Reviewed by Herb Levy

(Sunriver Games, 2-6 players, ages 10 and up, 60-90 minutes; $18.95)


It’s a curious thing how poker, a card game that’s been around for such a long time, has suddenly become so big! But it has taken KC Humphrey to take the salient parts of that classic card game and wrap them in a historical theme with a few nice touches of his own to create a new and challenging card game: Havoc: The Hundred Years War (currently available exclusively through Funagain Games, www.funagain.com). Each player plays the role of a mercenary commander during the Hundred Years War. Troops are recruited and committed to battle (or held back for a future fight) as any wise commander would do during a struggle. But there are no maps here or military units. Instead, your weapons are variations on traditional poker hands!

Havoc’s slim box contains 108 “regular” cards, valued 1 through 18 in six suits. In addition, there are 12 “Dogs of War” cards and 2 double-sided Havoc/Peace cards (only one is used, depending on the number of players). 9 Battle cards (numbered 1 through 9) and 15 Victory Point tokens that align with them complete the set.havoc

The 9 Battle cards are laid out in numerical order. Each Battle card shows a value for winning that battle (and, sometimes, for coming in second or third). The matching Victory Point chips are placed below the Battle Card and serve as a record of your victories as well as a running tally of your Victory Points.

The Dogs of War cards are separated and only 2 of these cards per player remain in play. (The rest are out of the game.) Each player is given one of these. Dogs are special cards. While they carry the lowly value of 0, they compensate by being able to function as ANY suit color. And they can do more as you shall see.

Seven cards from the regular card deck are dealt to each player. Three more cards are placed face up to create a Recruit area. The remaining Dogs of War cards get shuffled into this deck to create the draw pile. The Havoc/Peace card is given to the player on the dealer’s left and it’s war!

On each turn, you are faced with two choices: Recruit or Fight.

Recruiting troops allows you to get more cards (and there is no hand limit). You simply draw two cards (from the exposed Recruit area or from the top of the Draw deck) and then return one to the Recruit area. If the number of cards in the Recruit area is at its maximum (4 or 5 depending on the number of players), you MUST draw from the Recruit area. Dogs can also affect Recruiting.

Once during your recruiting turn, you may opt to play one or two Dogs of War cards. Discard 1 Dog and you can take 1 card from the Recruit area or Draw Deck. Discard 2 Dogs together and you can search and take 1 (non-Dog) card from the discard pile. If players continue to Recruit and fighting doesn’t break out when it is time for the player with the Peace/Havoc card (the start player) to take his turn, the Peace/Havoc card gets flipped and play continues. Should a battle not be called by the time the turn again comes to the start player, the current Battle Card is discarded. And, what’s worse in a game where cards are power, ALL of the OTHER players must discard one of their cards! To avoid this fate, you can always Fight.

By crying “Havoc”, the active player initiates combat and takes the Havoc/Peace card. This is where the poker influence can be seen.

Although there is no hand limit, players are limited to a six card “Battle Hand”. The player starting the fight must play at least two cards from his hand. In turn, other players may either join the fight (and place down at least 2 cards of any value, not necessarily a higher value) OR pass (and draw a card from the draw deck as compensation). If other players join the battle, the size of the Battle Hand will grow.

On subsequent turns, “battling” players must play at least one more card onto their Battle Hand. This continues until either all battling players pass or the Battle Hand limit of six is reached. At that point, the rank of the “battle” hands are compared.

Ranks range from the lowly single high card to the six card straight flush. The highest hand played wins the battle and receives the Battle card (and Victory Points) for first. If points are available for second or third highest hand, those VP tiles are awarded too. (No VPs for finishing second or third? Then you receive nothing.) What else does the winner get? Most Battle tiles offer a perk for winning, generally receiving an extra card or two. And here come those Dogs again!

Any Dogs of War cards played, may be considered “outside” the battle. As such, they may “scavenge” which means you may discard 1 Dog and take any face up non-Dog card from ANY Battle Hand or the Recruit area. Should you have 2 Dogs available, they may be played together to take a card from the Discard pile.

The war continues until the eighth battle is resolved. At that point, there are no more player turns. Now, all players are dealt two more cards, up to 2 Dogs held by each player may be discarded in exchange for that number of cards from the draw deck and ALL players expose their best Battle Hands. Once again, Victory Points are awarded in order of the highest hands (from 11 to 8 to 5 to 3 to 1). Once these final VPs are handed out, all accumulated VPs are totaled. The player with the most points wins!

The artwork of Havoc captures the age and ambiance of the Hundred Years War, beautifully helped by little historical tidbits on each card. The biggest problem here is wrapping your brain around the new “poker” hands and their relative values. Veteran card players, used to 5 card hands, may experience a little disorientation. A confidence-inspiring formidable full house, for example, can be beaten by a SIX CARD flush!

With nine potential battles, there is a certain sense of timing here as you have to be careful not to waste potential high hands early only to find yourself lacking the power to gain the more lucrative VPs available later. Still, you should try to pick up some VPs along the way or you will find ultimate victory out of your reach. Knowing which cards to discard is important too as even lower valued cards can pack a wallop if you’re able to gather two, three, four or five of them in one hand.

The poker roots of this game provide enough familiarity so that card players will not shy away and Havoc: The Huhdred Years War has enough originality to make this card game a winner at the gaming table. – – – – – – – – Herb Levy


Have feedback? We’d love to hear from you.

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