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Tyler Sigman
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Seattle
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HAVOC: The Hundred Years War

I had a chance to play this at DragonFlight 2005 during the manufacturer's demo session (game is scheduled for public release at Essen 2005).

Gameplay Overview
The theme of the game, as evidenced by the title, is the Hundred Years War--an epic conflict in the Middle Ages, fought between England and France between around 1350-1450. The war is ripe theme and story ground, filled with the exploits of Henry V and Joan of Arc and others.

HAVOC is a card game, and has a German-style feel to it. The chief mechanic is borrowed from poker. Essentially the game works as follows:

The deck consists of 6 different card suits (colors), with one each of values 1 through 15. Each of the card values represents a type of army unit or army asset (e.g. "mangonel", "archers", etc.).

The goal of the game is to earn the most victory points by winning or placing in as many famous battles as possible. There are approximately 8-10 (don't recall the exact) named battle cards, which are laid out in order on the table. Each battle, e.g. "Crecy", is worth a certain amount of victory points to the players who come in 1st, 2nd, and 3rd. Sometimes, placing lower than 1st can still win a fair amount of points; other times--"Agincourt" being the best example--placing below 1st earns no points at all.

To win a battle you must dominate with the best up-to 6-card poker hand possible. The usual poker hand-rankings apply, but the 6-card aspect means there are numerous other hands available, such as "trios" (2 sets of 3), 6-card straights, "Big Houses" (4-of-a-kind + a pair) and the like. The game comes with a hand-ranking reference card to resolve conflicts.

Now that I've explained the backbone of the game, a little bit about the actions you can perform on your turn: Play proceeds in clockwise table order. On your turn, you have two choices: collect recruits or cry Havoc! Collecting recruits is how you replenish your hand; you simply draw two new cards and then discard one. You may draw cards from either the 5 face-up recruits, or from the deck (similar to Ticket to Ride, in this respect). When you discard your card, you must discard to one of the face-up positions.

As long as players continue drawing cards, the game remains in the "recruitment" phase. On their turn, though, any player may cry Havoc, which starts the next battle on the table. To cry Havoc, a player must lead out with any 2 cards from their hand. In clockwise order, each other player must either join the battle (by playing two cards face-up in front of them) or skip the battle (and get a free recruitment draw).

After play comes back around to the player who cried Havoc, he may play any number of additional cards (up to a total of 6) to augment his battle hand. He is not required to play any additional cards at all, if he doesn't want. However, if the player "passes" and does not add at least one card to his hand, then he forgos the opportunity to add any more cards during the battle. Once you pass, your hand cannot be improved.

In following order, the other players in the battle may add cards to their hands as well. They must add at least one card if they want their hand to remain "live"; otherwise, they must stay with the hand they've laid.

The battle continues in this manner until all players have either passed or have reached the 6-card limit. In either case, the hands are resolved according to the poker rankings. The player who wins takes the battle card from the table and places it beside him, signifying his victory points. The other placing players take victory point chits to show their 2nd and 3rd place awards (if applicable).

Also at the end of the battle, if any players have played "Dogs of War" (0) cards during the battle, they may (in order of play) choose any one card that is currently face-up on the table and add it to their hand. This is a powerful feature and can sometimes make it worthwhile to join a battle you don't expect to win (simply to harvest a card you really want).

Finally, often there is supplementary draw phase at the end of each battle. Usually, each player gets an additional card, with the Havoc caller many times getting a 2nd free card (incentive to cry Havoc).

Once all battles are resolved, the player with the most victory points wins!

The 5-player game I played took about 1 to 1.5 hours, but there was quite a bit of instruction involved. Games with experience players would probably take under 45 mins.

Verdict and Opinion
I enjoyed Havoc quite a bit. Although it is certainly mechanic-over-theme, the theme is still carried off very nicely, partially because the cards are quite nice to look at, with images taken from an illuminated manuscript. This gives it a great look and feel which really embraces the subject matter.

