Thank you for checking review #86 by Cardboard Clash. My aim is to focus on reviewing board games and how they play for two people and, on occasion, how they play for one person. Because my wife is my primary gaming partner, a lot of consideration goes into finding those games that play well with 2 players, and we typically prefer to find those games that do not require a variant (official or otherwise) in order to play it with just the two of us.
An overview of Haven
Haven is a board game designed by Alf Seegert that was published in 2018 by Red Raven Games. The box states it plays 2 players in 30-45 minutes.
The mystical forest has been home and haven to beasts, spirits, and forgotten gods for thousands of years. While the Haven Guardian slumbers, a nearby human village has grown into a city, hungry to control the powers of the forest. Can the forest creatures discover enough potent lore to defend their ancient home from the oppressive city — or will the city use this lore to power their machines and turn the forest against itself?
The battle for Haven begins!
In Haven, you and your opponent battle for control of a mystical forest. The Haven Guardian, spirit of the forest, sleeps deeply and can no longer protect its kingdom. One of you controls the city in an effort to master the vulnerable forest using “stone lore” and machines. The other plays as the forest and its creatures who defend their home with the aid of “leaf lore” and forest spirits.
To obtain the power needed to oppose your enemy, you must send seekers to compete for the lore controlled by elementals, ancient beings who bestow the lore on those who seek it. Seekers also engage in combat for control of shrines on the board, scoring you bonus points if you occupy a majority of shrines surrounding forest havens. When one type of lore is depleted or one elemental has left the board, the Haven Guardian awakens and the player with the higher score masters the forest — or defends it from harm — and wins the game.
Asymmetric games are always going to catch my interest, and this one does it well enough. There are a few differences on each side in terms of the card distribution, and these are where the differing of strategies comes into play. Especially since you’re resolving for two things with every battle: weaponry for control of the Shrine being fought over and Lore for control of the Lore Token. The City is favored in weaponry for overall distribution in their Seeker deck and wins ties for that category, while the Forest has a stronger Lore base available and wins ties for that category. While both are important to secure end game points and bonuses, it is good to go in knowing where you are stronger so you can focus your strategy overall around that aspect.
This game rewards planning ahead, as there are three different decks to draw from for each player, and all of them are important in different ways. Because you must play an Offering at the end of each turn, that becomes the biggest choice after the first few turns, as it will become mandatory to draw an Offering card if you have none in your hand. And if you wait until your hand is empty and take that draw at the end of your turn, you will forfeit control of where you play an offering or will possibly need to spend both draws on this deck in hope of catching the offering you want (or avoiding the one you really need to delay). Couple this with each Offering deck having three “play immediately” cards in there, one for each elemental, and those Offering draws could potentially trigger the resolution of an elemental now instead of at the end of your opponent’s next turn.
Speaking of resolution, I like how the other player (usually) has the chance to react on their turn before a triggered elemental resolves. Generally you’ll have time to see the lines getting drawn on all three fronts as the turns go back and forth, and have one last chance to steal one or both victories when your opponent drops that third Offering down.
Speaking of resolving, there is another great element at work here because the loser of the combat gets to choose the next Haven that elemental will move to. Even better is the opportunity to keep one of your Seeker cards in play at that Lore Token if you end up losing both the combat and the Lore resolutions. In a game where actions are few on your turn, being able to keep a card out as a consolation prize can be really critical for winning the next resolution there.
Another great design here is that Seeker cards are played face-down at a Lore Token when played from your hand. You almost always will want to play them from your hand to have this fog of war effect, but that means one of your two draws (or both draws) will need to be from that deck to maintain that pace. Which means you aren’t drawing other cards. You can always spend an action to place the top Seeker card from your deck into play, but you must announce the Lore Token they are placed onto beforehand, and the Seeker is placed face-up. Which leads into…
The Lore Tokens have numbers on them, which you might think are their victory point value. You’d be wrong, as each token is only worth 1 point (but the higher sum on Tokens collected at the end for each type will get bonus points). That number is the maximum Lore value you can have at a Lore Token battlefield on your side. Which makes playing a random Seeker a risky move at times, as a Lore Value that is too big could possibly leave you in a position to lose it all.
As per the norm with anything by Red Raven Games, the artwork on here is phenomenal. Seriously, this is a game that is simply good to look at.
The Lore Power cards, in general, are hit or miss on their usefulness. They come at a pretty high price, since you not only need to spend a draw to take one, but then also spend an action on a future turn to play one. Drawing a Lore Power means you are seeing fewer Seeker cards in your hand, or risking a future turn where you might be forced to play whatever Offering card you draw blindly. This payoff is acceptable when you draw a Lore Power that is useful to your situation – but there are definitely times when they simply sit and clog a hand for most of the game waiting for that “right time” to use that action and it never comes. I love them in theory, and I am glad they are part of this game, but sometimes the better play is going to be to draw another Seeker so you can have more choices and play them face-down onto the Lore Token.
Minor nitpick here, but the Elemental Standees can be annoying because they can make it easy to miss seeing another Shrine location adjacent to a Haven. I’ve had this happen several times already where I thought a resolution was to ultimately gain control of a Shrine and a Haven and been wrong.
I feel like the Havens should all have an odd number of Shrines attached to them. The ones with 4 Shrines are by far the hardest to complete, because you need to claim 3/4 of the Shrines in order to get that Haven. This means that the end of the game typically has 4-6 of the 10 Havens actually under a player’s control, even though all but 2 Shrines have been claimed.
Haven is one of those games that you cannot figure out which is more appealing: the stunning artwork or the brilliant gameplay. This game is delightful because it contains them both, all packaged into a tight 2-player experience that plays in 30-45 minutes. That makes this a prime candidate for a game night during the week when we are pressed for time, as we often are these days, or for a best-of-three challenge because we’re almost always looking for a repeat play once the first match is finished.
At every junction of the game there are decisions presented to the player that can add up to serious consequences. Deciding what unit card to deploy and to which of the three elemental fronts, or whether to gamble on one from the top of the deck, can have incredible impact on the tactical and strategic outcome of the game. Deciding what two cards to draw, and when to take those Offering cards in order to maintain some decisions about which is played at the end of your turn, is such a crucial choice each and every turn. Having those three decks remain separate, rather than all shuffled together, is part of what provides these tough and meaningful decisions. Add in the timing of resolving each battle for the Elemental, combined with the light area control flavor from the board, and you have all the ingredients for a memorable game.
There is a delightful balance of everything in Haven. Not balanced as in one side versus the other, although they definitely feel like there is a tight balance there, but balance regarding how everything interlocks together. Most frequently a game as ambitious as this, with a smattering of a few mechanisms into the gameplay, has parts that either feel bloated and unnecessary or parts that feel underdeveloped to the detriment of the gameplay. My experience so far with Haven is that everything meshes together so well to provide a fun, memorable, and unique game that I cannot wait to get back to the table once more.
In an era of Marie Kondo auctions flooding the marketplace as people evaluate the bloat on their shelves, Haven stands strong with a few other games in my collection that are remarkable and highly unlikely to ever be cut from my collection. This game holds a high spot on my list of 2-player only games, especially given the reasonable footprint and quick yet engaging play time for Haven. And let’s not forget the incredible Ryan Laukat artwork, which only enhances the entire package of the experience. This game is almost as far from the chopping block as a game can be on my shelf, and is surprisingly my favorite Alf Seegert game to date – an honor I expected Fantastiqa to hold – all of which should testify to how much I truly enjoyed this game. If you are on the lookout for a great 2-player game, this is definitely one to consider and is among the best games released in 2018.