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Havana

Reviewed by Herb Levy

(Eggertspiel/Rio Grande Games, 2 to 4 players, ages 10 and up, 30 minutes; $35)

 

One of the hits of recent gaming seasons was the intricate and intriguing game of Cuba (Winter 2008 GA REPORT). That game by Michael Rieneck and Stefan Stadler did well enough to inspire an expansion (Cuba-El Presidente). Now, the line swells into a sort of trilogy with a new release set in the time when the revolution in Cuba is over. Now, the focus turns to constructing buildings in the capital city that lends its name to this game: Havana.

havanaHavana is a Reinhard Staupe design and comes with four sets of action cards, 80 building material cubes (10 each in brown, yellow, blue and red and 40 gray “debris” cubes) and a bag to hold them, 15 worker pieces, cardboard “pesos”, play aid cards, 36 building tiles and only four pages of rules.

All building cubes are placed in the bag and they, along with the pesos and workers, make for a general stock. The 36 building tiles are shuffled and 12 of them dealt out to form two rows of 6 tiles. Four pesos and three randomly drawn cubes are placed beneath the building tile rows. Now, each player draws a building tile from the bag (sight unseen) and gets 1 peso along with his own set of cards. Shrewd card play will get those buildings built.

All players begin with an identical 13 card deck. Cards are numbered from 0 to 9 (with 2 each valued at 2. 3 and 4). Each player chooses two cards and places them face down in front of him. Then are then simultaneously revealed.

Card values determine turn order. A 4 and a 2 card played translates into a value of 24. A 7 and and 8 equals 78. A 3 and a 0 becomes 03 (or just 3). The player displaying the lowest value will go first with next lowest following and so on. In turn order, a player may perform, in any order, both of the actions of his played cards. Once all have gone, 3 pesos and 3 randomly drawn cubes are added to the play area and each player, in turn order, chooses a remaining card from his hand placing it FACE DOWN over a previously played card. The covered card is discarded into that player’s own discard pile. When all player have done so, all face down cards and their new number totals are revealed to determine a new turn order for the next turn. Making the most of these action combinations is what the game is all about.

Card 0 does nothing but helps ensure that you will go early in the turn order. Card 1 allows a player to retrieve one of his discarded action cards and return it to his hand. (ALL discarded cards are reclaimed once a player is down to only 2 cards in his hand. This card enables a player to short-circuit that wait in getting a crucial card back.)

havana2There are two 2 cards: Protection (which makes you invulnerable to thieves and tax collectors) and Debris (allowing you to take ALL gray cubes in the center of the play area). There are also two 3 cards: Conservation (allowing you to remove one of the end buildings in a row) and Tax Collector (giving you 1 peso from the stock AND allowing you to remove a worker or a building cube from a player coming after you in turn order) and two 4 cards (Architect – giving you a worker AND required to be in play to construct certain buildings) and Worker (awarding 2 workers to the first player using him, 1 worker to players using him after the first player).

As the numbers increase, so does the power of the card. Card 5 (Peso Thief) allows you to steal half of the pesos held by a following player, Card 6 (Materials Thief) works the same way but with building cubes. Card 7 (Black Market) allows you to draw two (or one) building cube from the bag, Card 8 (Pesos) allows you to claim half the pesos in the center of the table and Card 9 (Mama) lets you take half of the gray debris cubes and half of the colored building cubes from the table center into your holdings. Once the actions are done, that player may buy any of the available buildings on display.

The key word here is “available” because this is a significant restriction. Only four buildings can be claimed, the four that occupy the ends of each row. Each tile shows what resources are needed to construct it (colored cubes, pesos, workers, combinations of the above and sometimes, the Architect card) and a Victory Point value. When a player turns in the required resources, he gets the tile and its Victory Points. (Workers used go back into the pool as do pesos. Any building materials used are OUT of the game!) Should a row be depleted with only two building tiles left, four more tiles are immediately added to the row BETWEEN the remaining tiles.

Turns continue to be taken until one player reaches the required number of Victory Points (25 for 2 players, 20 for 3 or 15 for 4). At that point, the game immediately ends with that player victorious.

Despite the artwork that could make one think this is a Cuba clone, Havana takes on its own identity as it is more card game than board game. Manipulating your cards to best advantage while predicting and outthinking the card play of your rivals is what this game is all about. For example, playing the Conservation card to remove a building blocking you from a tile you can claim can be a pivotal play. The same can be said for a timely play to grab a share of building cubes or pesos. Since colored cubes are relatively rare (10 of each as compared to 40 gray building “debris” blocks), it is useful to know that you can use five gray cubes in place of any one colored cube. Five pesos operate in the same way as they can buy you one worker.

Turn order determination is unusual and works exceedingly well. It is tempting to use the 0 card to almost guarantee you go first on a turn. It also gives you a layer of protection when going first since damaging cards (such as the Tax Collector and Pesos Thief) target players that come AFTER the player using those cards. But using that 0 leaves you with only one action to perform that turn as opposed to other players doing two. Timing is important. If such a move allows you to pluck a building tile before your opponents can, particularly if that will give you a win, then it is certainly the smart move. Another interesting twist is that players choose their next card to play in turn order. That way, players following opponents can see which card is being covered. Couple that with a knowledge of what has been played before and players can better judge what cards may be played, what cards they could play to better advantage and weigh the pros and cons of playing a specific card to affect the upcoming turn order.

Another asset to the game is its simplicity. Rules are easy to understand and the gist of what cards can do is found right on the cards themselves. No flipping through pages of rules is necessary (although the rules give a fuller explanation of card effects if circumstances require) although, ironically, a large picture of the building tiles clearly showing their attributes (where to find building requirements or its number of Victory Points) is missing from the rules. Not a problem for experienced gamers, of course, but with many rules stating the obvious (e.g. “place the board in the middle of the table”), you wonder why something so simple as this was forgotten or neglected.

Havana is easy to learn, quick and satisfying to play making it a game that both gamers and non-gamers can enjoy, an accomplishment worthy of both recognition and a slot in your gaming repertoire.

 


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