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BoardGameGeek features information related to the board gaming hobby
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    by gnatbuoy

    Blocking the Wharf in 2p Le Havre: Execution and Mitigation

    Blocking the Wharf is one of the consequential tactics in a 2-player Le Havre game. It is counter-intuitive, grinding, and disruptive. But it is the best strategy to counter heavy shipping and other “disregard-food” strategies.

    In the match sprint event of track cycling, the two riders do not go full speed right out the gates. They peddle slowly, even stopping at a standstill at some points. Why do they do this? It’s entirely counter-intuitive to what a “race” means! That’s because positioning is vital. Riders advance slowly in an attempt to force their opponent in front. That’s because the leader will take the full brunt of drag and the lagging rider can draft, expending less energy by staying behind the leader’s wake. The saved energy can now be used to surpass the leader towards the end of the race. On the other hand, the leader has a timing advantage and may suddenly sprint to put significant distance where the opponent can’t recover. The leader also dominants the most efficient path, the inside lane, forcing their opponent to a longer path should they attempt to surpass them. This dance of tactical positioning and the sudden explosion of rush is Le Havre at 2 players.

    This guide will describe when the Wharf-blocking tactic is most effective and how to mitigate it when an opponent employs it.

    Shut it Down
    Le Havre has a very small twist to the worker placement mechanic. In a typical worker placement game, a player places a worker to take an action during their turn and the other players cannot take that action until that player moves the worker to take a different action or a “reset” event occurs, such as the end of a round (Agricola, for example). In Le Havre, there are events* that remove workers off an action. And there are actions that don’t require players to move their worker from their current position so the worker continues blocking the action!

    So you can block actions. But why block the Wharf? Le Havre has buildings and “entering a building” (placing a worker on it) means the player can take the action the building provides. The Wharf allows the players to build ships and in Le Havre, ships are the name of the game. The ships are the most multi-faceted asset: they have inherent value, provide food, and permit goods to be shipped. Value counts towards scoring. Food is a recurring (and increasing) per-round cost, classic to Rosenberg’s economic games. Ships provide food without requiring an action. Shipping is an action that exchanges goods for Francs which are used in scoring.
    Graph demonstrating what the Wharf provides.
    Other assets don’t come close to what the boat provides.

    This tactic is the most consequential in a 2-player game because there is only one Wharf available to both players. There are no other ways to build boats. Consider the Shipping Line, a building that allows players to “ship” goods, exchange goods for Francs. This action is the highest Franc-yielding action a player can take. However, you need ships (and energy, another resource) in order to ship at all. There is also only one Shipping Line in a 2-player game. However if you try to block the Shipping Line, your opponent can still build ships and amass goods for one final shipping at the end because all players can take a “Final Action”. For the “Final Action”, players may take an any action, even if an opponent’s worker has taken it, that is different from the action the worker is currently on. If you deny your opponent any ships, they won’t be able to ship.

    Blocking the opponent from building any ships at all will be rare and an experienced player will mostly not let that happen. However, timely blocking can hinder opponents and stunt their revenue.

    The following will speak about blocking at the extremes such as blocking over multiple rounds. This can really only happen if the player who owns the Wharf is doing the blocking. Realistically, blocking is done only over several turns with the motive being to force the opponent to shed buildings (sold to finance a ship) or ship goods at a limited capacity. Overall, blocking interrupts the opponents plans and allows you to make a counter-play at a more efficient run.

    Adequate execution of the Wharf-block involves being better-positioned than your opponent in feeding and/or loans.

    When blocking the Wharf, you can only take resources from the supply spaces in subsequent turns. You cannot convert resources (cattle to steak, iron to steel, etc.) and use other building actions. So feeding will be a challenge. Fish and gold will be indispensable to you as they can be used to feed immediately, not requiring any additional actions that will remove you off the Wharf. Your opponent will have to obtain food from buildings or use the food that require another processing action (baking bread and slaughtering cows).
    If possible, creating a large food store before blocking can keep you comfortable for a turn or two.

