Havana is the capital of Cuba. The game Havana is a sister game of the game Cuba, but they are by different designers. Just same publisher. Havana was released in 2009. I was looking for low complexity games to play with younger daughter Chen Rui during school holidays, so I borrowed this from Allen.
The game comes with many different buildings. At game setup you randomly draw twelve and arrange them like this. At the top right corner of a building tile you can see the point value. At the bottom you see the resources required to construct the building. Your goal in the game is to be first to construct enough buildings to reach a certain victory point total. At any time, you may only construct the leftmost or rightmost building of a row, i.e. there are only four available at any one time. When you construct a building, the one next to it becomes available. When there are only two buildings left in a row, you draw four new ones and stick them between those older two. So you’ll get a full six-building row again.
Resources in the game include cubes in various colours, cash and workers. Grey cubes are rubble and they are inferior compared to other cubes. During game setup some resources will be randomly drawn and placed at the centre of the table. Every round, three cubes and $3 will be added to the pool. Players will compete to collect resources from the table.
The core mechanism of the game is the players’ action cards. Everyone has the same set of 13 cards. They are numbered from 0 to 9. Each action card specifies what you can do with it. At the start of the game, everyone simultaneously picks two cards to play. You form a number with your two cards, e.g. 1 and 9 makes 19. You always make the smallest possible number. Your number determines your turn order. Smallest goes first.
When you prepare for the next round, you pick an action card from your hand and cover one of your current action cards. Once everyone has done this, the new cards are revealed and everyone creates his own new number, which will determine the new turn order. The old action cards being covered are discarded. You will keep playing your action cards until you have only two remaining in hand. At that point you take all discarded cards back into your hand.
The action cards let you do all sorts of things. The most basic type of action is to simply gather resources from the centre of the table. Some cards let you steal resources from other players. Some cards protect you from such stealing. When you steal, you normally only steal from players later than you in turn order. This is one reason why turn order is important. The other reason is the early bird gets the worm. If you are slow, there may not be many resources left at the centre of the table.
So far I have only played the 2-player game. The 2-player game is more aggressive, since there can be only one victim for the attack cards. Between gathering resources and stealing resources, I chose the former, because I didn’t want to play too nasty. Also if you are quick enough in gathering resources and spending them, your opponent won’t be able to steal much from you. Once resources are converted to buildings, the buildings are safe and cannot be taken from you.
The pace of the game is influenced by what kind of resources the buildings require, and what kind of resources get drawn from the bag. There are many resource types, so most of the time what the buildings need and what is available do not coincide. You will need to patiently gather resources. If a good match comes up, you probably want to snatch it up quickly and build before your resources get stolen.
I went with the early bird strategy most of the time. It mean getting the resources earlier. It seems to be very advantageous going first. Sometimes I even used my 0. The 0 card does nothing. You are effectively sacrificing an action for the sake of (hopefully) going earlier. Sometimes it is worthwhile.
It is important to think about the turn order for the next round. If your opponent has 5 and 6 in play now, and you know she still has the 0 in hand, then you know she may go as low as 05 next round. If you are determined to go earlier, you will need to make 04 or lower. When you pick actions, turn order is important but not the only consideration. You also consider the cubes and cash on the table, resources in your opponents’ hands, and the buildings available. If there is not much to collect, you may not pick cards for collecting such resources. If there is a lot to collect, your opponents may be thinking the same thing as you. When your opponents are poor, there is not much point in robbing them. When you are rich, beware of robbers and taxmen.
The game is a race towards the specific victory point total.
Havana is a game with some aggression. The most interesting core of the game is how you select your actions to both utilise them well and manipulate turn order. Turn order certainly is important. You don’t want to have your resources robbed just before you are going to construct that high-valued building. The race for constructing the same building can be intense. If someone else constructs the building you have been working towards, the resources you have accumulated may not be useful for other buildings. There is some psychology in this game because you need to guess what kind of cards your opponents are picking. Are they going to attack? Or will they rush to build? How far will they compromise between turn order and action effectiveness?