Gameplay-wise, the game has a strong German-style feel to it. There is a nice blend of strategy and luck, and there are some very interesting decisions to make as a player. One of the things I liked best was the challenge of deciding which battles to sally forth into and which to rest/lick my wounds during. No one player can hope to dominate all battles (because of hand exhaustion concerns), so it is very much a game about efficient use of your limited resources. The fact that each battle has a different points reward structure for 1st, 2nd, 3rd adds additional twists to the decision making. You must evaluate which battles you want to compete for and balance that against what you think your opponents are doing. Because everyone is doing this, it leads to a dynamic environment where some battles can be practically stolen (because everyone is saving up for a next battle) while other times there will be a grand melee involving everyone.

The positional concerns are also a nice mechanic, and remind me a bit of Texas Hold'em. You want to have a strong hand to lead out (cry Havoc) from an early position. And being in late position can be an advantage because you can see the other hands developing in front of you before you decide whether to stay in (play cards to join battle) or "fold" (sit the battle out and/or stop playing addt'l cards to an existing battle line).

The way the battles develop leaves ample room for bluffing and deception. For example, you might lead out with a high pair, and then when play comes back around to you play a low pair. Now your opponents have to ask themselves: "do you have a third card that will make the full-house?" If they think you have it, then perhaps they will cut their losses right then (assuming that don't have a hand that can beat that). If they think you just have 2 pair, then they could counter with trips or something and put you to the test. You can also "scare" with developing straights or flushes.

To make a long story long, I felt that the game was a good mix of strategy, luck, and theme (being a Hundred Years War hobbyist of course helps). The play time is great, and the game has "Knizia-like" feel.

The game isn't flawless--there are a few rough-spots that might need improved. For example, turn order flops around a bit depending on who won the latest battle. This can lead to players having their turns skipped repeatedly between battles. Also, I have the gut feeling that players who sit out battles perhaps should be rewarded with 2 free cards instead of 1. And a last quibble is that the Dogs of War cards, which are wild in terms of color, appeared to be of the brown suit and were a bit misleading. The developer said that the game is at the printer, however, so this won't be fixed unless there is a future printing.

Really, though, the things I picked up on during the session could all be solved with house rules if they became problematic (with the Dogs of War excepted, of course). Without playing more, I'd be hesitant to recommend any ruels changes wholeheartedly at this point.

As far as luck factor goes, there is certainly the luck of the draw, but this is damped somewhat by the choices you get to make in terms of recruiting (do you take from the known face-up cards, or take instead from the deck).

Parting Shot
With an MSRP of under $20, you really can't go wrong with this title if you like abstract strategy, the Hundred Years War, poker, or German-style games in general.

I'll definitely be picking up a copy and look forward to playing again!

--TS
 
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KC Humphrey
United States
Gresham
Oregon
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Tyler wrote:
"And a last quibble is that the Dogs of War cards, which
are wild in terms of color, appeared to be of the brown
suit and were a bit misleading. The developer said that
the game is at the printer, however, so this won't be
fixed unless there is a future printing. "


Tyler shared this with me when we played Havoc in Seattle.
As luck would have it, Carta Mundi (where the cards are
being printed) sent us new image proofs a few days later.
In fixing some other minor problems, we also got their
agreement and fixed the Dogs of War cards to show a more
neutral background. [I don't think it hurt the Dogs.]

So one more thing improved before the game launches in
October. Thanks Tyler for the help!

KC Humphrey
Sunriver Games
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Ed Ericson
United States
Arkansas
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As a Knizia fan, I initially shared the enthusiasm of this review and others about Havoc. However, after four games, an admittedly small sample size and played with a mix of geeks and newbies, I'm less positive.

My problem is that despite coming in first or second all four times I've played (i.e. my concerns aren't because I'm bitter about losing), I'm growing to dislike the game mechanics, and the connection between History and system was always weak. Going early appears to give a significant advantage (the person who went first or second won every game we've played). You get to see two more cards, meaning that from the beginning of the game, you have 9 cards out of which you can make a good 5-6 card hand versus everyone else at 7 cards. Each player after you, therefore, either has to be really lucky on their initial draw in order to declare Havoc, or they're forced to draw cards in order to try to keep up.