    Loans: Race to the Bottom
    It’s not uncommon that somebody adopts a strategy ignoring food, taking loans, and ship goods to pay off the loans at the end. This is sometimes referred to as the “heavy shipping” strategy. If your opponent has started taking loans early, blocking could prove viable. Feeding will be an issue. But should the opponent continue to ignore it, both players will take the same amount of loans per round. You may possibly take less if you’re grabbing the fish and gold. If you’ve executed this early enough and your opponent has no ships, their strategy is completely void: without boats, they cannot ship! Now you have an advantage feeding (you’ve built a ship to get onto the wharf) and your opponent is already behind in loans.

    If you block the Wharf about mid-game, like when the Iron Ships come out, you can substantially cap their shipping ability. Blocking at wooden boats is too early: you’re opponent has too much run way to feed and build around not having a boat.

    Owning the Wharf
    It pays off to own the Wharf. By doing so, the opponent cannot ever get on the Wharf until you leave it. Should you not own it, the opponent has a mitigation strategy: they can sell the Wharf and then occupy it.

    Windows of Opportunity
    If you’re really devoted to blocking, you can find turns to hop off and do something productive. This will occur when your opponent is busy building and will not have enough supplies for a ship. This is much better early on when the materials you need for ships are easily acquired from the supply spaces (Wooden and Iron Ships). Then you can hop back on the Wharf or you can start your sprint…

    When to Sprint
    You may have stalled your opponent enough to start a sprint at a ton of Francs. You should have positioned yourself with lots of resources. Upgrade them and ship them.

    To work around a block Wharf, you must take advantage of the fact the other player cannot do any action that will take them off. That means you need build more, feed better, and get clever.

    Build buildings and you can outpace the loans per round. Also, having buildings comes with it’s own flexibilities creating better opportunities for shipping when your opponent hops off.

    Sell the Farm
    Sell a building(s) to buy a ship. You do throw money away by doing this so know you have to make it worth it. Ship goods to cover the losses. If you own the Wharf and you’re desperate, you can sell it and then use it.

    If your opponent blocks early, get the Shipping Line yourself.

    Feed better
    If you’re feeding better than your opponent, they may overtake you in loans. In which case, they’ll hopefully hop off the Wharf.

    Special Buildings
    You may take advantage of special buildings i.e. Shipping Line where goods can be exchanged for Francs and that could be a better alternative to selling a building to find cash to buy a ship. Buying a ship is also not ideal because the cost is greater than its value. But again, ship goods to cover the losses.

    Harbor Watch
    This special building is a direct response to blocking. Entry is 1 food and you must pay 1 Franc to the player to move them from a building. That’s fairly cheap given the alternative of selling buildings to buy a ship.

    There’s a popular post on the Le Havre forum on Board Game Geek (BGG). It’s about how Le Havre may be a “solved game”. In game theory, a game is solved when one can determine the outcome of the game given a game state. To find out if this is possible, a game tree, a graph of possible game states, can be explored to determine if a win, lose, or draw is guaranteed assuming some sort of behavior from both players (for example, assuming "perfect play" where all player's actions will maximize their score). Sometimes, this is not tractible because there are so many states to explore. Consider a conservative lower bound for Le Havre’s game tree complexity. The game tree complexity is the number final states (number of leaf nodes in the game tree). There are 99 turns (14 rounds, 7 turns per round, plus 1 Final Action) in a 2P standard game. Consider only the actions of taking goods from the supply tiles (remember, we’re building a lower bound). There are 7 supply spaces so 7^99 possible games states (equivalent to ~10^89). We are completely ignoring building, buying/selling buildings, building ships, and any actions associated with buildings. Recall that the 7 supply tiles have a possible 5040 permutation and each of those have 10^89 unique game states! Chess has 10^123 game states. Checkers has 10^31 game states and it was only solved in 2007. There are an estimated 10^78 - 10^82 atoms in the universe. Taking the technical definition of “solved”, Le Havre is far from it. Remember, we only calculated a lower bound!

