships to cover the bulk of your food costs). Your 2nd (and subsequent) loans only cost 1 florin each (if we tack the cost of interest and ‘loans to cover interest’ onto the first loan), and 1 Florin is worth a lot less than an action.

Debating an action’s value is interesting. Arguably, action values rise during the game. An early food action isn’t worth much, but an early action that gets non-consumed goods compounds into better endgame action that’s worth 20. Perhaps it only contributed to a fraction of that, but how to value it?

This is one issue with the marketplace … it provides coal that will usually be worth 1 Florin (when you convert it to Coke) and then provides enough energy to power 3 ships or can be shipped for 5 Florin … and it provides other goods. Any reasonable use of the marketplace should be valued at 6 florins for the coal alone. If you also grab your first grain (or second cattle) you can assign a few harvests of value to that.

Thematically, this doesn’t bother me. But I’d have liked it to be a bit closer. Agricola suffers from the opposite issue — each begging card is a huge penalty (3 VP when a winning score is 40-50, so call it 1/15th of a winning score). Presumably for invoking that penalty you got a great action and didn’t just mess up), but that action would have to be amazing. Whereas in Le Havre carrying 5-10 loans and paying them back if it frees up a few actions then you come out ahead. [All of this neglects the benefit of loans of providing cash flow to pay entry fees, which is often worth a few actions by themself!]

Now, the rest of each game is interesting, but wouldn’t the balance have been better off if the decision were a bit closer in each case? For Agricola, make each begging card worth -2 VP each (or even -1). For Le Havre, charge interest on each odd Loan (or say that if you take out a loan to pay interest you get no change!) Now the number of “obviously better” paths is muddled.

In each case you have a different game. Would it be better? I think so.

What got me started on this line of thought is that I went to the Courthouse building to get two loans dismissed free and clear. (A 10 Florin benefit). Normally I don’t like this action; those 10 Florin can’t compound. But here I deliberately trying to slow the game down, so I decided to flip between that and other buildings. [My opponents buildings avoided any delay I caused was wasted, so I abandoned the idea].

Le Havre and Agricola are solid games; I’m just tantalized by the costs Rosenberg assigned to starvation. Defendable on theme (Agricola moreso), but out of balance with actinos saved. It seems like a deliberate design decision, but goes against the idea of making tough choices.

I expect to get more plays out of Le Havre, so I’m not complaining.

[If I were tinkering with Le Havre, I’d also consider making the Marketplace not be building #1, but perhaps #4-6. Low enough that it comes out early, but that in some games it may be blocked for a while…Actually, I’d considered making some buildings cost X, where X just means “don’t reorder.” They sit in the place they get dealt in the column; and you reorder the numbered buildings].


Written by taogaming

February 1, 2009 at 10:54 am

Posted in Agricola, Ramblings

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2 Responses

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  1. Brian, your points about loans are all sound ones and difficult to argue with. But I guess the proof of the pudding is in the tasting. Among experienced players, is the winner one who always takes a lot of loans? I’m not sure that’s what’s been reported. And if that isn’t the case, then why isn’t it?

    I wonder if the main costs of a loan strategy aren’t peripheral ones. It means you’re probably cash poor for much of the game, so buying buildings when it’s convenient or necessary is very hard. Paying to enter opponents’ buildings can also be problematic. You’ll also have very little food, so you’ll have to pay entrance fees in VPs rather than food. Personally, I’m not afraid to take out loans, but I have to admit that the game seems easier once you get them paid off.

    Since you’re questioning Rosenberg’s design philosophy with regard to loans, perhaps his views aren’t all that relevant. Still, it’s interesting to hear his thoughts:

    “[With regard to loans], it should be a good strategy for one (or maybe two) players. When three players play with loans, the fourth wins. I play with loans, when I have something better to do. Perhaps getting lots of wood or maybe iron.”

    I’m assuming that the success of the non-loan player rests with him having no competition for his chosen actions (so, for example, he can afford to let fish build up and can expect that the fish processing building will be empty when he needs it). Can you think of any other reason why this might be the case? It’s not completely clear to me why the sole non-loan player would have an advantage, but I’m still at the beginning stages of exploring this game.

    Larry Levy

    February 1, 2009 at 2:06 pm

  2. I think the starvation works well thematically in Agricola, for it to have such a huge penalty. At -2 it would still be huge (maybe less game crippling), at -1 you’d likely want to starve some early (harvests 1 and 2).

    But in LeHavre, the way the loans work is stupid, imo. Not only is the penalty very minor, but in fact its a BENEFIT to not pay the food and get loans, because you can actually gain cash that way.

    Gaining coal is dominant, becuase there is no limit on the Cokery, and you can then ship the extra coke for 5 each.


    February 2, 2009 at 12:35 pm

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