Sunday, 18 September 2011

Havoc: The Hundred Years War

Plays: 5Px1.

The Game

Havoc is an out-of-print card game from a small publisher which should be considered for a Kickstarter project to get it back in print. It can be summarised as a Poker game fleshed out to have long-term strategic planning and to reward skillful play more. In a game, there are nine battles to be fought over, each rewarding different numbers of players different amounts of victory points (VP). Every player starts with a hand of cards. Prior to each battle, there are a few rounds of drawing cards done generally in the format of drawing two and returning one, until someone starts the battle. Every player can decide whether to participate in a battle, playing cards if they do. If you participate, you must commit at least two cards, and in each battle round you can gradually add cards until you have six, or you can hold and not play any more cards. Once noone wants to play any more cards, the strengths of the card sets played are compared, and the strongest set (or sets) gain points for that battle being fought.

The row of cards are the battles to be fought. Most battles have 2 or 3 victors. Agincourt only has one. The last battle has five. The biggest victor takes the card, while the 2nd and 3rd placed victors take the small tiles. The number of battle cards is a tiebreaker.

Since the maximum number of cards in a set is six, the way strength is determined is a little different from Poker, but is very similar. The cards come in six suits and are numbered 1 to 18. There are some special 0 value cards which can be a joker suit (i.e. can be part of a Flush) but cannot be part of any Straight. These 0 cards are Dogs of War and can be used to pick up used cards after each battle.

The 0 white card is a Dogs of War card. The text on the cards are just flavour text, with no impact to gameplay.

Throughout the game there will be many rounds of picking cards up, interspersed with battles, when cards will then be spent by participating players. When picking cards, there can be up to four face-up cards to pick from, and there's always the option to draw from the draw deck. If a card good for you is face-up, you can happily take it, but it also means your opponents know what you have taken and they may guess what kind of set you are trying to make.

Deciding whether to participate in a battle can be a very difficult decision. Battles are costly and you definitely cannot afford to participate in every battle. However you also don't want to let your opponents win easy victories. It's tricky to decide when to commit and when to conserve your cards.

The Play

I did a 5-player game at Old Town Kopitiam Cheras with Jeff, Wai Yan, Ang and Dennis, this being my first game. I was conservative and skipped the first few battles, hoping to collect more cards in order to be able to make stronger sets and plan better. Wai Yan participated in many battles and did so early. In the first battle that I participated in, I went head-to-head with Ang, who was also a first-timer and had also been hoarding cards. Unfortunately my card set was not as strong as his, so this battle was expensive for me. For him too, but at least he earned a big reward.

I accumulated so many cards that I had difficulty holding them.

There is a lot of bluffing in the game. Everyone's resources are limited, and generally there is a reluctance to participate in battles, especially those with too many contenders. You may spend many cards and gain nothing. Sometimes the first participant can intimidate others into declining to fight by playing some strong cards early. During a battle, when participants are adding one card after another, there are often many tough call to make. Often every card played is a painful decision, because you don't really get that many cards throughout the game. You are risking spending more cards, when the rewards are uncertain. Because of this mentality of trying to conserve your strength all the time, there are many opportunities to bluff, to encourage your opponents to "cut their losses".

Card counting is definitely going to help in this game. The more you remember, the easier it is for you to make decisions. This aspect may turn off some who don't like a memory element in games. It is not necessary to work very hard on remembering cards in order to enjoy the game. In fact it might feel like work if you try too hard. There is no need to be overly competitive. Having some general idea of cards that have appeared is sufficient to enjoy the game. E.g. if an opponent has picked up many 16's, he may be saving up for 5 of a kind or 6 of a kind for the final battle. You can tell a lot from what cards your opponents pick up.

The Thoughts

Strictly speaking, the game is abstract, but the theme of the Hundred Years War fits very well with the feelings that you experience when playing the game. There is a lot of tension. You need to pick your fights. You need to conserve your strength and spend your cards wisely. There is a constant conflict between short-term easy wins and long-term big wins. You are constantly forced to make difficult decisions. The final battle is almost a little anti-climatic, because by then you simply play the best set that you have. It is the culmination of the long-term planning that you have been doing throughout the game, and hopefully what you have saved up can beat the rest. Or maybe you have deliberately given up on the last battle and have spent your strength to win many earlier battles. That is certainly a viable strategy.

Havoc is a meaty Poker game. I wouldn't call it a glorified Poker game. It is much more than that. It gives a rich story arc and long-term planning to Poker. I am impressed.


Jason said...

I saw this one some time ago; saw it was out-of-print; and became sad! Looks like a good, easy to learn yet hard to master card game that suits up to 5. Now I want it more! :)

Hiew Chok Sien 邱卓成 said...

the different card combinations take a little time to get used to, since they have weird stuff like big house (888844) which is similar to but stronger than full house, two triplets (777333) etc. but the game comes with some handy reference cards.

it's a pity that it is out of print. my friend jeff contacted the publishers but they were not keen to reprint. i'm not sure when he contacted them though, whether it was before the recent flurry of Kickstarter activities.

Lord of Midnight said...

it's certainly before Kickstarter was a concept. So maybe I'll contact him again and see if he's keen to do something. I've intention to run a local Havoc tournament. :P