    I believe the concept of Le Havre being “solved” or that a dominant strategy exists comes from believing that shipping high-yielding goods such as a Coke or Steel is a strategy and not a tactic! I believe everybody’s goal should be doing so! It is a high-yielding action! Some special buildings that allow specific goods to be traded for Francs (Clothing Industry, Fish Restaurant, etc.) give the impression that they are viable strategies that don't involve shipping. The reason why they are not viable is because ships are so strong. They feed, they ship, and they add to the bottom line. That is why I believe blocking the Wharf is such a hallmark of Le Havre.

    Blocking the Wharf illustrates what makes Le Havre so special. It highlights the theme: goddamn ships. But it also displays the depth of gameplay. There are no dominant strategies; there are strategies to create productive shipping actions. Being in a battle around a blocked harbor is a grinding brain-burner of wit and anticipation. And Le Havre is better because of that.

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    by lostphd

    This is a well-argued post. However, my experience in 2p has been that whenever someone has tried to block the wharf for too many turns, I win the game through the building of buildings (which you list as one of your mitigating factors). While I am doing this, I get some steel - one to get the bank and the remainder to buy steel ships when my foolish opponent, sick of trying to feed with fish and francs (only four fish show up every round...), gets off the wharf. The steel ships and the bank bonus at the end make up for any lost wood or iron opportunities.

    But I do play in a small group and have yet to play 2p against high calibre opponents on a regular basis.

    I can see a situation when someone might get a crazy lead on food and then have the resources to block the wharf - but the turns they spent gathering that food I have spent in the building of buildings and picking up loans.

    One good shipping turn can pay back seven loans. 12 cattle = 36 francs.

    - Charles

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  • 11/08/18--07:08: New Image for Le Havre
  • by Captain Maybe

    <div>Le Havre - with all the commodities in perfectly sized tubs from Daiso.</div>

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    by Juperdat

    What is the purpose of the treasury? I understand I should pay to it during certain times, but are there times I gain from it that I must be missing?

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    by grant5

    Juperdat wrote:

    What is the purpose of the treasury? I understand I should pay to it during certain times, but are there times I gain from it that I must be missing?

    Do you mean the Buttery? If so, it's just something they printed on the back of the player aid to give you somewhere to stack the food you plan to use for the feeding phase. It's totally unnecessary, and never generates any food automatically or has any impact on the game whatsoever.

    It is purely cosmetic.

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    by Ponton

    The Treasury is where you place the franc coins on the board.

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    by gillum

    Juperdat wrote:

    What is the purpose of the treasury? I understand I should pay to it during certain times, but are there times I gain from it that I must be missing?

    There are many examples.

    Some are explicit, e.g., the Arts Center: "For each other player who is currently occupying one of her buildings, the player receives 4 Francs from the Treasury."

    Others are implicit, e.g., the Black Market: "A player who visits the Black Market may take 2 of each good (including Francs) whose Offer space is empty." If the Francs Offer space is empty, the player takes 1 Franc from the Treasury.

    During the Supply action of a player's turn, the turn's Supply tile may indicate a Franc. In this case, a Franc from the Treasury is moved to the Franc offer.

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    by lostphd

    Juperdat wrote:

    What is the purpose of the treasury? I understand I should pay to it during certain times, but are there times I gain from it that I must be missing?

    You also receive francs from the treasury if you need to take a loan, and you need to pay less than 4 francs. e.g, if you need to pay interest, and have no francs, you take a loan card and three francs from the treasury.

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  • 11/13/18--22:44: Spiel '18 results
  • by Igor Larchenko

    ✩✩✩ Links to all Tops ✩✩✩

    I has already wrote about the games that the players were going to buy most of all in recent Essen. Yes, these games were popular, but other games aroused more interest. What exactly - can be seen in the picture above.Read more »