A classic conflict of expanding urbanisation versus the innocence of nature is the premise of two-player battling and area-control game Haven. One player takes the side of nature and uses its seekers, leaflings and forest creatures to win territory from the city and its rusty machine servants.
Haven spreads its gameplay over two areas: the game board, where players try to take over locations, build shrines and move elementals, and the battle area, where seekers from both sides face each other in a fight for the control of havens.
The fighting mechanics are fairly basic: add the number of swords on the cards together and the highest number wins. Yet, there are some clever little mechanical twists that change the generic addition of numbers into part-luck and part-strategy combat, where almost every encounter is tense until its resolution.
All cards have a secondary number value called ‘lore’. Each location, where the battles take place, has a maximum lore allowance, meaning that players can’t pile all their minions in one spot and must actually consider card placement seriously before committing. Cards can be moved or removed from the space, but if the location is triggered and you have too much lore, all your cards are discarded. When playing a card from your hand, its value is hidden to your opponent. If played from the deck, you have no choice: you get what was picked, and that card is revealed simultaneously to both players and placed face-up.
When the battle is close, and there are no good cards in your hand, it’s is all too appealing to tempt the fates and play a top card from the deck, not knowing whether it will help you win or push you over the lore threshold costing you the whole fight. Even when luck is not in your favour, it never feels overly unfair. The individual decks are small, making it easy to remember cards, especially since they are reshuffled several times throughout the game. Knowing what you already played and having even a rough memory of what is in the discard pile gives a good indication of the risk of drawing blindly.
While there is definitely an element of luck, Haven is still more balanced towards strategy, making the game perfectly paced and suited for two players. There are several approaches to winning and similarly various outcomes to every fight, which can be utilised for end-game scoring. It’s quick and easy to learn but gives enough to think about every turn.
Echoing its own theme, inside Haven there is a conflict between a desire to keep the game fair and remain true to its concept. The decks, besides the pretty artwork, are completely identical, except for three cards. It is as if there was a lack of confidence in Haven’s core gameplay. Half a step was taken towards reflecting the different characters of the two sides – nature and the city – but without fully committing to that contrast. It's a missed opportunity, as the game should either play exactly the same for both sides, or be different enough so it is noticeable and players can take advantage of varying deck strengths.
Haven’s thematic conflict may not be entirely convincing, but its gameplay is compelling enough to keep coming back to. It has enough depth to keep players engaged, but is also swiftly paced and doesn’t outstay its welcome.
PLAY IT? – YES
Haven might look like an area-control game, but at its core it is actually about the tense battle between nature and the city. The only disappointment is that the conflicting characters of the two sides are not reflected in any other way besides the beautiful artwork.
Designer: Alf Seegert
Artist: Ryan Laukat
Time: 45 minutes
This review originally appeared in the January 2019 issue of Tabletop Gaming. Pick up the latest issue of the UK's fastest-growing gaming magazine in print or digital here or subscribe to make sure you never miss another issue.
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