Declaring war is also problematic because you don't get to draw cards (two cards that you get to see and one in your hand), you have to play two cards, and once you're committed that far, you almost always feel the need to play 5-6 cards (in for a penny, in for a pound). Meanwhile, you have 5 players behind you who might have better hands. All of this means that you won't typically declare Havoc unless you're pretty darn sure you can win or come in second. And since everyone else knows you're unlikely to go to war without a good hand, there's little bluffing going on. If you think you have a really good hand, you stay in and play out all 5-6 cards. You're not going to waste 5 cards on a bluff because you're pretty sure that at least one player (the Havoc caller) is very likely to have a good hand, and everyone can see what you're playing anyways.

The result of all this is that we keep drawing cards until someone feels really secure about going to war (meaning we bypass some battles). And when we do fight, it's usually with multiples because the straight-flushes are difficult to achieve (someone's invariably going for a multiple that cuts across your straight flush), and you can win with fewer cards with the multiples. In short, there's not much variation in strategy or tactics here.

My attempt to "fix" the strategy problem by having people bid for who goes first only works if people really know the game and therefore know what to bid. We typically don't have that option available to us because we always have newbies joining the group. My attempt to fix the tactics problem (in our fourth game) by having some of the cards go face down only resulted in further cautiousness and insecurity. People figured that they had to play 5-6 cards in this format, and that's a huge outlay, so they waited even more.

In summary, none of my four rounds was very exciting both from a strategic or tactical perspective. And since the historical connection was essentially just papered over, there wasn't much to attract me to this game for that reason either. Maybe with more experienced players who are more willing to take risks, the games might play better, but that hasn't been my experience so far.
 
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Nomadic Gamer
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This core of this game sounds like Condotierri.....
 
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Mario Aguila
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ethreepio wrote:
As a Knizia fan..... ... I'm growing to dislike the game mechanics, and the connection between History and system was always weak.

Curious...knizia fan wanting connection between theme and mechanics.
I agree with you...the theme is irrelevant but has more sense than the great part of Knizia games (v.gr., Battle line)

ethreepio wrote:
Going early appears to give a significant advantage (the person who went first or second won every game we've played). You get to see two more cards, meaning that from the beginning of the game, you have 9 cards out of which you can make a good 5-6 card hand versus everyone else at 7 cards. Each player after you, therefore, either has to be really lucky on their initial draw in order to declare Havoc, or they're forced to draw cards in order to try to keep up.

If you declare Havoc early you'll get the position you want, plus 1 card.

ethreepio wrote:
All of this means that you won't typically declare Havoc unless you're pretty darn sure you can win or come in second. And since everyone else knows you're unlikely to go to war without a good hand, there's little bluffing going on.

In my games (15) most of the time the winner is who win the battles with bad hands, specially at the beginning (of course, normally the Havoc caller). The loser, the person who wait with the best hands for the last battles or the best battles (Aguincourt).


I think people like me will get an easy life in your group, with that so orthodox behaviour.
 
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Gene Platt
United States
Houston
Texas
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This is not my pokerface... I'm just really dull.
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Curious. I've only played once, with a two point win earned by running the last three battles in a row. Saving six-of-a-kind is a good thing. Saving it twice is even better.
 
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Mario Aguila
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Puerto Montt
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Strategically is not a good option to keep cards for the last round, IMO


Click on it for larger

The best battles are: Aqincourt and battle 8º.
The worst, Castillon. In this one the difference between the 1º place and the second is only 3 with many players fighting for it
 
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Lock Clear
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West Linn
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parliboy wrote:
Curious. I've only played once, with a two point win earned by running the last three battles in a row. Saving six-of-a-kind is a good thing. Saving it twice is even better.


marioaguila wrote:
Curious...knizia fan wanting connection between theme and mechanics. I agree with you...the theme is irrelevant but has more sense than the great part of Knizia games (v.gr., Battle line)


There's a lot of curiosity in this room...
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